One month till Surrey International Writers’ Conference 2014!

SiWC 2014For the fall and winter months (Yes, they’re here, wail!), I’ve decided to resurrect Déjà vu Thursdays. Exciting, right? I knew you’d think so. To kick it off, and because I just realized that it’s exactly a month until I leave for the 2014 Surrey International Writers’ Conference, I give you a happy pre-conference blurt that I wrote way back on June 10th, 2009 just after I paid my registration fee and booked my hotel and flights for SiWC 2009.

I didn’t attend last year’s conference because I was (Oh, poor me!) in London. The year before that (so 2013) my father had just passed away, and the conference was a blur. To say I’m excited about this year, but also a bit unsettled, worried that it will trigger unhappy memories, is an understatement. I know he’d want me to attend, however, to have a great time, to share BIGGER THINGS, to refill my creative well, to encourage and be encouraged, etc. After all, in the hospital he told me, “You make sure you go to that conference, Ev, even if I’m not dead yet. You paid good money for it.” Which made me laugh because it was so typically pragmatic. And cry. And, of course, tell him absolutely no way was I going if he was still there to visit with. Anyway, I’ve kind of gotten off track. Back to my old but still relevant pre-conference thoughts. I’d love to hear yours on the subject!

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So I just did something very exciting—booked a four-night stay at the gorgeous Sheraton Guildford in Surrey, BC. It seems unbelievable, but it’s already time—really time!—to start planning my favourite annual indulgence: The Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

I normally try to rein in my freakish enthusiasm and exuberance while blogging, so I don’t scare readers away, but allow me one, YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!

I know some writers are sceptical of the advantages of writing conferences. They think they’re nothing but a money grab. They feel you don’t learn anything that you couldn’t from a book or a bit of research. They’re sure everyone’s just there for their egos—I’m a writer, look at me. They’re convinced you’d be better off spending the time writing, not talking about writing.

I confess I don’t understand conference bashers.

1. Yes, attending a conference is a financial commitment. That it costs you something is part of its value. Say what? Just that: Putting money into your craft, saying in essence, “I’m serious about my writing, and it’s worth not just my time, but also my material resources to pursue,” is like giving yourself a big ol’ permission slip to take your goals more seriously. It’s also a big cue to family and friends—Oh, she’s serious about this little writing thing.

Professional development (Yes, a little FYI, conferences are P-D, not just wonderfully social times where everyone sips wine, talks about their favourite things—books and storytelling, of course—and comes away absolutely inspired) betters the quality of your work and boosts your word counts. Being with other people who are excited about the same things you are is motivating.

2. Books on craft are great, and yep, you learn a lot reading them, but—and gasp, I can’t quite believe I’m saying this—there are some things being alone with a book can’t do. Reading alone in your study doesn’t give you the experience of being with 1000 other souls who love what you love—ideas, words, stories. It doesn’t give you the chance to laugh along with one of your favourite authors. It doesn’t provide the opportunity to stick up your hand in the middle of the information to say, “Gah—I don’t get it!” or “Yay—I love how you put that!”

Hearing authors talk about their personal experiences, reassure you that it’s an achievable dream (they’re living proof, after all), and answer every-question-you-can-imagine is invaluable. As is getting to learn face-to-face from agents and editors who accept books (maybe even one like yours!) for their livings.

3. As for the complaints about “egos” . . . I don’t see it. I’ve met people I don’t click with, sure. I may have (it’s terrible) even cringed or grimaced inwardly a time or two on behalf of a cornered agent or author, yep. But people are people wherever you go. The great, the bad, the meh—they’re everywhere. And for what it’s worth, I think writing conferences having a higher per ratio capacity of hilarious, generous, kind, and witty people than most public groupings. The feeling of community and camaraderie is almost the whole reason I go. I work alone day after day all year (Yay for the Internet, but that’s an aside). Even the most reclusive of us benefit from and need human company sometimes.

