Newest, Writing

Viable Paradise XX

It’s been six months since Viable Paradise XX. 

They told me it would be formative. They told me it would be influential. They told me I would learn things, and that I would have a good time, and that I would make friends. All of these things were true, in the way that “oh, I won a little writing contest” is true when you’ve actually won the Pulitzer.


The Island Inn, where the workshop takes place.

There’s a fat, firm demarcation line between my life before the island and my life after the island.

Plenty of people talk about what happens to you on the island: the moon jellies, the thousands of words, the one-on-ones with amazing pros, the morning walks, the forever friendships, the magic words, the Horror that is Thursday (ok, we don’t actually talk about the Horror… it’s still too soon). But what happens after Viable Paradise passes into memory, when you’re back in your chair sitting in front of your laptop every morning, doing the work?

I came home from the island enchanted with what I could only call “the righteous holy fire,” a strange graphomania that had me getting up at the crack of dawn for months. I finished my novel in a matter of weeks, revised it meticulously over the five months that followed and started querying it shortly afterward. I formed a writing group that has already been crucial in helping me grow as a writer. I went from hoping I’d succeed to knowing I will. Not because of any sort of talent you might have (although it was nice to hear people who know what they’re talking about point out what you’ve done right or wrong) or the magic publishing fairy dust people sometimes think workshops provide (spoilers: there is only the fairy dust you make yourself). No.

I was able to do all of that because these guys — and over a dozen others — had my back:

Say “cheese weasels!”

You go to Viable Paradise knowing that you’ll have great conversations with people — peers and pros alike — and that you’ll learn a lot from people who have been there. I certainly did. What they don’t tell you is that those peers become your allies. Your knights in shining armor. Your ride-or-die squad.

See, anyone who tells you that writing is an entirely solitary affair is trying to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s true that only you can do the work of applying butt to chair and causing words to appear on your laptop screen, and that only you can revise and proofread and query agents and make blood sacrifices to the krak — ahem. Having a community of awesome writers that turn to each other for questions, beta reads, inspiration and brainweasel extermination makes me feel wealthy beyond words.

Viable Paradise won’t teach you anything that you can’t learn on the Internet. They tell you that up front. But between the glow jellies, the Writers’ Tears, the back deck chats, the reading, the critiques, the midnight grilled cheese, the music (oh, the music!), the intense deadlines and the God’s-honest talks about grammar, structure, plotting, marketing, and making a writing life… you’ll find your magic. You’ll find what you need. What that is? Well, that’s up to you. What I got was confidence, and a place I can return to whenever I feel down and out, whenever I feel like the mountain is too high or the ladder is too rickety or the path is too lonely. What an incredible blessing that was.

For me, that place was right here:


This is what magic looks like.

“But, Karen,” you say, “You said you were successful! If Viable Paradise works, where are the sales? Where’s that first pro credit? Where’s the book deal?!

Sure, the workshop happens, and then you go home. But a writing career is that: a career. You have to keep on learning. Writing. Persisting. You have to be comfortable with yourself, with the work you do (and want to do) and with the places you want to go. The mountains you dream of climbing. This is a long road we’re all hiking, and you’re gonna need fuel to get to the summit. You can find that, and so much more, at Viable Paradise.

So what are you waiting for? Applications for this year end on June 15. Don’t self-reject. Chase your island.

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