CSSF Novel Workshop

Earlier this month, I spent two weeks on the University of Kansas campus attending the beginning novel writing workshop at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction.

Lawrence is a lovely town, full of brightly painted houses and big trees.

There are also many brick sidewalks in various states of disrepair. Some stretches have all of the bricks in place, their interstices smoothed with grass. Others are buckled, bricks missing, with holes ready to suck in your foot and twist your ankle. 
Kij Johnson and Barbara J. Webb run the workshop, and they are amazingly welcoming, kind, and supportive. They made the transition into workshopping easy, and our group meeting room quickly became a safe place to brainstorm ideas and ask for help. 
From one to four each day we workshopped, with Kij and Barbara asking the author what they wanted from the story, calling on the group to offer up ideas and responses to help move the novel along. At six we met to walk down to dinner on Massachusetts Avenue, the main road at the bottom of the campus full of restaurants and shops. By eight or so we were back in the workshop room fishbowling. Sometimes fishbowling is talking out your characters to the room, or writing a bunch of ideas on Post-Its and rearranging them until the glue wears off. Sometimes it’s staring at your sticky notes in despair until someone comes up and asks you one question about your story that makes the whole project make sense. 

Mainly, fishbowling is a way of figuring out your story so that you can write a better draft of your novel. One of my classmates had an amazingly detailed outline by the end of the workshop, others had clear sets of action through the first turn, and it seemed as though everyone walked away with a better sense of clarity in regards to their project. I finally met my protagonist and discovered her story and her core need that will push my story forward. It was fascinating to watch novels expand with ideas, try out different possibilities, and finally find their solid paths – friendly sidewalks with not quite so many bricks missing.

We shared the dorm with the short story writers workshop. In the evenings they watched movies on the 3rd floor of the dorm, with novel writers invited as well. Throughout the workshops there are also people in the dorm who are on retreat – they just come to be around other writers and write. There’s an atmosphere of love for science fiction and fantasy, of engagement in the larger writing community, and of creative play. It’s lovely.

At the end of the second week we attended the Campbell Conference, held in the swanky Oread Hotel, just down the street from the KU Student Union where we ate lunch everyday.

Campbell and Sturgeon Awards

Saturday was rainy and I wasn’t feeling well, so I stayed in. But I wish I had pushed myself to go to the panels and signings. I heard that Andy Duncan’s reading was fantastic, and from the very short reading he gave during the student readings on Thursday I have no doubt it was entertaining and lovely. If I’m ever lucky enough to attend the workshop again, I’m not going to miss the Saturday events of the Campbell Conference.

The beginning novel writer’s workshop gave me the confidence and stubbornness I’ll need to finish a full draft of my novel. My fellow workshoppers are writing so many amazing, beautifully told stories that I hope I will get to read as they grow into novels.

Origami flowers by Brooke Wonders

The best part of the workshop is that, unlike Clarion and Clarion West, you can go back. If you want to make the transition to writing novels, go to Lawrence for the summer. Take more clothes than you think you’ll need (it is hot, you will walk everywhere, you will sweat), be ready to make big changes to your novel, and bring your favorite sticky notes and sharpies to grow and rearrange your story. 
Kij Johnson and Barbara J. Webb’s
Class of 2013
The Marmosets
Tail twist! 

4 thoughts on “CSSF Novel Workshop

  1. It was Lizzie! 🙂 I like residential writing workshops so much more than one or two-day workshops. I think I have to have that complete removal from everyday life at home in order to make some big leaps in my writing. 🙂 Are you planning on going to any workshops in the future?

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