We’re pleased to offer a lively slate of both reading and writing workshops at this year’s Festival of Faith & Writing. These craft intensives are scheduled throughout the day, but a handful start before the first large block of concurrent sessions each morning. Unless otherwise noted, workshops are one hour long, open to all registered Festivalgoers to drop in without additional fees, and don’t require prep.  But some workshops are two hours, require pre-registration and a nominal fee to cover materials, and/or advance prep. Read the workshop descriptions carefully for all the details and enjoy!




2018 Workshops

1. Attention + Spirit, 9:30–11:30 am, Thursday, April 12
Judith Hougen
Our culture has become less and less adept at paying attention, yet a full-blooded writing craft and vibrant Christian faith requires that we exercise a capacity for deep attention, wakefulness, and contemplation. Writers, especially those who are younger in the journey, often struggle with intricate image-making that enables them, as Nabokov said, to “caress . . . the divine detail.” Art is so much a way of seeing, and the kind of vision needed is inherently spiritual in nature. Part of this seeing is to understand that creation inheres with significance and meaning because it was fashioned by God and declared good. This workshop will begin with a brief discussion of the issues raised above and how they are integral to our vocation as writers and people of faith, drawing upon sources such as Flannery O’Connor and Simone Weil. Examples of poetry and prose that exemplify the fruits of focused attention will be used. Participants will be given time to utilize the concepts by writing a “weather report,” an exercise based on the short, in-the-moment pieces Kathleen Norris includes throughout Dakota: A Spiritual Geography. Afterward, participants will be given the opportunity to read their assignments aloud and receive feedback.

Note: Space is limited. Pre-registration is recommended.


2. Making Your Characters Their Own People, 9:30–11:30 am, Thursday, April 12
Marjorie Maddox
This is your life. Or is it? Too often in creative writing workshops, poets and fiction writers strive to create a character completely like themselves. (Maybe you’ve heard a fellow writer complain after a constructive peer suggestion, “But that really is how it happened!”) Others haphazardly sketch a cardboard protagonist with little insight into how that person thinks, feels, acts, and reacts. We’ll combat both via several exercises to discuss voice and narrative, to experiment with point of view, to use diction to try on diverse personas, and to interview each other as characters. Both poets and prose writers welcome.

Note: Space is limited. Pre-registration is recommended.


3. Self-Editing to Take Your Writing to the Next Level, 9:30–11:30 am, Thursday, April 12
Erin Bartels
All great writers have one thing in common: they rewrite—sometimes dozens or even hundreds of times—until their work is the best it can be. But in a culture of instant gratification and do-it-yourself publishing, the kind of slow, dedicated tweaking that is a necessary part of writing is often avoided. Learn how: to do an effective, targeted revision; to edit on sentence, paragraph, and chapter level; rewriting can shape your voice; planning on rewriting frees you to finish a first draft; and more.


4. Chapbook Construction for Poets, Essayists, and Short Story Writers, 9:30–11:30 am, Thursday, April 12
Robert Hudson
Learn the art of making your own well-crafted small books at home, with minimal materials and minimal expense. Discover the joy of being able to share your writing without depending on traditional publishers. All materials will be provided, and everyone will make their own copy of a chapbook called Making a Poetry Chapbook.

Note: Space is limited. Pre-registration is recommended.


5. Navigating Faith and Religion in Writing, 1:45-2:45 pm, Thursday, April 12
Natashia Deón
Natashia Deón explores how a writer can approach personal religious beliefs or those of others while writing for general audiences. She explains how to show spiritual feeling rather than just telling the reader about it, how to use detail to evoke spiritual spaces, and how to demonstrate what religion means to a character without including the entire history of the religion. She also considers whether faith or lack of faith affects the stories writers choose to tell and how to navigate real or imagined religious restrictions on creative writing.


6. Beg/Steal/Borrow—Poetry & Experimental Translation, 1:45–3:45 pm, Thursday, April 12
Matthew Landrum
From Shakespeare to Yeats, from Chaucer to Eliot, many of English literature’s greatest poems are based on material from other languages. This workshop will explore the gray area between literature translation and original work. We will also look at post-modern trends of remixing and the pitfalls of plagiarism. Participants will read great examples of experimental translations and experiment with their own translations in guided exercises. Grappling with translation deepens the reading process, enriches creativity in writing, and encourages cross-cultural understanding. No second language skills are required.

Note: Space is limited. Pre-registration is recommended.


