A new destination

As we pack our bags for L'ATELIER Writers France 2018, we are headed for a new destination. For the last three years, the tiny village of Villeferry welcomed our group. Some of us are ready for a new venue. Some of us are hesitant to give up our old rooms and rituals. We will all miss the common room where we first took in the view of the surrounding fields and centuries old, stone homes that surrounded our first meeting place as a community. 

What will remain the same is our group of writers, spending the days committed to our work while sharing meal times and evenings with others. "Openness" is one of the key personality traits present in the highly creative mind, and so we shall be ready for this new adventure, even if we will miss our old location just a bit. 

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p.s. Don't forget your bathing suit. Some changes involve a beautiful, in-ground pool on the veranda. 

February writing prompt

It seems to me – in my small freezing corner of the Western Hemisphere – that the world is snowed under this winter. I won’t go into that idea as a metaphor, but at least in a literal way everyone I know is dealing with snowy sidewalks and frozen anti-freeze (I know! It isn’t supposed to happen).

The remedy is writing. But you knew I was going to say that.

This month I have been working on a translation of an art book. It’s been both a headache and a pure joy. The joy part of it has involved looking up paintings and sculptures on the internet and this gave me an idea for this month’s writing prompt:

Get your blank page or your work-in-progress ready. Now pick an art museum, any art museum – MOMA, The Tate, The Art Institute of Chicago. Think big, or think small. Go to the museum website and either do a random search or start browsing their collections. Find a painting. (Try to do this quickly if you can, otherwise you may be stuck in a glorious rabbit hole) It doesn’t have to be a painting you know or even love. It can even be a statue. But look at it.

I MEAN REALLY LOOK AT IT.

Steal something from the painting and use it to start writing, or integrate what you’ve stolen into your work-in-progress. This can be an object from the painting, or it can be an emotion. Just connect the two. However it works, however it doesn’t work. Get writing.

 

 Kiyoshi Saito, 1958   From https://ukiyoe.org/image/aggv/dscn2026

Kiyoshi Saito, 1958

From https://ukiyoe.org/image/aggv/dscn2026

Writers like us.

by Sara Johnson Allen

I was recently sitting by a pool with two friends after the Key West Literary Seminar. It was our last day before going back to Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, in other words, the deep freeze. Do you know what we chose to do on that last day?

We worked. We started new revisions, created master lists of grant and residency opportunities, and swore a pact that we would hold each other accountable to finish the work. 

It is not everyone who would use their vacation time, their negotiated time away from family obligations to work on a project that requires being alone, swearing at random in front of a screen or blank piece of paper. 

But it is who we are. You know the price paid. You also know the pay off. When we write, it is often the way we come closest to our true identity. The truth is, for all our loves and interests, this is where we feel most whole. 

 

 

 

 

A year of writing prompts

Each year at L'ATELIER we spend a lot of time talking about balancing professional lives with family lives with writing lives, and how hard this can be. A week of concentrated writing time is a rare event, and although we often leave the retreat motivated to re-center our writing within our busy lives as much as possible, months pass and writing can start to fall to the periphery.

In 2018 one of my resolutions was to integrate lots of different art into my writing world, and to use those experiences to broaden my writing and inspire me to write more, even if that writing isn’t directly connected to my current novel-in-progress. To do this I’m using writing prompts, something I've never really done before—and much to my surprise, I am finding these prompts really helpful. Obviously not all of them, and there is no magic formula for sitting down at my desk and getting up an hour later with 1000 words drafted. But I do find there is a wonderful freedom in approaching my writing from different angles, from finding different pathways into my work, and even branching out into new kinds of writing, depending on where the prompt takes me.

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So, without further ado, I’ll be posting a writing prompt at the blog here each month. Like the prompts I'm using for my own practice, these will be varied: images, ideas, directives, revision-based, musical, and anything else. The idea is to spark creative practice, however possible. I'll try to make these applicable to writers who are going in and out of longer works, but also applicable for those who may be generating new material. 

And the first one is:

Take a book off your shelf (preferably fiction, but anything with dialogue should work). Leaf through and find a line of dialogue. Now take the character you are working on in your own novel or story and give that character the line of random dialogue. Work from there to expand a scene or start a scene. 

- Michelle

 

"I'm In!"

Post written by Gabrielle Yetter, 2017 L'ATELIER community member

When I signed up for L'ATELIER, I was looking for an experience that would enrich me and improve my writing (not to mention provide me with a week in the gorgeous French countryside). I knew none of the other participants, but had great faith I'd find something special. That feeling came from three sources: Sara, Laura, and Michelle, the course-leaders.

From the moment I made contact with Sara on Facebook and started barraging her with questions, she, Laura and Michelle answered all my questions and explained exactly what I could expect. They gave me professional, personal, detailed, and informative answers that inspired me to respond with two words: "I'm in!"

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"The silence.The beauty. 

The absence of anything else to do other than eat, talk, walk and write."

Did I make the right decision? One hundred percent yes. What did I love about it? This: Getting up every morning to a French buffet breakfast followed by four glorious hours writing; just writing. Sitting alone with nothing more than a laptop and a mind brimming over with ideas, and having the luxury of time to explore them, think about them, and put them on paper (or computer). Sharing three delicious gourmet meals with a small group of serious writers who shared ideas and provided valuable feedback. Getting to know those people and learning from them--both through personal interaction and during daily interactive workshops. Spending evenings together, reading from our work, and becoming inspired to write better, create better, produce better. The silence. The beauty. The absence of anything else to do other than eat, talk, walk and write.

Not only did L'ATELIER inspire me, it set me on a different course. I'd arrived with the intent of self-publishing and left committed to finding an agent and publisher. Three months later, I completed the first draft of my first novel, in line with the goal I set in France. Was it the wine, the cheese, the tranquility, or the company of other good writers that influenced me? I believe it's all of the above.


Gabrielle Yetter is a British born writer who worked as a journalist in South Africa before moving to the U.S. In 2010, she and her husband, Skip, travelled to Cambodia where she authored The Definitive Guide to Living in Southeast Asia: Cambodia,  and The Sweet Tastes of Cambodia (about traditional Cambodian desserts) in addition to dozens of freelance articles and her blog The Meanderthals. In 2015, she and Skip published Just Go! Leave the Treadmill for a World of Adventure and she later authored two childrens' books, Ogden the Fish Who Couldn't Swim Straight and Martha the Blue Sheep (all available on Amazon)

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. 

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"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.