Tag Archives: Vermont College of Fine Arts

top 4 post-workshop mistakes to avoid

Vermont College of Fine Arts Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Vermont College of Fine Arts
Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Kathi Appelt, David Macinnis Gill, Dana Walrath, Joy Peskin Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Kathi Appelt, David Macinnis Gill, Dana Walrath, Joy Peskin
Photo by Vicky Lorencen

You roll your quarters, register, and highlight the dates on the calendar. You pre-pick your plane seat and pack your bags. You’re going to a workshop! You look forward to it for months, fret about how many pairs of shoes to take, and finally, it’s time to blast off. I got to do just that earlier this month when I attended the amazing 12th Annual Novel Writing Retreat at Vermont College of Fine Arts. (If you’d like a great recap of the experience itself, I highly recommend visiting Debbi Michiko Florence’s site.)

I don’t know about you, but time passes at a sloth’s pace leading up to an event, but then the workshop itself whisks by at road runner speed. If you’re not careful (and by you’re, of course, I mean, I’m), it’s easy as gliding up an escalator to let the whole experience slip away once you’re back home.

Watch out for these post-workshop mistakes . . . 

1. Rushing to query or submit your manuscript. Some writers think, if I don’t send that editor or agent my manuscript as soon as I get home, they’ll forget all about me. Not true, especially when you wisely offer a little reminder in the first sentence of your cover letter about how you met. Even if a presenter gives you a teensy window–like six weeks–to submit, take your time. Better to email a glistening, well-groomed manuscript, than to rush yourself and offer a schloppy copy. Your work is a reflection of you. Go for shiny, not speedy.

2. Neglecting your notes–if your notes are handwritten (mine always are), type them up. Seriously. It won’t take long, and while you’re typing, you’ll be reviewing the gems the presenters shared with you. It’ll be easy to highlight the parts that resonate with you too. [Next, pop some brackets around a hint or suggestion that perfectly applies to your WIP and cut/paste it into your ms. to serve as a reminder when you return to that section.] Don’t want to type? Use an old school highlighter or sticky notes to spotlight the bits you most want to recall. Put those pages (or copies of them) in the folder of goodies (research, hard copies, feedback) you’re compiling for this new novel. The idea is to incorporate every epiphany, aha and eureka into what you’re working on now, plus you’ll make them easier to find for future follies, that is to say, novels.

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

3. Disconnecting with the people who “clicked” with you. Friend them on Facebook, send a follow-up email or connect with them on LinkedIn. Send a text, a tweet or smoke signal, whatever works for you. These are your new peeps who share your passion. Passing on this chance to expand your circle is criminal, okay, well, at the very least, a pity.

4. Cooling off—you arrived home pooped, but positively giddy about a new idea for your WIP, but then your fervor fizzled. Family, your tyrannical to do list and Facebook eclipsed your euphoria. Don’t let them! If you have a critique group (or a beloved writing buddy), share what you learned with them. Talking about the lectures will help to solidify concepts in your mind. Your group/buddy may also be able to help decide out how to best use what you learned (and of course, you can return the favor). Ask someone to hold you accountable and offer to do likewise.

How about you? How do you keep the momentum moving after a workshop or retreat?

It is our choices, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. ~ J.K. Rowling

would you like to see a menu? my 4 recommendations



Photo by Vicky Lorencen Silver Bay, Adirondak Mountains in Lake George, NY

Photo by Vicky Lorencen
Silver Bay, Adirondak Mountains in Lake George, NY

Studying the menu at a new restaurant can be tantalizing. You scan the appetizers:  olive tapenade, baked brie and calamari, then peruse the main course options: lamb chops, tilapia, steak medallions, and finally the scrumptious desserts: peach pie, crème brulee or chocolate lava cake. So many choices. Sometimes it helps to ask your server for a recommendation.

Well, my charming writerly friends, I have a different menu of options to tempt you. I can personally attest to the high quality and value of each. You simply cannot make a bad choice (unlike that unfortunate experience with the ahi tuna sushi special. Sorry to bring that up again. Ew.). Any one of these will nourish your writing skills and expand your network (without expanding your waistband!) Because you can click the links to get all of the particulars, I’ll focus on my personal experience with each.

