Goldenrod: Your creative shock collar

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No communicator ever should settle for the easy, the familiar, the OK. There is nothing that should rouse the communicator to fury more than hearing a peer say, “Well, it’s good enough.”
There is a reason for the existence of Goldenrod Writing Workshop: Not a single one of us wordsmiths is as good as we think we are, and not one of us should be immune from acquiring new tricks, new ideas, new inspiration.
OWAA will sponsor the second annual Goldenrod Writing Workshop July 31-Aug. 6 in Missoula, Mont. If it is as good as the first one, it will be well worth the money, time and effort it takes to get there. The 15 inaugural students unanimously agreed they would love to come back.
They flowered.
One, who had been twice to another writing workshop, said he’d learned more in two days at Goldenrod than he did in two years at the other one. He has had a book accepted.
Carrie DeValk, my daughter and an English teacher who attended Goldenrod to receive continuing-education credit, has since sold an article.
Not everyone will turn immediately into John Grisham. But after teaching 15 years at the Wildbranch Workshop in Vermont and the first year of Goldenrod, I know that everyone who attends will leave energized and with sharper writing tools.
I am 76 years old and I am humbled almost every day by reading the writing of those who are better than I am. I study good writing to learn, to better my own work. That should be the attitude of every outdoor writer—that there is always room for improvement. Furthermore, everyone should believe that this is his or her absolute duty to his or her profession, and strive for that improvement.
Goldenrod can’t make a communicator, but it can make a communicator better and it can deliver a creative kick in the butt that will, one hopes, carry over into the student’s career for a long time to come.
Writers are, by nature, solitary creatures, holed up in the lairs they call offices (there are wolverines with neater offices than mine), gloomily pecking away at a keyboard in lonely confusion. Feedback often comes in the form of a polite rejection note, lacking details.
Possibly even worse is the craven fawning of family and friends who exclaim, “Boy, that’s really good!” when what they should be saying is, “Boy, that really stinks—you can and will do better!”
Once I had an assistant fresh from college. I told her on day one, “Please don’t take it personally, but I suspect I will make you cry.” Years later she said, “I went home and cried the first day.”
That was after I made her rewrite a three-paragraph news story three times. But the story got better each time and she was a good reporter when she left years later, with her tears dried and her confidence solid, to take a much more prestigious job.
Goldenrod’s instructors are kind, caring and knowledgeable — but they won’t let you continue familiar slipshod sub-par habits. That’s the value of a good writing workshop. It will bring you up short, like a tickle from a dog’s shock collar, and reorient you on the path of righteousness.
So … quit chasing those lackluster writing bunnies and start saving your money for Goldenrod Two. It’s tax deductible, and most of all, it’s an investment in your professional life.♦
— Joel M. Vance is the author of “Grandma and the Buck Deer” (softcover, $15); “Down Home Missouri” (hardcover, $25); and “Autumn Shadows” limited edition, signed, $45). Available for order at

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