Paradise Lost III – Unpacking the Workshop

I came back from the Paradise Lost Writer’s Retreat last week. It’s taken me a week to mentally unpack the takeaways from it, as it usually does. The event is part critique, part seminar, part networking and part social. It’s a great opportunity once a year to get away from my normal life, as wonderful as that is, and just focus on writing and my own future in this industry.

I had an insight while I was there. If I think of writing as a second job – and as non-poetic and non-creative as that sounds, it really is – then it’s just as important to spend time developing my skills, learning, changing and meeting new people as it is for my full time job. I sort of despaired when I first dipped my toe into the water because the thought of breaking into this group of people who all seemed to know each other seemed totally daunting. But a few years in now, I realize that, just like starting at a new company, you eventually meet new people, first the locals, then others in other offices as you travel about and increase your own presence. I know I have a long way to go, but I no longer despair at being able to break into the group, so to speak.

We had some amazing professionals in residence this year.

Mary Robinette Kowal, Campbell and Hugo Award winner, and author of The Glamourist Histories series from Tor

Stina Leicht, author of The Fey and the Fallen series from Nightshade Books and one of the coordinators of the very well-regarded Writers’ Workshop at ArmadilloCon

Lynn Thomas, editor of Apex Magazine, co-editor of Chicks Dig Comics and Chicks Dig Time Lords and main wrangler on the Hugo Award winning podcast, SF Squeecast

Jay Lake, as instructor emeritus and raconteur, provided color commentary for the weekend.

That’s a lot of experience and knowledge for 15 students to soak up, let me tell you. But we soaked it up. Oh yes, we did.

We had some great lectures on creating a unique voice, writing with humor, idea scaling, giving a great reading and working with editors. However, I was most taken with Mary’s session on how to schmooze and make small talk. I talk a lot for my day job, so I can’t say that I thought I’d get a lot out of this session. I did learn a few new things, but even more valuable was the way that Mary articulated the moments and motions of schmoozing and small talk. I would not have thought to break it down into things the way she described, but it was enlightening. Lots to think about and I’m not sure I’ll ever look across the room at two people chatting ever again without thinking about regressive movement with a closed silhouette.

In addition to meeting some pros and getting some great insight into the industry and writing craft, Paradise Lost is also about our own professional development as neo-pro writers and developing our own cohort. Sean Kelley, the organizer, talks about Paradise Lost as an experiment in community, a phrase which I keep coming back to. A community of our own, carved out of the overall writing world. And I feel like I’m a part of it.

Which is weird, honestly. I’m not sure I thought I’d ever make new close friends after college, but there’s something about sharing your writing with others that is an incredibly intimate act. I’ll have to write a separate post on that, after I think on it some more.

Now to work out some of the comments and edits to my short story provided by my gracious fellow attendees.