How a one-week institute can save your life
For years I longed for a writing community. I was writing some, publishing some, reading some. Yet I didn’t know a single writer. I daydreamed of what it would be like to belong to a community of writers who supported, critiqued, and laughed together.
I dreamed about this for 10 years before I finally decided to pursue a master’s in creative writing. It took 10 years because I was a Solo Mom. As a Solo Mom, the lack of money, time, and child care made it hard to commit to a full-time program. Unable to do that, I did nothing. That was a mistake.
Don’t make that mistake.
A writing community turned out to be all that I dreamed of and more. If you write, you should have one. Although I found my original community through a full-time program, I realize now that there were other ways.
For example, last summer, I participated in the Juniper Summer Institute, which takes place on the University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst every summer. It is a one-week residency program. I had the opportunity to work with instructors such as Brian Evenson, Noy Holland, and Mitchell S. Jackson. My cohorts were talented emerging writers—diverse in background and interest.
It was one of the most amazing weeks of my life. Had I known that something like this existed, I would have done it years ago. Who knows how that would have changed my life?
Although it is true that you can write alone, participating in a program like this will provide you with many opportunities unavailable otherwise. For example, you will have opportunities to:
- Receive guidance and feedback from established writers (even manuscript critiques)
- Experience a writers’ workshop
- Meet other emerging writers with whom to create a community
The literary world will both expand and become smaller for you when you attend an intense and intimate program. It will expand because you will be in the midst of it, surrounded by dozens and dozens of passionate writers from all walks of life. It will become smaller because you will actually come to know people who once seemed like superstars. You might find yourself passionately giving advice about potty training to an award-winning author. To another, you may find yourself confessing, “It never occurred to me that famous writers still have to pick up their kids from school.”
You will stay up nights sharing bottles of wine and reading stories aloud. You will be part of inside jokes concerning fictional characters. You’ll cry when you have to part with these people you didn’t know just the week before. It will feel like summer camp all over again, and you might even feel a little embarrassed about how vulnerable you’ve allowed yourself to be.
You won’t be the same again.
If you arrived without confidence, you will leave confident.
If you arrived without writing friends, you will leave with writing friends.
If you arrived thinking no one could teach you how to write better, you will leave knowing someone taught you how to write better.
This is how amazing a week at Juniper will be.
“OK,” you say. “That’s all fine and good, but I am still a Solo Mom, and I don’t have money, time, or child care.” Fair enough. Let’s address all those issues. The beauty of a summer institute program like Juniper’s is that it’s only for one week, which means that it requires far fewer resources than a degree program. Everyone’s situation is different, but a little bit of creativity may unearth a week’s worth of money, time, and child care. For example:
- Apply for Juniper Writing Institute scholarships.
- Enter the Writers’ Conferences & Centers Scholarship Competition, offered by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.
- Win a writing contest.
- Sell an article about the experience (ahem).
- Inquire to see if your work offers an educational compensation benefit.
- Ask your accountant if it’s tax deductible.
- Set aside your tax return.
- Plan to use your paid leave.
- Budget for unpaid leave if you do not have paid leave. (See Money.)
- Excuse yourself from nonwork commitments for one week of the year.
- Ask supportive family members or friends to watch your children for one week.
- Find an overnight summer camp (which offers scholarships as well).
- Swap time with the other parent.
- Swap time with another Solo Mom.
Once you have committed yourself to the idea of spending a week in a writing community, you may be surprised at how easily this can be accomplished—especially if you have time to plan ahead.
Juniper Writing Institute’s rolling admission begins January 1, 2016, so check out the guidelines on its website.
Check out similar programs. Here is a list of conferences, retreats, and institutes on NewPages.
If you absolutely can’t get away at all this year, look for online writing workshops.
The point is, find something. Don’t worry that it won’t be the best, the greatest, the ideal. Don’t do what I did and do nothing. I was so overwhelmed by having to make a big decision, it didn’t occur to me to make a small decision. I did nothing for 20 years, which was 10 years too long. Now that I’ve found a community, I cannot imagine a life without it. I would not want you to have a life without one, either.
Whether or not you make it to a writing workshop this year, why not submit a poem, essay, or short story to our Showcase Writing Awards? You might even win money to help pay for your next workshop!
Mika Yamamoto, ESME's Guide for Public Assistance, has successfully nurtured two children as a Solo Mom and now hopes to achieve the same results as a plant nanny.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.