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What to Expect at the Djerassi YA Novel Workshop


I’m really looking forward to June, and not just because my new book will be out and I can finally relax, maybe. It’s because I get to go back to this beautiful place in the mist, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Northern California, and I get to take a group of fellow YA writers with me. My third Djerassi YA novel workshop will be running June 21–26, and you can still apply to join me: The deadline is February 26.

The view at Djerassi, with the fog rolling in. You can't see it, but the Pacific Ocean is out there.

The view at Djerassi, with the fog rolling in. You can’t see it, but the Pacific Ocean is out there.

I first visited Djerassi as a resident artist, where I spent a month writing and exploring ideas and finding great inspiration. I love sharing this experience with fellow writers of YA fiction—a small week-long taste with opportunities for critiques and a private meeting with me and good food and good discussion and a sculpture tour and what else can I say to entice you??

When the fog clears, look... There's the ocean.

When the fog clears, look… There’s the ocean.

I’ve been fielding some frequently asked questions lately from prospective writers, and I wanted to try to answer those here. Please, if you have more questions, feel free to ask in the comments or to email me privately.

Some of the studios, where some of the writers will stay.

Some of the studios, where some of the writers will stay.

As it says in the general description, this is a fiction workshop tailored for writers working on YA novels of any style and genre, featuring daily critique sessions and time to retreat and produce new work. Includes 75 pages (25 for group critique; 50 in private conference) of manuscript review… And if you’d like some testimonials, scroll down on this page for the wonderful things the 2014 Djerassi YA workshop writers said.

The artists' barn, where we hold workshops every morning.

The artists’ barn, where we hold workshops every morning.

But you have more questions, so here goes, a FAQ:

What are you looking for in writing sample?

I’m looking for good writing, of course, but also the spark that tells me I would be able to be helpful to you as a writing teacher—a connection to your writing that tells me we would work well together.

It’s not all about the writing sample, either: I am looking at that last question on the application carefully, the short statement where I ask “what you hope to gain from this workshop and what writing experience and classes you have taken before, if any.”

I’m looking at the person as well as the writer, so I can try to craft a good, supportive, dynamic group of writers who will click with one another, and who will come from differing perspectives and backgrounds and places in their careers.

Please know: The sample pages you send in for the application absolutely do not have to be the pages you send in for the actual workshop. So send your best work for the application, and know you can send far rougher pages later.

When will the pages for critique be due?

A month before our workshop starts, so you have a chance to read all your fellow writers’ work and write feedback before arriving at Djerassi (and so I’ll have time to read, too!): so May 21.

You’ll be able to workshop up to 25 pages with the group. You will also have the opportunity to send me up to 50 additional pages for private critique, which we will discuss in person when we meet.

These additional pages can be from a different novel, if you prefer, or from the same novel—up to you.

Inside the barn, before the writers arrive.

Inside the barn, before the writers arrive.

What kind of writers are you seeking?

YA writers with experience, though not necessarily publications. Though, of course, published authors are very welcome to apply.

This is not a workshop for beginning-level writers who have never written fiction before. You should also know what YA is, and you should be enthusiastically, passionately writing it.

Diverse writers are encouraged to apply. You must be 18 or older to apply.

Can I workshop pages from a middle-grade novel there?

You can send middle-grade fiction for your writing sample, but I’d like to keep the workshop itself just to YA fiction this year. Please only apply if you know you will have the opening pages of a YA novel to bring for group discussion June.

(You will be welcome to show me pages from a separate middle-grade project in our private conference, if you’re so inclined.)

Is this workshop for women only?

No! (This was a question really asked, so I’m including it here.) It was only coincidence that the great majority of writers who applied last year were women… Most of my readers are women, too. Male writers and non-gender-conforming writers are encouraged to apply. I’d love a diverse group of writers.

Workshop morning.

Workshop morning.


How many writers will you accept?

Nine. Though, if I can’t help it, certainly no more than eleven, due to housing constraints.

Are you choosing writers RIGHT NOW THIS VERY SECOND and is there a chance I will lose my spot if I wait to apply until the deadline? (i.e., Are there rolling admissions?)

No rolling admissions.

I won’t be selecting the writers until after the deadline, which is February 26. I admit that I have peeked at the applications and read some writing samples and I’m getting excited… But I really will be making the decisions after all the applications are in. Notifications will go out on or before March 12.

Here I am taking a break during one of the workshops, on the listening bench.

Here I am taking a break during one of the workshops, on the listening bench.

What is the daily schedule?

