• Sarah Leonard

Futurescapes Workshop

Sometimes, in high school, you have your rebellious phase. You meet Bo. Damn, Bo is fine, but he’s bad for you. You start wearing heavy eyeliner and black lipstick, piercings everywhere, when just a week ago you said you despised nose rings. Still, you date Bo. You try and get into the things he’s into—graffiti your school’s library, teepee the principal’s house. But, in reality, Bo is not the guy for you. Yet, you won’t admit it.

So, you and your parents have a serious talk. They go, “Billy-jean, Bo is bad for you. And here’s why…” The true revelation is crushing. You’ve always been daddy’s princess and momma’s girl. Them telling you Bo SUCKS is enough for you to finally see the truth. As much as you hate it, you dump Bo. It’s a painful journey, but you eventually see that you’ve become a better person because of your choice. Maybe, one day, you find a Bradley with a house in the suburbs and a dog named Buddy.

Writing workshops are like your parents, your first draft before going your Bo, and your revised draft after going your Bradley (nothing against those who want a bad boy. Go find your Bo if it makes you happy. This is just for metaphor’s sake). All in all, when you go to a workshop thinking your book is great, you may just leave with the realization that it’s more like dog dung. That’s how it went for me, at least. And as painful as that revelation can be, it’s totally worth it. Thanks to Futurescapes, my work has become my Bradley.

Futurescapes is a workshop held in Utah every year. This was it’s second year, occurring at the Sundance Resort. To get in, you submit an excerpt or piece of work. I used the first chapter of my book. If it’s good enough, say hello to three days of workshopping your short story or novel excerpt, surrounded by the mountains of Utah! With agents, authors, and editors as mentors and peers—with the same passion for writing that you have—reviewing your work, you are given invaluable feedback worth every penny. In fact, the feedback I received was so incredible that I decided to rewrite my entire book....again….yayyyy.

If you’ve read one of my other posts, you know I’m an advocate for workshops and conferences, any outside experience you can get. Futurescapes is one of these experiences, and I would like to share my journey with the workshop so that you will want to apply as much as I did!

I’d like to start with a metaphor, naturally.

Day 1: I got hit by a car.

Day 2: I’m sure I’m going to die from the damage, then I go into surgery.

Day 3: Full recovery!

Have I sold you on it yet? It’s not as bad as it sounds, so I should backtrack. I flew in for the workshop on a Sunday, woke up at 3:30am for it (#thethingsIdoforwriting). On the way there, I edited more of the pieces for the six people in the group I was in. One of the biggest reliefs of a selective workshop like this is that you get to work with pieces that are actually really good. It’s not like editing the half-ass, wrote-it-in-a-night pieces for your required writing class in college. The people write because they love it, and they’re good at it because they’ve sought knowledge outside of just a classroom. Them going to Futurescapes proves that.

All in all, I was very excited to meet my writing peers, especially the ones in my critique group. Once I made it to the resort, I immediately fell in love (shout out to my uber driver who brought me there—also a writer). Sundance is right by the mountains, nestled in the forest. Cabins spread out fit the rustic tone and, with the mountains as a backdrop, the area serves as the perfect destination for writing. After some exploring, I got some writing done. I could have worked anywhere there, even the bathroom. Every place was the perfect environment. I felt like wherever I went, I was on an adventure, and coffee was close at hand.

Having explored the environment, I wanted to see if I could find people there for Futurescapes. I swear to you, I could spot those writers from a mile away. They had a certain aesthetic: the casual rustic look going, but with something more I can’t pinpoint. The nerd shirts definitely help, though. I shared a moment with one girl where I swear we silently both understood why we were there. That was confirmed later when we talked. Also, if you see someone sitting alone with a computer and working with lose paper and there’s a workshop going on, they are probably a writer.

All of the people there, writers and professionals alike, were absolutely amazing. None of them were out to get me. In fact, they were all very eager to help each another out. The “out to get me” stereotype is rarely ever true. It’s never been for me, at least. Not only did I make great friends but AMAZING connections. That’s a huge plus of workshops. You create relationships that are invaluable in the present and future. And the friendships are a breath of fresh air. I love my friends at my University. However, it’s really nice to talk with people who share the same knowledge, drive, understanding, and interests as me. They knew terms I did, struggles I did, likes and dislikes, and experiences. I was able to comfortably talk with others about something I’m so passionate about and that they are too.

So, after exploring, writing, and meeting people on Sunday, I went to bed to get a good night’s sleep before the first day of the actual workshop: Day 1, Monday, or the day you crash your car and your parents have that serious talk about Bo.

We all met in a ballroom and sat at tables with the rest of our critique group members. After an introduction and brief time to get to know each other, we began our first workshop period: the first ten pages of each group member’s work that were submitted before the workshop started. Our mentor was an agent, though I won’t mention her name to respect her privacy.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect. There have been multiple occasions where I thought my work was amazing just to find out it actually needed a lot of work. Despite how great I thought my chapter was and how much I edited it for this workshop, I made sure to prepare myself for the worst. Thankfully, I didn’t get the worst, but my work definitely needed a lot of improvement. My group members and mentor gave me great feedback that made me realize that maybe my first chapter wasn’t as good as I thought and that, maybe, that nagging voice in my head that had tried to convince me to start my book at a different point was right.

