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Melva McLean

An Editor in a Three-Day Writer’s Boot Camp, Part 3

journey towards the sun

Later that afternoon, I arrived home and plunked myself down in front of a blank screen. It felt like I’d joined the ranks of such writers as Hemingway and Faulkner, Ludlum and Michener, and many others who’d lost manuscripts and had to start over from scratch. Of course, in this day and age, you don’t really have to start from scratch unless you never back up your hard drive.

I have to confess that I went in search of the original, looked longingly at it on the screen for a minute and was tempted to use it as a base. But that would have been cheating. Private Benjamin didn’t cheat; neither did G.I. Jane.

What I had been asked to do was put away the first draft of my story and start over — think about what I wanted to say in a new way. Like my fellow students, I wasn’t sure it was necessary until about two in the morning, when I reread what I’d written and liked it.

journey towards the sunThe next day, others did too; they responded to the round-the-table read with genuine favour. I was thrilled, and stress — the effect of their kind words combined with lack of sleep — got to me; I burst into tears.

Tears aside, the great thing about writing boot camps is that they make you set a goal and then write for three hours. No procrastination allowed! They force you to think, write and rewrite. They are focused on getting results, making you stronger, forcing you to think outside the box. They aren’t for the faint of heart, those who are crushed by criticism or riddled with self-doubt. But if you can “take the heat,” you will emerge a better writer — more humbled, but also more confident.


In Part 1, I began by questioning the language itself: the use of the words “boot camp” in the context of learning to write. I was trying to be funny, but in the two months since I wrote this three-part piece — based on a compilation of intensive writing workshops taken over the past few years — the world has become a distinctly unfunny planet. With military invasions and the talk of “boots on the ground” overseas, maybe it’s time to rethink the language we currently use to describe literary learning. A quick search online brings up an astonishing amount of military terms to describe writing events — slams, battles, boot camps and rumbles among them. Given the state of the world, maybe it’s time to rethink how we describe the rather peaceful pastime of writing. That’s a question for another post.


Previous post: An Editor in a Three-Day Writer’s Boot Camp, Day 2

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2 Comments on “An Editor in a Three-Day Writer’s Boot Camp, Part 3”

  • Frances Peck


    I’ve really enjoyed your funny, frank account of an intensive (re)writing experience. All that soul-baring brings to mind the Billy Collins poem “Purity,” in which the narrator’s ideal writing conditions involve locking himself in his study, shedding all his clothes, peeling off his flesh, and taking out his organs.

    Your epilogue is especially thought-provoking. I’ve taught a Grammar Boot Camp course for a few years now. When I named it, I had in mind only the gym/exercise sense of “boot camp”—you know, those punishing classes of sprints and pushups and burpees. Strangely, I gave no thought to the term’s military origins. Now you’ve got me wondering about a less combative equivalent. If you come up with any ideas, please post them.

  • Melva McLean


    Thanks for introducing me to the “Purity” poem. I’m going to read this in my next Cold Read event for screenwriters and actors (it works for both writers and actors).

    I still like the term “workshop”, which the Oxford Dictionary defines as “a meeting for concerted discussion and practical work on a particular subject.” I figure someone discovered that “boot camp” brought in more money but maybe that’s because there is a whole generation who likes to be pushed to the limits. Interesting topic, isn’t it?

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