Oh, Iowa

So, I’m kind of bummed.

Last weekend, I went to the Iowa Summer Writing Festival hosted by the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa. It was my second time attending. I went last year all by myself and it was a phenomenal experience. Amazing, really. Being away from “real life” and work and kids and home gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in my writing. I had a hotel room all to myself for two and a half days. I was engaged in writing workshops for four hours a day, and those workshops were really thought-provoking and inspiring. The instructor had some excellent writing exercises and he knew how to create a solid writing community of our little group of 12. I came home with so much writing produced and felt so encouraged. Not to mention that Iowa City has a great creative atmosphere, a fantastic pedestrian mall with clever shops and tasty restaurants.

This year, I convinced my best friend to drive up from Illinois and attend with me. It was wonderful spending the entire weekend just the two of us. We got to chat, catch up, and just spend some good time decompressing from life. She writes too, and it was the first opportunity for me to read some of her work and it was really great. (Which was a relief. How awkward would it be if her stuff sucked? I kind of knew it wouldn’t though.)

So why bummed?

Because the workshop itself wasn’t so great. Our instructor seemed burned out. She’d been teaching other workshops for the previous two weeks on other topics, and her time in Iowa City was drawing to a close. Our group ended up unfocused and didn’t develop the kind of rhythm and sense of community that I remember from last year. A couple of members of the group tended toward hijacking the conversation, which ate up several chunks of our precious time. Writing time and truly generative, productive exercises were limited if not altogether nonexistent (at least on the first day) and I lacked that inspirational feeling.

Part of the problem was the subject matter of the workshop itself. It ended up leaning more toward conversation and discussion, literary analysis of sorts, than it did to writing. We talked a lot about what we read and how certain elements can work in what we read, but making the transition to what we write felt like something we barely touched. I had hoped it would challenge me and push me in my writing, but it didn’t.

So, I didn’t come away from it feeling like I generated much writing. I didn’t really challenge myself as a writer. But I did spend some great time with a friend. I did spend a late afternoon poking around a really old, and really intriguing, cemetery. I did spend an entire weekend not having to cook or clean or do anything for anybody but me. All of these are definitely positive. I just wish that the writing had been better for me.

For next year (because I do want to attend again), I plan to really focus on finding a workshop that works directly with my writing and my writing goals. I think I’ll try to have a writing plan, some material that I want to work on specifically, so that if generating new material doesn’t happen (like it had before and like I was banking on happening this time around), I have a gameplan to accomplish some solid writing tasks.

Essentially, the weekend was good, but not as good as I’d hoped. I guess it all has to do with expectations. Last year, I was new and had none. I went into it totally not knowing what to expect and was delighted. This year, I went with the expectation that it would be just as amazing as last year, which admittedly wasn’t fair. So, maybe next year–now that the bar has been lowered–I’ll have another wonderful experience.

But, no matter what, Iowa City still remains a really enjoyable town. Even the cemeteries.

One Reply to “Oh, Iowa”

  1. Hi Denise! Sorry to hear your Iowa conference wasn’t what you’d hoped. I had a similar experience a few years back when I’d earned a grant to go to the Big Important AZ conference and walked out of there thinking that I hadn’t had the chance to improve my own craft one bit. It was more of a showcase for people who’d already been published, with lots of talking about writing instead of writing work/advice. I listened to LOTS of narrative poetry, which was just so far from what I was working on that at one point I reread the conference website in case I’d mistakenly come on the wrong weekend.

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