Also, receiving my feedback made me feel kind of like a hypocrite, which is natural. You get so close to your work that it’s easier to spot other people’s mistakes than your own. I’d find myself giving critiques to others just to receive some of the same feedback. And I agreed with most of those critiques. Our mentor told us to revise a small part of our work and bring it back for our final day.

Naturally, I fell into my little author hole, told myself my writing sucked, I’d never get published, and that I’d be writing this damn novel for the rest of my life (still believe that sometimes). It’s part of the process. I knew I’d get over myself like I always do, but at the time, I just felt a little empty, especially since I wasn’t sure what was the best way to fix my book’s issues. So, I talked to my mentor and group partners, explained the idea I had about starting in a place I had in one of my earlier drafts as a prologue, expressed my concerns, and then I received helpful advice. I took that advice and started in that old place, but in third person. At the time, I thought it would be a POV change only for the prologue. I’ll get into that later…

Tuesday was the day we reviewed synopses and queries (the dangerous creatures that only weirdos like to play with [meant with love]). I woke up still feeling like death in regard to my book. I hadn’t picked myself up yet and gotten that surgery. Figuring out how to break up with Bo and better myself was still a pain in my ass.

Although, reviewing queries and synopses picked me up from my hole for a while. We had different groups and mentors this time round, which I liked. Hearing feedback from new perspectives was helpful. I got a point of view that was fresh, especially since they hadn’t read my first chapter to influence their input. My query letter was pretty solid, though my synopsis was way too dense. You don’t have to include all characters and plot points, only the ones that drive the story, that serve as the foundation. That’s something I learned very quickly. This part was a little hard in regard to offering others critique, since we didn’t have time before we met to read the synopses and queries (this is secretly feedback/advice for those who organize Futurescapes).

After, we had a mini-craft lesson that, even after all the workshops, conferences, and writing lessons I’ve attended, I found very helpful. Then, that night, we got to hear the agents, editors, and authors speak in panels. The advice they gave was absolutely incredible. Really, what I gained the most from it was comfort and understanding, which I really gained from the conference as a whole. Hearing them speak helped me go into surgery, break up with Bo, and find myself.

Writing is hard, painful, and can be heartbreaking, but you aren’t alone in that journey. And, if you keep trying and seek the help you need, you will eventually get a book published in one way or another. I also learned how important it is that writing never become a chore, a “job” per say. Always make sure you love writing, even when you one day have deadlines, and write what you love, even if people don’t approve. If you don’t write what you truly want to, will it really ever be the best it can be?

And I also learned, when it comes to understanding, to NOT SEE THESE PROFESSIONALS AS GODS. As hard as I tried, I was intimidated by agents, editors, and published authors at first. They had achieved and controlled what I had dreamt of my whole life. But after hearing them speak at the panel and getting to know them during the workshop, I was able to truly see them as peers and friends, not these godly people who accomplished my dreams or control my dreams (Even if they do. Did I tell you agents how amazing and fabulous you are? Hit me up for a query.). Side note: LEAVE AGENTS ALONE. Don’t just hand them query letters and beg they read them, and DON’T chase them into the bathroom and pitch your novel while they are doing their bis. Yes...that did happen to one of the agents I met.

After the panel, I went to my cabin, no longer sulking in my hole and hissing at my book. That night, inspired by the words of my mentors, I wrote. Although it took me a while to get something I was remotely happy with (1 page took about an hour), I got it down.

The next day, Wednesday, I met with my critique group again. It was really cool hearing how their pieces changed, and I loved how they utilized their feedback. They created great things and improved so much. When I presented my revised first page, they absolutely loved it. In fact, they loved it so much that they recommended I consider rewriting the whole book in third person. So, although I was scared out of my skin of rewriting AGAIN (by August when I have my pitch slam [which is basically speed-dating with agents]­­) and in a POV I had little experience with, I felt ready and confident.

Futurescapes helped me discover what my book was meant to be and gave me friendships and connections I won’t forget. Full recovery with a Bradley and Buddy to go home to. But, really, I didn’t want to go home. Every day at this workshop I had the most amazing time. I went in knowing that I may have that car crash, and when I had it, man, did I feel flattened. But I also felt relieved. That injury meant I could make my manuscript better. I wouldn’t be going on blindly then sending work to agents that just wasn’t up to par.

In the end, if you ask me whether I would have rather gone to Disney World or Futurescapes, I'll laugh and say, “How is that even a question? Futurescapes, obviously.”

Till next time, Nooksters!

Link for Futurescapes Workshop: http://www.futurescapes.ink/

#writing #booknooked #workshop #Futurescapes

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