VCFA Novel Writing for Young People Retreat

AH, bliss. Nothing beats a weekend of workshops on craft, writing time, and hanging out with writer pals! Well, except maybe if it weren’t so cold. The high was SIX on the last day of the retreat. Brrrr, this California Gal was chilled to the bone!

For the third year in a row, I attended the Vermont College of Fine Arts Novel Writing for Young People Retreat (say that 3 times fast) and was inspired and motivated to write better, dig deeper. The workshops were, as always, outstanding. Big thanks to VCFA and retreat co-leaders Cindy Faughnan and Sarah Aronson.

Dana Walrath, author of the verse novel Like Water On Stone and artist, led a workshop called Scribbling Softly. We were given large sheets of paper and a very awesome pure lead pencil. With our eyes closed, we drew/scribbled as Dana called out different emotions for our main characters of our WIPs. It was freeing. I am not an artist by any means, but with my eyes closed, I let go of judgement and I focused on my main character. I felt like a part of a community as I listened to the scribblings of my fellow writers and artists. And I definitely gained some insight into my MC’s emotions.

Kathi Appelt, author of The Underneath, talked about character beliefs. This was an eye-opening workshop for me as I didn’t quite understand what motivated my main character. It wasn’t until Kathi’s enlightening workshop that I was able to discover my MC’s core beliefs. It really re-ignited my passion for this WIP!

David Gill, author of the very funny Soul Enchilada, did his workshop on Visual Plotting. This was a game-changer for me! I’ve long known about the “three act structure” and have read about many different ways of plotting. As a writer who likes to plunge into a story rather than plot/outline, I’ve spent many “first drafts” trying to figure things out. I tried different methods of Plotting, but none really worked for me. In fact, with my current (new) WIP, I stalled about halfway through my draft because I’d plotted it out so deeply that I no longer cared about getting to the end. I knew what was going to happen. I felt like I’d already written the story and I lost steam and interest. But the way David suggested plotting allowed for a lot of wiggle room and surprise writing along the way. My long time friend and writing partner Jo Knowles and I went back to her room after the workshop and used David’s method to plot our WIPs. It helped to bounce ideas and brainstorm with each other. Success! We plotted out our WIPs and learned a lot about our stories and characters, too! Very exciting!

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Because of these workshops, I’m absolutely reinvigorated to get back to this WIP! And because of Kathi Appelt’s “write for 5 minutes a day,” I’ve not missed one day of writing. (The five minutes is just a starting point – write for 5 minutes or more.)

Last but definitely not least, Joy Peskin, editorial director for Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, gave an awesome workshop on the Top Ten Most Common Editorial Notes. She included actual examples of editorial letters she’s written to authors, as well as reading from novels she edited as examples. I felt better knowing that even published and veteran authors need guidance in shaping their stories and characters. There were a couple of big take-homes for me that apply to my writing in general and my current WIP. I’m keeping Joy’s top ten list on my desk so I can be reminded as I write!

The retreat had two tracks, critique and writing. Because I was working on something brand new, I signed up for the writing track. I made great headway and nothing motivates me more than being surrounded by like-minded writers. The retreat also included an open mike night. I always love hearing what others are working on. I’m always impressed and entertained.

Finally, it wasn’t all work, and no play. Cindy Faughnan drove a small group of us to a Sugar Shack to experience Sugar on Snow. Whoa! What an amazing treat of snow topped by hot and fresh maple sap and accompanied by donut, hot drink, and pickle (! to cut the sweet). Let’s just say I was on quite a sugar buzz for the rest of the afternoon. Delicious! I’m looking forward to the VCFA retreat next year! Maybe I’ll see you there!


Kathi Appelt, Cindy Faughnan, Kelly Bennet, and David Gill enjoy Sugar on Snow. YUM!

P.S. – Big thanks to dear friend and talented writer, Kristy Boyce, who kept me company on the long drive back and forth to the retreat and inspired me to write this post. Check out her thoughts on this same retreat: Musings on A Dream.

10 Responses to “VCFA Novel Writing for Young People Retreat”

  1. Lynn Rabin Bauer

    Sounds like a wonderful experience! Thanks for sharing!

    • Debbi

      It was awesome! I wish I could go twice a year! 😉 Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Nancy Tandon

    What a wonderful experience! Sounds amazing. And, I’ve seen you on a maple syrup high…am imagining how buzzy that was with the donut thrown in!

    • Debbi

      It was! Maybe you can come next year? 😉 And we can both have a maple syrup and writing buzz!

  3. Debbi

    It was great meeting you, too! Cheering you on with your writing! Go you!