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As some of you may remember, I am partaking in the Paris Writers’ Workshop this week. What an experience it has been so far!

The PWW is the first of this type of group-based literary workshop I have ever attended, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It turned out to be a marvelously pleasant surprise.

I enrolled in the Creative Non-Fiction group as I love memoir and biography. The seminar is led by Mimi Schwartz, the unexpected gem of my workshop experience. If any of you have ever taken a course with Mimi, you’ll know what I mean. As a writing professor for 25 years and author of five books, a plethora of award-winning short work as well as a brilliant text on writing entitled Writing True, her particular coaching genius is asking writers the precise question that leads them to discover exactly how they need to, for instance, phrase a poignant moment within the guts of the story or craft their introduction (she’ll say as one of the group reads out their newly written piece, “now read it again from the top and the rest of you tell me where you think it should begin”). She’s fantastic. I’ve learned so much from her that I hardly feel it’s possible to write it all down; although I plan to do an in-depth review of the whole of Mimi’s workshop once it is complete, for those of you who might be interested in some of her insights.

As an added bonus, I happened to luck out with a terrific group of 11 non-fiction writers whose critique and feedback are enriching and nourishing, constructive and insightful. Workshops, I have come to find out, are the very best way to meet and network with other writers. If you are a writer or aspiring to become one, I couldn’t recommend the experience of participating in a workshop with greater enthusiasm.

In addition to our hands-on morning sessions in the small group setting, the afternoons at the PWW are packed full of panel discussions with distinguished and noteworthy authors.

On Monday, we heard from renowned poet Kathleen Spivack, children’s author Kate McMullan and novelist Chris Tilghman also the director of the University of Virginia’s writing program on the “Tools of the Trade.” The general consensus:

  • Persistence, don’t give up!
  • Consistently writing each day (at least one hour), and
  • The old adage: revision! revision! revision!

Last night, Chris Tilghman gave a reading of his new book entitled The Right-Hand Shore at the American Library in Paris with his wife Caroline Preston.  Also an author, Preston just released a new novel of her own entitled The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt in which she created a new genre of fiction: the scrapbook novel. My favorite part of the evening, however, was during the question and answer section when the two authors’ complicity and mutual affection shone through their body language and interaction. I remember thinking to myself, “Gosh, I hope my husband and I behave like that after 30 years of marriage!” Their power sharing was unmistakable, neither one wanting to upstage the other, each giving their fair share of respect and appreciation of the other. And that’s not as easy as it sounds. Spouses in the same field regularly have competition issues, one-upmanship problems and worst of all exude a general dislike of one another. Tilghman and Preston, parents of three grown boys, were the exact opposite of what one might expect. When I mentioned how touched I was by their behavior during the book signing later in the evening, they began to squabble a bit about whether or not they routinely squabble. J They’re a first class couple, not to mention two top-notch writers.

This afternoon, on day three of the workshop, the participants enjoyed two exceptional panel sessions. The first with, among others, Stephen Clark, author of the outrageously successful series A Life In the Merde. In person, Clark is as funny as he is on the page. Did you know that he first self-published his novel and single-handedly created the buzz that within a few months had the book pickup by a major publisher? I didn’t, until today. You should have heard him talking about the experience. Walking down rue de Rivoli in center Paris pulling a caddie full of his books with only a hope in his eye that WH Smith might just agree to put a few on their shelves. Now of course, Stephen is has sold over 2 million copies of that book alone. And there is something like 6 more in the series. Bravo! Stephen. You are a walking, talking, not to mention hilarious inspiration to all of us in the literary community.

In the second panel this afternoon, we met Alexander Lobrano the former European correspondent of Gourmet magazine in Paris. Now a freelance writer for almost every Anglophone magazine you can think of as well as the New York Times, Alec, as he likes to be called, wrote Hungry for Paris, a fantastic guide-book to eating out in Paris. He spoke of how he got into journalism over 20 years ago and his transformation into a food critique in Paris (possibility the world’s best job!). He currently runs the food blog www.hungryforparis.com, which I highly recommend. I also suggest his book even for those of you not planning on coming over to Paris any time soon. His insights into French cooking are spot on! And he’s such a nice guy – a fellow American in Paris.

Once this workshop is over, I’ll post more about the specific lessons I learned from Mimi.

Until then, bonne continuation!