I haven’t told anyone at home much about Viable Paradise. Not so much for “what happens at VP, stays at VP” reasons, but because I want to hug the experience to myself and not risk diluting it. I have a writing date tomorrow; I will probably share more with my writing friends, but even then, I might not be ready to talk about it for months.
I went into VP with a lot of trepidation, having participated in a critique group that wasn’t right for me and left me blocked for months. I was afraid I was going to cry at VP, that I would be one of those people who couldn’t hear criticism at all, and that I wouldn’t be able to write again, after finally getting back into a writing groove. Instead I found a group of really smart people who got it and who gave on-target, helpful, informed critique. And that was just the students.
The instructors gave me two things, one I knew I needed and the other I didn’t. (Actually they gave us many, many gifts, not the least of which was the gift of their time, but I’m going to just mention two here.)
The first was professional level, personalized readings of my story. The instructors told me exactly where I was failing and how, as it pertained to me. Not general advice, not general writing rules, not look at how so-and-so does this, but specific-to-me, right-here-this-sentence feedback. I needed that and I knew I needed it. I hope I can take all the tools they gave me and move off this plateau to a higher mountain.
The second thing the instructors gave me was a glimpse into their excitement. They were excited about reading, about writing, about editing, about helping us learn to write better, about us, about our stories and about talking about all of those things. At first I was too shy and impostery feeling to see it, but over the week, it became clear to me that they are editors and writers and instructors for the same reasons I am a writer: the thrill of picking up a book and discovering it is the story you didn’t know you wanted to read; writing what you cannot find on the shelves; hearing other people discuss a story you wrote. And one more layer over that, because they are the pros: helping other writers improve their writing, too.
They drew the parallels for us over and over again during the week. We were writers, like them. Writing is hard, for everyone. They could tell us about our mistakes because they made them, too. They were once where we are now.
I could call it validation, or finding a group of kindred spirits, or the intensity of a littoral, transformative experience. But what it felt like was the instructors and students infected me with excitement. They made me feel invincible, publishable and that being the writer I want to be is within my grasp. I have that memory inside of me now. I can call on it when I am writing alone in a room and my gloom-tinted glasses settle on my nose. I already have.