Fellow writers… This is your reminder that the deadline to apply for my 2016 YA Novel Workshop-Retreat at the gorgeous Djerassi Resident Artists Program in the mountains of Northern California is December 17, exactly one week away!
Here are some things that past workshop attendees have said:
“Nova Ren Suma often focuses on turning points in one’s writing career. The five days spent at her Djerassi YA novel workshop was mine. Insightful, kind, and inspiring, Nova sets the tone for an incredible retreat—and Djerassi provides the space and muse that every artist craves.” —Anna Waggener
“Nova is the kind of workshop leader who sees straight to the heart of your novel. Whatever you’ve envisioned, she’s there with you. She puts so much of herself into helping you move closer to the truth of your story.” —Courtney Leigh
“Nova is an absolute gem! She was wise, generous, and perceptive—in workshops, in one-on-one sessions—and set up a safe, inspiring space for us to share and grow our stories. I traveled many miles and crossed a time zone to work at Djerassi and it exceeded my expectations—it’s heaven on earth for artists and dreamers.” —Pip Harry
“So many writers, especially women or older people with families or jobs or both, cannot get away for a month. This doesn’t make us less dedicated to our craft, our art, our passions; it’s just a reality. These week-long workshops also give us the ‘gift of time’ and community that some of us may not have access to. This period of quiet has been nothing short of bliss.”
I’m not sure if there will be a workshop in 2017, so I hope you’ll consider joining me this coming March!
This has been my most public year, ever, in my life. It’s been wonderful… and it’s also been somewhat of an adjustment for a shy person like me.
So much of 2015 has been about teaching. I really made this goal a priority to have better balance in my life—the ultimate goal was to get a lot of experience so I could get a job at a low-residency MFA program, and I had a specific school in mind—and I’m astounded at how much I did this past year, and how, even before the year was over, I made my goal come true.
I’m going to talk about some of the not-so-good stuff, but first, let’s focus on the good…
Last week I was in Texas, at the Writing Barn, Bethany Hegedus’s wonderful retreat center in the heart of Austin, leading what was billed as A Week in Residency with, well, me. This was a weeklong workshop-retreat for YA and middle-grade novelists, and ten wonderful, enthusiastic writers signed up to spend the week with me. We workshopped, we did writing prompts, we talked, we got inspired, we had guest authors visit, we did readings, we had a real whirlwind… I was so thrilled by how well it all went, and I miss the writers now that it’s over. My TA Jess Capelle (one of my former Djerassi workshop writers!) helped me through the whole week and was rewarded one night by a visit from a possible chupacabra making noise on the rooftop of her cabin! I left the week feeling really inspired, really content and excited, and I hope the writers who worked with me did, too.
Here are some photos from the truly fantastic week (I am sorry to tell you there is no photo of the chupacabra):
I may as well take this moment to tell you that if you’re reading this post thinking it might be nice to take a workshop like this with me, I’ll have to calm down with the outside teaching very soon, because I’m now on faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts. BUT, I am still committed to teaching this last weeklong workshop in 2016, at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in California, quickly approaching in March. Apply now, before the deadline of December 17!
And I should tell you that Bethany has some wonderful programming upcoming at the Writing Barn in 2016, and keep an eye on the website!
Now a breath.
I do need a breath. It’s been a busy year of events, teaching, and coming to a great realization about the book I was writing, which meant shelving one thing and starting fresh on another.
I have one last thing before the year is out. In case you’ll be at this conference in Minneapolis, I’ll tell you:
This weekend I’ll be at NCTE/ALAN (I’ll be signing The Walls Around Us on Saturday, November 21 2-3pm at the Algonquin booth 525–527, and I’ll be on a panel at ALAN first thing Tuesday morning).
But after that I need to go quiet. The teaching and appearances have been important, but know what also is? The writing.
So what about the writing, you may ask? What about the writing…
I know I made the right decision about my next book. I know that in my heart and my gut. But what I don’t know is what’s ahead for me, for my writing career, and the weight of that has been pressing down lately, pressing down hard. Being online and seeing all the news of book deals flashing by makes me happy for the writers… and mad at myself for not being faster, more prolific, more career-minded, more smart. This ugly game of comparison is something that gets a lot of us down.
I’m worried my negativity is seeping out. Not to my students, no, not during my workshops—not when I’m talking one-on-one with another writer about her novel and wishing her all the great and lovely things. I mean when I’m alone with myself, in my writing corner, as I am today, when it’s just me and the page and my whole future is reliant on what I do there, what words come out, and how well they sound and how slow or fast they dribble onto the page.
Sometimes all those doubts and second-guesses and ugly thoughts get animated into a creature that follows you and wants to take you down: a chupacabra on your rooftop, and you’re huddled inside wishing it would go away.
