Return from Viable Paradise

IMG_3156Well it’s be nearly two months since I returned from Viable Paradise and felt it was time to do a wrap up post of sorts. I started a post almost immediately after returning at the end of October, but kept stalling on it. Mainly because it felt too raw, too incomplete. Like I was only telling half the story. What’s that you say? A writer at a loss for words! It happens, deal with it.

In a word the experience was INTENSE, but in a good way.

Before I went to VP I had this idea to make buttons that read I SURVIVED VIABLE PARADISE 19″ to hand out to my fellow classmates on our final day together.  I am so glad I didn’t.  SURVIVING is completely the wrong word to describe the experience.

To survive something is to endure it. To put up with something and come out the other side despite it. Like surviving a bad relationship or a really boring meeting at work.  VP is not about surviving. It’s about surrendering and being reborn as a writer, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.

Before I applied, I had heard VP being described as a type of writer’s “boot camp”. I took it  to mean that you were immersed in the workshop and that you were there for ONE thing to become better writers. It wasn’t until I was there and in the middle of our writing assignment that I realized it was much more than that.  I had spent the better part of two days attending the lectures, scribbling in my notebook and trying to keep up with all the great and useful stuff I was being told. I had no idea when I was going to have the time to process it all and apply it. I told myself, just write the story assignment and try not to get caught up in applying everything I was learning in the moment. Then an interesting thing happened. THE STORY WROTE ITSELF.

No not literally, but what I mean is that up until that point in my life I couldn’t explain my short story writing process to you if you held a gun to my head. It was just something that happened (and not always consistently). After only a few days of intense VP workshop I found myself applying stuff I had been learning without even realizing it. It was like in the original Karate Kid when Mr. Miyagi gives Daniel all those seemingly mundane and repetitive jobs to do when all Daniel wants to do is learn karate. Finally Daniel has had enough and demands to know when the old master is going to teach him karate, Mr. Miyagi has Daniel step through all the tasks – “Wax on. Wax Off” and “Paint the Fence” and its then that Daniel realizes he has absorbed the lessons already without realizing it. Young Daniel’s mind is blown. It was that kind of epiphany.

There I was having a mild panic attack one day – How I was going to write a short story in less than two days? The next thing I knew I had an outline and was banging away the keyboard well on my way to completing my story. I am not sure what came over me.

The great thing about the workshop is that it keeps you so busy that you have little time to over-think things. Just keep swimming. Every minute you are there counts, whether you are attending lectures, writing, or chatting with instructors and classmates over dinner or in the few quiet moments there were.

The week went by in a blur and in that way that time has of dilating when you are busy, stuff that happened only the day before felt like a lifetime ago and it was easy to lose track of the days and hours. The instructors and staff at the workshop were fabulous and I never felt more cared for in my life (no offence to my mother!). Since the staff are all former students of VP themselves, they are well attuned to the rhythm of the week and know intimately what the students are going through.

I felt privileged to be surrounded by so many talented people, especially my fellow classmates. I think one of the reasons I hesitated finishing this post in November was because of my inability to put into words what it meant to connect with my classmates.  It was like discovering an extended family you never knew you had. I still can’t quite describe what it means to find your tribe in the way that you experience it at VP. I am sure VP alumni reading this will simply nod along in agreement, and for those of you that may have never experienced something similar will have to take my word for it.

I felt like our class was fairly tight going into VP as we got to know each other during the almost 4 months leading up to the workshop through emails and social media, but it wasn’t until we were forged in the same fire that we really bonded. The price of admission was worth the friendships that have stemmed from the experience both my classmates and other VP alum that have been more than generous to use newbies.

I’d definitely recommend Viable Paradise to others with the caveat that it has to be the right fit for you and what you are looking for. It will not suit all people’s needs or personalities, but then again, I suppose that’s why there is an application process. So the instructors can be assured they are reaching those that will benefit the most from the experience. I know I will be applying the lessons I learned at the workshop for years to come.

