Advice for Viable Paradise Students-To-Be

By Lisa Nohealani Morton

Lisa Nohealani Morton is a graduate of VP XIII/2009

08:34 pm – September 29th, 2010

I registered this journal about six weeks before Viable Paradise 13, with an eye toward having an LJ that I could point my fellow students at, and with the feeling that if I was actually going to get serious about this writing thing, it might be a good idea to have a bloglike thing that was easily associable with me and that I wouldn’t mind hypothetical readers, actual co-workers, etc, finding (unlike, say, my Usenet postings from 1992 or thereabouts).

And then, being me, I promptly did absolutely nothing with it. I’m not good at maintaining a blog or a journal. My periodic efforts inevitably peter out after six months or never get off the ground in the first place. I’m much better at the low-commitment style of Twitter updates. But I always meant to do something with it.

So here we are, just over a year later, and the VP14 class is starting this Sunday. I follow a few of them on Twitter, and I’ve been watching their posts about their preparations, nervousness, and excitement with envy. Oh, to be so young again . . . And so I decided: What better way to inaugurate this journal than with a post about the things I wish someone had told me before I went to VP? And so, below the cut, my advice to the VP14 class of 2010:

First and foremost, relax. You’re going to have a ball. You’re also going to work damned hard and be exhausted and worry about running out of spoons and, if you’re lucky, have an epiphany or two. Don’t worry about what people are going to think of you, even if you’re a little odd or used to not fitting in. It’s likely that at least one of your classmates will be just as odd as you, if not odder. We’re speculative fiction writers, people: very few of us come in “Normal.” Don’t freak out about whether you belong at the workshop; if you didn’t, you wouldn’t have been invited to attend, and that’s a promise.

A few more, shall we say, practical tips:

Go to the grocery store as early as you can. It keeps somewhat inconvenient hours, and so will you be. Don’t count on being able to go twice or more during the week.

Keep your daytime meals simple. You don’t want to plan on making elaborate lunches and then find yourself without time to make them — you will need those calories. Don’t count on having time to do more than heat up a can of soup — or even less, if you get caught up in an interesting conversation when you’re supposed to be rushing back to your room to eat before the next lecture.

Get your assignments done as early as possible. It’s much better to come out to play later than to realize at 2AM that you still need to write, after you stayed up half the night hanging out with your fellow students and the instructors.

Socialize. If you’re an introvert, by all means spend as much time as you need to recharging in your room — I am, and I did — but make an effort to spend at least a couple of evenings hanging out. Socializing with fellow writers was one of the best parts of VPXIII for me.

Spend at least one evening hanging out in the staff room. You can usually find one or more of the instructors in there, telling old war stories or having an impromptu jam session or just sitting back with a glass and relaxing, and it’s always a good time. Make sure to leave when Mac kicks you all out, though.

Help the staff. Carry stuff out for dinner, or ask if you can help cook if you have time and can cook. Pitch in after meals to help clean up. They’ll thank you for it, and it’ll make everything run that much more smoothly.

If you drink, stop at the package store and stock up. I only got rip-roaringly drunk on the last night of VP, but I was frequently glad for a drink or two at the end of the day’s classes — usually while hanging out with a few of my fellow students and one or more instructors. And if you do want to party, there’ll probably be something going on in one of the rooms every night of the week.

If there’s an instructor you particularly want a one-on-one with, don’t be afraid to ask if they have some time to chat with you about your story. You’ll be assigned two one-on-ones with instructors chosen for you, but often the instructors will be willing to do additional one-on-ones if approached by students, and if they have time. It’s best to ask early on in the week so that their schedules will still be (relatively) open, and not to propose sitting down immediately, because they may want to refamiliarize themselves with your story.

If you do approach an instructor, and they say no, don’t pester them. Remember that they’re all people with lives who are taking a week out of those lives to teach the workshop, and they may not have the time to spare. Or maybe they already agreed to do as many one-on-ones as they feel they can do. Or maybe they just don’t feel they have anything helpful to say about your story. Whatever it is, you’re unlikely to change their minds by being a pest about it.

Don’t steal Scalzi’s Coke Zero.

Take part in the mandatory fun. Sure, you’re tired, you were up late last night, you have an assignment to write. Suck it up. You’ll regret missing it.

Don’t worry if it doesn’t all fall magically into place. Every VP’er I know says that some pieces take a while to click — often a long time after you leave the workshop. Take lots of notes, record the lectures if you can (ask first!) and be prepared to refer to them a lot after you leave.

Make sure to get some sleep. Listen to what Teresa says about sleep, meals and showers. You’ll feel much better for it.

And finally, relax, already. None of the instructors bite — much. You’re going to have an amazing time. Oh, and pack a sweater — it can get chilly on the Vineyard in October.

Used with kind permission from Lisa Nohealani Morton VP XIII/2009

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