Earlier this year, I applied to the workshop Viable Paradise, held annually at Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
When I was accepted in May, I thought there had been a mistake.
I have no published works under my name. I’ve finished two novels, completed a rough draft of a third, and the half-formed bodies of half a dozen lay about my hard drive like unfinished ship models. My education in composition and literary analysis is best described as “self-taught”: apart from Composition I and II in college, I’ve relied on reading dozens of how-to books in writing, as well as practicing the craft itself. No, I thought, I couldn’t be ready. I couldn’t be good enough to be taught by two of the best editors in the industry and a half dozen wonderful authors.
I fly out to Martha’s Vineyard tomorrow, and I’m still not ready.
I’ve never participated in any writing workshops before now. My writing critiques have been scattershot, depending on the kindness of friends and the fickleness of the schedules of young adults. I can’t imagine there aren’t other students in the same boat. Regardless, VP will be a trial by fire . . . or perhaps a better metaphor would be a toss into the lake: if I float, I’m a writer!
I’ll be chronicling each day on the trip here, hopefully accompanied with pictures of beautiful Martha’s Vineyard. I’ll write about some of my own private moments as well.
My short story being critiqued next week is “Bodhisattvas,” about a seminary student confronting a loss of faith after an epidemic wipes out the ability to have religious experiences. At the time I applied it it represented the best of my writing abilities, but contained flaws that I found difficult to fix. My hope is that my fellow students and instructors can show me how to fix the story, or else teach me the problem-solving skills needed to find the fixes myself.
I’d also like to make some friends who share the same brand of crazy that I do — namely, “visionary writer syndrome.”
Most of all, I hope it brings into focus my motivations and expectations for writing. Do I pursue it as a career, or is it merely a hobby? Am I really cut out for professional genre writing? Am I good enough yet, or are there even more years of toil in my future before my first acceptance? I can’t keep asking my Tarot deck, that’s for sure.
I expect no easy answers, no quick solutions. As Tolkien said, “the road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. . . .”