Sunday, October 30, 2016

Guest author Cyndi Pauwels: Writing Workshops

C.L. (Cyndi) Pauwels
Author of  Forty & Out
I’ve been to any number of writing conferences and workshops over the years, and I’ve learned there are certain gatherings that will send me home with a renewed confidence in my work. Others simply drain my enthusiasm, leaving me tired and discouraged. And like any new experience, a conference can be intimidating. What should I look for? How do I choose? Will I fit in? Granted, I’m a confirmed introvert (like many writers I know), so after the initial adrenaline rush, large gatherings exhaust me quickly.

My favorite writing conference in both size and format is the venerable Antioch Writers’ Workshop (31 years and counting!*). I dreamed of it from afar for many years before finally attending in 2009, and the 120-150 person week-long summer session is perfect for me. AWW also offers a fall retreat, a spring one-day craft seminar, and free monthly mini-seminars at the local Books & Co. September through May.

While smaller, more intimate getaways are wonderful, too, they can be fraught with their own peril (I have to share what I’ve written?!). But they can be a good start for novice writers in other respects. I was reminded of that just two weeks when I had the pleasure of staffing the fifth annual AWW fall retreat – an intensive weekend with fifteen writers and two dedicated faculty members. We gathered in a lovely secluded environment with three great meals a day, comfy beds, lots of wine (we are writers!), iffy wifi (which can be a good thing) – and writing time. No interruptions from children, dogs, chores…what bliss!

Several of the participants were new to the world of writing workshops, and their apprehension took a bit of time to ease. But as they realized they were surrounded by like-minded individuals, by people who really understood their struggles with characters and plots and language, who didn’t think they were odd to talk about the voices in their head, their relaxation was visible. They’d found their tribe. It was such a joy for the veterans among us to welcome these enthusiastic newbies to the fold, and after three days of small group discussion, writing prompts, and time to work on our own projects, we all went home energized and motivated.

That’s what a good writing workshop should offer: time together, with fellow writers who understand the journey we’ve chosen; and time alone, to ponder, and imagine, and refill that creative reservoir. We can debate the finer points of class settings versus panels, public readings versus quiet writing time, but ultimately, it’s about community.

Writing is such a solitary endeavor that any time we can find that place to gather with those who understand us, to share thoughts and craft and ideas and encouragement, we need to take advantage of that. A good conference/workshop isn’t about competition and showmanship and sales numbers. It’s about supporting the world of books and writing that we all hold dear, and helping each of us to find our niche, to be successful writers in whatever definition of that term we choose.

After my seven-year relationship with AWW, I continue to be awed and humbled by the camaraderie and warmth offered from the talented and generous faculty as well as from the eager participants. The relationships forged during those sessions carry on into the world beyond AWW, creating ripples in the Dayton, Ohio, literary community and beyond for a long, long time. The “Antioch magic” so many alums speak of is very real.

And at whichever writing event you choose to attend, I hope you find that same magic.

The core of my writing community: the hardworking behind-the-scenes
folks of the 2016 Antioch Writers’ Workshop
(front: Dara Cosby; back, left to right: Matt Garrett, Executive Director
Sharon Short, Jan Irvin, Cyndi Pauwels (that’s me!), and Lori Fetters-Lopez). 
Guides to writing conferences:

*Disclosure: after four years as a workfellow, I was appointed Assistant Director of AWW in 2014


Liane Spicer said...

Welcome to Novel Spaces, Cyndi!

I've heard of the Antioch workshop and it sounds lovely. Maybe one day I'll make it there!

Charles Gramlich said...

I've found an inverse relationship at cons and how hard I work to sell my work. The more I strive to sell, the less I enjoy the con.

Linda Thorne said...

I have not heard of this one. I don't live close to where it's held, but it sure sounds like a good event to look into. When I lived in the Central Valley of California, I attended a "smallish" workshop/conference in Sacramento (around 2005 to 2006). I think it was called the Friends of the Sacramento Library or something like that. It was fairly small, but your Antioch event sounds similar. I got a lot out of it. They stopped having the event a few years after I attended.