Yale Writers’ Workshop

Adventures at a Writing Workshop!

Back in July, I attended the Yale Writers’ Workshop for the first time. This was the first big workshop I’ve ever attended. I have to say, it was amazing. Now, not everyone is going to have the same experience at a workshop, even if you attend it together and do all the same activities. We all learn our lessons differently, but I still think this workshop is worth every penny for any writer looking to improve their work.

To begin, the workshop divides all the attendees into groups of about 8-10 people. My group’s instructor, Sergio Troncoso, requested our submissions early and then sent them to the whole group a full month before the workshop started.

“Read each one of these pieces. I suggest you read them at least twice, maybe even three times, and writing a one page, single spaced response to each. Talk about the positives and the negatives. Be ready to discuss when you get here.”

I spent at least three hours on each piece and another hour writing up the one, sometimes two, page response. When I showed up to YWW, I had a stack of papers to hand out to my classmates. I fell in love with my group when many of them arrived just as prepared and ready to work.

Oh, and about a week before the conference, Sergio sent us a writing assignment and a selection of two short stories to read before we arrived: Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” and Chekhov’s “A Trifle from Life.” It was promising to be an intense week.

I could go into the return to college dorm life or the need for a fan due to the older building’s lack of air conditioning, but this is a blog about books and writing, not a travelogue. So instead, I will fast forward to the workshop proper. The classes, under Sergio’s guidance, were a formal workshop where we all took turns discussing each other’s work. We discussed 2-3 stories a day. Everyone was respectful and open to criticism. It was a wonderful experience.

Each afternoon, the workshop hosted a symposium with guest speakers, some discussing non-fiction (as there were two non-fiction groups), writing across media (books, movies, stage), rewriting, small publishing houses and their benefits, and what agents want to see (and don’t want to see). After the agent panel, we were given the opportunity to pitch our finished novels, if we had one, to those same agents and hope for a full manuscript request.

Of course, no workshop would be complete without readings. Each one had a theme or objective. For one, we shared a short piece at the beginning of the week in a way to get to know each other across the various groups. The second was in response to a visit to Yale University Art Gallery where we wrote a little drabble or poem if inspired by anything in the four story museum. Finally, at the end of the workshop, we shared from the work we’d done during the week with those from the different groups.

Shoehorned into the week were small adventures. Sergio took us out for ice cream one night, while lecturing us on the history of the ice cream shop and the dairy farmers who provide the milk. We ate at numerous pizza places in New Haven in search of the best pizza. We were shown to the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library and informed that in the event of a fire, they slam the doors shut and vacuum out all the oxygen. Water would obviously destroy the older books, so be prepared to hold your breath. And we delved through the underground tunnel connecting two of the on-campus libraries. We even got to see one of the oldest printing presses up close, even if we might have ignored a sign or two to stay out.

I came home ready to sit in front of a keyboard and type away, putting to use the comments not only my group leader had for my work, but those of the many others in my group. Just after one week of intense focus on writing, getting feedback, and giving it, my view of all my unpublished work changed and everything old is new again.

My hope is to return to the program next summer, but to attend the two week intensive offered to alumni.

My friend, Heather Straub, put it best. “It sounds like the adult summer camp of my dreams.” She isn’t wrong.


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