4. Four days of conferencing and sushilizing does not, in anyway, take away from my productivity. I write almost every day—and that’s in addition to my business writing, editing, and workshops. Surrey energizes me for a whole year. If I have a day where I feel kind of unmotivated, I look at the calendar and recall the goals I’ve set for the next conference . . . Speaking of which, I’m on track, but not ahead of where I wanted to be by this month, so I should go.

Happy writing, everyone—and if you’re heading out to Surrey this October for SiWC, let me know.

I’m also interested in any comments about why you love writing workshops or conferences—or really mix things up and tell me why I’m out to lunch and they suck!

~ Ev

Inklings, Procrastinators, Me…

Photo by en.wikipedia user, Remember, and has been released into the public domain.

Photo by en.wikipedia user, Remember, and has been released into the public domain.

Well, it’s a Déjà vu Thursday once again, and this re-shared post, though perhaps not the most amazing piece I’ve ever written, feels super-exciting and completely apropos for two reasons:

1) The Surrey International Writers Conference is just around the corner, and it always kindles thoughts on the importance of a writer’s community—thoughts that are more poignant this year, as I’m actually not attending the conference (for the first time in ten years!).

2) Right around the time of SiWC, I’ll be in London, England . . . but making a side trip to Oxford where I’ll do what? Well, have lunch and a drink (or two, ha ha) in The Eagle and Child! (Yes, that’s right—the pub where C.S.Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the rest of the Inklings used to meet up.) To say I’m excited about EVERYTHING surrounding the trip would be the silliest understatement! Most of all, I just can’t wait to spend ten days with one my best friends (and one of my favourite writers), Jen Brubacher. Friends, especially ones who share your passions, are wonderful gifts.

Anyway, that was a ridiculously long introduction. Enjoy this week’s Déjà vu!

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C.S. Lewis is one of my favourite writers. I love his Narnia creations, and his books on Christian faith (most notably, Mere Christianity and The Problem With Pain) were instrumental in bringing me to Christ. It was, however, his writing in A Grief Observed that most spoke to me. Though losing a wife and losing a mother are ultimately different; loss is ultimately the same and Lewis’s honest writings about sorrow helped me. And re-affirmed my conviction that books and story—fiction and non—are crucial helpers to us humans as we try to figure out how to live and what it mean to be, well, human. It’s not giving Lewis too much credit to say he’s one of the reasons* I started writing again.

But it’s not really C.S. Lewis I want to write about today. It’s his Inklings—a writing group that, from what I’ve gathered, consisted of twelve or so members (including J.R.R. Tolkien). I won’t embarrass myself with the romantic view I have of the bunch holed up in some pub, corner of a library, or ancient book and antique laden reading room. I won’t confess that thinking of them, I always feel the warmth of a crackling fire glowing from a grate and see it casting looming shadows of the literary greats along the walls—shadows that grow as their stories did, well into the night. And I won’t admit that I’m sure they always drank port—its scarlet red shimmering as firelight refracted off the crystal glasses containing it—cheers! And of course there’s cigar smoke. And equally of course, somehow said smoke is sweet and mellow and doesn’t make me gag or give me a headache just being in the same room with it.

Oh, how jealous I was of his writing group! And then I got to be part of my own—a smaller group, though, I think, not lesser for being less. We try to meet in person once a year or so (and usually manage to, thanks in part to the huge pull of SiWC—but it’s tricky as we hail from different parts of B.C., and now, London, England), and we meet online regularly in a private forum called Procrastination (which makes us Procrastinators now, doesn’t it?). We drink lots of tea and coffee—and only occasionally port. I do have a wood fire that warms me—or at least the living room near me. We all have tonnes of books—or at least read tonnes of books. I don’t smoke cigars, but can’t speak for the others in the group.

I wish I lived in a place where we could all be together, at least monthly, but I can’t complain too much because I live in a time where despite huge geographical differences, we can still maintain very close relationships and share our words in real time, almost instantaneously.

