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Work toward a publishable manuscript at Weekend with Your Novel

woman writing in notebook

Many of us have an unfinished novel tucked away in a drawer. I’ve got one myself, along with another couple plot outlines that so far exist only in my head.

Nickolas Butler says Weekend with Your Novel 'should be an opportunity to seek advice, to ask questions, to meet new friends and mentors.'
Award-winning author Nickolas Butler says Weekend with Your Novel ‘should be an opportunity to seek advice, to ask questions, to meet new friends and mentors.’

There’s help for people like me, and it’s called Weekend with Your Novel. The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s annual retreat is designed to motivate those who want to start a novel, finish a novel, or publish an already completed manuscript. A staff of experienced writers, editors, and teachers will be on hand November 13-15 at Madison’s Pyle Center and Lowell Center to help you get your novel out of the drawer and into the bookstore.

“The program is unique in that it focuses exclusively on novel writing and publishing,” says Christopher Chambers, director of the writing program at UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies. “That makes for a more focused and specialized experience—one that tends to be more personal, and not as overwhelming as large writers’ conferences can be.”

‘A serious artistic pursuit’

Weekend with Your Novel features critique groups, speeches, and a dozen workshops. You can sign up for the whole immersive experience or for various combinations of individual sessions.

One must-see event is the November 13 keynote address by Nickolas Butler, the award-winning author of Shotgun Lovesongs. Butler got rave reviews for his story of five friends who took different paths in and out of a Wisconsin farm town.

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Christopher Chambers: ‘Weekend with Your Novel strives to provide an environment that is supportive, informative, and inspiring.’

Weekend with Your Novel includes a special Friday workshop on Shotgun Lovesongs. In his keynote, Butler will discuss the years leading up to the book’s publication, including his financial and professional challenges as a budding novelist. His message to attendees: Don’t lose hope.

“I think the value of a program like Weekend with Your Novel is essentially that a writer has begun to dedicate themselves to the somewhat crazy notion of actually pursuing the completion of a book, which is an act of faith,” Butler says. “This isn’t, after all, a lucrative or sure-footed career. But I think participating in programs like this means a person is committing themselves to a serious artistic pursuit. It should be an opportunity to seek advice, to ask questions, to meet new friends and mentors.”

Creating tension on every page

Margaret Goss, a previous participant in Weekend with Your Novel, will release 'The Uncommitted' this month.
Margaret M. Goss, a previous participant in Weekend with Your Novel, will release ‘The Uncommitted’ this month.

Weekend with Your Novel has two tracks, one for beginners and one for advanced writers who are more focused on revising, marketing, and publishing. Aspiring novelists will find inspiration in workshops like “What Makes a Good Novel and How Do You Write One?” and “Creating Tension on Every Page.” Those farther along in the process can learn about “The Deep Edit” and “Strategies and Markets for Novel Excerpts.”

“The sessions are usually small and allow for interaction with the session leaders,” says Chambers. “If participants have specific questions, they have the opportunity to get those answered. Weekend with Your Novel strives to provide an environment that is supportive, informative, and inspiring.”

The program has a track record of success. Previous participants include D.B. Kennison, who published Still Life with Samhain Publishing; Margaret M. Goss, whose novel The Uncommitted will appear this month on Three Towers Press; Barbara Belford, who sold her middle-grade historical novel, Crossing the Line, to Skypony, a division of Skyhorse Publishing; and Blair Hull, who sold his mystery St. Mary’s Private Dancer to Apocryphile Press.

Writers are notorious for keeping to themselves—and for keeping their half-finished work in a drawer, like me. But Weekend with Your Novel will coax participants out to a lovely location, where they can connect with like-minded souls.

“As novelists know, setting is important, and the retreat is on the beautiful UW campus on Lake Mendota,” Chambers says. “Writing a novel is hard and solitary work, and this weekend offers a chance for novelists and aspiring novelists to gather to learn, compare notes, network, and become inspired before returning to complete and publish their own novels.”

For more information on Weekend with Your Novel, contact Christopher Chambers, christopher.chambers@wisc.edu, 608-262-5095.