Last week, I returned from the One Year Adventure Novel Winter Workshop (OYAN WW). This week-long retreat-like workshop for adults who went through the OYAN curriculum usually serves as a time of refreshment for me, and my experience this year, my third time to attend, wasn’t much different. I left feeling encouraged, empowered, and inspired heading into the new year.
Professionally, I was encouraged through my critique group of five other OYAN veterans and my mentor session with author Stephanie Morrill. Both my critique group and Morrill provided largely positive feedback on my work, which was something I needed to hear. Though my critique group bemoaned that they weren’t “helpful” because they lacked a ton of negative comments, that isn’t true at all. Positive comments are just as helpful for me, because honestly sometimes I just don’t know if my writing’s okay or not, or if the scenes and dialogue are working, or if the characters’ personalities are coming through. And at this workshop, I needed to know if the excerpts I brought to this WW worked or not. My critique group affirmed that I am on the right track, and also gave me suggestions to fix certain spots where I definitely plead guilty to “lazy writing.” (We also laughed at my typos, which is always amusing.)
Beyond the professional learning opportunities the OYAN WW provides, WW is also a place for personal growth. For this workshop, a major point of my personal reflection was on my friendships within the OYAN community. These are long-distance friendships for me; any workshop I can meet up with other OYANers at is a blessing and we tend to make the most of the time we have together. Most of my friends I’ve known for at least three or four years, and a few for even longer, about six years. This workshop in particular allowed me to spend a ton of time with the closest friend I have in the OYAN community, a relationship that I feel fairly certain will last a lifetime. On the less positive side, it also made me think about how much changes over the course of a couple of years. Many of my friends from years prior were unable to attend or have chosen to distance themselves from the OYAN community. Some friends I’ve simply grown apart from. It’s not a bad thing, I don’t think, and it’s helped maintain a healthy perspective on life: change is a constant part of living—even with friendships. And I know that, even when I come to a point when I haven’t been to an official OYAN event in years, it’ll be okay. OYAN shaped my earliest days as a writer, and that’s still a significant part of my journey. Even if friendships fade, it’s okay. It may be that certain friends will be for a lifetime, but I could also be wrong in that assessment. Perhaps I needed those friends for a season and they needed me—but there does come a time to make new connections. Change seems to be a recurring theme in this season of life I’m in; I find it interesting that it popped up yet again at WW in a new context.
Beyond friendships, I also learned a crucial spiritual lesson that I’m carrying into the new year: God mourns with us and wants us to invite Him into our mourning. One of the OYAN staff, affectionately known as Mrs. S., spoke briefly on this idea, and it strongly resonated with me. 2018 was a year of loss for me: opportunities, relationships, joy—to name a few. While I’ve spent much time bemoaning the loss of those things, I don’t think I’ve ever thought of God as mourning and comforting me in that space. Yes, I know He loves me and cares for me—but I think all this time I’ve subconsciously thought of Him loving me from a distance, not as He sits in the room beside me. And I think that’s why I’ve felt like He’s been silent lately. The workshop gave me some time to reflect and pray about this as well. I definitely think it is the most valuable lesson I took away from WW this year.
When I left the workshop, I didn’t cry. I didn’t cry because I’m not mourning the end of another workshop, another escape into Rivendell away from the harsh realities of the Perilous Realm coming to a close. Instead of mourning, like I thought I would, I celebrated. I celebrated that OYAN WW 2019 gave me time to think, words and experiences to reflect on, and friends to process it all with. A week later, I’m still celebrating the changes of life, rather than fearing them. I feel reconnected with my God, and I’m ready and eager to do things with Him. Mourning. Celebrating. Writing. Loving. Living. He’s not distant. He’s close to me. And that’s what I left the workshop with. That’s how I’m beginning my 2019.
OYAN WW 2019 was a wonderful experience. I hope to return to an OYAN event again, but I don’t know where life will lead me. Even though facing some of the changes of life is difficult, it’s okay. God’s there, with me, helping me know what to let go and what He will restore as He writes my story. Thanks, OYAN WW, for preparing me for this exciting New Year. 2019, I’m ready to see what adventures, what lessons, and what changes you hold.