Big Sur Highlights (1)

So last night I arrived back to Atlanta after attending the fabulous Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop. Unlike a conference, this is more of a workshop intensive — designed for writers who have manuscripts ready for critiquing, revising, and editorial guidance.

It’s sponsored by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and also includes other published authors and editors to assist writers during the weekend with critiques and panels. There is also a private session with an editor, agent, or author where you can further discuss your work.

The weekend consisted of two critique groups where writers could present work. The group was small — with only 5 writers and we each got a chance to read pages of our manuscript and then discuss our work. For me, this is one of the great parts of critique for me — you can learn so much by listening to pages and then apply what you have learned to your own novel.

My first critique group was moderated by agent Laura Rennert. I was very impressed with how she was able to hone in on what worked and what could be improved. Here are some highlights of what we discussed:

When you are writing, take your time with the process. You want your debut to be the best as it can be. You want to be published well.

You want your book to connect to the world.

Writing is content and as writers we are content providers.

For query letters, think of answering the following questions:

  • Who is the main character?
  • Where is the setting?
  • What is the central conflict?
  • Why should the agent care? What is the special detail of your work that makes it stand out from other books?

My second critique group was with author Sara Zarr, author of one of my favorite books, Story of a Girl. Sara was also able to give our group some valuable advice on our manuscripts. Here are some gems that she shared with us:

You need to bring emotional clarity in your work.

Plot is based on a character’s choice — based on moments of decision.

Try not to get too attached to scenes. Remember that every scene needs to have a reason to be in your novel.

When you get comments on your work, it’s a process. Sometimes the actual fix presented may not be relevant on actually solving what’s wrong with the novel. You have to go inside the book because only you can decide how to fix it.

During the opening of the workshop, Andrea Brown said that many miracles happen during the weekend. Writers find the heart of their work and make it better. And I have to agree because I saw it with my own eyes. Writers in my critique groups made leaps and bounds with their work.

I left this workshop inspired and with a new pathway of looking at this current novel project — knowing now how I will make it stronger and better.

This isn’t a workshop that focuses on the business of writing — it’s not a place to “sell” your novel to an agent or an editor. I think of this workshop as very craft-focused — more so on the process rather than the end result.

It’s also a less-stressful way to interact with agents and editors and easier to network with them in a more relaxed environment. And as always, a great way to meet other fellow writers.

Stay tuned on Thursday when I post highlights from the Agent Panel with advice from the Andrea Brown Agency.


  1. says

    Wow, I can’t even begin to describe how jealous I am. That sounds like the exact environment I would want out of a conference I was attending. Keep the tips coming :)

  2. says

    Thank you so much for sharing your workshop experience with us, Karen! It sounds really amazing. I think I would like this more than I do conferences.

  3. says

    @Megan: Sara’s critique group was really great. I learned a lot from her plus she is just a good down to earth person and funny too. You should definitely check out the workshop.

    @Tiana and Sam: Ha. I was also very jealous when a writer friend told me about her Big Sur experience — and I knew that I had to go.

    @Larissa and Emy: This was really a great workshop experience for me. I was very surprised what I was able to accomplish during the weekend.

    @Jemi: What’s so great about Big Sur is the small ratio of attendees to the faculty. Most of the agents and editors were easily accessible — and most of all wanted to help make our writing better. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Big Sur is really gorgeous.

  4. Amykated says

    Sounds like it was a great learning experience. Thanks so much for sharing it. I’m definitely going to come back to read the next installment on Thursday.

  5. says

    @Amykated: It was a great experience. I got lots of good info from the Agent panel, so yes please do come back to check it out on Thursday. :)

    @Anne: I did get a lot out of the experience. It was very intense and I was very tired but it was worth it for what I learned.

    @Laura: It was a very relaxed atmosphere. It was nice to talk with agents and editors without any stress. I was very impressed with the Andrea Brown Lit Agency — all of the agents were friendly and open to help writers with their work.

  6. says

    It was amazing Karen! And it was so fantastic to get to meet you there. You’re right, Big Sur was an excellent place to work on the craft and network. I loved how relaxed it was.

  7. says

    This sounds like such a great conference. Thanks for sharing! I like that they told you to take your time with the process of writing your debut novel. It’s taking me a while to finish my first draft because I’m taking my time with it. Sometimes I feel like I should be writing faster, but in the end, the draft is probably benefiting from the extra time I’m giving it.

    Looking forward to hearing the rest of what you learned!

  8. says

    @Heather: It was most excellent meeting you too! We should definitely hook up for another conference or workshop soon. Pacific Coast Highway was gorgeous — and a little nerve-wracking too. Ha.

    @Ghenet: This was a theme during the weekend. Taking your time to learn the process. Taking your time querying and researching. Focusing more on the craft than the business of writing. I think you are smart to take time — you only get one chance at your debut novel.

  9. says

    @Vicky: I must say that I left with a great impression of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. All of the agents are top notch. I think any writer would be in good hands with any of them.

  10. Sheri Dillard says

    Wow, Karen! I learned a lot from just reading your post — how wonderful to have TWO days of that! I’m glad you had a great experience!

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