A sort of homecoming.

Today at our third annual L'ATELIER Writers' retreat and workshop, we welcome back people from past years along with some new folks. After the onslaught of travel (crazy taxi drivers, custom lines, jet lag), we arrive to this place that is undeniably special. Is it the way the sun hits the fields or the sounds of the stream in the background or the Eppoises or the bunnies or the eclectic tapestries used as bedspreads?

We suspect it is not just one thing. It is the combination of people and place that makes this week so productive and rejuvenating. Welcome, everyone. 

"Learn every lesson where you can..."

Rejection is tough. Every writer will tell you that. Sometimes, somehow, it gets a little bit easier, but not always. No matter how you handle rejection, it will always be a part of the writing life. Which is why it can be useful to remember that, like many difficult situations, rejection can offer a chance for learning.

Nancy Freund, a L'ATELIER writer, did something very brave recently, participating in a "game" that is almost completely about rejection. The event involved having the first page of a novel or story read aloud to a panel of agents and editors and then waiting for the panel members to buzz the writer "out" at the point s/he would have stopped reading had the page come from the slush pile. The experience was TOUGH, as anyone can well imagine, but it was also really interesting and we learned a lot from Nancy Freund's account of her experience, so we wanted to share some of it here. 

Here's one of Nancy's very big take-aways that bears repeating:

"So learn every lesson where you can, and don’t forget the reason for one rejection may not match another agent or publisher or reader’s perspective. You have to be willing to keep seeking the rejections. It’s not personal, even if your writing is, or maybe it is personal, but don’t take umbrage. Keep asking. Keep at it."

Read about Nancy's entire experience on her blog here

Villeferry 2016

And so we came together.

Some of us knew one other person. Some of us a few. None of us knew everyone. We worked on short stories, new novels, stubborn novels that just wouldn't die, essays, and poetry collections. 

We didn't share our work with each other except for snippets given at evening readings, but we did share our creative problems. The flat character no one likes. The first page that needs to be written over again. How do you tell a story about addiction in a broken family? About a murder in pre-colonial Africa? About a marriage that has survived? A marriage that is failing? About a lost girl in a biker bar? 

Can I get away with this drug smuggling? Should I leave the body in the hotel room? What if there was no car accident? What is of greater significance, her mechanical heart or the fact that she is girl?

We talked about the realities life throws creative thinkers. We don't have a space to write. We have family demands. Our day jobs demand almost everything. How on earth can we remain productive when not alone in a room with shutters that open onto a view of a pasture?  

There were suggestions, solutions, debates, anecdotes, career planning, and slightly inappropriate literary parlor games. There was French food and wine, natural beauty, friendship, and solitude. 

There are no guarantees that by this time next year anything will have changed. Will she finish the first draft? Will she get an agent? Will she finally get through a reading without tearing up? Will she have the guts to quit her job? Will she win the contest she entered while she was here? Will she finish? 

Of course there are never guarantees in life. But for our week together, we felt incredible promise. We made each other believe that the secret hopes of our writerly hearts are completely, unequivocally possible. 

And so we carry that forward. 

 

-Sara Johnson Allen

 

An interview with Caitlin McGillicuddy

Why did you decide to go to L'ATELIER 2015?

Attending L'ATELIER was an ultimatum that I issued to myself. A line I drew in the sands of a tense internal dialogue about who I am and what impact I will make with my life for myself, for my family and in the world. 

Is this dramatic? Probably. But sometimes that happens when you have spent more than a decade avoiding making a commitment to try hard, really hard, at the one thing you know should be doing. So initially L'ATELIER was my no more excuses, no children, no work, no distractions. 

It was just me, my computer and a very likely chance of failure.  But it ended up being the people, the space and the experience that has proven to me everything of which I am capable and has ultimately changed the course of my life.  So ya, L'ATELIER was awesome.

On what kind of project were you working? 

I came to L'ATELIER with the first chapter of a book I had been thinking about for two years.  I had an outline, I had ideas and I had 800 words. I left L'ATELIER with a fully formed story brewing, over 10,000 words and a commitment to getting it done.  3 months later I hit the 40,000 word mark. Working full-time with a 6-year-old and a 1-year-old, this is only something I accomplished because of the ongoing encouragement of my L'ATELIER community.

What was the most rewarding part of the experience?

The most rewarding part of the L'ATELIER experience was finding this community of writers. Yes, I accomplished goals I set for myself and wrote, but even more empowering for me as a writer was being able to help my fellow writer friends unstick themselves and move their own work along. 