It has been said that C.S. Lewis would’ve written and published all that he did without the Inklings (and the same has been said of Tolkien), and I suspect that may be true—at least partially. I think his writing community was a huge help to him, creatively and emotionally and practically.

The writing life can be a lonely, misunderstood and alienating (except when it’s the glorious opposite of all those things!). The writing craft is daunting—you only master one thing to notice six other problems you’d never even thought of dealing with. And the publishing world? Well, let’s just say it’s always been rife with tales of doom and gloom and the end of books and reading—not the happiest news when one’s trying to eke out a living with their words. Meeting with kindred spirits who like you, who like your stories, who are kind and funny and compassionate—even while they’ll straightforwardly tell you what is and isn’t working with your stories—keep you keeping on.

In James W. Miller’s review of Diana Pavlac Glyer’s The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, he says that, “using a formula for determining influence created by another scholar, Karen Lefevre, Glyer analyzes the way the Inklings served as Resonators (encouraging voices), Opponents (thoughtful critics), Editors, and Collaborators (project teammates) for one another. She then adds her own fifth category, that they were Referents who wrote about one another and promoted one another’s books to publishers and the public.”

When I read that description, I thought, Egad—I’m so lucky! I have the good fortune of being part of a community like that too.

How about you? What is your writing community like? Are you part of a writing group? Does it have a name? Is it a face-to-face group or an online one? Do you feel there’s an advantage to either type of meeting?

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* Well, him, Stephen King, and Julia Cameron—bwahahahaha, what a combination! I wonder what on earth they’d think of being grouped together?)

Where to go, what to do?

I’ve been thinking about SiWC a little because it’s been four whole months (really!), since I was there soaking up inspiration and writing-life camaraderie and I’m already looking forward to the 2012 conference.

Friends that I meet up with at the conference every year have often commented that it’d be really great if we could do some sort of Pro-D weekend twice a year, not just the once . . . and as spring approaches (Please!), I’ve been thinking that sounds like a better and better idea.

So how about it . . . any suggestions of conferences or workshops that you highly recommend?  From local writers’ group seasonal offerings, to self-guided mini retreats, or the extravagant Maui Writers’ conference . . . I’d just like to hear what you’ve taken part in—or what your dream writing related getaway would be. Of course, if you’ve had any bad experiences and have some strong “Stay away” warnings, those would be helpful too.

And now I’ve updated my website (√) and written a blog post for this week (√). It’s back to my W.I.P. for me. Please respond to my queries above. I’d love the fodder for daydreaming and future planning.

🙂 Cheers and happy writing!

Motivation

I’m gearing up for SiWC 2011 (leaving on Wednesday actually, yay!), and as usual I’m super stoked for the conference and all the workshops, presenters and kibitzing with other writers—lots of whom have become friends by now, my eighth year. (Ohmigoodness, do you know how wildly affirming and inspiring and plain ol’ fun it is to be in the midst of 600+ people who all share your obsession? I live in a small town, so perhaps the huge gathering of like-but-very-different minds is that much more amazing, but it is good, good stuff—worth every penny I pay every year. It fires me up, re-energizes and refocuses me for the next 12 months, every time.

That all said, as much as I relish the conference itself, an equal draw is the time I’ll spend with three other writers—Barb Cameron, Angela Dorsey, and Jen Brubacher. While Jen is unable to attend SiWC, because of the way her trip to Canada worked this year, she is able to make our annual pre-conference sushi and gab-fest—a group meeting of what we informally call Woodstockers 5—a name with a story behind it that makes sense only to us.

Thursday night, we’ll meet at a certain restaurant that’s become tradition, slide our bottoms onto bright-coloured satin cushions, and commence blabbing our heads off over our past year’s literary successes, woes, accomplishments, and challenges.

Then we’ll pull out our Woodstocker 5 Goals and share what we followed through with—and confess what we didn’t. A couple of us will then go onto elaborate about plans for November 2011 through October 2012 (our writing year has started to mimic the months that pass from one SiWC to the next). A couple of us (or at least one of us, me) will have to share our plans later, via a small online writers’ forum, after the conference has done its magic and put wild dreams in our (my) head.

