My Week at the Paris Writers' Workshop


Welcome to July! I feel as though I have neglected this space over the past few weeks, and I apologize. It was all for a good reason though, as I spent the last week attending the Paris Writers' Workshop at UNESCO! The Paris Writers' Workshop (or PWW as I will refer to it from here on) is a six day writing workshop in which attendees enroll to participate in classes geared specifically to one type of writing. This year there were classes in novel writing, short stories, creative nonfiction, and poetry.

A view over some of the UNESCO grounds. When the organization was denied permission to build more buildings above ground, they had to get creative!

I signed up for the novel writing class, and spent the week with eleven other participants, guided by the incredible Ayana Mathis who wrote The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it). She guided us through short lectures on different aspects of fiction writing, but we spent most of our time doing hands on work. We had each been asked to submit a short piece of fiction prior to the start of classes, and we spent the week helping each other identify what was working and what could be improved in each others' work.

If it sounds terrifying to expose your work to twelve people you don't know, including one wildly successful debut author, you're right. It is. In some ways it's as though you're handing your baby to a pack of wolves to rip to shreds. The only consolation is that I'm sure everyone else felt much the same way. Well, that and spending the week with Ayana Freaking Mathis. If that's not her actual middle name, she should get on that. She was certainly the highlight of the week from me, and she is as lovely and brilliant and inspiring as I hoped she would be.

The view from the UNESCO cafeteria

As for letting total strangers read and critique my work, not as much fun, but certainly useful. It's always difficult when a group of total strangers are forced to come together and are expected to trust each other in a very short amount of time. There were people in the group I connected with right away and others that took more time, and of course one or two that I felt were never quite on the same wavelength. That's normal. The good thing is that I received some constructive feedback that will be certain to help me moving forward, and I got over my fear of showing others my work, which is probably the biggest takeaway.

The PWW was held at UNESCO, which was another big plus for me. Getting into UNESCO requires security clearance and badges, so it was quite the privilege to be allowed to wander around for a week. I signed up for a tour that was part of the workshop package, and discovered some of the many priceless works of art housed within the building itself. Since UNESCO represents I believe 195 nations, many of them have gifted the organization artwork over the years. I've included a small collection of the photos I took below, outlining some of the pieces I enjoyed most, including a mural by Picasso that he never signed because he was angry at the construction of a wall that obstructed the view of part of the painting from afar.

The week ended with a farewell dinner at one of Paris' iconic restaurants, Cafe de Commerce in the 15th arrondissement. The wine flowed along with the conversation, and it was fun to just sit and chat with everyone without worrying about the work. It was a great way to end an intense week. Now I just have to pull out those comments and get to work...