Dec 4, 2017

Big Sur Writing Workshop

I spent this past weekend at the Big Sur Writing workshop, sponsored by the Henry Miller library and the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. We met at Big Sur Lodge in Big Sur, Calif.

After three years spent retrenching and concentrating on craft, I'd hoped this workshop - with its emphasis on small critique groups headed up by an editor, agent or author - would be worth the effort. Before registering, I spent some time online trying to find reviews online and found a few. But they were all several years old so I'm writing this post as a review for those of you considering signing up in the future.

The short answer: if you have a completed MS and write any form of kid lit, go for it.

Here's why:

My goals were simple: to get feedback on the latest draft of my MS and to connect with new beta readers. The workshop's schedule included two critique groups that met twice. There were four of us in my first group - led by ABLA agent Jennifer Laughran - and five of us in the second, led by ABLA executive agent, Laura Rennert.  (There were more than a dozen staff, and a total of 72 writers. Each group had 4-5 writers which guaranteed 20-30 minutes per writer for feedback. Writers were grouped by what they wrote - PB, MG, YA - and the writing sample submitted at registration.)

Both were very helpful. The calibre of writing in each group was great. This wasn't a workshop made up of newbie writers - most were capable and knew the fundamentals of craft. Everyone in my group got precise feedback and suggestion on how to make their story better. At the second meeting, several chose to present their revised chapter. There were all YA writers in both my groups, although I heard that MG and PB made up some mixed groups.

In between group meetings, there was time to revise, as well as agent and editor panels, and a presentation on structure by one of the coaches. Big Sur Lodge provided amazing meals, and the setting - in the redwoods just beyond gorgeous Big Sur coastal stretches - was gorgeous. I took a hike Saturday afternoon to the beach to digest feedback and plan my next revision. We stayed in cabins - my roomie was a talented illustrator from Brazil - and got to know other attendees during cocktail hours and meals.

As an introvert, it was so fun to go to a gathering and know everyone there wants to talk about the same things I did. There was such variety in what people were writing, and we totally steamed up the dining room windows at the lodge each evening with all our talking. We were each other's "people" and it definitely showed.

I came away from the workshop with the names of several people who want to swap pages, several revision goals, as well as an idea of whom I'd like to submit to at ABLA when the time comes. All the agents there were accessible, friendly and very willing to dive into critiques. And it was enjoyable to get to know them - beyond their work personas - at meals.