7. Breaking Out the Gate: Getting a Good Start to Your Story, 1:45–2:45 pm, Thursday, April 12
Jaclyn Dwyer
Many readers and editors claim that the first page or so of a story is the most important. A compelling story must have a strong opening, especially when you’re submitting that story to magazines. Some editors might decide after just the first page whether to read on or not. But what does it mean to have a strong opening? In this workshop, we’ll analyze strong openings from stories published in a wide variety of literary magazines. We’ll identify elements such as tension, character development, and setting to see how the author is able to establish all of these key elements of story while using compelling language and images, all in the first 500 words or so. Then, we’ll turn our trained eye to our own first pages to see how we might uses these same elements and techniques to make our own openings stronger.

Note: Pre-registration is required, and Festivalgoers who sign up should bring the first 500 words of a short story, flash fiction, or novel in progress to fully participate in the workshop.


8. Giving and Receiving Gracious Feedback, 3:15–5:15 pm, Thursday, April 12
D. S. Leiter
Perhaps you’re a writer or other kind of artist, or perhaps you’re a reader who’s friends with an artist who has asked you to give feedback on his or her artistic creation. The dreaded question is how to get and give feedback that respects the vulnerability of the situation while also being honest. In this workshop, a scholar and teacher of communication studies will bring both theory and practice to bear on how to ask for, get, and receive gracious feedback on your own or others’ creative or informational communication projects. During the workshop, you’ll get a chance to apply the material through interactive activities, allowing you to practice asking for and generating feedback in groups using both real and fictional examples. You’ll also get some tips on how to deal with negative emotions that you may come across during the entire process of getting or giving feedback.

Note: Space is limited. Pre-registration is recommended.


9. Silence and Beauty in the Sister Books of Shusaku Endo and Makoto Fujimura, 3:15–4:15 pm, Thursday, April 12
Shann Ray
Makoto Fujimura’s explication of the novel Silence by Shusaku Endo in his own book Silence and Beauty sets the stage for a discussion of the soul of Christ, the Anima Christi, at work in the world. Participants engage themes of humility vs. self-reliance, the Judas shadow in mystical life, and the restorative beauty of Christ in the silent wake of American and global genocidal amnesia.  


10. Becoming a Successful Blogger Without Selling Your Soul, 3:15–4:15 pm, Thursday, April 12
Jonathan Merritt
You believe in your ideas, but how do you break through the noise and deliver those ideas to a wider audience? Jonathan Merritt knows this struggle well, and has spent the last decade developing and testing a simple path to become a successful blogger that any writer can implement. He shares how to expand readership and build a platform while avoiding the common pitfalls of sensationalism and shameless self-promotion.


11. Shaping Family History in Compelling Stories, 8:00–9:45 am, Friday, April 13
Annette Gendler
Who doesn’t have a box of old family photographs, a bundle of family letters, or stacks of family documents that they always wanted to “do something with”? Based on the experience of writing her memoir, Jumping over Shadows—the story of German-Jewish love that overcame the burdens of the past—Annette Gendler will present approaches to creating compelling stories from family history. Participants will study how artifacts such as letters and official documents can be used to create a story, discuss different research methods, and look closely at how source material is transformed into a story. We will also practice writing scenes and examine selected readings that will be distributed in advance. Participants are welcome to bring artifacts and projects in progress.

Note: This workshop is just under two hours and is designed so participants can get to a 10am session if they’d like. Space is limited and pre-registration is required.


12. Short Story Lab, 8:00–9:45 am, Friday, April 13
Hugh Cook
Festivalgoers registered for this workshop will submit an unpublished short story that will be critiqued and discussed by the instructor and the workshop participants. Participants will receive each other’s stories before the Festival in order to prepare.

Note: This workshop is just under two hours and is designed so participants can get to a 10am session if they’d like. Space is limited to eight participants, and pre-registration is required. Stories (max 4,500 words) must be submitted via email by April 1. Details with registration confirmation.


13. On Finding and Growing Ideas for Fiction, 8:30–9:30 am, Friday, April 13
Shawn Smucker
Christian publishing needs new and exciting voices who are able to write outside the currently marketed boundaries. But fresh ideas for novels or short stories sometimes seem hard to come by. In this workshop each attendee cultivates their own ideas for fiction writing by beginning with character creation and then working through setting, conflict, and the formation of a plot.


14. How to Conduct Interviews That Enhance Your Stories, 8:30–9:30 am, Friday, April 13
Dean Nelson
Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, sometimes you need someone else’s perspective in order to make your stories more accurate and authentic. How do you get them to talk to you? How do you get past clichés and one-word answers? How do you capture a person’s voice? How do you get over your own insecurity and shyness? A seasoned journalist guides you into getting the best information out of even the most inexperienced, reluctant, or too-talkative sources.


