distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

Let’s Pretend: My Summer Writing Fantasies

Now’s the time of year when I start thinking of all the summer could hold, and I start going overboard not with tropical vacation fantasies… with writing fantasies. Really. Summer workshop deadlines are coming up—and there are so many places to go, if only I could.

(This photo of me was *not* taken at a writing workshop.)

If money (and references) were no object, if I could be in a few places at once and spend the whole summer traveling around the country (and the idea of that many flights didn’t make me sick), here is where I’d go and what I’d do:


I’d start off the summer by going to the Wesleyan Writers Conference, on the campus of Wesleyan University, which E and I visited once, in college, to stay with our friend M, who was a member of something I think called Eclectic House? Anyway, we had a spectacular visit, mostly because we adore M, but I also remember how I loved the beautiful campus. At the Wesleyan conference, I’d kill to be in Amy Bloom’s workshop. (Please tell me you’ve read Away. If you haven’t, you must read Away! Keep tissues close by and maybe don’t read the end out in public. This novel burst open my heart.)

Or, I’d spend the entire month in Montreal, at the Summer Literary Seminars. All I have to do to explain why is give you two words: Mary. Gaitskill. (If you know me, you know my wild passion for the short stories of Mary Gaitskill.)

Or I’d work on something fantastical—and really push at the boundaries of “genre” and see where I’d go and what I’d write—by heading to the Clarion East Workshop in San Diego to absorb genius and learn world-building from none other than Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. Uh, what? Yeah. Dream workshop.


Since Tin House is one of my most favorite literary journals (isn’t it everyone’s?) I would have to start off July by returning to the Tin House Writers’ Workshop in Portland, Oregon—this one is so fantastic, just so fantastic there are no words—and I think this time I’d try to be in Dorothy Allison’s workshop for the simple fact that reading her when I was a young writer had so much to do with going after this dream. Her writing changed my life. Also, any excuse to get back to Portland, I’ll take it.

I happen to be convinced that Cheryl Strayed is utterly amazing, and so even though I don’t even write creative nonfiction, I’d want to take her workshop at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference (I mean, wouldn’t this be a reason to start writing creative nonfiction?). I think her class could be transformative.

I might need a car for this one—and if I drank I’d probably appreciate this one more since it’s in wine country—but I would have to go to the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference to take a writing class with Tayari Jones, one of my favorite authors. I’ve heard such wonderful things about the intensity of these workshops, and that it’s less about the schmoozing and networking of other conferences, and more simply about craft and writing. I like.

Sure, if I could be in two (three? four?) places at once, I’d also hit the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Tennessee. I’ve been to this conference, once, when I was a grad student, and it was absolutely wonderful. I’ve always wanted to go back again—as a scholar or a fellow—but the two needed references (and the fact that my book is YA) has kept me from applying again. This conference is a dream, truly. The first time I went, I was in Margot Livesey’s workshop—and she was one of the best writing teachers I’ve ever worked with in my life, and I’m including all the professors I worked with in the Columbia MFA program. This time, if I went to Sewanee, I’d want to be in Alice McDermott’s workshop. (Have you read After This? Charming Billy? Child of My Heart? Aaaaah, read read!)

Now Provincetown. Provincetown in summer is supposed to be such perfection. Even more perfect would be spending a week there for a children’s writing workshop with Jacqueline Woodson at the Fine Arts Work Center Summer Program. Her class is focused on realistic fiction, and I’m already imagining what I’d bring if I could go… a YA novel? A middle-grade novel? It would be a dream to work with Jacqueline Woodson… I devoured all of her novels recently in one fell swoop when I was away at a colony, and her writing is so beautiful and brilliant it makes me want to cry. (Also: actually literally cry. Some are sad.)


I keep peeking at this conference. I don’t know too much about it except that it’s at VCFA (and my VCFA MFA envy has reached the rafters by now). It’s called the Postgraduate Writers’ Conference, so it’s for people who already have MFAs, and even better… there’s a young adult workshop (which, I must say, is sorely lacking at these other conferences). I could take a workshop with Cynthia Leitich Smith or Tim Wynne-Jones! And I could pretend I was a VCFA MFA student for a week…

Of course we know where else I’d go in August. I’ve always wanted to go to Bread Loaf, and I got waitlisted once when I was a grad student for that coveted waitership, but never did get a shot to go. Such sadness when they didn’t call. I’ve heard that this is the summer conference, so every summer I look longingly northward toward Vermont, imagining. Besides… oh, to be in Lan Samantha Chang’s workshop… Her novella Hunger slayed me.

And obviously, obviously, I’d return again this summer to the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. Not because it’s a workshop—it’s not—but because I had such an amazing time last year and met so many amazing people. I can’t afford to go again this year, but I can dream!

So there we have it. My whirlwind fantasy summer. I think you can never focus enough on craft, so there is always room for a new writing workshop in my life.

Though… I mean, really… let’s be serious here. If I could afford to do any one thing in the world? I know what it would be, and it wouldn’t be a workshop: I’d rent an apartment in Paris for a couple weeks—ideally a month!—and go there to write. That’s it. In fact, this is an actual goal of mine and E’s, and I want to make it happen in the next few years. So. Instead of shelling out money for a workshop, I’ll keep it close and whisper to myself whenever I get envious of other writers’ summer extravaganzas: Paris… Paris… Paris… Paris… Paris… One day, you will have Paris. (Or Buenos Aires… considering there, too.)