Highlights Foundation

Whether you write picture books, novels or non-fiction, you will find an outstanding collection of workshops with top-notch faculty hosted in the gorgeous natural surroundings of Pennsylvania. The Highlights team will treat you like gold and feed you like royalty. Presenters take a personal interest in your work and the small workshop sizes allow you to get to know the other participants and learn from them as well. Workshops are pricey, especially if you need to fly, but Highlights does offer scholarships, free shuttle service and makes the experience all-inclusive, so there are no extras to worry about beyond getting there. I loved it!

Vermont College of Fine Arts

Photo by Vicky Lorencen Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, Vermont

Photo by Vicky Lorencen
Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, Vermont

You probably already know about VCFA’s two-year low residency MFA program. But do you know there are also weekend workshops? What made this workshop a standout for me was the exuberantly positive atmosphere. The faculty–simply fabulous too. Truly. I came away feeling pretty darn giddy. I’m going again later this month and I can’t wait!

Falling Leaves/Green Leaves Master Class Retreats 

Moon over Lake George

Moon over Lake George

Hosted by the Eastern New York Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators, these fall and spring weekends take place on magical Silver Bay in Lake George, New York. This retreat has an amazing participant:presenter ratio–35:5. It’s no surprise, spots fill quickly. This workshop will stretch you and give you a boost.

UCLA Extension Writers’ Program

This online program pairs you with an instructor and a small group of students. I took a course called “Creating Memorable Characters,” which included textbooks and novels to read, as well as the expected homework. Interacting with the instructor and with the other students who were from all over the planet made this course especially fun.

I’ll give you a moment to look over the menu. If you have any questions, please let me know. I’m happy to serve you. Bon appetit!

Hors d’oeuvres have always had a pathetic interest for me. They remind me of one’s childhood that one goes through wondering what the next course will be like–and during the rest of the menu one wishes one had eaten more of the hors d’oeuvres. ~ H.H. Munro


focusing on the write thing


My "cheerleader," Cynthia Leitich Smith

My “cheerleader,” Cynthia Leitich Smith

My "cheerleader," Lauren Myracle

My encouraging retreat critique group--Ann Finkelstein, Anna Boll, me and Lori Steel

My encouraging retreat critique group–Ann Finkelstein, Anna Boll, me and Lori Steel

Vermont College of Fine Arts

Vermont College of Fine Arts

Someone once told me that the way detectives learn to spot a counterfeit is to study the original. The more familiar they are with, say a real $100 bill, the easier it is to see the differences in a fake. In other words, they focus on the good, not the bad.

This weekend I participated in a retreat for writers of novels for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. Now, I’ve been to lots of writing conferences and workshops over the last decade, but what set this experience apart was the emphasis on the positive. Retreat organizer Sarah Aronson told us at the outset that when we receive a critique we should not discount the good comments we receive.

Too often that’s just what I’ve done. I think to myself, This person is only saying kind things to let me down gently before the hammer falls. But Sarah encouraged us to really listen to the observations about what we’re doing well. The good bits are, after all, the parts we want to create more of, right? By concentrating on recognizing my authentic writing voice, not the counterfeit, I’m better able to hear the difference between what’s true and what’s tinny. Sarah’s advise made all the difference for me. I soaked up the good comments, not to pump my ego, but to learn how to make progress.

It goes without saying, but here I go saying it, that this doesn’t mean I get to ignore the parts of my work that need, well, work. (Some of it is downright stinky. Get the clothes pins please!) And sure, it’s essential to listen to constructive criticism, to consider the suggestions of others and to welcome even hard-to-hear feedback. But allowing myself to accept words of specific affirmation has caused me to see my abilities in a whole new light. I’m better able to see what’s possible, instead of thinking, this is impossible.

As a result of embracing the positive, when our amazing presenters like authors Cynthia Leitich Smith or Lauren Myracle or Candlewick editor Andrea Tompa humbled me with kind words, I could thank them. Was I shocked? Okay, yes. But I was still able to thank them instead of waving the words away.

I came home from the retreat feeling rejuvenated. My faith in my abilities was bolstered a bit and I can honestly say I feel hopeful for the first time in a long time. I am energized, instead of deflated. WOW, does that feel good!

You may not be able to escape to a writers retreat in the mountains of Vermont (I’m still stunned that I was able to!), but let me encourage you to adopt the same shift in focus. You will be amazed at the difference it can make. I’m positive of that.

You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, don’t mess with Mister In-Between. – Johnny Mercer