Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Awesome Workshop with Author/Editor Joyce Sweeney

I’ve been to lots of writing workshops and conferences.  Almost always, they’ve been helpful with developing skills such as creating characters, organizing plots, writing beginnings, revising a story . . . I could go on and on.  Even disappointing workshops inspired me because it was stimulating to be surrounded by people who shared my passion for stories and writing.

Joyce with her usual friendly smile
All of which brings me to a two-hour SCBWI workshop presented this past Saturday by author/editor Joyce Sweeney at the public library in Celebration. (For my non-writer friends, SCBWI stands for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, THE national organization for children’s writers.)  I knew the presenter already.  Besides being a successful author and poet, Joyce is an editor who has helped many writers become published authors.  She edited Pairs at Nationals, and it definitely became a better book.

But this workshop was different from any I have ever attended.  Even though the description of the workshop mentioned that she would be using writing prompts, I never expected they would be the heart of the workshop, and that they would somehow inspire my right brain to take over.

What Joyce did was read poems from her latest poetry book, Wake Up, which came out of a heart-wrenching time in her life.  After she read a poem, she used its subject as a writing prompt.  They first one was about a door and what it symbolized to her.  She asked us to put our main character in front of a door . . . What was outside the door?  What was inside?

I have a character for the YA novel I want to write, 14-year-old Lexie, but I’ve been struggling to “feel” the book.  I know the story “sort of,” but nothing was coming together.  So I thought about Lexie and doors.  Where could she be?  How could it be part of the story when I didn’t even know what the story would be?  Then the door came to me and I started to write.  I hadn’t brought my computer, so I wrote in longhand on a legal pad.  Maybe because I knew the result wouldn’t be neat, I didn’t stop to fix anything, but just kept writing.  When Joyce called time, Lexie still hadn’t opened that door—so much had to be said first—but I knew what was on the other side and how Lexie felt about it. I began to feel excited about the book.

The second prompt was to write about a car or a car accident.  Lexie didn’t drive, so who would have a car?  I knew Lexie wouldn't take someone’s car.  Suddenly I could see the scene, where she was, whose car it was, why she shouldn’t get in the car, why she did.  Again, I never completed the prompt, never described the accident, but I knew it was coming.

After each prompt a few people shared what they had written.  It was fun to see the different ways we each worked with a word.  Some prompts worked better for me than others, but they were all good exercises in description, imagery, or character development.  I’ve brainstormed before, but there was something different about using Joyce’s writing prompts.

Will my enthusiasm for the book stay?  I hope so. Yesterday morning—after taking Sunday off to enjoy our boat on the beautiful St. Johns River—I sat down and wrote the first few pages of the novel I’ve been struggling with.  With a new approach for me, I wrote in longhand in a notebook.  I have no idea if those words will remain the novel’s opening pages, but they’re a start.  I’ll see what my critique group says next week.  So, thank you, Joyce and Florida SCBWI. 

Joyce has a website where she can be reached if you’re looking for an editor.  She also offers many writing courses in the form of webinars. Some are offered on specific dates.  Others are on-demand—you can take them whenever you’re ready.  You can find Joyce at


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop, too, and appreciated her "no-pressure-to-read-aloud" approach to writing!

  2. Thanks for your comment. And you're right about "no pressure." No one likes to be put on the spot, especially with writing they might not be ready to share.

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