The Santa Barbara Writers Conference staff for 2023 | Photo: Rachel Sarah Thurston

“We want to help each other.” These were the words of Santa Barbara Writers Conference (SBWC) Director Grace Rachow during the opening orientation, and I could not have found them to be truer.

First, some context. Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m a copy editor here at the Independent, but before that, I wanted to be an author, even earning a master’s degree in creative writing and writing the first draft of a fantasy novel. While I’ve had some collaborative experience in the writing world, it has always been in an academic setting. As it turns out, finding like-minded people who are as enthusiastic about storytelling as I am in the real world is trickier than one might imagine. Thankfully, the Independent came to my rescue.

A few weeks ago, Leslie Dinaberg wrote a wonderful preview on the SBWC, highlighting the conference’s impressive 50-year history. Like many of you (probably), it was the first I’d ever heard of it, and my interest was immediately piqued. And so, I made plans to attend my very first SBWC, courtesy of the conference’s generosity. 

Hosted at the beautiful Mar Monte Hotel, the conference started on Sunday, June 18, with an orientation introducing the important people and outlining the helpful information (never in my life have I been so happy for a free printer). Attendees could participate in whichever workshops they wished to in the morning and afternoon, or, if it struck their fancy, one of the multitude of panels offered. According to Rachow, it was not uncommon for people to attend the same workshop every day of the week, which, to a first timer like me, seemed unbelievable. Just looking at the lineup available, I couldn’t imagine not trying to experience as much as possible. After the orientation was a cocktail party and a banquet to allow all of the attendees to meet up with friends new and old. 

It was the next day that the real work began.

The “Phantastic Fiction” group at SBWC (author Nathan Vived is second to right in the back row) | Photo: Rachel Sarah Thurston

My first workshop was Phantastic Fiction, led by Matthew Pallamary. Like in many of the workshops, several people would read a piece of what they were working on, while the others listened and then gave feedback or advice. It was incredibly difficult to remember that what I was hearing was not in a published book, the creativity and craft on display was so good. I wasn’t able to read that day, but Pallamary was incredibly kind and encouraged me to come back later in the week. Now I knew how people could go to one workshop all week.

Overall, I attended seven different workshops during the conference and read for three of them (returning to Pallamary’s to get his feedback) and got invaluable feedback on my novel. I now have comments and suggestions on how to improve my work, instead of just continuing on in the same way, oblivious to some of my more egregious writing tendencies. In addition, I was able to connect to my fellow authors in these workshops and, as a newcomer, prove myself to those who have attended for more than a decade. I have many new contacts now, all genuinely excited to connect with me about our writing, and that isn’t a situation I’ve been in since school. At one of the cocktail parties, I was even able to find fellow fantasy writers, and we spent nearly four hours gushing about our characters, worlds, and lore!

But the highlight of the entire week was the two Pirate Workshops I attended. Held late at night, these workshops are a lot more informal than the already informal daily workshops, and they continue into the early morning as bouts of hilarity give way to heavy subject matter, and then swing back with all the speed of Newton’s cradle. It was here that the few barriers between published authors and unpublished authors truly fell. Even workshop leaders I had learned from read their works in progress, and they readily took feedback from everyone. I loved it, despite going to bed at 3 a.m. on average.

The SBWC was a near-magical experience for me, one that I can easily see becoming my new annual tradition. If you have a story that you wish to tell the world and have the time, money, and means, I could not recommend a better place to get it workshopped than here.


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