I think what would help is some time off from social media (Twitter especially) and my bad online habits (Googling myself to see if there’s something I should know and seeing snippets of bad reviews of my novels by accident in the search results… Clicking away incessantly on distracting, unnecessary things… Comparing myself again and again to everyone else, when I have always and only been myself in all things and I need to remember that).
I may take off the month of December, apart from sharing the Djerassi deadline and book news, when/if I have things to share.
I may hide from the chupacabra for a while. I know so many of you understand.
I want to make real progress on this novel before 2016 gets here, so I can look at this year and see that I didn’t just make my teaching goal come true… I also moved forward as a writer. That’s what I am first and foremost. (Otherwise, why even bother teaching at all, right?)
For those of you feeling like you let this year slip away from you in some places… it’s not over yet. We still have time.
What if we wrote a ton of words that we felt good about to round out the end of 2015?
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.
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??
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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:
I came home from my writing retreat right before the New Year. I can’t spend that night apart from E.
Yaddo is a secretive place. I cannot post photos or give many details, but I can say I shared some inspiring conversations, laughed and learned many things, and slept with the light on because I saw a ghost (maybe) in my bedroom my second or third night. I wrote and wrote, too, which was the whole point of going. My writing studio saw me through the writing of almost 30,000 words. That was my goal for my stay, and though I was 1,448 words shy of making it, I am close enough that it feels successful. I left feeling good.
I found illuminations. I sizzled with inspiration. I felt on fire. I found myself at low points and then I found ways to raise myself up. I looked out the crisscrossed-diamond windows at the tall pine trees over the rooftop and thought of who had done the same, in this very studio, years and decades before. I went to town and visited a wonderful bookshop that didn’t carry my books, but I forgive them. I covered my entire desk in colorful sticky notes of ideas, plans, to-dos, and daily word counts. I ate dessert quite a few of the nights (so hard to resist) and carrot sticks at lunch every day.
There is magic there. You don’t have to believe in it for it to find you. The echo of everyone who came before you surrounds you in each room, through each hallway, heading up and down each set of stairs.
There is a quiet that contains the quick-quick panic of an anxious, deadlining heart.
And when real life intrudes, as it did on my last few days in the form of a blistering on/off headache and the stress of some worries waiting for me at home, there was still the quiet to escape to, the gift you were given to be here.
You are welcomed. You are not the only one awake in the night.
If you go down to the living room, Katrina will be there watching you. If she’s proud, her eyes will show it in the painting. If she wants more from you, her eyes will be honest and stare hard at you, telling you to go back upstairs and sit your butt in that chair. (She would probably say that more elegantly.)
I came home on the Amtrak, and E met me in Penn Station. We had talked on the phone every morning and every night, but I missed him, terribly. Seeing him there in the crowd made my heart leap. We spent a calm and quiet New Year’s Eve together as I’d hoped and I wrote down all my goals and dreams for 2015. Now it’s the morning of January 1, and I’m in my favorite morning place—my writing café, at a table near the outlet, my back against the wall—and it’s almost like my time upstate didn’t even happen. I’d been in a bubble, and the bubble has burst. Everything’s fading, which I guess is why I wanted to spend some time this morning writing that down.
This may be a stressful year, but I am also determined for it to be an amazing one.
So much is happening:
I am teaching a new online class that starts next week and beginning one-on-one mentoring with some talented writers who’ve already signed up to work with me. I am going to my first publisher-sponsored conference ever in my life in February. The book I put my all into is coming out in March.
I’m scared of what’s coming, I’ll admit it. I’m definitely on the edge of a new chapter in life and I have a big birthday coming up this winter.
But I’m also really proud of how far I’ve come.
My publisher posted this wonderful photo and I want to share it. 2015 is here!
About five years ago, I was under deadline to complete the first draft of a contracted novel and stressing the hell out over how I would finish on time while working my full-time job as a senior production editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books. I had somehow sold my novel on proposal and agreed to a deadline that had seemed very doable at the time (in my haze and shock and delight, when the book was sold). But this was a serious, demanding day job that required eagle eyes and a very sharp mind, and I am a perfectionist at my jobs, so I could not phone it in. By the end of each week, I was exhausted and had little interest or energy in looking at any more words, even and especially my own. At the rate I was going, I would finish my novel in three years, and it was due in about four months. And to top it all off, after years of slowly working my way up in the publishing industry, the company had to consolidate offices and the children’s department moved into the same building with the adult imprints, giving us far less space than we had before. For me, this meant I had just lost my window office for a cubicle, which somehow made the job feel even harder.
