Saturday, June 22, 2013

Writing Adventure - Day 1

As I mentioned in the last post... I took a major step outside my comfort zone by signing up for a Travel Writing workshop through the University of Iowa's Summer Writing Festival.  It sounded like a great idea in March.... I like to write; I love to travel; the University of Iowa has the number one ranked MFA program in the nation so it would only make sense that they would attract top writing instructions for these non-credit classes.  However, this morning I had a much different outlook (the following is an except from my daily journal with my post-class comments highlighted in red):

I thought it might be worthwhile to write down all the things I worry about before going to this travel writing class.  While these are in no particular order....  I am excited to report that nearly every single one of these worries was unfounded (found in the red commentary).

  • my book bag is too big - I am taking too much stuff and will look like a bag lady rather than a literary scholar; my book bag is not a backpack - which is always the going fashion statement
    • no one cared about the bag I carried ... and by the end of class, neither did I
  • I brought the wrong kinds of books - my books are all thematic stories and I should have been interested in books that are travel articles
    • We did not even discuss the books that we read prior to class
  • I am interested in travel writing for stupid reasons - others have vast travel experience and I just go to a few select places
    • tis true... many have traveled to far more exotic places all over the globe; but that did not seem to matter. My few travels were sufficient.
  • I have no travel writing experience - and others will be travel writers from way back - or already be published - or already have several ideas that they are ready to polish
    • While there were many published writers... most had published only free-lance articles in a variety of other genres.  And there were several who had nothing published at all.
  • I will be the oldest one in the class - and appear like a fool
    • Oh contraire.... I was definitely on the younger end of "average" age.  And it was a marvelous feeling not to have to compete with 20-somethings.
  • my writing is not good enough - focusing on the wrong theme - or wrong details - or not enough details
    • I discovered that we all focus on different details and they are neither right nor wrong.  Some focus on humor; others on sensory perceptions; others on prevalent life themes.  There was evidence of terrific writing in each of the eleven participants
  • I will have nothing worth sharing and we will all have to share
    • Indeed... we all had to share.  And it was nerve-racking.  But I learned that in a crowd of ten other participants, I found a sympathetic ear with at least one other person.
  • I will have no commentary worth adding and we will all be expected to add our own constructive criticism
    • Well... this remained true.  I have a difficult time voicing my opinion in a group setting and so I remain quiet and reserved.  But... I don't think others minded; and I was not made to feel inferior because I chose to remain quiet.
  • I won't be able to find the room - or I completely misunderstood the booklet and I am in the wrong building
    • Again... no worries.  The entrance was easy to navigate; the greeting staff was warm and inviting; and all classes were held in the adjacent building.  It was a non-issue
  • I won't be able to find my way around campus
    • Well, since all the activity surrounds just two buildings and both buildings are adjacent to one another... this was also a non-issue
  • I will be alone at lunch - and not know where to go or be too afraid to eat on my own
    • Biggest surprise of the day!  A lady from Des Moines came up to me after class to discuss the sample I had read aloud... and we ended up having lunch together at an Indian food buffet (not my normal fare, but it was an adventure).  It was the second best part of the day.
  • I will be unable to answer any of the writing prompts 
    • Well, nearly true.  There was one writing prompt in the morning which I attempted (it is very difficult to write anything of value in a five minute timespan) ... and then another prompt in the afternoon which fortunately, we did not have to share (as I only wrote notes and not a cohesive paragraph).  I was definitely outside my comfort zone but... I survived.
  • I will feel so out of place
    • Not so much.  As I looked around the auditorium in the morning I felt as though I was among compatriots rather than an outsider looking in.  The classroom consisted of 11 students and I felt as though I belonged, as we were such a diverse group of individuals.  I always feel uncomfortable sharing... but the group and the instructor helped all to feel welcome and appreciated.
  • the class will not be nurturing but very judgmental
    • Totally unfounded.  The instructor is amazingly gifted at listening to our new material and offering nurturing comments that are not empty flattery nor deflating critique.  Fellow classmates were also quite nurturing with nary a single negative comment.
  • the instructor will find me crazy if I mention Ken Mott at Gettysburg
    • Actually I went up to her after class to explain my connection and we spent nearly ten minutes discussing the changes within the Gettysburg College community.  She knew Ken and it offered a nice connection between us.
  • my notebook isn't appropriate - but I would rather use my laptop but no one else has one
    • It truly did not matter.  Some used netbooks; others full size laptops; some used moleskines and others cheap spiral notebooks.  The point was to write ... the method was irrelevant.

The true highlight of the class was after the session was over.  Geoff drove me to the local independent bookstore, Prairie  Lights, and I had a wonderful time perusing the books on travel, writing, and art.  I met a fellow classmate, the one with whom I had lunch, and we started talking about writing in general.  She is a published author... writing articles for various publications and copy editing for several others.  She has been in the business over a decade and I believe she knows the writing craft.  

In our casual discussions she complimented me on the two pieces I had written in class, and then asked if I had considered writing fiction.  When I told her my YA novel idea... the one that I have considered for the past four years, she was intrigued.  In fact, she spent nearly half an hour brainstorming potential conflicts and various plot trails.  In the end, she offered to collaborate with me and even offered her copy editing services.

I was floored!  This woman is "in the business"  She has read extensively in the genre of my possible novel (time travel).  She was an art history major (the time period and focus of the novel) and she reads the writing endeavors of many... making her a credible authority of "good" and "bad" writing.

While I have had several friends and family members encourage me to pursue this writing craft.. and I do not take their support lightly... I also felt as though they were being kind.  They wanted to offer support because they like me.  But this woman was different.  She had no vested interest; we would not have to see or talk with one another again after tomorrow's session.  She has been in the business quite a long time.  And still... she took the time to let me know she thinks I have talent.

I believe that this was the reason I was supposed to be in Iowa City this weekend; not so much to take a travel writing class but to be encouraged to pursue this interest.

I am on top of the moon... and I feel quite blessed.


  1. Isn't it amazing what God puts before you when you start sorting all this stuff out.

    I've gone back to Morning pages and I think it's uncorked a ton of creativity in terms of writing and photography.

  2. It takes courage to put yourself out there, but you did it, and survived. :)

    What a wonderful blessing it was for you to meet this other writer who encouraged you to write your YA. As a way of giving you his blessing to do it, God connected you with the right person at the right time. What better endorsement can you get?
    Wow. Gives me goosebumps.

  3. Cathy -- that is EXACTLY what I thought :) and yes... the goosebumps are still there!

  4. Ah! This is so cool! I am so happy for you!