Writing is by necessity a solitary pursuit and like a lot of writers, I’m okay with that—thrive in seclusion, actually. Need a lot of alone time. However, over years I’ve noticed that I write better—and am much more prolific—if I have a few close writing friends to celebrate and commiserate with. And to give me the occasional swift, motivational kick. (Thankfully, the boot is usually just a figurative.)

If you’re feeling in need of a bit of motivation, I can’t encourage you enough: try to find a writing workshop or conference to take part in over the next months or track down a writing friend or two to start meeting semi-regularly with. There can be a danger to spending too much time talking about writing and not doing enough writing (a post for another day, perhaps!), but for some of us, too much isolation is just as inspiration-killing.

p.s. I’d love to hear what works best to keep you on track with your writing goals (so I can steal your method, lol).

p.p.s. I think I’ve written on this topic before. What can I say? Sometimes I need reminding of what “works” to keep me working!

Get Thee to a Conference!

I can’t believe that this time last week I was at SiWC sitting in a workshop called Polish and Shine led by Elizabeth Engstrom (fantastic class!). This Saturday is decidedly less glamorous and thrilling.

All this past week I rode the post conference high, but now the fuzzy glow is fading just a bit (or being blocked from my immediate view!) in the face of the dishes stacking up, the floors being in serious need of a sweep and mop (oh, my dogs–gotta love’em; wish I could shave’em!), the laundry and meals that never cease to need doing/making, and the bathroom, argh, the bathroom! Let’s just not talk about it. . . However, all grumbling and moping aside, my newly reaffirmed goals remain clear and focussed. My inspiration is freshly topped. And when I think of all I want to do, plan to do, need to do . . . Yes, I feel a bit intimidated, but even more, I feel stoked: being surrounded by 600+ writers for four days is seriously motivating.

Almost every year I hesitate before I hit submit to register for SiWC (my annual conference ;-)). Then I recall what it does for me: refuels me for another twelve months, reminds me that yes, writing is a solitary pursuit, but that I am not alone. Literally hundreds upon hundreds of other people identify with and embrace a similar madness!

Meeting with like minds (or at least similarly bent ones), being surrounded by a crowd of folks who really “get” this strange obsession you have with stories and words, and having the chance to learn from others in different places in the writing path than you–well, corny as it sounds, it’s priceless.

Not cost-free though. I’m already starting to put money away for next year, and I think you should do the same.

And less you’re not convinced you or your writing are worth the extravagance of a first conference (or a third, a tenth, a twentieth!), what am I doing right now? Sitting down to write while the house is empty and clear, dirty and in need of a clean as it is–and that’s the whole point, isn’t it? We want to be writers, so we write. We don’t need conferences to give us permission or to remind us–but they do help us remember it. If you have the chance to take part in a writer’s conference, big or small, nearby or far, I really recommend it. It makes all the time we spend in solitary sweet.

Do-it-yourself online writing retreat

The writing life can be a tad isolating, so a few years back, I started my own writing forum, Procrastination, as a way of keeping my treasured friends-who-also write close as we grew further and further apart geographically. We’re a small board; maybe five of us post regularly, with only three or so more than that who pop in every couple of months. We’ve even taken to (most years) meeting up for the community-building/inspiration-boosting/writing-celebration of them all–the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

Then this year at SiWC, late Saturday night, missing one of our Procrastinators who couldn’t make the conference, feeling sad and a bit blown away that our wonderful weekend was almost over again already, we started discussing (or maybe bellyaching, just a bit ;-)) how Surrey gives us energy/motivation for our whole writing year, and how the conference never arrived a moment too soon . . . In fact, wouldn’t it be great if we could afford do two a year–SiWC, plus some other retreat or something six months or so later?

Enter fantastic brain wave! It occurred to us that we already had a perfect meet-up place, and instead of just using it as a message/conversation board, as fun and valuable as that is, why not use it for something a little more planned out. An online writing retreat! Our set up was simple.

