Happy eighth birthday to Shared Worlds! For almost a decade, the SFF writing camp located at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, has brought aspiring young writers together to build an entire world. Under the tutelage of guest writers, students learn the basics of worldbuilding by actually doing it: They spend one week brainstorming a speculative-fiction world together, from vast geography down to the nitty-gritty of its citizens’ philosophy. Then the second week is spent writing stories all set in the same world, honing their unique voices while working in tandem. There are also prizes, field trips, an alien baby mascot, and wacky stunts from the staff, because after all, this is summer camp.
Shared Worlds 2015 just wrapped up on August 1. Camp co-director Jeff VanderMeer wrote up an extensive recap of this year’s session, from combining the stories into the Shared Worlds book to making good on his promise to “eat his hat” (for turning in 2014’s book late). And while he writes at length about the insights that guest writers Catherynne M. Valente, Nathan Ballingrud, Monica Byrne, Tobias Buckell, and Ekaterina Sedia provided, he says that the paramount goal, more than writing output, is tapping into creativity in the first place:
The broader goal with Shared Words is to provide a place where creative types can use their imagination and can engage in imaginative play in a structured environment that also includes art and sometimes gaming. Yes, the creative writing component is important—and for many students having a professional consult with an award-winning writer is a huge plus at the camp. But we’re not as concerned with helping teach future writers as we are with allowing for a wider range of creativity. In the camp, students have to work in groups and negotiate as they create their worlds. They have to analyze and synthesize information provided to them about politics, biology, philosophy, and more. They also have to work on their own, self-motivated, and meet deadlines. Really, they’re asked to do so many things, and it works because they love the fantastical, they love the freedom to run wild with their imaginations. The structure gives them that freedom.
Check out the rest of VanderMeer’s blog post. Worldbuilding is a key skill for any writer; to learn it early, and to also appreciate the notion of collaboration, is invaluable for young writers. Shared Worlds is still going strong, thanks in part to signal-boosting from famous writers. In 2013, the camp raised funds through the Hand in Hand webpage, which saw authors like Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen, and Joe Haldeman sharing writing advice on their hands.
Perhaps you know of a teen who would be perfect for Shared Worlds. Or maybe you’re reading this and you are a teen, in which case, hi! Either way, you can always apply for the 2016 session, whose guests already include Nnedi Okorafor, Julia Elliott, Kelly Barnhill, Tobias Buckell, and Terra Elan McVoy. A shared world is just waiting for you to help bring it to life…