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.

Filling the Well

Many years ago I quit writing. The cessation lasted two years and almost drove me crazy. When I figured out what I needed (to write, regardless of the consequences—or maybe because of the consequences of not writing), a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron was incredibly, incredibly helpful to me.

Though I’ve forgotten many of the specifics of that great book, one of Cameron’s suggestions continues to be part of the philosophical foundation I build my writing life on: Fill the Well. It’s basically just the conviction that all ideas come out of a life lived, so rather than cloister yourself away to write every minute you have time because dammit-you’re-a-writer-and-writers-write, you should do things that aren’t writing related per se without guilt, because every activity, experience, moment with others, pours into your creative well and if you don’t have non-writing time, eventually you won’t have a well to draw from—or what you do manage to dreg up will be stale and bitter.

It can be easy to forget to freshen the well. If you’re like me, your life is busy and you covet writing time and feel guilty if you have time that you could write, but don’t use it “productively.” And there’s wisdom in our you-gotta-plant-your-butt-tyranny—but there’s also a line where too much discipline squashes—where I find myself writing only out of a sense of obligation, not that agony/ecstasy feeling of I MUST WRITE TO GET THIS ALL OUT OF MYSELF OR I WILL EXPLODE.

When my writing has that “Ugh, I have to write,” versus, “I get to write” feeling, I know I have to spend some time doing other things, and ironically, it’s usually when my work/life schedule is at its most hectic and my writing time is already at its scarcest that this need to make time to do other things is crucial.

My family is out at a cadet camp this weekend and after a ticket-selling shift yesterday (good volunteering mom, eh?) and getting a brochure I needed printed for a client, I planned to get A LOT done, because I have (like always, it seems these days) A LOT to do.



Instead, I:



Made a very yummy veggie and cheddar wrap and drank two glasses of wine, sitting in the sunshine with Twisted by Jonathan Kellerman (famous novelist, new to me—am enjoying very much!) 



Then I had a nap. Until 6:00 p.m. 



Then I worked in my delicious smelling flowerbed and yard until 9:00. 

Then I poured more wine, tossed up a stir-fry and watched TV—what a treat. 

Very rejuvenating. Just what I needed!

Today has been low-key too: sleeping in, drinking coffee, reading short stories—and I might clean my house a bit . . . But I’m starting to feel a building urge to get to my novel—there’s a scene burning, a character screaming to be let out . . .

What about you? Do you have similar feeling about the importance of sometimes NOT writing?

p.s. Where was that jeep found? Who did it belong to and why was it left? Last weekend found me wandering, filling the well—I hope the old ghosts don’t begrudge the pictures I took . . .

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

Axe sharpening . . .

I was introduced to Ecclesiastes 10:10 the other day—Using a dull axe requires great strength, so sharpen the blade.

The verse was used in the context of faith, how it can be easy to go through the motions, to seem fine when really you’re discouraged and struggling. How instead of taking strength, joy and peace from your faith, sometimes clinging to it can seem like drudgery. The speaker went on to talk about how to sharpen your blade and the importance of doing so.

I appreciated the message and felt the verse applied to a lot aspects of life—relationships, jobs, writing. Almost everything in life, no matter how passionate we are about it, has seasons where continuing on just feels like work, where we wonder if what we seek is actually attainable, where we question whether there is anything special or valuable in what we’re trying to hold on to…

If you’re like me (and since you’re probably a writer reading this blog before getting to down to work, I suspect you are), you’re no stranger to hard work. You’re used to sitting down whether you’re inspired or not and putting words on the page. You’ve steeled yourself against rejection. You will keep wielding your axe because it’s what you need to do—and let’s face it, in the end, a dull axe does the same job as a sharp one. And for that pragmatic attitude and ethic, we should be congratulated. We rock!

Thankfully, not every writing session fit the description above—far from it. We know flow. We’ve embraced the muse. Had those wonderful times when the stories and thoughts in our heads pour out faster than we can type, those moments when we finally glance at the clock we can’t believe that we’ve been writing for hours and we still feel so energized. All is right in the world. All is right in our heads. We are writers; we pour our inky-hearts out on paper—we rock!

I guess what I’m trying to say is yes, persevere when the work is hard and it’s all sweat and fear. But yes, double-yes!—seek those things that remind you that writing is your passion, that make your time spent at the computer less like hacking and more running a warm blade through butter that has fresh bread waiting for it.

