The Writer's Hotel 2019
I'm just returned from New York, where I spent a week at The Writer's Hotel conference. The experience was truly incredible. It was like drinking from a firehose - it was intense and the schedule was full. This conference combines several core elements of the writing life:
1. Manuscript evaluation
3. Live readings
4. Craft lectures and practice
5. Industry lectures
6. Agent pitch session
Shanna McNair, the founder and director of the conference, and co-director Scott Wolven have poured their hearts and souls into helping writers. I have been a part of many different workshop groups over the years, but I have to say I am so impressed with how committed the group of writers who attended TWH 2019 are. I was also bowled over with the quality of the work submitted. I'm not a betting person, but if I were I'd put good money on several books coming out of the workshop I attended.
Prior to the conference, which takes place at a number of hotels and reading venues throughout Manhattan, Shanna and Scott provide a manuscript edit that is so detailed and helpful. Truly, I benefitted so much from their close reading, and my book is a much better book because of their care and suggestions.
The workshop experience takes place in the mornings throughout the week. In Scott's workshop all of our writers gave authentic, thoughtful and honest critique, and were kind and empathetic. I think it's so important to support writers, especially at the beginning stages of their work. I have experienced negative critique in the past and despite the person's intentions, it was often discouraging and de-motivating. Words and how they are used are important - that's why we're in this gig, and Scott's workshop felt supportive, yet constructive. I'm returning to my desk with many new ideas and techniques and I'm 100 percent sure every single writer and poet who attended TWH is as well.
In the afternoons, Shanna and Scott assembled a dream team of industry greats, including Jeffrey Ford, Kevin Larimer, Richard Hoffman, Elizabeth Hand, Lewis Robinson, Steven Salpeter and many others. You guys, I learned so much! I laughed, I cried, I wrote.
Then in the evenings we heard faculty readings, readings from our peers and read from our own work. It was the most terrifying thing I have ever done! In high school we used to hold events with open mics (yeah Shorewood, go T-Birds!) so we could read our poetry, and I was never nervous for that, but now, ten years into working so seriously on my manuscript, the stakes just feel so much higher. I have put so much into my work and I care deeply about how it is received. I want to know if the effect I'm trying to create is achieved. This was such an important part of the conference, because it was great practice. I had to tame the butterflies and learn the skills I would need in order to read my work professionally.
We also had the opportunity to pitch many top agents on our work. This experience was deeply humbling, and I have to be honest - it was excruciating. To have a decade of blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice reduced to five to six minutes of elevator talk about my book was difficult to say the least. However, it was also in the end extremely rewarding. I had to be brave and be honest about what my novel is about, and I was worried that the subject matter would be off-putting to most. Far from it, my experience was the opposite. I received a lot of interest in my story and now I have wind in my sails to seek representation. Light a candle for me, and my little book from the PNW!
Writing is a lonely business. I spend upwards of 20 hours a week by myself working. I often feel isolated. It's a feeling not unlike walking around talking to yourself. My number one goal for this conference was to widen my community. I wanted to make some friends! And dear readers, I did! I feel like everyone from TWH is now a friend, and we will stay in touch and support each other's work. No one is an island and I think writers often get caught up in the daily business of writing and forget that we are writing for an audience. My new friends from TWH remind me to think of the audience, and keep their needs in mind.
If you are contemplating applying to The Writer's Hotel, I highly recommend it. The price is well worth it and you will come away with more than you walked in with. I might add that I do think it's important to have your work ready to pitch when you go - so I might even consider waiting to apply until that revision feels settled so you are putting your best foot forward.