What Happens at Viable Paradise

Hi! If you’ve landed here—which also happens to be the inaugural post on my blog—I’d guess it’s because you’re thinking of applying to Viable Paradise, you’ve been accepted to Viable Paradise, or someone you know has been accepted, and you’d like to know what it is.

The Viable Paradise website does a great job of telling you what specifics to expect. Even so, the distance between “you will receive a writing assignment” and staying up late Wednesday night with a dozen other writers in the common room to finish a draft is full of many feelings.

I’ll take a stab at describing what I experienced at Viable Paradise 23. It’s an unapologetically incomplete picture, but with any luck it will convey some of the flavor.

My week at Viable Paradise started off with a little challenge, in that I arrived with acute laryngitis. It actually happens every time I get sick, and I was on the mend from a cold when I arrived on Martha’s Vineyard. Not what I’d hoped for!

By the time I met my Viable Paradise cohort on Sunday night, I could barely say my name loud enough to be heard in the acoustically challenging common room. Forget about projecting enough to tell a joke or ask a question. What’s more, at Viable Paradise, there is (reportedly) a lot of singing late at night—but not for me! Couldn’t sing a lick. I was kaput.

There are, mildly put, worse things. Still, though. I would have liked to have had some conversations. Instead I’d try to introduce myself, and people would look at me with huge eyes and ask if they could fetch me a throat lozenge or a cup of tea.

Writing tip: If you want to show that a character is kind, perhaps have them offer a throat lozenge or a cup of tea.

Oh, but look: if you take someone (me) who tends to talk too much and force her to listen, guess what? She listens!

I mean, duh, of course that’s good, that listening thing. Really, though, it was healthy to be thrown off my game at the first of the week, because guess what: the whole week is an exercise in stepping out of your comfort zone. Yes, there are critiques and lectures and exercises and opportunities to visit with instructors privately and more. But Viable Paradise was the first time a lot of us had found ourselves in the company of so many other strong writers with such great imaginations, for that long a stretch. That is both the most wonderful thing in the world, and also terrifying. It’s time to abandon all those ideas you had when you were first doing this in the corner of your bedroom (or wherever) and you had the safety of nobody knowing about it. Now it’s time to engage with the community for real.

A lot of the beauty of it has to do with your cohort, which I can pretty much guarantee will be filled with interesting people of different backgrounds (just to sample a few). The Viable Paradise grads on staff work hard to ensure that each VP class gets the same positive experience that they did. That means looking out for people’s physical and emotional health and setting a tone of positive collaboration. By the time the week is over, that group of 24 good writers becomes a cohort prepared to support and cheer one another on into the future.

The week didn’t get anybody signed with an agent. (There were no agents there, so…) The week didn’t see anyone selling their novels to a big-five publisher. But it was about learning craft and building positive relationships with an excellent group of writers.

Now, me being mostly silent for those first few days is not the only way I would have figured all this out. But thanks to all that listening-not-talking, it was immediately apparent that while all of us at Viable Paradise are passionate strivers and dedicated dreamers, we can also do it together as friends and colleagues. So apply to Viable Paradise, and go. Fundraise if you have to. (Some people in our class had to get creative with funding. It’s okay. Don’t let that stop you from applying.) If you go, go with the goal of sharing with kindness. It’ll be worth it—even if you can’t talk.

Published by Elizabeth

I alphabetize my private library.

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