Summer Workshop at Sarah Lawrence: A Seminar for Writers

If you don’t know this about me, I’ve been working on a novel.

If you want to know how long…well, that depends on which one we are discussing. In elementary school, I used to fold paper together and bind the book with staples, only to be met with the end of my physical book before the story concluded. In seventh grade English class, one of our assignments was to write a short story (mine was about kids discovering the Fountain of Youth in Montana. I was obsessed with Montana in middle school for some reason. I’ve still never been to Montana). My first novel was a Mighty Ducks fan fiction that featured a magical tree house and an elaborate locker system.

This novel is none of those things. I’ll refer to my current novel as Project Flowers, since it’s not technically titled yet. Earlier this year, I decided I would finish Project Flowers by the end of 2019. I have 19 days left to accomplish this goal.

Project Flowers

A no-spoiler list of the remaining events in Project Flowers (03-Dec-2019)

 

It’s been an adventure working on this book. I’ve attended writer critique groups, signed up for fiction classes, read books on craft, wrote a complete draft of this novel (hated it, shelved it, started another novel, then another, and wrote several short stories), and then returned to this novel. After not working on it for a couple years, I read it from the beginning, and I was surprised to find out it didn’t suck as much as I thought… it was, dare I say, even good. And so, I decided that 2019 was going to be my year to take it from good to great — agent query worthy.

Googling summer writing workshops led me to the Summer Seminar for Writers at Sarah Lawrence. I tried to research the week-long program to find out what past attendees said about it, but I couldn’t find anything to give me an idea if it was worth it.

I’m here to tell you that it’s worth it.

The Summer Seminar is basically a week-long sleep-away camp (unless you want to commute) for writers. Every day is jam-packed with activities. Following the morning workshop sessions, there are a variety of craft-related things to do: craft talks, generative sessions, open mic nights, book signings and readings from the instructors.

If you’ve stumbled upon this blog because you’re not sure whether you want to go, let me summarise my experience and give you a better idea of what to expect.

The Workshop

Sarah Lawrence Summer Writers Seminar

I’ve been working on Project Flowers for years (I will gloss over how many years). It’s been a challenging project to get ‘right’. I’ve changed the overall structure, the POV (twice), and the audience (from YA to Adult).

In my workshop, we had about a dozen people. We read selections from two people at each meeting and discussed it at length. For my turn, I submitted the first chapter of Project Flowers eager for a piece of very specific feedback; a hurdle hindering my progress.

I asked my question to the group (omitted as it’s a huge spoiler), and their answers during the discussion led me to the solution that had been evading me all these years. For that one reason alone this experience was worth it.

Implementing the craft and style elements I learned from these workshops to the revision of Chapter 1 strengthened the overall caliber of my work. After reading the SL revised Chapter 1, it was obvious how much better it was than any of its previous versions.

The Campus

Sarah Lawrence College is a beautiful campus. It’s smaller than the two universities I attended, but that makes navigating it easier. Founded in 1926, the liberal arts college is located in Bronxville — a 30-minute train ride to Midtown Manhattan.

It has an eclectic feel to it: a mix of “old” meets “new”. My morning walk to breakfast before my workshop reminded me of my study abroad in Oxford. The SL library has a turret while the building for craft talks, readings, and generative sessions is sleek and modern.

The Schedule

Sarah Lawrence Summer Seminar Schedule

Orientation was on Sunday afternoon followed by the first workshop then dinner and an evening reading. Each day had activities scheduled from 10 am to 7:30 pm, Monday through Thursday (with open mic at 9:30 pm on Tuesday and Thursday).

Honestly, it was both invigorating and exhausting. I had planned to blog each day about the experience (obviously, that did not happen). After enjoying the full day’s worth of activities, I stayed up until midnight preparing for the next morning’s workshop.

I didn’t participate in the open mic night, but it was awesome hearing what everyone else was working on. The caliber of work was thoroughly impressive.

Despite the intensity of the week, Friday came way too fast. The seminar really made me want to do a MFA in Creative Writing. I still want to…

The Food 

My undergrad culinary experience left everything to be desired. The “Freshman 15” was oh so real. I barely ate the food during post-graduate studies since I lived off campus (and I was trying to cut ties with sandwiches). I went into SL thinking the food situation would be similar. I was wrong. It was worlds BETTER.

The menu changed every day and included options for vegetarians. My only critique would be breakfast, but that’s optional if you’re not a breakfast eater. 

The People

Meeting fellow writers is always a wonderful experience for me. It’s the chance to connect with people passionate about the whole experience and understand the amount of work creativity demands. I feel very fortunate for spending a week at Sarah Lawrence and meeting so many people (poets, screenwriters, novelists). Nor could I have asked for a better group for my workshop.

Overall, this was one of the best things I’ve done for myself, and for my writing. I’ve stayed in contact with several of the writers I met at the seminar (3 of which agreed to be beta readers for my novel…that should have been 12 days ago *insert sobbing emoji*).

In conclusion, apply and attend — you won’t regret it 🙂


If you are considering the seminar and have questions or want to chat about it, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to answer. You can also connect with me on Twitter or Instagram, @jomecki.

Until the next adventure,

Jenn

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