15. Writing and Revising Religious Poetry and Prose, 8:30–10:30 am, Friday, April 13
Miriam Bat-Ami, Janet Ruth Heller
The leaders will give participants some writing prompts and time to write spiritual poems, essays, stories, or dramas. The leaders will also suggest strategies for improving drafts. We will work in small groups to help one another revise these works by developing ideas, cutting extra words, finding better images, playing with sounds, and changing the structure. The leaders will also share advice to participants about finding journals and editors to publish our work.

Note: Space is limited. Pre-registration is recommended. If they wish, participants may e-mail work up to three pages long to the two leaders by April 1 to receive detailed feedback.


16. Pocket Journals, 8:30–10:30 am, Friday, April 13
Christine Darragh
No craft merges so seamlessly with writing than that of learning to create one’s own handmade journal—especially given the everyday objects that bring us delight are more likely to be used and cherished. With this in mind, participants will learn to assemble and make their own small, hand-sewn journal.

Note: Space is limited. There is a $35 fee for materials, and pre-registration is required.


17. The Clever Researcher: Finding and Integrating Source Material without Sounding Like an Academic, 10–11 am, Friday, April 13
Wendy Bilen
We tend to think of research as the work of scientists or scholars, but sources can significantly strengthen our creative writing. Infusing prose with researched detail creates depth and credibility and enriches narrative. This process involves moving beyond critical dates and facts to contextual elements such as weather or social norms. Through deduction, documents such as military records and old maps can inform and even help craft our narratives. This workshop explores where to look for information, how to find unexpected nuggets in traditional sources, and how to incorporate material with a creative, non-academic touch.


18. Examining the Space of the Page in Your Poems, 11:30 am–12:30 pm, Friday, April 13
Rob Stephens
In this workshop, we will consider the visual aspects of poetry—stanza shape, line length, line position, spacing, number of stanzas, and so on—to see how the shape of a poem can enhance its content. Writing poetry, like painting or drawing, is creating marks on a blank canvas, and when an editor or reader approaches a poem, the first impression they get is arguably from the way the poem looks on the page. Just ask editors how often they accept center-aligned poems (probably infrequently), and you’ll understand why the visual aspect of poetry is huge. We will spend the first half of our workshop considering a few poems that look distinctive in shape and discussing how their shape interacts with their meaning. Then workshop attendees will revise a poem they brought, giving it a new shape. Each poet will leave with a revised poem and a better awareness of how their poems are affecting readers.

Note: Space is limited, and pre-registration is required.


19. Bullet Journaling for Readers and Writers, 2:00–3:00 pm, Friday, April 13
Jennifer Trafton
Jennifer Trafton muses on her “theology of beautiful lists” and discusses how she uses a Bullet Journal as a creative outlet, a therapeutic tool, a way to keep track of reading and writing projects, and a strategy for spiritual, mental, and vocational decluttering. Audience interaction and doodling highly encouraged.


20. Advancing Fiction Narratives via Character Development, 2:00–4:00 pm, Friday, April 13
Katherine James
One of the most important and yet difficult things when writing fiction is character development. The first hour of this workshop will be devoted to discussing each other’s work. Participants will each read a short excerpt of their own work that centers on the development of a character, and then we’ll discuss where each is successful or unsuccessful in developing a character and advancing the story. During the second hour, we’ll discuss some of the best examples in literature where complicated, well-rounded characters add momentum to a larger story. Participants will leave with new tools, as well as encouragement to dive back in to their own writing.

Note: Space is limited. Pre-registration is required.


21. Tiny Take-Along Book Structures, 8:00–9:45 am, Saturday, April 14
Joanna Battjes
Making a variety of simple book structures is a wonderful way to house your ideas, words, and wonderings. This is a hands-on make-and-take workshop that helps participants create a pocket book, blossom book, rubber band book, or back-to-back doodled-spine book, as well as learn additional ideas for book structures.

Note: This workshop is just under two hours and is designed so participants can get to a 10:00 a.m. session if they’d like. Space is limited, and pre-registration is required. There is a $10 fee for materials.


22. Getting It Done, 8:00–9:45 am, Saturday, April 14
Sarah Arthur
While many of us would like to wait for inspiration to hit, the truth is that writing is work. And we need to honor the process by bringing to it all our skills. Whether it’s organizing materials, narrowing your focus, setting goals and deadlines, pacing the process, or simply getting the words out, veteran writer Sarah Arthur helps you identify what’s keeping you from moving forward as well as offers some practical tools for pushing through.