I created a private thread (only people who had signed up ahead of time could see the thread when they entered Procrastination.) On the set day, at a set time, we each posted one exercise. Then we spent that full day, plus one more day writing according to our own schedules. On the third day, again at a set time, we each posted our results to each exercise (with no disclaimers about perceived quality, etc). Everyone who signed up committed to reading and responding to each participant’s posts. The result was fantastic–much better than we’d even anticipated in terms of fun, inspiration, and concentrated, results-based motivation.

We all came away a bit in awe that we could write so much in such a short time period–and that a lot of it was “keeper” material, stuff we wanted to do more with, possibly lengthen, possibly tighten and polish and submit as short stories.

Seeing as it was such a success, and how (for now) our ability to take in bigger conferences/retreats is limited to annually, we decided to make it a seasonal event–our spring writing retreat is just around the corner; I’m already excited and brainstorming what exercise I’ll offer.

If you’re part of a small online writing community and feeling a bit low energy in the ol’ writing department, I highly recommend organizing some form of your own online writing retreat. And if you don’t have that kind of online community, but long for a bit of a writing extravaganza/refuelling? Well, come visit me here again soon. A while back I did a writing retreat for one and I’ll post a bit about that in a few days.

Happy writing!
🙂 Ev

Looking Back to Move Forward

Euf, I’ve been a bit quiet on here lately—sorry. I wasn’t off in a corner sulking about the poor economy or worrying my ring around my finger, wondering if I was just deluding myself with the whole you-can-be-writer-if-you-don’t-give-up-thing. Or at least I wasn’t doing those things much.

I was prepping for the Surrey International Writers Conference, then I was attending it, then I stayed on in Vancouver visiting family and friends for a bit. Then, upon arriving home to a very sick husband, the fallout of a “surprise” electrical upgrade emergency for my home that I learned about just prior to flying out, plus playing life-catch-up, I just didn’t get here.

Anyway, while I was away, I discovered a deep well of affirmation/inspiration. Of all the great things Surrey has given to me over the years, this year’s gave me perhaps the most important: the knowledge that whatever the future carries, I write and will keep writing, not because of any dreams about what my writing might become financially or end up being to someone else, but because of what my writing is right now, what it has always been: My guts. My search for connection. My way of making sense of the world (or attempting to). Therapy (Thankfully, I’m a big fan of play therapy—it’s not all angst-ridden and dreary). My way of celebrating, appreciating and critiquing . . .

Past conferences have always motivated me in the business-side of writing—get an agent, get published, make $$$ so I can write more . . . This year, listening to all the solid advice from agents and editors and great inspirational wisdom from publishing writers, I decided that approaching creative writing as a business is bullshit (in a positive, warm, energizing, not negative way). Writing is about the writing. The other stuff is just other stuff.

I still want an agent. I still want to share my stories—at which point, they’re not solely mine anymore, I realize. I still want a few regular dollars, so I can afford the hours I write without feeling like a burden on those I love. But in forty years, if I’m still writing with only the few odd acceptances here and there, I will still be writing.

This sense of “whatever” about publishing has freed me up in some way. It is time to start putting my stories out there in earnest, because it doesn’t matter how they’re received. I would prefer, kindly. But rejection won’t stop me. Anymore. And maybe that’s why I’ve been hesitant in the past. While writing, I’d remember what it’s all about, but I’d forget when faced with the idea of having my work “judged.” Now I don’t care. I like what I write. I write what I like.

Editors and agents have to think about marketing and bottom lines, blah. If someone ever likes my stories enough to take them on, I will think about those things too—and will work hard for them. But those elements will always be after-writing-concerns.

There is a lot of value in living and working with an eye on what you want to accomplish next (not to the exclusion of enjoying today, of course, but that’s another post), but if a writer writes because they love/need the writing itself, looking back—and being awed by how far you’ve come and how much your writing has done for you—will be a huge part of moving forward.