From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Critiques Are More Helpful Than Bears: Walter Jon Williams on Taos Toolbox

The Taos Toolbox is a two week writing workshop intended for students who have come through a workshop or two already. Held in the Taos Ski Valley, the workshop features gorgeous surroundings and topnotch teachers. Fantasy Magazine asked workshop organizer and teach Walter Jon Williams to talk about the workshop.


What sort of students should be looking at Taos Toolbox?

We’re looking for people who already know the basics. We don’t want to have to go over manuscript formatting or subject-verb agreement. We want to concentrate on giving talented writers the skills they need with a minimum of distraction. People who have already attended workshops, like Clarion and Odyssey, often begin to miss the workshop experience. Toolbox is an ideal chance to reconnect with the workshop community.

What is a typical day there like?

We begin with a talk/lecture from one of the instructors, followed by round-robin manuscript critique, followed by another talk. Often the critique will be a jumping-off place for another talk by one of the instructors.

There may be a writing assignment, and there will also be a chance for each student to talk one-on-one with an instructor. After which people may go on a hike in the mountains, go sightseeing at the pueblo, or visit the hot tub. Most nights, there will be a hot meal courtesy of our caterer, or an expedition to a local restaurant.

Should students fear crits or bears more?

The critique is there to help you. The bears are not.

What is your favorite part of the workshop?

Finding the key that will unlock a student’s problem.

What has surprised you in the past about it?

How enormously talented the students are. Usually their writing problems are fairly simple to diagnose, and once that’s done, their whole process can become a lot easier.

I leave each workshop looking forward to reading the stories that our students will produce.

What was the original spark that led to the workshop?

I think it was reading one too many flabby science fiction novels. “My God!” I said. “Can’t someone teach these people how to structure a story, and cut all those unnecessary pages?”

Eventually I decided to become that person.

Do students write differently at a high altitude?

They do write differently after being chased by bears!

What is the best way to prepare for the workshop?

Write. Take deep, cleansing breaths. Then fill out an application.

Who are the writing teachers that have most shaped your writing/process?

I never had any writing teachers, and that was a huge handicap for me. I had to do it alone, or with friends who were as inexperienced as I was, and I was continually re-inventing the wheel. If I’d had a real teaching and workshop experience by veteran teachers, I would have been able to leap ahead.

Not that this is an advertisement for Toolbox, or anything.

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