I have survived my first residency at the Vermont College of Fine Art (VCFA)!
It was ten days of snow, lectures, workshops, intense conversations, laughter, new friends and sleep deprivation. It was exhausting and transformational! It’s hard to explain just how much my attitude toward writing has shifted in such a short amount of time. The sheer magnitude of it reminds me of the Rebecca Wells quote: “Life is short, but it is wide.” That’s how I feel, expanded and full!
Since there is waaaaay too much to talk about in terms of this experience, I thought I’d share a quick list (as I attempt to recover from exhaustion) of the top five things that blew me away about VCFA:
The children’s book writing community has always been a friendly bunch, and VCFA is no exception to that rule. But never in my academic history have I encountered such a warm welcome to an institution. Everyone (from faculty, to grads, to fellow students) is kind, generous, and passionate about writing. It’s the type of place where everyone wants to know your name and wants to include you in all the school has to offer. I can’t imagine a safer place to explore and push myself and my writing.
Everyone at VCFA loves writing. Loves to analyze writing, pick it apart, see how it works, and put it back together again. It is the land of 500 conversations about craft, books, process, and projects. You eavesdrop on your neighbor in the cafeteria line and you learn something, and when they notice you eavesdropping they ask for your opinion. You eat, drink, sleep, and breathe writing. It’s divine!
I’ve had my work critiqued before, by peers, professionals, and friends. But I’ve never experienced the level of seriousness and commitment as I did this past week at the VCFA workshops. These people think deeply, from the heart, fueled by passion and kindness and knowledge. Critiques left me inspired, with an overflowing wealth of possibility, and a clear sense of direction. The faculty — and even more so the students — are articulate and profound, taking my work as seriously as their own. I feel like I’ve been dropped into the deep end, only everyone wants to help you learn how to swim, and no one will let you drown.
I didn’t realize how narrow my scope of storytelling was until after this residency. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read a lot of books on writing, I have an MFA in screenwriting, and I’ve spun a hundred stories like the rest of you. But I had no clue how deep the rabbit hole really was. I had no clue that I was trying to force my writing into what I already knew, rather than opening myself up to what I didn’t know. I’m in such a state of revelation. I’m in awe. I’m open in a way I didn’t realize I wasn’t before.
I acquired my fair share of rejection letters in the past six months from submitting my YA novel to agents. This was a book I felt really confident about. It won an SCBWI contest, it got great feedback from my writers group, but the rejection letters kept piling up. I didn’t get it. I’d put everything I knew about writing into this novel, but no one seemed to want it. Why? The answer is every agent could see the things I couldn’t. And now (after only 10 days!) the blindfold has been removed. Through lectures, workshops, and discussions, I can see what I couldn’t before. (And we weren’t even talking about my work in those discussions!) I now have a laundry list of craft issues to address. Agents and editors always say that your book gets rejected because it isn’t ready to be published. And I 100% agree with them! I’m so glad my book isn’t published! There’s so much more work to do, and I can’t wait to do it!
And on that note, I’m off to get started on my semester’s work! There’s new worlds to explore and I’m headed straight into the storm!