Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Barbara Seuling's Manuscript Workshop

My friend and mentor, Barbara Seuling died yesterday. Her obituary is in PW. She was not only a wonderful writer, but also a great teacher. I read and re-read her book on writing for children for many years until I outgrew it. My kids loved her series of Robert books. And Barbara's favorite, the story of Jane Froman was a joy to read. I got another copy for my in-laws and they, too, loved it. I can only imagine how many hundreds, no, thousands of people she has touched with her words. I had the good fortune to spend some time with her at a workshop twelve years ago, which I wrote about below. Requiescat in pace, Barbara. 

From the web archives: The Workshop

I have never had a "writing vacation" until I won a full scholarship to attend Barbara Seuling's Manuscript Workshop.  When she called with the good news, I was preparing dosas for my children.  We were all so excited I had to turn the stove off before I burned the house down.  The workshop was a gift to last a lifetime. My mother-in-law came to stay with the children and care for them while I was away so that Michael could continue to go to work. 

For four days, I was in the company of writers.  Good writers.  Each story pulled me.  I wanted more.  And it made me think about how we come up with stories -- a scenario, a character, even a piece of dialogue can snowball into a story.  It was a pleasure to read our stories and give and receive constructive criticism. 

I cannot say exactly what I learned because there were no formal lessons per se.  Everything I learned was specific to improving a particular story, but these are some of the points that were driven home:
1.  Tell yourself the story.  How does it unfold?  Why do story people (or animals) do the things they do?  Know the motivation.  Even in a deceptively simple picture book, we must know why the character does what he does.
2.  We read excerpts from several novels.  Every scene in the novel must move the story forward.  Otherwise it has no business being there.  It is not sufficient to have a scene just to give back-story or description.
3.  Read, read, read widely to study structure and style.  Especially read in the genre that you're trying to write.  Know what is being published today.  Read the classics, too.
The students: Carolyn, Sheryll, Doris, Lee, Becky, Syrl and Vijaya.  We did writing exercises and critiqued from 9-12 in the mornings and from 7:30-9 at night.  We socialized during mealtimes and it was wonderful to have delicious food come to our table while we spoke of our families and writing life.  We became friends.  I enjoyed having all of our activities under one roof at the Landgrove Inn.
The afternoons were free.  Most of us worked on our manuscripts.  We took breaks for a walk in the woods or a swim in the pool.  There was a lot to process (I'm still digesting what I've learned and trying to apply it to my novel).
Guest speaker Melissa Stewart spoke about her love of science and bringing it to life for children.  Tips from her:
1.  Make your writing lively. 
2.  Go for the heart of the story. 
3.  Do your homework and then interview experts for information not readily available.
Barbara runs this workshop in an environment that is conducive to writing.  We are guided from the discussions about our craft.  I truly believe that to become a better writer, we must honestly assess our work alone and with others and work with writers who can teach.  Barbara is one of the best.  She has a generous soul.  And she's funny and astute, too.  It's no wonder that out of seven students, over half have attended these workshops several times.  What joy to learn from Barbara and her students.  I know I'll be back ...
From the left: Barbara, Vijaya, Melissa, Becky, Doris, Sheryll, Syrl, Lee & Carolyn.



Faith E. Hough said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences at the workshop! We will pray for the repose of Barbara's soul and for comfort for her family and friends.

Mirka Breen said...

Barbara was a legend in kid-lit. I never met her, but have one of her books. I was very sorry to hear of her passing away.

Unknown said...

I was so sorry to hear about Barbara. Thanks for sharing her wonderful insights with us.

Vijaya said...

Thank you Faith, esp. for your prayers.
Mirka, she was really quite a force in children's lit., and such a good one too.
Katie, thank you.

Barbara Etlin said...

Her writing text was the first I read about writing for children. What a great teacher and what a great influence she has had! She will be missed.

Unknown said...

So sad to hear of Barbara's passing. What a wonderful writer, teacher and friend she was. Sending prayers and love to Winn and all the family. Barbara was so loved and will be intensely missed. Barbara, you often closed your emails with "Cheers!" and I now
say cheers to you good friend. Rest in peace.
Carolyn Bamberger

Vijaya said...

Barb, I suspect many of us used her book when we were newbies.

Caroyln, how great to see you here! Thank you for stopping by and reminding me of her cheers!

Unknown said...

You're welcome Vijaya. Your photo brings back many memories! I ran into your post when I googled Barbara's name.

Anonymous said...

I'm very sorry to hear this. Thanks for sharing the post of the wonderful workshop you had with her.

Vijaya said...

I'm so glad you found me, Carolyn. I hope you and your family are well. That picture brings back happy memories.

Marcia, thank you. I'm so grateful for the wonderful opportunity Barbara gave me. I think she'd be proud of how I continue to grow.

Unknown said...

I was so sorry to hear about Barbara. Thanks for sharing her wonderful insights with us.