My journey to the 2017 Winter Workshop began seven years earlier when I first started using The One Year Adventure Novel (or “OYAN”). This is not just a story about the Winter Workshop, but also a story about how the workshop played an important part in my journey as a writer.
I joined OYAN in late 2009, registered for the Student Forum, and began writing my adventure novel. So far, my story as a writer can be thought of as having three chapters of its own, and this was the beginning of the first one. I had tried to write novels before OYAN, but like any large project, finishing a novel is nearly impossible without direction and motivation. Through the OYAN video lessons, I found direction, and I got motivation from other students on the Forum. I learned fast, but by the time I completed my first novel in 2011, I had to reluctantly set writing aside to focus on my other courses and preparation for college.
College began in January 2014—my chapter two—and my workload left me no time to write. While I did find moments between classes and projects to slowly develop an outline for my next novel, I had to prioritize my studies. College became so busy that I eventually left the OYAN Forum behind for nearly two years. (I didn’t realize this at the time, but the computer programming course I chose was the hardest course at my college. The decision to spend these years focusing on school was well worth the effort, as I ended up being among the 15% of students who graduated.)
In January 2016, I began my final year of college, and around the same time, I realized just how much I missed the people, conversations, and community of OYAN. I returned to the Forum and joined the Facebook student group shortly before a summer work term began. With more free time, I finally had the chance to connect with friends new and old. Around this time, I became a mentor on the Forum and wrote most of my second novel.
Newly involved with the OYAN community again, I considered attending the 2016 Summer Workshop. Unfortunately, Kansas is far from Canada, and between the cost of the journey and the complexity of travel for an inexperienced student, I ultimately didn’t register. I had wanted to go for years, but once more, I didn’t make it. The workshop passed by, and again I saw pictures, videos, and long recap posts of workshop adventures. But as college neared its conclusion, and the 2017 Winter Workshop approached, I became determined to finally attend. After registering in November, I came to see the Winter Workshop as a marker at the end of the second chapter in my writing life and the start of the third. Afterward, I would have time to write again, and my circle of writers would finally include people that I had met in person. While many OYANers have started friendships online, I saw the workshop as a chance to create connections that felt more real to me.
However, the approaching workshop brought a sense of trepidation. I had seen many pictures from previous workshops, ones that showed a community in which everyone was already friends. For me, questions and doubts lingered, but I suspect the worries I carried are common for anyone going to an event for the first time. How will I ever be able to fit in? Will there be other new faces in the crowd? Will I be able to connect and be accepted in an already close-knit community?
Despite my reservations, 2016 approached its end, and with it, my second chapter. As the workshop neared, I prepared excerpts for my workshop critique group from the writing I had completed over the summer. I was excited to go, but the realization that I hadn’t shared my writing in years added another layer of anxiety.
Finally, day one of the workshop arrived. I bussed across the Canada-US border to Detroit, then flew to Kansas City. I landed almost nine hours after leaving home. A volunteer OYANer running shuttles picked me up from the airport. Even before we reached the Heartland Center, as we discussed our travels and the writing we’d brought to share, I felt welcomed. After seven years, my chapter three had begun.
Soon we arrived at the Heartland Center, and I joined the small crowd of OYANers in the lobby. In minutes, I saw how welcoming people were to me, to each other, and to other newcomers, and I left fear and apprehension behind. As we learned from Mr. S. that week, there’s a difference between knowing something to be true, and living as if you believe it to be true. Some part of me had known that the welcoming nature of the OYAN community would be present here, but it wasn’t until I’d experienced it in person that I really believed it.
Over that short week, I immersed myself in the sessions by Mr. S., Tineke and Matthias Bryson, Nadine Brandes, and Stephanie Morrill. Some sessions were informative, some were life-changing, and others provided answers to puzzles that had eluded me for years. Nadine explained how writers can outgrow a project, and I understood why it had been so hard to finish my first novel. Mr. S. talked about losing sight of joys that motivate us to write, and I understood why the chaos of three years of college had dulled a love of storytelling. Stephanie encouraged us to bring exciting actions or details to every scene, and I understood why some parts of my novel didn’t engage the reader as much as others.
I also learned from my critique group experience. As we took turns reading and then discussing each of our excerpts, I joined in discussing what worked and what didn’t, and for my own excerpts, my group highlighted strengths and weaknesses that I didn’t know about. We shared encouragement, guidance, and suggestions for each others’ stories.
Most of all, I learned from many conversations, covering school, work, writing, and life. Whether it’s a chat with one person in between lessons or a conversation between ten people that stretches long into the night, sharing in each other’s lives with other young Christian writers is an experience unique to the OYAN workshops.
I now understand why OYANers call the workshops a second home, a Rivendell, a Narnia, “a real-life version of the Forum”, and others still, the shortest weeks of the year. OYAN isn’t just a community of writers. It’s a family. Together, we learn, laugh, cry, worship, sing, pray, tell stories, craft worlds, and eat pizza with new friends. Whether it’s your fifth workshop or your first, you’ll find many things at an OYAN workshop. You’ll find a community, welcoming writers, friendship, and maybe a small piece of Rivendell. Even though I have only been to one workshop so far, I’ve found friends, found a community that I belong to, and found a lost joy for writing and storytelling. I’ll be back this summer, and I hope to see you there.
Have you been helped by one of the OYAN writing workshops?
Jim Viebke is a Christian, a writer, and a computer programmer. Even though he’s a college graduate, he’s still a homeschooler at heart. Stories like Star Wars, Watership Down, and Pirates of the Caribbean inspire him to craft his own.