I was facing a terrifying decision: Should I quit this day job so I could finish the book on time? Was that stupid? Too much of a risk?
While I was contemplating this and holding it in quietly in my new cubicle, I got a letter in the mail. It was from a famous artists’ colony up north that I had applied to on a crazy what-if whim, never expecting to get in: Yaddo. They had accepted me, to my shock, and given me a month-long residency.
I remember thinking this was a symbolic form of communication from the universe. My day job would not allow me to take four weeks off to go away to write. If I went to Yaddo for those four weeks, I could not have this job.
Was the decision made for me?
Is this stupid? I asked myself again. Is this too much of a risk?
I knew what I wanted. And, deep down, I knew that I would not be able to keep myself from taking what I wanted. It was a now-or-never moment, and if you know me at all you know I took the leap.
Let’s be honest. It was stupid, and it was too much of a risk, but I did it anyway and gave my notice at HarperCollins a week later. By the next month I had become a full-time writer (who still did some copyediting freelance work on the side), without health insurance and without a net. I wrote my heart out for the novel that you may know as Imaginary Girls, and I did turn it in on time, and I did go to Yaddo, and health insurance did come later, as did other opportunities, wild and exciting, including other artists’ colonies and books to write and teaching opportunities, and I know, looking back, that I would have done it again.
My life has been a series of leaps like this: chasing dreams, chasing better situations, falling flat on my face, getting up again, thinking I would regret it more if I didn’t try. It’s been kind of romantic and, I’ll admit, very irresponsible. But I’ve had these five great years, and I’m grateful. No regrets? Well, mostly no regrets.
I remember going to my first Teen Author Drinks Night here in New York City and sitting at a picnic table in the outdoor patio of a bar, admitting to some authors that I had just quit my day job. This was my first time meeting all of them. Barely anyone knew me. I’d published one book before this that no one had read. I don’t drink, so I sipped a nonalcoholic glass of juice and ice I’d snuck at the bar, feeling like a child at the adults’ table. One author, a successful male YA author with many more books under his belt, said he didn’t quit his day job until he’d published three novels, and the undercurrent of the conversation was that I’d done the most idiotic thing in the world.
I asked myself: Did I just do something horribly stupid?
I had a growing sense that I did.
Then I remembered Yaddo. It made quitting seem a little less insane, and I know how insane that sounds.
As I write this post it is a little more than five years after I gave my notice at HarperCollins, and I am about to leave for another residency at Yaddo, just like I was then. I haven’t been back there since. Going back now, of all moments, feels strangely, frighteningly symbolic. I feel like a chapter of my life opened with that first Yaddo letter, and I am not sure if it’s now about to close and a new chapter is getting ready to start.
Yaddo is in Saratoga Springs, New York, a city I slipped into The Walls Around Us before I knew I would be going back. Did you know “Yaddo” is meant to be pronounced like the word shadow? One of the founders’ young children named the estate this nonsense word, before dying soon after, which makes it seem all the more like a dreamland to me.
That’s where I’m headed, as of early in the a.m. on Thursday, for the rest of December. I will be trying to stay offline as best I can. This will be easy, because there is no wifi in the rooms or studios. I will be trying to keep a quiet space in my brain. If I don’t answer emails, please wait for me to return to the real world in January.
My YA Novel Writing Workshops & Retreats at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in February and June 2014 were such a resounding success—and such a joy to lead!—that I am doing another week-long YA novel workshop in June 2015! And exciting news: Applications are now open.
The Young Adult Novel Writing workshop and retreat in 2015 will run June 21–26. It’s 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. Full novel review available for an additional fee. For more information about the workshop, and also for testimonials from writers who attended the 2014 Djerassi workshops with me, please check out this page. You are also very welcome to email me directly with any questions you may have.
And yes… though it is a ways away, applications are now open!
The deadline is February 26, 2015, and I will be reviewing all the applications at once, and notifying by March 12, so there is no rush to apply… But if you’re writing a YA novel and want a beautiful retreat experience while taking a workshop with me, I hope you will consider applying.
I’ve added the option of a full novel review with me in private conference after some feedback from last year’s workshop writers, so if that intrigues you, I will send more details on that to accepted applicants in March.
p.s. If you happen to be reading this post and you don’t write YA, I want to tell you that you can still take a week-long workshop at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program! Workshop retreats in 2015 have also been announced on Writing Your Book-Length Manuscript with Jane Vandenburgh, Flash Points Fiction Writing with Laurie Stone, Writing the Debut Novel the Non-MFA Way with Heidi Durrow, Writing the Spec TV Pilot with Jamie Pachino, and Environmental Life Writing with Ann Fisher-Worth. For information on all the workshop retreats being offered in 2015, and for links to apply, visit the Djerassi website.