Note: This workshop is just under two hours and is designed so participants can get to a 10:00 am session if they’d like.


23. Retelling the Bible for Children, 8:30–9:30 am, Saturday, April 14
Sandy Sasso
Educator, rabbi, and children’s book author Sandy Sasso guides participants to learn new ways to tell Bible stories to children. Using examples from both the Hebrew scriptures and parables from the New Testament, Sandy gives examples of storytelling that allows children to bring their questions and curiosities to the story; that enables children to read the Bible without having to unlearn things later; and that doesn’t reduce Bible stories to moral object lessons.


24. Eros, Poetry, and the Divine Body, 8:30–9:30 am, Saturday, April 14
Alexandra Barylski
Poet Mark Jarman says we might “think of God as a lover” and “a body we cannot / separate from desire.” The speaker in “Five Psalms” reminds us that our love for this deity “is only physical.” The comparison of sex with divine meeting is both traditional and radical within Hinduism, Sufism, Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism. Think of Updike’s “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” wherein the physicality of Christ is the essential belief for a resurrection. This workshop discusses ecstatic, sensual poems from the East and West that emphasize the revelatory nature of physical encounters, including work by Rumi, Hafiz, Mirabai, Yehuda Amichai, St. Teresa, Lisa Russ Spaar, Mark Doty, and St. Catherine.


25. He Said, She Said, 8:30–9:30 am, Saturday, April 14 
Hugh Cook

One of the important components of successful fiction is effective dialogue. This workshop examines detailed aspects of dialogue, such as how to use both direct and indirect dialogue, proper use of dialogue tags, and avoiding common dialogue errors.


26. Play Your Way to Creative Productivity, 2:00–4:00 pm, Saturday, April 14
MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Writers, artists, and other creatives know the importance of discipline in our work: Applying butt to chair. Getting the pages done. Not waiting for “inspiration” to strike. Sometimes, though, we get dried up and burned out. We lose our sense of mystery and wonder. Writing becomes a chore, and the work suffers as a result. This interactive workshop inspired by improv comedy, offers practical, accessible tools for getting out of your own way so the creativity can flow. Get up and get in touch with your playful side.


27. The Art of the Personal Essay, 2:00–4:00 pm, Saturday, April 14 
Meghan Florian
In the realm of literary nonfiction, there’s no denying that memoir is hot right right now. While some argue that the essay is dying and others that it’s making a comeback, Florian argues that this classic art form is timeless and timely, continually reinvented by new voices, structures, and even changing publishing models. In this workshop, we’ll talk about how to navigate between the personal and the analytical in the essay, engaging the form as a vehicle for thought, a way of viewing broad intellectual questions through a personal lens, with a light touch and an eye toward discovery. We will also consider classic and contemporary examples of the essay via some brief preassigned readings. The bulk of our time will be spent responding to prompts designed to help us practice different craft techniques and discussing our results. This workshop is designed to be practical—come ready to write, and leave with tools to help you continue learning the art of the personal essay when you return to your desk at home.

Note: Space is limited. Pre-registration is required.


28. 101 Ways to Cultivate Online Literary Conversations, 2:00–3:00 pm, Saturday, April 14 
Alexis De Weese, Lindsay Gustafson
With endless banter in digital spaces, how does one inspire conversations of value around topics that matter? This workshop provides readers concrete and manageable ideas to instigate genuine digital conversations about their favorite books and authors.


29. Successful Intergenerational Book Clubs, 2:00–3:00 pm, Saturday, April 14
Deborah Vriend Van Duinen
Book club participation has risen in North America over the past decades, including in the form of intergenerational clubs—parent/child, teacher/student, and so on. In this workshop, Deborah Vriend Van Duinen shares best practices of successful intergenerational book clubs based on her years of experience facilitating both mother/daughter and mother/son clubs, as well as scholarly work on book club participation.


30. Building Community through Conversations about Books
Denise McClellan
Book clubs are popular across the country, but some groups fall into a habit of simply summarizing the plot, while others never actually get beyond small talk to discuss the book. This workshop will help folks learn how to design discussion questions that lead to substantive conversations about books and meaningful personal connections. Participants will divide into small groups and experience an abbreviated book group discussion of either Grace by Natashia Deón or Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat.

Note: Space is limited, and pre-registration is recommended.