Step one in writing a book is having a story to tell. Blair Braverman has one—boy, does she ever. Braverman drew on her experiences as a teenage Arctic adventurer for the memoir Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North. Set in the wilds of Norway and Alaska, it chronicles her journey of self-discovery in the male-dominated world of dogsledding.
Though Braverman had a whale of tale, it didn’t tell itself. She needed to find the right voice and structure to make it come alive on the page.
“The hardest thing about writing your own experiences is being able to step back and find a place of objectivity,” Braverman says. “That’s not to say that memoir is objective—it never is. But to bring readers with you, to help them experience reality as you have, means forgetting all that you ‘know.’ A reader can’t live a story for the first time when you’re writing from a distance; you have to find a way to get close, maybe even closer than when you first lived it, which means reliving fear, trauma, anger, love, all your emotions on a visceral level.”
Braverman will share secrets like these with fellow authors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writers’ Institute on March 24-26. The conference features lectures, workshops, book signings, manuscript critiques, and networking events at the Madison Concourse Hotel. For 28 years it has offered practical advice for improving and selling manuscripts, as well as a unique opportunity to make pitches to literary agents and publishers. It is geared to both aspiring and established writers in all genres, and it has a track record of helping participants publish their work.
In a keynote speech called “Of Ice and Men: Writing About Life on the Arctic Frontier,” Braverman will delve into the writing process behind Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. She’ll also present the master class “Scene and Nature: How Vivid Details Can Bring Your Story to Life.”
“In ‘Scene and Nature,’ I’ll bring examples and exercises to help writers build up an environment for their stories, the kind of details that subtly and powerfully bring the work into three dimensions,” she says. “How do we mark the passage of time, the changes in light and sound, the natural surroundings, in ways that frame the story rather than dragging it down?”
Turning ice into gold
The Writers’ Institute also includes keynote speeches by Larry Brooks, the bestselling novelist and creator of Storyfix.com; and writing guru Nina Amir, author of Creative Visualization for Writers. UW-Madison faculty and staff will be on hand to lead sessions and consult with attendees one-on-one; and agents from Curtis Brown Ltd., Harold Ober Associates, and other literary agencies will serve on panels and listen to writers’ pitches.
Braverman is a big fan of conferences like the Writers’ Institute and recommends that attendees jot down their goal before attending—whether it’s pushing through writers’ block, finding new books to love, or developing a sense of community.
“I think one of the biggest myths about writing is that it’s solitary,” she says. “Yes, for the most part, writers are alone at their desks, but good work is formed through conversations, through camaraderie, through readers who both encourage and challenge you. Events like the Writers’ Institute are a gold mine for inspiration and for building relationships with other writers, both as friends and as mentors.”
Read rave reviews of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube in the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly and register for the Writers’ Institute to hear how Braverman turned solid ice into publishing gold.