By Suzanne Gwinner
In April, I attended a weekend boot camp. A writers' boot camp. A children’s writers’ boot camp to be exact. When I got the invitation in the mail, it sounded perfect for someone like me – a writer struggling with revisions on my first children’s book. It meant giving up an entire weekend, the weekend of our annual neighborhood soiree, but that would be a small price to pay in exchange for a dose of inspiration. On the designated Friday evening, I tossed my suitcase in the car and headed up I-77 to Charlotte. I know from experience that workshops don’t always meet expectations, but I had high hopes for this one.
Early Saturday morning I entered the conference room and established my territory. With coffee, bagel, notebook, and workshop materials spread before me, I perused the agenda. In two days we would cover:
• Generating story ideas
• Developing unique believable characters
• Creating internal and external conflict
• Developing plot
• Making a plot point outline
• Writing dialogue
• Exploring point of view
• Writing description and setting
• Opening sentences and paragraphs
• Formatting manuscripts
• Writing query letters
• Writing a synopsis
Time was built in for group discussions, class exercises, and questions were invited.
“Whew!” I thought to myself, “This is going to be intense.”
It was. Our knowledgeable speakers, Laura Backus and Linda Arms White (Children’s Book Insider, WeMakeWriters.com) packed each hour with valuable material. The well-planned writing exercises were professionally evaluated. Laura and Linda, while warm and sincere, exhibited some drill sergeant-like qualities. The no-nonsense tone of the workshop meant we stuck to the schedule, we accomplished all of the goals, and we had time for questions. We analyzed the handful of books we had been assigned to read prior to coming to camp. Their organization and preparation allowed for a workshop packed with quality learning.
At 5:00 P.M. on Sunday afternoon, I drove back to Columbia with that fabulous fried brain feeling. This workshop had met all of my expectations and more. Ideas for revisions were already dancing in my head. As I drove, a simple thought occurred to me. Good writing is good writing, no matter the audience. The agenda from boot camp could have been the agenda for any number of adult writing workshops I have attended. We all strive for a moving story, characters that connect, clever dialogue, a setting that grabs. In some ways, a children’s author has a more difficult job as he/she must convey all this using fewer words and, often, a less sophisticated vocabulary.
Anxious to get a reaction from my writing companions at workshop, I read the new rendition of my book. My cohorts insist they don’t know anything about children’s literature, but they do. They know plot, character, setting, dialogue. Many of them have children and grandchildren whose reading habits they have helped to develop. In my opinion they’re experts. I cherish their comments.
“Children’s Authors’ Bootcamp” was the spark I needed to finish my revisions. Have you been to a workshop lately? An outsider’s view, a fresh idea, a different perspective might just be the answer if your muse has gone on vacation.