• 2018 Dates: Session 1, June 24 - July 6; Session 2, July 8-27

  • Look here for the 2018 Student Application after January 1.

Cultivate Your Community, Cultivate Your Craft

When I arrived back in Pittsburgh after my first time as a counselor at YWW, I had two feelings. The first was one of elation, and went something like this:


I felt energized to write and experiment and create art. This lasted for a couple days. But then another feeling emerged. Panic.

It still started with a smile. “Oh my gosh, that was so amazing, now I have all these incredible new friends.” But the smile started getting twitchy… “…who I’m not going to get to hang out with EVERY DAY…But how am I going to ever experience anything like that again ever!? HOW WILL I SURVIVE IN THE WORLD?! By the end of the last exclamation point, my inner expression was pounding its chest while sitting on a floor in a cave all alone, wailing.

To combat this, I set some ambitious goals for myself:

“Every day!” I decided. “I’m going to do a prompt every single day this month because at YWW we write every day!” I made a trusty Google calendar with prompts I had gathered from books I liked, tried to make them broad enough for any genre because at YWW we took every opportunity to make art. I sent an email to everyone I thought would be interested, because at YWW we are a community.

I’d like to tell you that I followed every single prompt and revised them all and now half of them are getting published in various literary journals and magazines across the country. But that would be a big lie, and I’m a nonfiction writer.

So this is DA TRUTH: after thirteen days, I let life get in the way of my writing. Travel got in the way, school got in the way, and each skipped prompt took me farther from my goal.

Then I realized maybe I was thinking about it all wrong. Maybe life at YWW is a bubble. The bubble is really pretty and shiny inside and we get to float around and see lots of things we’ve never seen before, but rather than trying to replicate the bubble, the trick is figuring out how to use the lessons we learned inside the bubble to prepare for when the bubble gets popped.

So I started thinking about the lessons from YWW that had spurred me to action, and I share these couple tidbits of knowledge.

Make/take every opportunity for art, and try to write (even a little bit) every day. Try to write something daily, even if it’s just a thoughtful email to a friend to whom you haven’t spoken in a while, or a series of really brilliant tweets. Explore new texts and ways of creating them—maybe you saw something funny happen at school and it wouldn’t quite fit as a poem. Do a graphic text panel of it, instead, or write a tiny song. See school reading assignments as opportunities to broaden your literary inspiration and workshopping expertise rather than just a gateway to graduation; let them help you think about craft—what techniques does the author use? How could you imitate or experiment with them in your own writing? Even better, how could you make your math class, or physics, or history into art?

Cultivate (y)our community. Even though I didn’t get through all of the prompts I set for myself, I still have a slew of talented, incredible people in my life who are generous with their time and creative energy. We can cultivate the relationships we form with people from YWW. Start a writing group with some of your suitemates, or workshop buddies, or just some of your new YWW besties. Don’t just friend them on Facebook—reach out to them when you hear a piece of music that inspired you to write, or if you read something new that you think they might like. Exchange reading lists. Make your own trusty Google prompt calendar!

That’s the closest thing I can imagine to replicating the YWW bubble. The people are the heart of YWW anyway, right? So, actually, maybe I was thinking about it wrong again. Maybe the pretty, shiny YWW bubble doesn’t burst when we get onto the freeway and leave Sweet Briar—maybe it never bursts at all.