This week I visited the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, which is a retreat center for children’s and YA writers, to be a special guest speaker at a Whole Novel Workshop. My task was to do a lecture on something craft-related (my choice), something hopefully inspiring, and then the next day read from my upcoming book The Walls Around Us, and soak in some of the good writing energy while there.
Just calling it a “lecture” made me unsteady. Doing a reading from my book is easier—all the words are already down on the page; I put them there. I can read them, make eye contact every once in a while, and just have the book speak for me. Talking about something smart is a whole other animal. Lectures are so very serious. Lectures are done by experts. What am I an “expert” in, distracting myself on Twitter and revising paragraphs 101 times before I can move on to the next paragraph?
I spent days trying to figure out what I would say. My topic kept shifting. Then, in a bundle of nerves, I asked for advice from Libba Bray, who a few years ago I saw give a talk at the annual SCBWI winter conference in New York City that made me crack up laughing and ended with me in tears. I felt so connected to her after she did that keynote, though this was before I had ever met her in person, and it was because she made us laugh with her and at ourselves, she blew our minds with brilliant writing advice, and then she brought it in close to herself and touched our hearts. She’s an incredible speaker… wise and eloquent and hilarious. I knew I couldn’t steal her away in my suitcase to Pennsylvania and have her pretend to be me up at the podium, but still I asked if she had any advice about how I could go about giving this lecture.
She told me that the best lectures about writing aren’t the ones just about craft. They’re the ones that combine a craft talk with something more personal. This gives the audience something to connect to—and it’s true, I think I connected to her talk years ago because of this. When it’s just writing advice coming at me, no matter how brilliant, I know sometimes I fade out and lose focus. (Rewind many years to me lying down on my aching back in the rear of the auditorium during Robert McKee’s STORY workshop, which I was forced to attend by my day job, and which I am kind of thankful for now, but that’s another story. Story, hah. Anyway, the point is, it was a lot of lecturing, and my brain shut down.)
I went home after talking to Libba and starting writing what I would tell these Highlights writers, hoping I had something worthy to tell them. I thought of all the books I’ve written, and not just the ones I published, and the craft lessons I learned through each one, because each book for me is a different beast. Each one put me through a new struggle, and gave me a new life and writing lesson along the way. …Even, possibly especially, the ones I never published.
I really do believe you grow from this process of writing, even when the end note isn’t your book on the shelf of a bookstore or library but in a box under the bed, where two of my unpublished novels still live, along with over eight years’ worth of my life spent writing them. These are not failures. It’s just a part of the process.
I’ve learned through the mistakes and missteps and I’ve learned from the glitzy successes and the high, high moments in which I felt like I was soaring and would never come down, until I came down. I learned a lot about having patience and listening to myself as a writer and trusting myself. And none of this came easy. Is anything worth doing ever easy?
The lecture went so well, and so did the reading, and I was proud of myself for making it through. The writers asked me so many wonderful, thought-provoking questions, and I felt very honored to be there speaking to them. (Special thanks to Sarah Aronson for inviting me to speak at her Whole Novel Workshop, and to the rest of the faculty: Nancy Werlin, A.M. Jenkins, Nicole Valentine, and Rob Costello. And thank you to the Highlights staff for being so helpful and accommodating! I only regret I didn’t stay longer.)
With that, my short visit to the Highlights Foundation was over, and I was being driven back home, to Manhattan, over the George Washington Bridge. I was wondering what possible life & craft lesson I’m in the midst of right now, writing this new novel that’s got me stuck, that’s challenging me, because I do want every new book I write to be a challenge, and yet that’s not always such a glorious experience when you’re deep in it tearing out chunks of your own hair. It’s impossible to know how best to handle myself at this point—nothing ever makes sense to me except in retrospect.
All I know is that if I look back on this year, this time in my life and in my career, I may just see it as the year I pushed myself, publicly.
Lectures and talks. Readings and more readings. Taking on every teaching opportunity offered me—and pursuing many more, some of which involve people never ever answering my emails and some of which involve people actually giving me a shot and allowing me to rise to the challenge, which is what I’m striving for right now.
I know what kind of working author I want to be. It’s just a matter of finding a way to get myself there.
(Oh and finishing my book, of course. Back to it.)
If you are near Tempe, AZ, I will be at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe on Wednesday, September 17 at 7pm. Author Elizabeth Fama is joining me! Please come.
My next workshop and retreat at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program will be in June 2015. Applications aren’t due until February, but if you’re itching to apply now, the announcement is now up and we are accepting applications!
The ARCs of The Walls Around Us are now available—and look for a giveaway through my publisher next week to get a signed ARC of your own!