Taos Toolbox: You Will Always Love Your First, But Later You Love in Different Ways

Still up here. Waaayyyy up here.

So. I’ve been at Taos Toolbox for a week. Let me talk to you a little bit about it.

Caveat: You will always love your first. I don’t necessarily mean your first workshop, because I know a lot of folks have found Clarion or Viable Paradise or any other number of writer’s workshop less than appropriate for their expectations. BUT what you will always love is that space where you first felt like a real writer, like you had a chance, like it wasn’t all some sort of system designed to keep you out, that you were going to be responsible for self-publishing everything you wrote, ad nauseum.

That space for me was Viable Paradise, and no matter how good another experience is, I will never be able to recreate that halcyon experience. It’s a little like a good undergraduate stretch in college. It probably wasn’t as good as you remember it, but it’s okay that you remember it as good as you do. And the people at VP XIII were exceptional people at that time during that week pulling together in that way. That will never come again.

There are people who are experiencing that here RIGHT NOW. Taos Toolbox is, for a few of us, that epiphany. There are a few writers here who have never been in an SF Workshop, so they are sort of bouncing off the walls in a “Really? It’s okay if I write spec fic?” kind of way.

I know that you want to know what I think, however. Because, by God, why the hell else would you be reading Writer Tamago? Indeed. Some of you have been to this workshop, and recommended it to me, so I imagine you especially are curious.

I will ultimately have a page up that interviews my fellow Taosians in much the same way I interviewed the VP XIIIers, so inquiring writers can make informed choices. Later, I’m going to divide my comments about the Toolbox into a few different categories: teaching, community, critiquing, setting and writing culture and mores. However, I’m going to start in with some personal impressions about what I think is happening to me and my writing here.

Many people have told me that coming to Taos would level me up professionally yet again. Yeah. I think that’s right. My stuff has been pretty well received so far, and the suggestions have been good. This is the first time that I’ve been given not just feedback on my work, but ways in which I can approach the problems I’m having in a problem-solving fashion. Up to this point, I haven’t been able to break down the issues in my fiction specifically and concretely so I can move forward into the correction zone. What I have been doing, up until now, is to get some feedback, and not know what it is that my readers are sensing. I have been vaguely feeling my way forward, hoping that I am solving the problems they see, but not necessarily doing so.

Some problems have always been easy to solve. Less vigorous prose. Underdeveloped characters. Dialogue. Other problems have been deal breakers for me: plot versus story, narrative stream, information withholding. The fact that I even can use these terms proficiently right now should give you a hint that the class section of the Toolbox has already paid off in dividends. I also have new ways to look at scene tension and arcing, and hopefully I can tighten up my prose so it no longer crawls as I linger in the indulgent “characters talking to each other but not necessarily moving the story forward” zone.

What I’m feeling here is pushed, and pushed in a good way. Although I do not think this is a journeyman class for everyone here, because not everyone here is ready for a journeyman class, I feel I’m getting one. This isn’t to say that this is it, I’m done with workshops, but it is to say that these instructors are treating those of us who are strong proficient writers like we are publishing these works and we want to solve these problems. NOT that some day in the future we will be publishing these works if we can solve these problems while we’re sitting in the dark not able to see what’s wrong with our manuscript.

Viable Paradise took me seriously. Maybe the difference now is that I also take me seriously. I’m not giddy any more. I’m ready to get to work. This goes hand in hand with my no longer sending out crap rule. But now I have crap analysis equipment. This moves me further in the direction that writing any manuscript is much more like writing a dissertation. It also moves me further in the direction of seeking perfection. This takes time. It’s work. It’s rewarding work, worth doing right. It’s not a mystical magical unicorn pony kind of dream. It’s fun, but it’s also about mastery and knowledge.

We education types are never against knowledge.

As most of you know, I came here to study with Nancy Kress. She is terrific and has given me great thorough feedback. But I will be spending my one-on-one time this week with Walter John Williams. Nancy would teach me valuable stuff, but her strengths are my writing strengths. Walter’s strengths are really the ponies I need to get bridle-trained. So I expect to learn more tools to help solve my problems, and I expect to start scaffolding what doesn’t come as naturally.

What you take from a venue like Taos Toolbox is proportionate to what you put in. I see opportunity and I’m listening.

As you may have noticed, it’s insane-o-thirty. I haven’t slept well since I’ve been here. Damn workshops. I’d best try to rest some more before another day of sitting around a table.


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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