Workshop Recap: Sara Zarr on Emotional Pacing

At the beginning of the year, when I realized I was going on my 10-year anniversary (!!) of completing my MFA, I made a deal with myself: 2013 would be the year of continued education. There was no better way to kick off this year’s learn-fest than with an Advanced Writer’s Workshop at the beautiful South Austin Writing Barn with an author that I go positively fangirly over — Sara Zarr, author of the forthcoming THE LUCY VARIATIONS and STORY OF A GIRL, a National Book Award Finalist.

Writing Barn Exterior

The Writing Barn
photo by Sam Bond

The event began on Friday with a welcome party hosted by author, Writing Barn owner, and workshop teaching assistant Bethany Hegedus. Over wine and snacks on the Barn’s Party Porch I had the chance to meet lots of local and non-local kidlit and young adult writers. Texas was well represented with authors from Austin, DFW, Houston, and San Antonio, but writers traveled from all over — San Francisco, Boston, New York, and Toronto, to name just a few — to attend the workshop.

Saturday morning was the lecture portion of the weekend. Sara gave a brilliant presentation on emotional pacing, discussing both the macro (beginning, middles, and endings) and the micro (paragraphs, punctuation) elements of pacing. As a writer currently working through the middle of a draft, I most appreciated when she asked how many people enjoyed writing the middle of a novel. When not a single hand was raised, Sara said that middles should be just as excruciating for the characters as they are for writers. An authentic emotional journey is hard. It’s a tug of war between the person a character is at the beginning and the person they’ll be at the end. She described the micro elements as the tools we use to compose a symphony of words. Scenes, sentence length, paragraph structure, and punctuation are used to cue the pace and convey how the story should be experienced.

Writing Barn Workshop

photo by Sam Bond

After the lecture and a break for lunch, it was time to get down to the business of workshop. The event description touts a workshop on par with MFA workshops and it was. The other participants brought terrific work to the table and insightful comments to the discussions. At the beginning of each author’s workshop, she/he was asked to talk a little about where they were in the work (first draft, submitting, etc.) and also how they were feeling that day. Just a basic question, but one that really helps ease the workshop experience. After two intense days of lecture and workshops, I left feeling exhausted and exhilarated.

This recap truly doesn’t do the weekend justice. It was an amazing experience that I am so lucky to have been a part of.  Writing can be lonely, so weekends like these when I can learn from and share ideas with other writers are so necessary. I plan to blog more about Sara’s craft lecture and other things I learned from the weekend, but came home so inspired by the lecture and workshop that I’ve pretty much buried my nose in revision ever since.

If you’re looking for a an experience where you can study craft and get feedback on your work in a beautiful setting, I highly recommend the Advanced Writing Workshops. Or, check out the Writing Barn’s other events here.

*Photos courtesy of Sam Bond and the Writing Barn.

One thought on “Workshop Recap: Sara Zarr on Emotional Pacing

  1. Pingback: Linkage: Writers on Post MFA despair | An Exaltation of Larks

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