Guest Blogger Viewpoint: A WIFYR Workshop Experience

Today Stephanie Kelley blogs about her experience at the WIFYR Conference last June: 

I had the honor of going to Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers this last June,
including a 4-hour workshop with Martine Leavitt each morning for five days.
Here’s a sample of my journal a few days before WIFYR 2013 started:
I’m preparing for a writing workshop that I’ll be going to all next week–a gift for my
birthday. I’m so happy–I’ll get to go to class with Martine Leavitt, one of my idols who
lives in Canada. She also teaches at Vermont College, so it will be like taking a Master’s
writing course. What could be better?
Yes, I was excited. I marched into class the first day, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ,
ready to take on the world (cliche-alert). By the third day I was breaking down into
random fits of crying–and we hadn’t even critiqued my pages yet.

That came Thursday.

The critique was difficult yes, but I surprised myself by being able to learn from it and
move on. By the end of the week I was exhausted.

Here is a sample of my journal a few days later:
Today I’m coming down with a cold. No fun. But not surprising considering the crazy
schedule I’ve had this week: wake at 6:30 and do homework, 8:30 get to Waterford
School for class with Martine Leavitt. Lunch at 12:30, class from 2 to 5, then go home
and try to do what needs to be done at home.
Note there is no eulogizing about the conference being over. I did walk away knowing
my manuscript needed some–no, a lot–of work.

I mention how I felt because I think no real growth occurs without a little pain. All the
stretching was worth it, though. My writing changed for the better in a relatively short
time–one week.

Here’s a sample of the things that Martine taught us that have helped me the most:

Characters need to have a strong desire line–emotional and concrete–that pull the reader through the whole book.

Make descriptions work double duty: setting the scene and communicating the state of mind of the character at the same time.

Metaphor! Small metaphors to describe settings and people and big metaphors to
describe emotions or intense events in the character’s life.

One of my favorite quotes that Martine shared was, “Nothing bad that happens to you
goes to waste.”
Two days later there was severe flooding in Calgary where Martine lives, which
damaged her house and caused her husband to be evacuated in the shovel of a large
That’s something I’ll never forget!

She is an amazing writer and teacher and I feel lucky to have been able to be in her
class. Thanks, Martine!