Joyce Sweeney's Writing Whirl
by Stephanie Krulik
There are not enough hours in a day for this marathon writing machine to touch pen to paper. Like a well-honed triathlete, Joyce Sweeney, the award-winning young adult novelist, poet, writing coach, workshop leader, manuscript editor and drama director, barely has time to finish one thought before a new one takes over. Life is intensive.
Sweeney has just returned from a writers' retreat, a “next level” Craft Intensive weekend for dedicated writers that is held five or six times a year in Florida. Her words pour out: "It happened again. I've watched a student make a breakthrough in her writing. She changed one character's voice and the story moved forward."
Sweeney gallops forward. She has teamed with Woodstream Writers Director Jamie Morris to offer writing prompts, plotting, characterization, voice and more in these comprehensive weekends titled, Love and Sequence; Memoir; Interpretation and Creativity. "Depth Charge," new for 2012, "will deepen a writer's work by making it more complex," she offers. "These sessions push a student to new levels. They get something they never understood before."
Weekly invitation-only critique classes held in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel offices afford budding writers an opportunity to work with Sweeney. "To write a telling story that encompasses your own feelings is a powerful way to work through them. You're not just telling your side, you watch characters play together. You watch the words and scenes play out. By the end you know more about the topic then when you began."
The challenge is to know enough, write the right words and sign with a publisher. That's when it happens: one person who is dubbed “likely to succeed next” is handed a wooden rattle and quickly dance-walks around the room and stops in front of that just-got-published writer. "This is what it's all about," Sweeney says. "They all wait for this moment." She is talking about the "Bean Ceremony" − the giving of a highly polished seed pod from the Costa Rican Guanacaste (Monkey) Tree. It breaks up the hours of tedious dedication to why writers write.
Sweeney's writing career began 25 years ago when her novel, Center Line, won the 1984 Delacorte Press Prize for an Outstanding Young Adult Novel. She is the author of 14 novels for young adults including her early books Shadow, which won the Nevada State Reading Award (1997) Free Fall and The Spirit Window − an American Library Association Best Book for young adults. Sweeney always writes in the voice of a 13 year-old boy. "That voice is always easy for me,” she says.