Ask a novelist or two to describe paradise, and they’ll likely mention an inspiring setting, a supportive community, and uninterrupted time for writing. These are the hallmarks of Write-by-the-Lake, a yearly writer’s workshop and retreat at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The Writer recently previewed the 2018 edition, which takes place in Madison June 11-15.
Write-by-the-Lake’s combination of master classes, genre-specific workshops, and dedicated writing time can turn a manuscript into a published novel, according to director Christine DeSmet.
“It’s like two semesters of an MFA program,” she told the Writer. “You work so hard and get so much to take home with you.”
Ann Garvin took home part of her first novel, The Dog Year, which landed on the USA Today bestseller list. She’ll return as an instructor in 2018. There are lots of other success stories, too, including Sally J. Pla (The Someday Birds) and Teria Robens (What the Mirror Sees).
“It [is] fun to see somebody go from blank-page newbie to successful author,” DeSmet said.
Inspiration at every turn
DeSmet, an accomplished mystery author, also teaches a master class to help novelists take their work to the next level. She reads each participant’s manuscript, paying special attention to plot points and story structure, and then provides a detailed critique. Classmates share their feedback as well. After the retreat, each novelist embarks on a year of personalized coaching.
“Story structure is the No. 1 thing that gets people rejected by agents and editors,” DeSmet told the Writer. “Looking at your book with new eyes and five other writers in the room really shows you how to deepen the fiction and sell that novel.”
Other sessions focus on such topics as setting the stage for short fiction and polishing the first 50 pages of a novel. Classes take place in the morning, leaving each afternoon free for writing beside beautiful Lake Mendota. Participants also have time to explore the city and campus.
DeSmet says past attendees have enjoyed canoeing, boating, and dinner cruises. In addition to providing inspiration for writing projects, these activities often lead to friendships.
The most inspiring activity of all is an open-mic afternoon. It’s a chance for participants to feel the power of their voices and the camaraderie of fellow writers.
“They get up behind a microphone with the support of everyone in the audience and read for two minutes,” DeSmet told the Writer. “People are in tears, clapping.”
The university’s next writing retreat is Weekend with Your Novel, November 3-5. For more on Write-by-the-Lake, or to register, see here.