Now it’s your turn. Writers, if you could go anywhere and do anything this summer, where would it be and what would you do? What summer workshops catch your eye… Did I miss any? Or would your fantasy join my fantasy in Paris and write at a sidewalk café together?

Comment to let me know.

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27 responses to “Let’s Pretend: My Summer Writing Fantasies”

  1. Oh, most definitely a swanky hotel in New Zealand, preferably one that has views of both mountains and ocean at the same time. A few side trips to Hobbiton and other LOTR sites to get the ink pumping through the veins, and then a nice quite poolside where I’d cuddle up with the old laptop and write a novel or two. 🙂

    • I hope you get to go, Alexa! I’ve been to Paris twice and loved it both time. The last time, I took my baby sister during her spring break in college. 🙂

  2. I would love to take part in any of these programs! I went to St. Petersburg with SLS in 2007 and the trip was flipping amazing.

    I also really want to swim in that water in the top picture – (also without my laptop!)

  3. I love this idea. My summer fantasy would be to spend a couple of weeks in Germany, following the Grimm Brothers Fairytale route, doing research for my YA novel, enjoying the food, scenery and entertainment. I’d also love to go to the SCBWI conference in L.A., because I’ve never been, but I’ve heard great things about it.

  4. Thanks for this handy list! Bread Loaf and Tin House are my main interests this year, but I’m not certain if my summer schedule would actually allow the time to go. I’ve never been to a big, weeklong conference like these (only smaller, shorter conferences) and I’d love to try one out.

    I was trying to explain to a non-writer the other day about how coveted the Bread Loaf waiterships are. “You mean, you can actually apply and get REJECTED to be a slave for the other writers??” is how she put it. Makes me laugh just to think of it.

    • Haha, I know! I don’t think many people understood why clumsy, clumsy me was so very disappointed when I never got off the waitlist to be a waiter that one (almost)lucky year. Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe I would have dropped scalding-hot coffee on an award-winning poet or something, and regretted it always.

      Sending luck for you this year if you decide to apply!

  5. I go to the Kenyon Review Writers workshop each summer (I’ve gone for three years). I love it because you generate new writing instead of bringing something (which keeps me going through my MFA program for the year) and magic John Green powder descends on me there b/c it’s where he went to college. I like to channel his awesome-ness! I agree about wanting to go to Vermont’s workshop…that would be awesome! This year one of my past Kenyon instructors, Lee Martin, is going to be there.

    • The Kenyon workshop! I knew something was missing! I would add that to my fantasy whirlwind of a summer, for sure (and the John Green connection makes it even more magical).

  6. These all sound so awesome. I keep hoping that a week long writing retreat at Madeline Island School of the Art will fit into my schedule at some time.

  7. I’m so glad I clicked on this from the blueboards! Except I’m also mad, because now I have a hundred more things I want to do this summer. 😦 You evil thing, you. And hi. lol.

  8. If money were no object… is that ever a possibility? I don’t know how to begin to think of unlimited resources. Too foreign.
    And speaking of, as we are dreaming anyway, I’d do a Midnight in Paris thing only I’d hang out in New York of the 1950s.

  9. Oh, Nova, what a terrific list. Dare to dream, right? I’d be right with you in Paris. I also had fun and learned a great deal at SCBWI LA last year–especially because of your generosity in sharing your editing correspondence with Julie Straus Gabel.
    What I am definitely doing this summer is the Glen West Workshop, because Sara Zarr is doing a workshop for YA.
    I mean, Sara Zarr.
    You know what I mean.

  10. These all sound freaking awesome! I’d be thrilled to attend any of them, especially the Clarion East workshop. But I have a similar dream, and that is that if I had the money and time, I would go to London (probably with at least one friend that writes) and just see everything there is there and write in all its cafes.

  11. Alas, I only have time for a brief workshop this year. I’m attending Kat Richardson’s Clarion West weekend shindig on urban fantasy–but I’m super excited about it. If I could afford it, I’d apply for the full-on Clarion West workshop and get my ass kicked by GRRM and such.


  12. I think mine would either be a cottage in the country or staying in New York and writing in Central Park! It’s werid, I didn’t love Paris when I went. Have you watched One Day, she does exactly what you want to?!

  13. This post makes me sigh, check my bank balance to be sure a writing conference fairy has not made a ginormous deposit, and sigh again.

  14. I would LOVE to take a month or more to write in Paris. Maybe one day that’ll be possible. All of these workshops sound great. I wish I had an extra $600 so I could attend the Jacqueline Woodson one! I also hope to attend SCBWI LA one of these years.

  15. I just want to travel and write. I’m not even especially picky about where I go. Just somewhere the feels new, somewhere pleasant, somewhere that feels far from home even if it’s not, somewhere I can say, “From here, I can see everything”.

  16. What a dream list (+Kenyon). I want to go back to the New York State Summer Writer’s Institute. Amy Hempel is part of an amazing lineup and Saratoga Springs is so gorgeous and i love the Tang on the Skidmore campus.

    Why not find a place to teach…?

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