Deciding About Viable Paradise

This is a re-post from January 2012 about Viable Paradise, the week-long workshop for writers of science fiction and fantasy.  I’m placing it here so folks searching for information on Viable Paradise can find it more easily.

This is a Viable Paradise entry for those folks who have gone searching for Viable Paradise information–hoping it will help them decide to apply–and somehow ended up at my little LJ.  I know I went looking, and read every little comment I could find.  (I did that for years before I actually sent my writing sample along.)  There are posts about my VP experience on the LJ, too.

Most folks want to know what the experience was like, if the workshop really made a difference in the writing, and if attending is “worth it.”  Short answers are: life-changing, absolutely, and without a doubt.

There are group workshops filled with straight talk and strategies and opinions from the viewpoints of instructors.  The whole classroom-feel breaks down rather quickly, resulting in a comfortable exchange of questions, answers, advice, and quips.  Then there are individual sessions with the instructors.  That time belongs to you.  You can talk about your work, the instructor’s work, the business end of publishing, the writing process, whatever.

There are staff members who are there to do anything they can to make your week amazing.  One moment that rocked my week had nothing to do with learning writer stuff.  It was when I sat beside Lisa, computer on my lap, and asked what file format would be easiest for her to print out.  She said it didn’t matter because she was there to make it easier for me.

I had to go cry a few minutes later.  As a single mom who spent the first five months of the year performing hospice care for my ex-husband (my son’s father) before his death from liver cancer, can you imagine how much that single comment meant to me?  As far as I know, none of the staff knew what baggage I was bringing along.  They didn’t need to.  They treated everyone with kindness and respect, all the time.

The staff also takes care of your evening meals, preparing food options and offering choices that strive to accommodate dietary preferences and restrictions.  And it tastes awesome!  Staff also had a knack for knowing when to bring out a new set of snacks in the afternoon, or when to ask, “Need anything else?  How are feeling about now?”  My main regret is that I didn’t thank them enough for their helpfulness and openness.

There are sessions with your fellow students, moderated by instructors.  This is where folks give you feedback on your submitted writing.  It is valuable beyond measure to hear what careful, interested, and invested readers have to say.  And it can be fun, because everyone involved wants what is best for you and for your writing.  There is no inclination among the students to be nasty and overbearing about a critique, so even the harsh stuff is delivered with kindness.  My fellow students cared as much about the writer as the work.

Aside from the formal workshop stuff, there is everything that happens around the scheduled things.  The most important part of Viable Paradise happens between the lines.  Those are the parts that can be harder to define and can, frankly, sound irrelevant.  Making music and singing every night.  Walking in the moonlight or as the sun rises.  Playing Mafia and Thing.  Just hanging out when you feel like it, talking or sitting silent.  Watching and playing poker.

And if you don’t want to participate in any of that, no one will think ill of you.  I spent most of the music-at-night time either talking with folks or in my downstairs room listening to the music above.  I didn’t play poker, but intently watched many a hand play out.*

I cannot over-stress the importance of the time you’re given at Viable Paradise.  You won’t spend every moment in a classroom, taking notes, or frantically writing.  Instead, you have time to explore ideas and new perspectives through conversation and introspection.  You have the opportunity to share insights and fears and hopes and uncertainties with people who truly want to hear what you have to say.  You can get answers to the nitty-gritty questions you have about publishing.

The experience is a week-long immersion in the kind of life many writers wish could be lived every day.  I was surrounded by people who felt the same way about writing as I did, who write because there is joy in creation and revise because readers matter.

But none of that information will help you decide if you should or should not apply, because your decision is less about the facts and more about your view of yourself as a writer.  The workshop costs real money.  Telling you the experience is worth every penny isn’t what most writers need to hear.  Instead, you must decide you are worth those pennies, every single one of them.

I spent a decade thinking about Viable Paradise.  In the four years before I did apply, life was in such turmoil and I felt so low, I didn’t write a single new piece of fiction.  Nothing.  But my ex, even in hospice, urged me to keep writing if I still loved it.  Three weeks before he passed, I applied to VP.  Five weeks after he passed, I was accepted.

Then I had to decide if I was worth the time and money.  By inviting me to the workshop, the VP instructors had indicated they thought my writing was worth it.  But was I?  So I figured I was going for the sake of my writing.  I found myself instead.  I found out what it meant to be a writer from the inside out.

I also wrote a brand-new short story that’s out with an editor right now, revised and sent out another short story, am about a fourth of the way through revising a novel, conceptualized a new novel, discovered ways to improve two trunk novels, and am slowly re-creating a short story and a novella that were lost years ago in a computer crash but still have some awesome potential I want to mine.

Yes, VP helped my writing.

I have yet to read a review of Viable Paradise that said, “Total waste of my time!  Didn’t learn a thing!  Not a single valuable experience all week!”  So even if you’re not certain the workshop is “right” for you, give it a shot.  You will not come home empty-handed or empty-headed.

Do you have questions?  I know I did.  If you think I can help, ask away.

Original Entry at LiveJournal includes additional links to Viable Paradise classmates.

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