Antioch Writers’ Workshop

I’m not even sure where to begin about my experience at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop last weekend. A writing workshop has been on my bucket list for years. Antioch just happens to be a well-known one, and it’s fairly local – just over an hour’s drive from Columbus to the University of Dayton. I only had time for the weekend option, but there was so much packed into the weekend.

Saturday morning: Paths to Publishing. There was a lot of good advice about joining writing groups, getting feedback from peers, facing rejection, and the insecurities that EVERY writer (even published ones) must push through to keep going.

We broke for lunch after. I felt bad because another writer (also in my genre – narrative nonfiction) asked me to join her at Panera. But I go to Panera a lot, so I politely declined and went to Bibibop. Alone. I’m okay with that, but I should have taken the opportunity to talk shop.

Saturday afternoon: Breakout sessions.

#1 Nonfiction – I brought work to share, but I wasn’t the first person to read. Four people went before me, all good, and I felt a little intimidated and half thought about reading another piece of mine that I liked a lot better (I had my laptop open in front of me, so other work was a few clicks away). But despite my insecurities, I read the piece I brought. It was very well received and got a lot of great feedback.

#2 Brainstorming/freewriting – I am glad I brought a journal because this was all handwriting. Though I rarely used my laptop the entire weekend anyway. I scribbled away in the journal I brought. This session was a combination of writing and art and yoga/meditation. A lot of the exercises are based on Lynda Barry’s book, Syllabus. It was an interesting approach to preparing yourself to write. One of the more notable exercises we did was to draw a picture of our inner critic, give it a name, and write a letter to it. (Don’t ask about mine. I was ill-prepared for the exercise and unhappy with the results.) The yoga/meditating part came from standing in a power pose for 2 minutes, which is supposed to give us more confidence for writing, public speaking, or anything else that requires confidence.

Dinner break. This was my time to check into my Airbnb, which was very close by. I needed some quiet time, so I walked a couple doors down to Bourbon Street Grill for dinner to go (bourbon chicken and fries) and ate on the private patio just outside my room. I read a bit and ironed my outfit for the evening events.

Saturday evening: Reception and keynote. Connie Schultz was the keynote speaker, and I love her work. I also follow her Facebook page and interacted with her a couple times. (I told her on Facebook that I would be at this event and that I was excited to meet her, and she responded.) If you don’t know who she is – she is now a syndicated columnist who won the Pulitzer Prize.

Anyway, she also happens to be married to U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (who is in the middle of his re-election campaign). I mention this because as I was at the reception, I saw the two of them walk up the steps to the building together, and I was a bit surprised to see him. I thought he’d have a pretty insane schedule.

Predictably, they both got mobbed the second they walked in. I hovered nearby, patiently waiting. A few minutes later, he stood there, alone. (She was still surrounded by people.) This was my chance. I walked up to him and introduced myself, shook his hand. He asked me some questions. Where did I live? Where did I work? What did I do? I mentioned that I had talked to his wife on Facebook a time or two and I was really excited to meet her. So, he walked me over to where she stood and introduced me – and she knew who I was!

It was all a bit surreal. Here was a U.S. senator introducing ME to his Pulitzer Prize-winning wife. As if I was someone important. Pretty cool. They are both incredibly nice people, by the way. Very down-to-earth.

The time came for the keynote, and it was wonderful. She was so funny and an amazing storyteller. (I mean, obviously, but she is as good at oral storytelling as she is at writing stories.)

A book signing came after. She greeted me again as she signed my book, and I told her I was looking forward to her class in the morning. Then I went back to my room for the night.

Sunday morning: Before I talk about Connie Schultz’s class, I just want to suggest that if you ever find yourself at the University of Dayton (or somewhere else nearby) for any reason, have breakfast at Butter Café. You’re welcome.

Okay… class time.

It was a lot of Q&A – some of it specific to journalism. But she is also in the process of editing her first novel for Random House, so there were some questions about transitioning from journalism to fiction. I took a lot of notes, but there weren’t any writing exercises. It was all informational. I don’t know that I necessarily picked up anything relevant to me and my writing, but it was super interesting just to be in that room, listening to this conversation. She did talk some about interviewing people and how to connect with them on a human level so they’ll open up to you – two humans having a conversation and not just journalist and subject. And I do need to conduct interviews occasionally for my current job, though I don’t do hard-hitting journalism or anything.

Things wrapped up around 11 or so. And that was it. I hit the road back to Columbus, a bit sad to leave. The workshop continued through all of this week, ending yesterday. Maybe someday, I’ll do the full week. I loved the experience. It’s been a really long time since I surrounded myself with writers, and I missed it. I missed talking about the craft, about favorite writers, about experiences that color our lives, and ultimately, the page. I want to do it again.

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