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Summer Workshops: Lighthouse meets Djerassi

September 8, 2014

Last spring I applied to two juried writing workshops, hoping I’d get into one of them. I did—to both. Fortunately, I received a grant from Colorado Mountain College to pay for them, and like that, I had three weeks of workshops to attend, writers’ works to read, and my own pieces to polish. Nervous? Yep. Excited? Most definitely. I set my intention and began the work.

The first workshop was run by the Lighthouse Writers in Denver, Colorado and lasted two full weeks, the longest writing workshop I’d ever taken. I signed up for individual sessions, concentrating on emotional plot, character development, and exciting stuff like sentence structure. By the end of the first week, my brain was saturated, and I’d not yet begun my sessions with Mat Johnson, a professor from the University of Houston’s MFA program.

I didn’t know Mat so ordered his books and did my research. Five minutes into the first class I was convinced that I’d applied for the right workshop. For the next five days, Mat guided ten of us through a mini-MFA in creative writing. His energy high; he taught through practical application and pounded his message into every lecture—find the heart of your story. See it reflected in every scene. Make sure something happens that changes your character forever and mirror it back into the heart of your story.

Heart.

Two days after finishing two weeks of workshops, I was on a plane to Northern California to study with the enchanting and gifted author, Nova Ren Suma, as well as nine other writers at the Djerassi Institute. There could have been no better place, no better teacher, and no better co-writers. Exhausted and yet oddly energized, I settled into my corner room; a room with a view of a tree covered in moss and inhabited by squirrels, chipmunks, and a few squawking birds with plenty of rabbits below. Djerassi has a tragic history and beautiful mission, offering the perfect environment for creative types. Given free reign of the kitchen, we made our own meals—except for dinner when we gathered for an organic feast prepared by Dan, a terrific chef. Three staff members joined us, and the conversations were always full of humor, insight, and plenty of wine.

When we weren’t eating, writing or in class, we roamed the property: a beautiful ranch with the Pacific Ocean in sight. Artists had littered the trails with amazing sculptures, and the enormous redwoods presented their unique inspiration. Mist rolled in, bats flew by, and snakes slithered across our paths, all offering their energy for our creative process. When I was stuck, not sure what to write or where to turn, I walked in the woods and talked to the trees, making me sound a bit like a lunatic, but it worked.

It was a gift.

Perhaps the best part of the workshop was studying with Nova and nine inspiring women. Nova’s style of teaching was exactly what I needed: soft, inquisitive, and heart-felt. Without knowing it, she piggybacked on Mat’s class perfectly, providing each of us with exactly what we needed and directing us to write the book of our heart. Together we learned, laughed, and felt what it was like to be surrounded by others who understood who we were as writers; a little crazy, a lot creative, and always challenged.

For me, the week was about community inspired by people, nature, and the work. It was the perfect place to find the heart of my new story and refine the veins of my finished manuscript.

I will be forever grateful to Nova, Mat, Djerassi, Lighthouse, and to the writers who joined me. I’d found my answer to my question: when is it done and good enough for others to read? When the heart of the scene is found on every page. When characters have changed, and so have you. It’s done when you know. And then, as Nova says, you’ve found the story of your heart.

My summer workshops were exactly what I needed; time to explore, go inside, and confidently find my voice to answer my own questions.

Grateful.

No onward and into fall.

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Quotes

August 28, 2014

I just got all quote fancy on you!

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WRITEONCON

August 12, 2014

If you write for kids and teens and want to take your writing to a new level—check out WriteOnCon: a fantastic FREE on-line conference, held every August. Did I say free? Yes, indeedy.

Loads of authors, agents, and editors participate in the conference, and if you register (for free); you can participate in interactive sessions. If time is an issue, download interviews, articles, and read transcripts from panel discussions on your own time. This is why we LOVE the internet!

Writing conferences play an important role for a serious writer. If you’re not able to attend a conference in person, check out what’s online. Besides offering valuable information about the industry, WriteOnCon offers networking opportunities and new ideas.

