Applications Due: June 15, 2013
Workshop Runs: October 13 – October 18th, 2013
A couple of years ago, I attended Viable Paradise, a week-long workshop for science fiction and fantasy writers. Applications for this year’s VP class are due on June 15th, which is a scant five weeks away. If you’re on the fence about applying this year, allow me to present some arguments for why you should.
Intensity of Focus
VP is a residential workshop, which means you spend the whole week with your fellow students and instructors in beautiful Martha’s Vineyard. And while the environment may be picturesque, don’t kid yourself: you’re not going to spend the week taking in the sights. Instead, the week is an intensely focused period of genre exploration. You’ll be talking genre, writing craft, and philosophy of art from morning ’til late into the night.
The experience isn’t nearly as intimidating as that might sound. First, everyone there – the instructors, the staff, and the other students – all love the genre just as much as you do. The instructors are all working professionals in the field, and have years of experience on both sides of the editorial divide. The volunteer staff (who are there for logistical/emotional support and to make sure everyone eats well) are all VP alums, so they’ve gone through the same intense experience (disclaimer: I was one of the volunteer staff last year, and I will be again this year). And your fellow students? They are all there for the same reason you are: because they love the genre, and they want to get better at the craft of writing.
The intensity of the VP experience is a by-product of everyone’s passion for the craft. And that shared passion is one of the most important features of VP. Where else could you talk story structure and world-building techniques into the wee hours of the morning for an entire week?
Differences of Approach
Each of Viable Paradise’s eight instructors have their own methods, their own perspectives, and their own beliefs about what it takes to produce the highest quality fiction. VP is unique in that all eight instructors are there and teaching in parallel, which means that students get to see the different perspectives juxtaposed alongside one another.
For me, this really drove home the lesson that there are many equally-valid ways to achieve a desired effect. By getting to see different approaches at the same time, I was able to synthesize new techniques and writing processes that work for me, for the way my mind works, and for the way my writing process works. If I were only exposed to one or two instructors at a time, I think I would have had a harder time developing this synthesis.
Novels and Short Stories
Over the years, VP has gotten the reputation of being a “novel-focused” workshop, and for me, this was a feature – not a bug. The opportunity to get the start of my novel critiqued, to have my synopsis examined, and to discuss the practical business of the modern novel market with folks who know it far better than I do was incredibly valuable.
However, despite its reputation for focusing on novel-length works, plenty of students apply with short stories. The instructors all work in both novel and short story lengths, and have done so for years. They have the experience in both forms to understand each form’s constraints and strengths. This helps to bring a very holistic perspective to the craft, and their understanding of the novel filters into the short story discussions, while the short story insights bleed into the novel-length discussions.
The result is an experience that – for me, at any rate – improved my work in both the short and novel length works.
Do You Want to Take Your Writing to the Next Level?
The best way to decide if VP is right for you is to ask yourself: do you want to take your writing to the next level? In my class, we had absolute newbies (me among them), agented authors, SFWA-member authors, and a number in between these various phases of a writing career. Regardless of where we were when we arrived, we left the island able to apply new skills and new perspectives to our writing, which in turn helped us to raise the level of our work.
Since we graduated in 2011, many of my classmates have gone on to publish short stories in various professional markets, to close multi-book deals, to self-publish their books, or (in my case) have their non-fiction selected for a best-of collection.
It didn’t matter where we started from or what our individual goals were, we leveled-up thanks to our experiences at VP.
If you’re looking for more information about VP, I strongly recommend the Viable Paradise web site.
And if you want a more detailed discussion of my experience at VP, and the costs associated with it, here are my Reflections on the Workshop Experience: Viable Paradise.
And since I’m planning on working as staff again this year, I hope to see you there in the fall!