We will meet for workshop in the mornings, during which we will critique each writer’s opening pages in a constructive, honest group discussion led by me. At the end of discussion, you will have the opportunity to ask the group questions about anything you’d like clarity on, or anything that didn’t come up in our feedback.

After you’ve been workshopped, you and I will schedule a private conference in the afternoon, where we will talk about how you thought the workshop critique went and discuss your additional pages.

During one afternoon, we’ll go on a sculpture tour of the property, which is totally voluntary but highly recommended.

Otherwise the afternoons are yours to write, nap, think, read, chat, hike the sculpture trails on your own, or whatever you’d like. In previous workshops, sometimes the writers would meet together for writing sprints—and you are always welcome to write in your private studio. Your time is yours.

Breakfast and lunch are yours to make from the fully stocked kitchen, but every night we meet for delicious dinner in the main house, made for us by amazing Chef Dan. (Who is wonderfully accommodating for special diets, btw, if you are vegan or vegetarian or gluten-free. Everything he makes is so good. He’s my favorite chef, over all the colonies.) We share chores after dinner and clean up the dishes. It doesn’t take long.

In the evenings we will have readings—a chance, if you’d like, to share more of your work!—and we will try writing prompts if everyone is interested. We might have a movie night. I did a reading myself in previous years, but this year I might add in a craft talk. We might have an honest discussion about the publishing industry in a place where only we can hear. I take my cue from you, and will craft the week to be whatever you’d like it to be.

Sculpture tour (February).

Sculpture tour (February).

Sculpture tour (June).

Sculpture tour (June, in the mist).

Is there any required reading?

A month before the workshop, you’ll get your fellow writers’ pages to read and start critiquing so you have ample time to have everything done before you arrive. Other than that, there is no required reading before or during the workshop.

Is there an opportunity for you to critique my full manuscript?

I’ve added in this option due to requests from last year. You can see my new critique and mentoring service on my website, but for 2015 Djerassi writers, the fee will be heavily discounted if you want me to read and critique beyond page 75 of your novel.

Are there scholarships available?

I’m sorry to say that we don’t have a scholarship program available.

(Last year, I was amazed at one of the writers, who ran a successful Kickstarter to fund her trip from Australia!)

The old barn, a short hike into the woods.

The old barn, a short hike into the woods.

Here’s a question I’m not asked: What do I want from this week?

I want to give you a safe place to talk about your novel, among like-minded writers. A place to be honest on the page. A place to dig in and ask questions and be open to feedback that could help raise your story to new heights. I want to dig in to your novel with you and help you get to where you’d like to be.

I also love being up at Djerassi, so I can’t wait to go back, just selfishly.

If my last two Djerassi workshops in 2014 were any indication, this is going to be an incredible week.

Dessert, made by Dan.

Dessert, made by Dan.

If you want to get a sense of the experience in a way I can’t tell you, here are some beautiful blog posts from some writers who were there last year:

Yield to Whim — Susan Bishop Crispell

The Path to Inspiration: A Week at Djerassi — Rebekah Faubion

Summer Workshops: Lighthouse Meets Djerassi — Carrie Brown Wolf

Life After Djerassi — Zoë Harris

My Djerassi Experience — Shelli Cornelison

Djerassi Part I, Djerassi Part II, and Djerassi Part III — Courtney Leigh

(2014 Djerassi writers: If I missed your post and I can share it here, please send me the link!)


Sunset, looking out at one of the sculptures resident artists have left around the property.

I hope this FAQ answers your questions—but if you have more, please ask in the comments below or feel free to email me!

Most of all, I hope you’ll be inspired to apply and join me this June…


One thought on “What to Expect at the Djerassi YA Novel Workshop

  1. Reblogged this on Rare but Good and commented:
    Young adult author Nova Ren Suma is going to be one of the faculty at this year’s Djerassi Young Adult Novel Writing Workshop. When I first read her post, I got a message from my brain: “What are the chances you’d put tons of time into this application and never hear another word?”

    I have another wish for all of us this year: that we are able, whenever necessary, to ignore our brains.

    My next thought was about Suma’s beautiful post about how Yaddo, one of America’s most illustrious writers’ retreats, sent her an unexpected invitation and the opportunity gave her the push she needed to leap from the safety of her day job. She had applied to Yaddo on a whim, expecting to hear nothing. And then everything changed.

    Those of you with a Young Adult novel banging around in your mind and on your computer (or legal pad!), stop what you’re doing and apply for this rare opportunity. You never know what might happen next.

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