This year’s  on-line (free) conference is August 26-27.

You don’t have anything to lose by checking it out. Remember– it’s free! Free, free, free, I tell you!

Website: www.writeoncon.com

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Vacation and Writing Work

July 28, 2014

It’s almost August: dog days and vacation close in!

The packing.

The organizing.

The lists.

The shopping.

The remembering.

The bills.

The job.

The dog sitter.

The mail.

The tickets.

Daunting? Oh yeah. I’m exhausted writing the list. Life often spirals out of control the week before vacation. And yet we do it. We take vacation because a week away is worth the work.

Same goes for our writing.

When a writer begins to think of writing as their work, it becomes work.

The outlining.

The drafts.

The thesaurus.

The critique.

The revision.

The late nights.

The early mornings.

The stuckness.

Exhausted? Yes. But it’s oh so worth it. Writing can involve mind-numbing confusion, but the ultimate result? Well, it might not be a piña colada on the beach, but it’s still worth the work.

Keep going!

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Flight to Spain

July 8, 2014

This morning I watched my daughter’s plane taxi from the gate, bound for Spain. Like a bad Julia Robert’s movie, I bawled my eyes out. Ellie’s been gone before, but today felt different, more painful. Maybe it was because Spain is so far from Colorado. Perhaps it was because she’ll be gone all summer. Maybe it was because I have a crazy imagination that plays dirty tricks on me throughout the night. And perhaps, most likely of all, the pain was all mine, simply having a difficult time saying good-bye.

 

Ellie will be 17 next month. She’s ready to find her way. And yet, it’s hard to let go.

 

As I drove home, exhausted and red-eyed, I thought about my writing. The process of my work, putting pen to paper, has always helped me understand my life and vice versa. Recalling my choked good-bye made me remember that letting go is part of the work, both in life and in my writing.

 

Advanced writers craft pages upon pages, only to delete them and begin again. It’s never easy. We love our words. We love our babies. But for the health of the manuscript and the health of our children, it’s sometimes best to say good-bye.

 

No doubt that I’ll get teary again this summer as I think about Ellie, but I’ll have tools to help me cope. I’ll call, I’ll email, I’ll text. And before I know it, she’ll be back. By now I’ve got a tool kit for my writing to help me edit—I’ll scratch, I’ll copy, I’ll delete. And before I know it, they’ll be a chapter.

 

It’s okay to be sad. But we need to let go, words and kids included.

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Why do we Write?

July 2, 2014

Why do you write?

For me, I write because I can’t not write. I realize that’s a cheat of an answer, but it’s true.

I’ve been writing in some form or another my entire life. When I was little, I wrote down my dreams and did creative writing prompts at school. As I moved into my teens, I wrote sappy poetry. I was, of course, the only girl in the world who was having boyfriend troubles and who’s family was driving me crazy. It was fine poetry. In my early twenties I began to write stories but didn’t do much with them. Twenties were a bit of a blur. I wrote professionally in my thirties, and after my kids arrived, I began writing in earnest. My first book, Soul Sunday: a Family’s Guide to Finding Faith and Teaching Tolerance, won seven national awards, and I continued to write articles and essays. However, once I found my voice in fiction, I’d come home. Now, it’s what I do.

In addition to writing professionally, I write for myself. My journal is a kind of therapy. There have been times that I couldn’t write—my brain too deep in a void to find words. Other times were too busy for journal writing. But both of these reasons are excuses. We should never be too busy to take care of ourselves, if we use writing to help clear our heads. The void can be filled with words. Writers should never be too busy to write, even if it’s only a few minutes to capture fleeting thoughts.

I finally know why I write, and so I do. Everyday.

Ask yourself why you write and then ask yourself why you stop. Write anyway.

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Quotes

June 22, 2014

A writer never has a vacation. For a writer life consists of either writing or thinking about writing. –Eugene Ionesco

There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you. –Z.N. Hurston

For me, writing is exploration; and most of the time, I’m surprised where the journey takes me. –Jack Dann

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