Writing is hard. First, you need a compelling idea, then you have to sit down and somehow put perfect prose together into a spine-tingling essay, or grunt your way through thousands and thousands of words to create a jaw-dropping novel. Next, the real work begins with revision after revision of painful addition and subtraction — mostly subtraction — before other human beings can be subjected to what you laid down on a page. And we do it in solitude, fighting procrastination and the constantly nagging fear that our writing sucks. It’s no wonder that writers are desperate for help. For 41 years, one of the best places to fight that desperation has been the annual workshop hosted by the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.

Every summer, some of the best writers, agents, and editors in the country spend a week in Squaw helping aspiring writers hone their craft. They hold morning workshops, attend lectures and panel discussions, and critique each other’s work. While everyone is invited to attend, you have to apply by submitting a sample of your writing, and only about half of those who apply can be accepted. Don’t worry — the deadline for submitting an application is May 10, so you still have time to apply for this year’s workshops.

Bill Lindemann, a Tahoma resident and a 2008 workshop attendee, says, ‘I was petrified and elated when I was accepted.’ A core part of the workshops is critiquing each other’s work, which Lindemann found was helpful for both improving his overall technique, as well as the specifics of the book he is writing. ‘In particular the critiques from staff members were very astute, poignant, and helpful,’ he says. ‘You get the sense that it really is a community of writers, and they accept you into that community and foster your ambition. I hope people go and have as good an experience as I did.’

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Executive Director Brett Hall Jones says, ‘The goal of the workshop is to assist serious writers to make their writing better.’

The core of the program is the morning workshops. Groups of 12 writers spend the week together, critiquing the manuscripts of their peers with the help of a different staff member every day. Each participant also gets a one-on-one meeting with a staff member once during the week to discuss their manuscript.

One favorite afternoon activity is the open workshops led by Sands Hall. Writers drop in, put their name in a hat, and whoever gets drawn reads their work to the audience. ‘You get a bonsai critique by 40 people,’ Lindemann says. ‘It’s very insightful and helps you really fine-tune your critiquing skills.’

Joanne Meschery was a participant in the Community of Writers 25 years ago. Now she is a teacher and a member of the group’s Board of Directors. Meschery feels that the workshop ‘helps to break the isolation and make sense of being a fellow craftsman in the world of writing. You can take that back to your grotto, and it can really sustain you for awhile.’ The workshop gives you ‘very concrete and constructive suggestions. The biggest part of it is positive criticism and encouragement,’ she says. The writers workshop helps you feel that you are not alone anymore. You are part of a writing community.

While the focus of the workshop is on the craft of writing, agents and literary people are there as well to dispense advice.

‘Writing workshops are about demystifying the process,’ Meschery says. ‘I really do feel that the most important thing is not necessarily the conference itself, but the relationships you form there. People develop lifelong writing relationships.’

~ Tim Hauserman is the author of ‘Tahoe Rim Trail: A complete guide for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians,’ ‘Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children,’ and ‘Cross-Country Skiing in the Sierra Nevada.’ Comment on this story online at moonshineink.com.

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