I recently returned from a seven day Carribean Cruise, but more importantly, the Writing Excuses Workshop & Retreat. I managed to find and attend a writing conference ON A BOAT. This was a fantastic way to finish out my grand first novel adventure and start on my second novel project.
The other writers were fantastic. Oh sure, the instructors were too, and I’ll get to that in a bit. We expect the instructors to be great. But you never know what the other people you’re going to hang out with for a week are like, and I found them to be universally wonderful.
We’ve probably all heard that various events and activities are “welcoming,” but this went to surprising levels. Wandering around the ship and see someone you don’t know with the Writing Excuses badge? Just follow them and join their conversation. Need a place to sit at lunch and don’t know anybody? Find someone in the badge and plop right down next to them. Forget something at home? Throw it out on the chat channel, and somebody will likely share. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such a complete lack of awkwardness upon meeting strangers.
They were happy to share their writing ups, downs, failures, and successes in a way I have never experienced. We were all in the same boat, literally and figuratively, so it wasn’t hard to find something to talk about.
Most of the other writers live in the Sci-Fi or Fantasy genres, but there were several who write Romance, Mystery, and others. They brought their experiences as well and improved our discussions. I think it speaks well of the classes and instructors that writers from all genres could learn something.
If you’ve listened to the Writing Excuses podcast, then you can guess how awesome the instructors were at teaching. They didn’t just repeat the same information they’ve covered on the podcasts though, as they rightly assumed most of us had heard all of those. It was more advanced but still presented in the relatable way they handle subjects on the podcast.
I filled 31 pages in my 5×8″ notebook over the course of the week, and cannot hope to summarize the class content here. There wasn’t a single dud among the classes, and I even enjoyed the ones I wasn’t sure about, like Poetry as a Tool for Writing Fiction (a favorite among many of the students). My favorite moment was when Piper J. Drake acted out a scene to show the logistics to a writer in our critique session. It was unexpected but so useful!
All of the instructors and staff were just as friendly and funny as you’d think if you’ve heard them on the Writing Excuses podcast. I can’t pick out a single moment to highlight as there were so many, so I’ll share one of the first. Brandon Sanderson joined us for a class on developing characters at the end of the first day at the hotel. During the book signing time, I told him I appreciated his writing lectures available on YouTube. I was not prepared for him to ask me what I was working on, or to listen as I wobbled through a hasty description of my second novel idea. This turned out to be normal for the event, and I had several opportunities to “pitch” my novel even before the official class on pitching.
It is easy to think that cruises are expensive, and they are pricey. You also have to take a whole week off work or be away from home during that time, which can be another cost.
If possible, I’d suggest looking at the cost per day. I compared this workshop with other workshops and retreats. If I include the costs of food and lodging in addition to the conference costs, the price per day of the Writing Excuses Workshop and Retreat is less than most of the others in my analysis. Even a single balcony room comes out ahead of most. And none of the others involve a cruise ship.
The whole thing was set on a cruise ship. There’s not much more I can add to the awesomeness of that statement.
There were some downsides. Due to weather, I had the opportunity to spend the night at DFW. While the airport staff was friendly and even passed out blankets, I can’t recommend this route.
I found it difficult to find healthy snacks on the ship between meals. Perhaps I didn’t know where to look. Please understand there was plenty of food and no going hungry, but all my normal snack options of nuts, fruit, and cheese seemed absent. I did have plenty of pizza and cookies, however.
It was exhausting. I didn’t go on any excursions or stay up much past 10 PM, but by the end of the week, I was dragging. One cause was the physical exertion of the ship itself, and I averaged 3-5 miles each day walking around. Another factor was the volume of information presented and the brain power it required to process. The classes could also be emotional, given the quality of instruction. Finally, there were people. Passengers, other WXR participants, and crew. They were all friendly, but as an introvert, all those interactions wore me out.
Departing the ship became a pain because of the poor line design and/or the flow of passengers leaving the ship. Others may have found this less annoying. I admit I have high expectations due to my profession.
Obviously, I had a fantastic time. Toward the end of the cruise, I realized I felt like a writer. I knew before I was a writer. I’m writing here, and that alone would make me a writer. But for my entire adult life, and most of my time as a young adult, I’ve interacted with the world as an engineer. I solve practical problems with math. I may have known I was a writer, but I felt like an engineer who wrote. When my environment changed, I was surrounded by writers, and there were no math problems to solve, I felt very different. While it will take months to unpack all that I’ve learned, I’m motivated to dive into my second novel, as a writer.