It is awesome to watch other writers discover new things about their characters and their stories, to be surprised by how suddenly a key plot point rises out of the waters of a dull chapter they were about to cut. It is fun and inspiring and helps you charge your own work ahead at a much faster rate than you would be able to alone.

What was the most challenging part of the experience?

For me the challenging parts of L'ATELIER were all unrelated to the writing because that part was all magical (Important to note: I am a glutton for feedback. I love it, so that part wasn't a challenge). 

My L'ATELIER challenges were 1. Not stuffing my face every day with the AMAZING food.  2. Pulling myself away from these writers and our discussions each night so I could go to sleep and of course (3) having to go home.

What are you most looking forward to about L'ATELIER 2016? 

I am counting down the days to L'ATELIER 2016.  It will be coming home to my writerly self and the people who know best how to nurture this part me. The people who know me as Caitlin the writer, not Caitlin the Mom or Caitlin the Professional.  And to all of the work that will pour out of me as a result.  

Caitlin McGillicuddy reads from a draft of her first novel, which arrived in France at 800 words, left at 10,000, and was 40,000 three months later. 

Caitlin McGillicuddy reads from a draft of her first novel, which arrived in France at 800 words, left at 10,000, and was 40,000 three months later. 

An Interview with Nancy Freund

The below interview was conducted via e-mail with Nancy Freund, poet, editor, reviewer, novelist, and L'ATELIER 2015 (and 2016!) attendee. 

Why did you decide to go to L'ATELIER 2015?

The promise of time and creative space was an insistent call, and L'ATELIER delivered both of those, big time.  But more than just time and space, it delivered inspiration and connection, every day -- several times a day.

 A quick breakfast and check-in with fellow participants set me on a productive path for the morning, after which I was eager to share new work over lunch, and again before dinner and evening readings. The gentle pressure of the workshop environment and craft sessions led to more than one break-through on my work-in-progress. 

It was unlike any retreat I've experienced before, and I will eagerly return. Also, the ongoing connection with wonderful new writer friends from L'ATELIER has easily been as valuable as the actual week in France.

 

On what kind of project were you working? 

My main project is a literary novel that I've been writing for several years.  The best thing is how easily I got past some troubling speed bumps with that work.  Also, I learned loads of new things about structure, craft, screenwriting, technology, social media, and the French countryside.

 

What was the most rewarding part of the experience?

It's hard not to say it's the new friendships I made at L'ATELIER, which I consider invaluable, but I suppose the reason I went was to get my mojo back on my novel, and I did.  Very rewarding indeed.

 

What was the most challenging part of the experience?

This sounds ridiculous but the biggest challenge has come since leaving France.  I miss that carefully protected, sacred creative space.  I aim to replicate it on some small level in my own home, so I can work similarly, but I remain aware that the support of an entire like-minded community all working on exciting projects is not easily faked in one's own home.  So the biggest challenge has been blending the demands of real life with that ideal retreat world.

 

What are you most looking forward to about L'ATELIER 2016? 

See above, first and foremost, and I'll add: the bunnies, lavender, and roses, long walks with a camera, conversation, views over the French countryside, and those incredible dinners.  Bliss.

Nancy Freund reading from her novel Mailbox at one of the nightly readings during L'ATELIER 2015. 

Nancy Freund reading from her novel Mailbox at one of the nightly readings during L'ATELIER 2015. 

22,517 words

written by Laura McCune-Poplin

I arrived in France with 60 pages of an awkward first draft, which felt like pulling teeth to write. Because I didn’t know my character yet. Because I didn’t understand her world. Because I felt harassed and overwhelmed by my real life. Although I typically shun a self-centered approach to the universe, I’ve become convinced there are forces out there determined to see me fail as a writer, forces which hurl obstacles at me every time I sit down at the computer. Even soft and furry ones like my cat, who normally shuns physical affection, but who magically appears on my keyboard while I’m trying to take advantage of the 45 minutes bought by my husband taking my son on a scoot and skate expedition, which took endless energy and at least 45 minutes to make happen (sunscreen? shoes? helmets?) but which lasted only 15 minutes anyway because someone who refused to use the bathroom before he left the house now has an immediate and life-threatening need to do so.

Writing at home means writing in spurts and starts, which means I can make progress on a manuscript (words do add up) but not in significant doses. And I mean that in multiple senses of the word. I never got to know my main character simply because I couldn’t spend time with her. I never got a sense of what 1915 Boston really smelled like, or how I would feel waking up in a darkened alley behind the newsboys club on Tremont St. because I couldn’t spend the mental energy required to imagine it. Mental energy that gets spent on necessary but constant and tedious concerns like making sure we don’t run out of bananas, which seem to turn brown after 10 minutes on the shelf.

