Ancora Imparo: A Journey Toward Excellence

by Cate Masters

Translated from Italian, Ancora Imparo means I am still learning. Michelangelo was said to have spoken these words at age 87. An indication, perhaps, that humility is as much a part of the creative process as drive and an openness to new things.

Writing is perhaps more of a challenge than painting in that authors must construct words in a way that will evoke a reaction in a reader. Not merely detailed descriptions to build a vivid story world, but we must make readers invest themselves in the story enough that they care about the outcome, share the emotions of the characters and keep reading.

No small task. And I find each new story presents a new challenge. As a writer, I want to reach beyond what I’ve already done, always striving for that next level. Never do I want to feel completely satisfied with my work.

So I have a wish list. A writer’s bucket list, if you will. At some point, I want to further my writing education with these workshops. I could sure use a writing getaway this month to keep up with my NaNoWriMo word count!

Robert McKee’s Story Seminar. Not just for screenwriters, McKee’s seminar is geared toward every aspect of storytelling. Novelists find themselves sitting next to playwrights, filmmakers, producers, journalists and actors, sometimes very famous ones who recognize the importance of continuing to learn their craft. Since I can’t get there in person, for now I settle for YouTube snippets like the one below.

One Story’s Sirenland. Held in Positano, Italy, overlooking the Tirreno Sea. Ahhhh. John Steinbeck’s quoted on the Sirenland site as saying: “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn't quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” Dreaming’s the necessary first step in writing. To open the flow to the dream, ten writers work with La Sirenuse writing instructors in “intense” workshops. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love made me yearn for genuine Italian cuisine, and even the La Sponda restaurant’s described as having “a magical atmosphere.” Almost sounds like a week in heaven.

Zoetrope’s Short Story Workshop in Belize. Held at Francis Ford Coppola’s Blancaneaux Lodge, the editors of Zoetrope All-Story led the 2010 workshop, limited to 25 participants to allow for greater individual attention.

Hawaii Writers Conference. Honestly, the conference strikes me as less of an intensive writing workshop than a get-together with other writers, complete with concert this year by Norah Jones. The six-day retreat sounds more down-to-business. But hey, it’s Hawaii, and I’ve always wanted to go. Research I conducted for Going with Gravity, my current release with The Wild Rose Press, revealed the complexities of the Hawaiian language. The meaning of the word Hawaii itself is such a gorgeous example – ‘Ha’ means ‘the breath of life’ and ‘wai’ means ‘fresh or living waters’ plus ‘i’ refers to ‘the divine in each of us.’ No wonder it’s such a beautiful inspiration! And inspiration is another essential component to writing. And I still have much to learn.

Photos: Sirenland web site, Zoetrope Short Story Workshop web site; video from YouTube

Cate Masters writes fantasy/dark fantasy, historical, contemporary and speculative fiction, described by reviewers as “so compelling I I did not want to put it down,” “such romantic tales that really touch your soul,” “filled with action scenes which made it a riveting story,” and “the author weaves a great tale with a creative way of using words that makes the story refreshing to read.” Visit Cate online at, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.


  1. Terrific post Cate! I'm with you - would love to take McKee's seminar - but to be honest I think I'd feel kind of intimidated - that's the thing about attending some of these intensive writing workshops - kinda scary to put your work out there (well if you're not published that is). I completely agree - the craft of writing is always about learning - changing, practice & discipline - every day. The NaNoWriMo process for me has been challenging - I know I won't finish my "book" but I think I've got a good start - at least in my mind in terms of direction. I know that some people really do see it as a competition with each other - a race to the finish line - but for me it's more of a way to work out what I'm writing about. Thanks again! ;D

  2. My experience with writers conferences is that if you control your expectations about how much you can learn in that short a time and if you understand that they are a part of a much larger mix, they can be helpful. The best part might be meeting people you can stay in touch with after the conference and who are sympathetic to what you are trying to do.

  3. It is scary, Jo, especially with someone like McKee. He has a reputation for ripping into writers' work! But he's generally right, so he also has much valuable advice to offer (once we scrape ourselves off the floor!).
    I don't think I'll make the NaNo finish line this year, but I'm very happy with the story I'm writing so I'm focusing on that!

  4. I agree, Kevin. I can only write so fast, then the rest is lost! I love the comraderie of conferences. No one else but another writer quite understands the madness.

  5. GREAT post, Cate!

    The McKee seminar looks incredible. I could happily spend a year traipsing around from seminar to conference. *sigh*

    I'm familiar with the Hawaii conference and I drool over the brochure every year thinking... someday.

    The other ones are new to me and look just as drool-worthy!! Wow...

    I've only been to one conference but it really opened my eyes to what a career-affirming experience it can be. The workshops were educational and enlightening and the parties were fantastic! Nothing like mixing with others in the industry to make you glad you're a writer.

    I think with NaNo it can be invigorating or intimidating. For me, the pressure makes me actually write less! I'm better with solid and steady goals. It's imperative for a writer to know herself and what works. We're all so individual!!

    Thanks again for a wonderful read!

    --Chiron O'Keefe

  6. Great idea, Chiron! I'd love to be a conference gypsy. All I need is a sponsor...
    This year, I went into NaNo with too many distractions. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, I fell behind almost immediately. So I made a conscious decision not to pressure myself (STOP looking at that word count!) and just write. The end result's much better all the way around. I can live without the little badge of NaNo honor (I think!)

  7. What a great concept, Cate! Especially if you like to travel like I do.

  8. Hi Emma! I'm thinking we should put together a travel tour of writers conferences. Wouldn't that be great fun!

  9. All of these sound dreamy - even the scary Robert McKee one. I've been a member of my local RWA chapter for 7 years now and only recently feel like I have half a clue.

    I'm hammering away at NaNo - I've had the flu for over a week and I'm seriously behind. But it ain't over till it's over.

  10. Oh no! Feel better Julia! Hope you at least have some good meds. :)


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