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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones


So tonight I’m at a corner bar that happens to have wifi, classy right? But after being unplugged for a week with only (gasp) mobile internet, a girl needs to get some interwebs.

So.. the amazing writer’s retreat I went on? It was the Algonkian Park Novel Workshop. Focused on learning the skills to make the first novel a commercial novel, we worked on pitching (as in the elevator speech about your book), humbly taking advice, reigniting our imaginations to write about things we don’t know and laughing with other writers.

Okay, maybe laughing wasn’t in the syllabus, but we did plenty of it. We were a mixed bag of writers. Some people with years of publishing under their belts, other with the only printed word coming from our printers. Ages ranged from mid-twenties to early-sixties. Education was gained in the military, in PhD programs, overseas, and at home. I’d never been around more people with a great command of Civil War trivia.

I was the only person with a blog, which surprised me, and sometimes (during every break) I launched into impromptu social media lectures. One participant even said she felt like she got two for one: learning about her novel and learning about social media. Even without internet access, I can talk a lot and even about RSS.

Tuesday Night

My cabbie, as predicted, had a hard time finding the cabins in the park. I was about the 7th person there. Introduced to my roommate, we immediately hid in our rooms until dinner. At dinner we all started chatting about our novels, our backgrounds, how we found the place and where we were from. After dinner, if I remember, we got a short lecture from Michael and went back to our cabins to perfect our pitches.

After my roomie and I were settled, a man knocked on the door who needed a bed. Lucky for us, he was also a participant and he joined us.

Wednesday Day

On day one, we went around the room pitching our novels to Michael Neff, the organizer/teacher/editor/writer, and getting advice. If you are me, that advice was to put my novel on a shelf and let it go back to collecting dust. However, everyone agreed that there was something interesting about Accidentally Jewish and why didn’t I try to do something. By tomorrow. When you meet the agent.


Wednesday Night

We went to dinner somewhere, but I don’t remember where. Oh! Don Pablos, a Mexican chain restaurant with good salsa and lousy service. It didn’t matter too much, because we were pretty busy talking and laughing. (See, again with the laughing.) Lucky for me, my driver was willing to take me to Target for some NyQuil. I battled a cold the entire time with a mix of DayQuil, NyQuil, Zicam, EmergenC and soft, plush Kleenex. After dinner, I locked myself to my laptop in front of a fire and wrote a new pitch for a new novel, for a story you all know well. A girl becomes a Jew.

Thursday Day

In the first hour, those of us with major rewrites pitch Michael again. I get some feedback, clean it up, and pray that my pitch goes well. Paige Wheeler from Folio came, gave us the inside scoop on the biz and then listened to our pitches. (She’s someone with a perfect name for the biz she got into. She wheels and deals with books and pages.) I got a good response to my pitch and currently have a fire under my ass to get some pages written.

That afternoon, we got a writing assignment and carpooled out the Lake Anne. We got to hang out at a cafe (wifi) and work on our imagination-heavy assignments. After working for a couple hours and drinking a pot of tea, I joined four women for dinner at Tavern on the Lake. Chef Tom is a Katrina victim, but he doesn’t need you to patronize out of pity. Patronize because the food is out of this world. So good, we went back the next night! Spinach and apples, people, spinach with apples.

Thursday Night

Dinner at Tavern on the Lake, followed by writing in front of a fireplace with a glass of wine at my side. Seriously, a cabin, a river, a fire, wine, writing roommates. It was amazing! Imagination flowed and later conversation flowed.

Friday Day

If you follow me on Twitter, you heard my complaints that my book pitch sounded like Bruce Almighty. I said that many, many times. On Friday morning, we hung out with Robert Bausch , the author of Almighty Me which became Bruce Almighty. Very funny guy, very honest, and a great writer to learn from. He’s also a professor and I wouldn’t mind studying with him. But he isn’t a professor in Chicago, so I probably won’t.

The rest of Friday was spent reading our imagination driven stories. It was cool to see how wildly different 13 people can write given the same starting place. It was also funny to see the universal mind at work. There were details that two people would pick for their stories for no reason. My roommate and I started our stories exactly the same way, but never talked to each other while we were writing.

Friday Night

We played. No homework, so we all headed back to Tavern on the Lake on Lake Anne for more of Chef Tom’s delights. I had the Fried Plantains and some chicken thing. Delicious. I also evangalized the spinach and apples. After dinner, we had everyone over to hang out in Cabin #8 in front of the fire.

Saturday Day

In the morning we studied, then at lunch we were given an assignment to write a dialogue. The specifics were very detailed, but the creativity again astounded. I got to read mine and got very good feedback. That night we went to dinner fairly early and when we came back, we finally used the hot tub.

Sunday was just one on one meetings, cleaning the cabins, eating Boston Market, laughing, saying goodbye and giving directions to our very lost Super Shuttle driver. The advice I got was, “Write the damn book. Get it done.” So that’s what I’ll be doing, getting it done.

UPDATE: Did I mention this was my Edelman Escape?

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