But I’ve learned, the deliciously easy way (and I use the word delicious very deliberately, since every bite of every meal at L’Atelier was among the best I’ve ever eaten) that those evil forces keeping me from my writerly dreams don’t have international passports. In France, I was able to write every morning. Uninterrupted, except by me climbing spiral stairs to get a cup of tea in a room full of books and windows overlooking roses growing on rock walls. In France, I learned to see Boston clearly. I made discoveries about plot and character that still surprise me. I became so involved in my character’s life that I cried when she lost her first friend, and I realized her biggest fear wasn’t being seen for who she was, it was not being seen at all.

The 22,517 words I wrote at L’Atelier are some of the best I’ve ever written, not because they don’t need revision (they do) or because I’m such an amazing writer (I’m not) but because they were written with my undivided attention, my whole self. While in France I found the momentum and the depth I needed to keep going. To complete my first draft amid a summer of no childcare and multiple distractions. Now when I write in spurts and starts I can do so with integrity, because I was able to devote a week’s worth of energy to my story’s creation.

And words really do add up. My rough draft, completed today, clocks in at a healthy 67,068.

The Fall Out

We all knew going in to it that community was going to be important. We didn't expect that we would connect so quickly, so deeply. We didn't expect to find friendships and professional support that would cross oceans and reach back into our daily lives. 

A manuscript due by July 11th for a final read through. Daily word count check-ins. Shared social media tips and publishing advice. A meet-up for a day of uninterrupted writing. Character research in the form of boxing classes. Achievement of a 5:00 a.m. wake-up-to-write goal. 

It can be lonely back here at the desk. But when you have a strong community, you are never alone. 

 

 

 

The peer group

We are learning fast that community is everything. The people with whom we eat, stay up late, wake each other up early enough to get something done, share our characters' secrets, and share our best survival tricks for facing the novel-- that is our community. It is hard to find, easier to keep, and above all things: precious. 

Anatomy of a space

In preparation for our workshop "Setting as Character" on Wednesday, please take some photos of spaces you come across in the next few days in your travels.

You can take one photo or several. We will use them to dissect the elements of a setting and to think about what lies beneath the obvious. 

Here are a few photos of my "place": Town Wharf, Ipswich, Mass. Home to four centuries of backwater trade, rising tides, eternal tension between blue collar clammers and weekend boaters, site of late night parties and early morning fishing expeditions.  

 


 

The secret

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”

                                    — Neil Gaiman

The Schedule

 

 LʼATELIER WRITERSʼ RETREAT AND WORKSHOP 2015 

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Sunday, June 14

Arrival to Villeferry in the afternoon 

19h30: Evening meal w/ Discussion Topic and Goals powwow 

Mini workshop: Intentional Reading to Inspire One’s Writing (Michelle) 

Monday June 15

Unscheduled Writing Morning 

Mid-day meal with Progress discussions and sharing of work 

3pm: Craft Seminar: Screenwriting with Laura McCune Poplin 

Evening meal w/ Discussion Topic: Independent Publishing (Everyone) 

Readings 

Tuesday June 16

Unscheduled Writing Morning 

Mid-day meal with Progress discussions and sharing of work 

3pm: Craft Seminar: Writing the Novel with Michelle Bailat Jones 

Evening meal w/ Discussion Topic: Strategies for Longer Works (Michelle) 

Readings 

Wednesday, June 17

Unscheduled Writing Morning 

Mid-day meal with Progress discussions and sharing of work 

3pm: Craft Seminar: Setting as Character with Sara Johnson Allen 

Evening meal w/ Discussion Topic: Pushing Extremes (Sara) 

Readings 

Thursday, June 18

Unscheduled Writing Morning 

Mid-day meal with Progress discussions and sharing of work 

3pm: Craft Seminar: Revision Strategies (Everyone) 

Evening meal w/ Discussion Topic: YA fiction (Laura) 

Readings 

Friday, June 19

Unscheduled Writing Morning 

Mid-day meal with Progress discussions and sharing of work 

3pm: Optional One-on-One critiquing sessions / Feedback powwow 

Evening meal w/ Discussion Topic: Using Poetry for Prose (Michelle) 

Readings 

Saturday, June 20

Breakfast and Goodbyes