Tag Archives: loon song

LoonSong Again

LoonSong

This is my fourth year to write about, LoonSong, the unique Writers’ Retreat on Elbow Lake in the wilderness of northern Minnesota.

It is coming up again this fall, from Thursday, September 5th, through Monday, September 9th.  And once more, it will be magical.

Or at least it will be magical if it happens.

The lake will be there for certain.  And the singing loons.  And the beach.  And the kayaks waiting for paddlers.  The lovely old lodge will be there and the cabins.  The hushed woods all about.

The question is whether we will be there.

The faculty are in the wings and filled with enthusiasm.  Meg Medina, winner of the 2019 Newbery Award and author of other award-winning young-adult and middle grade novels and picture books.  Elisabeth Partridge, one of the most preeminent nonfiction writers in our field and winner of many awards.  Varian Johnson, author of nine novels, including The Parker Inheritance which was named a 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book along with many other honors.  Holly West, editor at Felwel & Friends and the YA imprint Swoon Reads.  Brent Taylor, a literary agent at Triada US.  Sarah Aronson, Carol McAfee, Debby Dahl Edwardson and me.

This will be my fourth year to attend and teach at LoonSong, and it has been magical every time.  There are other writers’ workshop/retreats around, of course, but two things make this one unique.

One is the place.  You couldn’t find a more serene and heart-filling location than the edge of a lake, surrounded by forest, a few miles from the Canadian border.  The very air will give you hope from your first breath.

Sunset at LoonSong

The second is size.  Because our facilities have room for only a small group, the entire workshop/retreat could better be billed as a long conversation.  There is no line between attenders and presenters.  We are a wide spectrum, some just beginning, others who have published for a long time.  But we are all writers together.

And once we’re there, we’re all in it together, playing and talking and listening and eating and learning from one another.

LoonSong is sponsored by Vermont College of Fine Arts, and if you’re interested in learning about the VCFA Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, there will be opportunity for that.  Some VCFA folks come just to be with other VCFA folks.  But those from VCFA comprise only about a third of our group.  Many from the Hamline MFA program here in Minnesota also attend and we’re grateful for their presence.  And many come with no connection to any MFA program at all, nor is any needed, because LoonSong is most profoundly place to be with other writers.

The work of writing is the most blessed I know.  But it is also deeply isolating.  All of us, whether we’re just wading into the cold water of our first manuscripts or have been writing long enough to sometimes feel a bit weary, need the stimulation and the encouragement and the understanding of other writers from time to time.  It’s what keeps us writing.

LoonSong offers that and so much more!

But I’ll be candid.  I’m not here to say, “Hurry to sign up while we still have a few spots open,” because the truth is we have more than a few spots open.  Sign-ups have been slow this year.

It’s a hard thing to come up with money for a conference.  Conferences are expensive.  They have to be expensive, because everything about making them happen costs big time.

But it’s also financially challenging to put on a conference, and if we don’t get full enrollment we’re going to have to close down this year.  We are nowhere near full enrollment yet.  In fact, last I heard there were still some of those highly prized single rooms available.

If you’re already signed up and want LoonSong to happen, then beat the bushes for friends who might join you.  If you’ve been watching our postings for a long time and thinking, Someday I’m going to do that, then make 2019 that someday.  If you’re hearing about LoonSong for the first time, then explore www.loonsong.org . . . and join us.  We would be so delighted to meet you there.

This gathering of children’s and young-adult writers is too good to miss.  And it is much too good to see go under.

Writers Helping Writers

Photo by Cristian Newman on UnsplashLoon Song

It’s lonely and isolating work, this writing business.  Usually we manufacture ideas in our heads with little input—or even interest—from others.  We sit, day after day, poking at a keyboard, making words appear, weighing them, revising them, weighing them again.

Wondering if we’re coming anywhere near the dream we began with.

We do all this alone in a room, alone inside our own heads.

And then we gather the manuscript we’ve produced and send it into the world to be judged.

And wait.

And wait.

Too often to hear, “No.”  “No.”  “No.”  “No.”

No exclamation point on the “No,” even.  Just a solid, flat, impenetrable “No.”  The editor either wants what we offer or she doesn’t.  Discussion isn’t invited.  Even worse, often these days the “no” comes in the form of silence.

Once more we weigh this piece we’ve created out of our very bone and sinew, perhaps revise again, send it out again.

And wait.

Again.

Is it any wonder that writers need other writers.

Partly just to share our joys, our frustrations.  But also for a reality check.  Another writer can provide the objectivity that is impossible for us, alone in a room in front of a screen that gives back our words so impartially.

Another writer can even help us shape our work into something that is more likely to receive a “yes” out there in the world.  But there are some things we have to keep in mind when we ask one another for help.

First, we need to be clear what we are asking for.  If we know what our concerns are—too long? the reader’s attention caught fast enough?  characters believable?—asking questions up front can be useful.

(Careful with that one, though.  Some questions are best left until after a first reading so they don’t prejudice the reader into seeing a problem just because we asked.)