Here are a few of the things that sharpen my blade and make me feel that I’ll burst with contentment because I get to write: Spending time with my opera-singer sister and laughing about the angst of the artist’s life. Keeping close contact with writing friends, through e-mail and an online forum. Reading good books. Writing things that are just for me, like poetry. Doing writing exercises and taking “no pressure” classes and workshops—and, maybe ironically, giving workshops. Playing outside, rain, snow, or shine. Making sure I have do-absolutely-nothing slouch time. And (again, perhaps ironically) writing through those uninspired dull-hatchet times.

Have a wonderful writing week, fellow axe-wielders! And if you have time to share, I’d love to know: What sharpens your blade?

Life imitates art—the editing part anyway . . .

I’ve commented before about how I see connections between almost everything in my life and writing. Caving? Well, that’s absolutely a metaphor for writing, of course. Scary movies in childhood? Obviously a lesson in recognizing and dealing with avoidance techniques that might be hurting your writing. Lazy and procrastinating? No, no, no—that’s feeding the muse.

And the latest case of life echoing writing work or vice-versa? Electrical upgrades done in your home (while you’re trying to live and work there) is just like editing a novel. It’s an electrifying truth. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

I was not happy to hear that my older home needed to have its panel upgraded from 70-amp service to 200-amp service. (Yes, I’m just showing off newly acquired technical lingo.) My house was comfortable and warm. It had (has!) character. I liked it just fine as it was and it never gave any trouble. Current “code” regulations seem a little on the bizarre side: I’m living here, not operating a nuclear plant . . . but I digress. However unhappy I was to hear it, the needed reno wasn’t a surprise. We knew our house needed more power.

I was not happy to hear from my beloved and much trusted, much appreciated first readers that my latest WIP needed more work. Yes, not happy, but again, not surprised. I already knew I wanted to amp up the tension, rewire a few scenes to dim the focus on the killer, spotlight some red herrings . . .

I thought it would be lovely if the very competent electrician could figure out a way to fix the problems without bashing huge holes in my walls and cutting through lovely painted walls and moulding to get at what he needed to address. He, of course, all artistry aside, could not. Fixing the problem required getting at the guts of the house.

I thought, Hey, I’ve edited a lot of novels now. I’ll just cut in neatly, splice in a line of intrigue, throw a couple of exciting switches . . .

I trust you see where this analogy is going. My eight-inch-thick walls were dismembered and unstuffed. My ceiling is, well, missing in chunks . . . My scenes were (are!) just as mangled. So much for artistry.

But there’s good news. All the hard work, the gruelling work, the omigoodness-please-not-really-don’t-make-me-fix-that-too work pays off.

My house was built to last and the new fixtures, forced air electric heaters, and lovely high-powered service, breakers, fuses, etc. just make what was already there that much better—shine that much brighter.

I trust that I won’t have to resort to mudding and taping and painting my novel to get the same power upgrade in my story.

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.

Writing time never magically appears

My children are back in school, my husband has settled back into his regular routine at work, and I run my own Writing Services business from home. I should have hours and hours to write uninterrupted, right? Uh huh.

Some days it’s a struggle just to fit in all my clients’ work and take care of the phone calls and e-mails that are involved in the kind of work I do. Balancing work, my family’s wants and needs (and mine–I don’t want to sacrifice the most important things in my life!), the volunteer things I do, the alone time I need, and my personal reading and writing feels like a tight rope walking adventure. But I like the dizzying rush. I’m not scared to look down. I’d be more worried if I never climbed up and started to inch foot over foot . . .

People often tell me they’d like to write someday. That they’re going to write one day. That they’d write now, but they don’t have time. I have a standard reply: It really is never too late to start, but time doesn’t carve itself. We won’t wake up one day and find that our work calendar has magically cleared, our bank accounts have filled themselves, and our family and friends no longer have emergencies or just want to visit (or I hope the latter doesn’t happen!). We have to make time now. We might even have to forgo something that brings pleasure.

My aunt is up visiting right now and it’s wonderful. We’re good friends and close. I would love nothing better than to just hang out and gab all day, so it was hard to tell her that despite how glad I am to have her, I have to work. But tell her I did, and she’s been great about it. “Oh, Ev, you’re so good. So disciplined.” Uh . . . not really. Not at all, in fact. I just know what I want to do, and I know that next week, next month, next year won’t be any freer time-wise, so I write now.

You can’t try to do things; you simply must do them. ~ Ray Bradbury