Before I close, a few pieces of practical advice. 1) Bring good walking shoes. I brought my everyday shoes and thought they would stand up to the rigours of the workshop, but not even close. As much as you are sitting around for hours at a time in lectures there are also frequent walks during the week and I had the blisters to prove it. 2) Don’t over plan for food. The instructions say you are responsible for breakfast and lunch, during the week and that they generally feed you one meal a day, but I found that I had a bit too much food left over at the end of the week. Non-perishable stuff can be donated to a local food bank, but anything open or perishable has to be used up or tossed out. There are opportunities to grab more supplies during the week and the staff is very helpful in that regards.

A final word of caution. The facilities currently being used pose serious accessibility issues for people with mobility restrictions. Stairs abound at the Inn and there are weird little step downs into the suites on the second floor of the Inn. That and the lofts of the suites have very narrow spiral staircases for access. I know the workshop has a long history with the Inn, but they seriously need to reconsider the facility’s accessibility or they are going to potentially exclude a lot of talented writers based on this barrier alone.

If you want to know more or ask a specific question leave a message in the comments or drop me an email.

 

 

Writer: Level Up!

Writing is a long journey and as a writer it helps to stop and get the lay of the land every once in a while. To pause and look back and to see how far you’ve come, but also l to look ahead at that next summit, catch your breath and say”Let’s do this”.

Portrait of the writer as a young man.

Portrait of the writer as a young man.

I’ve been writing all my life. Most of it spent wandering aimlessly hoping I would hit upon some magic formula for success. (What can I say I was young and naive)  I wasted much of my youth thinking I had all the time in the world to write and that someday I would REALLY crack down and take it seriously. It wasn’t until my wife and I were expecting our first child 12 years ago that I committed myself to this path that I am on now.

I realized then that if I didn’t double down and make an effort that I risked losing my writing to the demands of parenthood and family life. It would be far too easy to say – “I’ll pick it up again when my kids are older and I have more time.” Of course there never is enough time. You have to carve that time out of everything.

I became active in writing groups, both while I was living in Toronto and now here in Sudbury. I attended workshops, read books about writing, and most of all took the time to write. Ever so slowly, its been paying off. My writing has steadily improved and just last year I sold my first short story, Second Harvest to Fictionvale.com.

Back in 2011 one of my writing buddies – Stephanie Charette applied to and attended a workshop called Viable Paradise at Martha’s Vineyard. The workshop is a week long intense session with professional writers and editors in science fiction and fantasy. Here’s how they describe the workshop:

Viable Paradise is a unique one-week residential workshop in writing and selling commercial science fiction and fantasy. The workshop is intimate, intense, and features extensive time spent with best-selling and award-winning authors and professional editors currently working in the field. VP concentrates on the art of writing fiction people want to read, and this concentration is reflected in post-workshop professional sales by our alumni. ~From Viable Paradise website.

Stephanie came back from that workshop a changed person.  She encouraged me to apply practically the minute she stepped off the plane in 2011. I wanted to attend, but I somehow had excuses for not applying each year. Too busy with work. Too busy with family commitments. I can’t afford the money this year. I can’t get the time off work. “Next year I’ll apply” I said. For three years. 

Then 2015 came around and I looked up at that next summit and said “Let’s do this!” My family was on board and I was finally in a position at work where I could manage the time off. I enlisted the help of my writing circle of friends both to be my cheer leading squad and to help me whip my application into shape.

I submitted my application a few weeks before the application period closed and waited – until yesterday when I got the word.

I have been accepted! Look out VP19 here I come! (Well, in 4 months anyhow)

Scott Pilgrim Levels Up

Scott Pilgrim Levels Up

I suddenly feel like I have levelled up as a writer. Ready to take on this challenge. (Okay maybe the true Level Up won’t come until AFTER the workshop, but you know what I mean.)

Thanks to everyone who has supported me along the way on this journey, I couldn’t have done it with out you. I’m looking forward to this next chapter in my writing life and more than just the new skills I will add to my tool kit, I am looking forward to the new friendships and personal connections that will flow from it.