Sometimes we get back a response that is completely unexpected.  When that happens to me, that surprising comment often gets put aside.  But then I go on to find another reader or two.  When I hear that unexpected reaction a second time, I’m ready and on board.

(My agent recently suggested a change in a novel he was about to send out that felt difficult and unnecessary to me.  I said, “No.”  Now the same suggestion has come from the editor, and I am, of course, instantly on board . . . and grateful to have heard it from my agent first.)

Second, consider the source.  This is the kind of situation where writers’ critique groups are useful.  We learn whose comments we most value by hearing them addressed to others’ manuscripts, because we are objective about others’ work.  Then when the time comes for our own work to be discussed, we know who to listen to most deeply.

(And while other writers can usually give us the best value as critics, in my early writing years, I knew few—in the beginning no—other writers.  But I still found discerning readers whose perspective I trusted.)

Finally, before we ask anyone to critique a manuscript, we need to examine our own hearts.  Are we truly open to doing further work on this piece?  Or are we at the point that all we want to hear is praise?

(There is nothing wrong with wanting appreciation for our work.  We all need praise at every stage, of course, but sometimes we are still looking for guidance to dig back into a manuscript and sometimes we are ready to let it fly.  When we reach that stage, the best we can do is to let our manuscript try its way in the world.  If it doesn’t make it out there, we can we always return to our writer friends for another dose of reality.)

And if you’re reading this and feeling “Oh, I wish I had more of a community of writers around me,” here’s an idea.  LoonSong, the small-community writers’ retreat that will be meeting in northern Minnesota from September 6th through the 10th, still has openings.  And this year you can even opt to come a day early for extra writing and conversation time.  I’ll be there.

Check it out at www.loonsong.org.

LoonSong

The best way I know to find those special soulmate writers who can forever afterwards be accessed through the internet is gatherings such as LoonSong.

And the best way I know to have a successful career is to open ourselves up to informed feedback . . . and to informed support.

Writers Need Other Writers!

One day, back in the years when I taught writing in various adult-education venues in my home community, I opened my back door to find a young man on my doorstep.  He was one of my students, and his face was creased with concern.

“Marion,” he said, “how long does it take to write a novel?”

I might have laughed except it was so serious a question.  He was working on a novel, had been working on it for some months, I knew, and his girlfriend, his parents, his friends had all ganged up on him.

Aren’t you finished with that thing yet?  What’s wrong with you?  Why are you wasting your time?

I invited him in and assured him that his process, the length of it, the difficulty of it, was absolutely normal.  And when he left, I held him and his bewildering isolation in my heart.

Writers need other writers!

At whatever stage of our careers we find ourselves, poking a toe into the cold water of a first manuscript or polishing a story for an impatient editor, it is too easy to drown in the isolation our work demands.  And the truth is that most of those we love and live with don’t get it!  They don’t have a clue about and sometimes even resent the way we spend our days, and if we try to bring them into our circle, their eyes have a way of glazing over.

I remind myself from time to time that there are many others who can’t share the details of their working day with those they live with, often because their work is so technical that other folks wouldn’t understand if they tried.  But most of those people have co-workers around them during the day, others who do understand their process, who appreciate the significance of their work.

They don’t spend their days alone in a room rummaging through the contents of their own minds day after day after day.

I’ll say it again.  Writers need other writers!

Over the years I have satisfied that profound need partly, of course, by searching out other writers and keeping them close.  But because writers tend to be scattered, I have also served my need for legitimization, for understanding, for authentication by teaching.

Teaching developing writers keeps me in touch with others who love writing.

I have taught in many different venues, including my last and most satisfying position with Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.  When I left VCFA, I was ready for retirement and glad to be able to focus entirely on my own work.  But while I continued to value my freedom from the demands of an MFA program, isolation crept back in.

Is there anyone else in the world doing this thing I am attempting, day after quiet day?

That was until my good friend, VCFA grad, and National Book Award finalist, Debby Dahl Edwardson, came to me with her dream.  Debby lives in Alaska now, but she grew up in Minnesota.  And she used to spend her summers on Elbow Lake in the pristine wilderness of northern Minnesota.  That place became part of her writer’s soul, and she has long wanted to share it with other writers.

LoonSong

Debby’s dream came to fruition as LoonSong, a writer’s retreat, and LoonSong has brought me back into the company of writers, writers talking writing.  What a blessing it has been!  This coming September, from the 6th through the 10th, we will gather for the third time, and I can already feel my energy rising as I move toward the event.

The retreatants come from every part of the country and represent every level of experience.  The faculty is always stellar.  (Check the website, www.LoonSong.org.)  And the conversation—oh, the all-day, all-evening conversation!—is nurturing and challenging and the best way I know to break through writerly isolation.

Come join us.  It’s a very small retreat, a boutique experience, and there are still a few slots left.

I would love to meet you there.

I would love to sit down and talk with you about this unique, blessed, complicated work that occupies our lives.

And then we will carry one another home in our hearts, banishing the isolation for another year!