Every year SCBWI hosts a members-only retreat that provides space, support, and permission to write—an ideal experience for writers at various stages of the creative process. On the final day, attendees have a chance to present their work to some of the most talented editors and agents in the business. To prepare for this moment, SCBWI faculty crafts three days of carefully planned and protected writing time.
The buzz from years past caught my attention and I was motivated to sign up the day registration opened. This opportunity meant time alone with my story without having to worry about the pressing responsibilities of life.
From the first moment of this three-day weekend, the setting was perfect. Cozy nooks, quiet spaces, and shaded walking paths were food for the imagination. On Friday, September 30th, each attendee had three minutes to read their work and receive feedback from a curated panel of four SCBWI published authors: an open session; other attendees were present. Many people seemingly read their work aloud for the first time; the atmosphere was intense. The kind but honest faculty pointed out problems with pacing, plot, tension, and voice. The forum-style open format of the panel provided a critical opportunity to sit back and listen to each person’s critique as well as the critique on my own piece and gain important insight.
Afterward, attendees joined a small critique group lead by an SCBWI faculty member. Each group met several times over the course of the weekend. I chose to stay overnight, which meant my roommate and I had rotating schedules providing extended time alone to write. The days were mentally draining but I emerged each evening sparkling with the energy of a creative life fulfilled. The Wine and Cheese Social as well as Karaoke Night provided welcome relief and a chance to mix, mingle, and have a few laughs.
All of the work, rewrites, edits, and late nights were preparation for Sunday’s panel, made up of two agents and two editors. The format was the same as Friday but these professionals were on the hunt for potential talent. Sunday’s panel provided a rare opportunity to receive professional insight on my work and know if I was going in the right direction.
In the end, I learned to see each critique of my writing as a tool to better my work. Without the benefit of this members-only retreat, I would have never been able to push myself. The support of this vibrant community will be crucial to my future success. This experience exceeded my expectations in every way.
Leslie A. Langsbard, an SCBWI associate member, is currently writing and editing her first middle-grade fiction book. She plans to begin querying agents in early 2017. Find her at https://www.scbwi.org/members-public/leslie-vonalven