It’s My Birthday Soon–And I’m Giving Away Presents!

Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

This Tuesday is my birthday. No, I won’t tell you how old I am going to be. Suffice it to say I don’t feel as old as I am. And, because it is my birthday, I’m giving you presents!

Here’s the deal. It is hot here in Portland at the moment (98 degrees) and I hate the heat. I think it melts my brain, making it difficult to think, let alone write. (And I just read on my app that the heat wave will continue through Tuesday! Ack!)

So, I was going to write a blog post about tracking time (like years) and other things, as it relates to writing, but I don’t have it in me. And then I remembered (told you the heat melts my brain) that I just posted one on Medium. I’ve been trying to post a lot there, both new and revitalized older posts. So, here’s the one about tracking words and time.

And, besides, what you really wanted was to get to the presents anyway, right? Right. So here you go.

Photo by Audrey Fretz on Unsplash

Present #1: A copy of a book I wrote a few years ago called Set the Words Free: Ideas, Advice and Guidance for Smashing Writer’s Block.  It’s a 42-page PDF full of info and prompts about how to write regularly. If you’d like a copy just hit reply and let me know. I’ll send it to you straight away.

Present #2: I’m offering a steep discount on coaching sessions. You can nab one hour of my time for $64. (There’s significance to that number but I’ll let you guess what it is.) And you can buy several. Or just one. Usually I charge a lot more than this, but I’m feeling magnanimous.  If you want to take advantage of this deal, again, email me,  and we’ll get it all set up. But do it by  midnight on July 17, because the deal expires then.

Each session includes a 30-minute phone call (or Skype, or Zoom), and reading up to 10 pages of work. If you don’t want to discuss work, I can help you get your writing mojo going (or get it back), or we can discuss creativity, productivity, publishing, how to prep for a novel, really anything related to writing and the writing life. You can use them now, or you can buy them now and use them later. (Be aware I’m in France all of September.)

And that’s it, that’s all I’ve got. Now I’m heading back to sit in front of the air conditioning unit (we only have the window kind). Hope it is cool where you are.

Oh, and by the way:

 –We have a couple last minute spots open for France. It is not too late to buy plane tickets—prices have been holding steady for awhile now.  A week in France, devoted to camaraderie, hiking, sitting by the Mediterranean, eating delicious fish and bread and cheese and drinking wine? Plus a transformational writing experience? Yes, please.

–Join the Facebook group.  Participating in groups is the only way I like to be on Facebook and this one is good. It goes quiet periodically, but then it perks up again. I try to post something of interest every day (or at least every few days). Do join us!

 

 

Depending on Your Point of View (A Love Letter)

You live for adventure and global travel. Or you love to stay home by the cozy fire. You can’t stay still—you have to be doing something. Or everything you love to do involves sitting. You love gardening. Or you hate getting your hands dirty. You agree with everything our president says, or you take to the streets to protest him. You love kale. Or hate all vegetables. You love summer. Or you hate being hot.

I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

My point is this: there are many points of view in this big, wide, wonderful world of ours (and now more than ever, it seems).

And, as I like to remind you incessantly often, as in life, so in writing. (Or vice-versa.)

We writers talk a lot about point of view (or viewpoint, if you prefer) and it has been much on my mind recently because of a book I’m reading. The book is Women in Sunlight, by Frances Mayes, and man oh man does she do strange things with viewpoint.

The story has a lot of characters, but the main ones are Kit, a woman who lives in a small town in Italy, and Julia, Camille, and Susan, all of whom have had recent upsets in their lives. They decide to move for a year to the same town where Kit lives.

Kit’s viewpoint is in first person and all the rest in third. But Mayes head-hops between them. Constantly. All the time. Sometimes it is impossible to tell which character is narrating.  At one point, Kit related something that happened to one of the other characters when she wasn’t there. It is massively confusing.

Despite all this, I’m absorbed in the book and I am almost finished with it. (I will confess to skimming a lot of her excessive descriptions. But if you love Italy cuisine and travelogue, you’ll likely read every word.) I decided to check the Amazon reviews to see if others had similar reactions to mine. And, yup, readers range from lukewarm to ecstatic about it. But one thing that struck me was how many mentioned their confusion over who was speaking when. (Doesn’t help that all the characters sound alike, and talk in long speeches.) Some had a hard time keeping the characters straight.

And, here’s the deal, people: when it comes to viewpoint, your average reader doesn’t know if you’re doing a point of view violation. But they do know when they get confused. And a confused reader is a bored reader. And a bored reader is a reader who puts the book down.

So, a couple of simple viewpoint reminders:

–Omniscient is really hard to pull off. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

–To maintain viewpoint sanctity, just remember to be in your character’s head. What she can see and hear and touch and smell you can report. Nothing else!

–It doesn’t matter what viewpoint you choose. Some people love first, some hate it. Some like single viewpoints, others prefer multiple. Doesn’t matter! Just stay consistent. And stay in whatever character’s head you’ve chosen at the moment you are writing.

Have you ever read a book whose viewpoint turned you off? Hit reply and tell me. Also—might you need help with viewpoint? Need a supportive coach to help you with your writing? Hit me up. I’ve got room for one client this summer.

This post contains affiliate links.

Getting Good News (+ June Round-up)

Last month in my monthly round-up, I exulted over having just sent in the latest rewrite to my agent. And so it is fitting that a month later, I’ll give you the good news—she and her readers loved it, we’ll do a polish and it is on the submit list for September. (Because, as I explained on the Facebook page, nobody in the publishing world reads anything in the summer.) And never mind that her idea of “brief notes” for the polish might be more than mine, I’m excited.

Of course, the opposite of excitement is despair, which I felt many times as I waited to hear from her. I was certain that the whole thing was awful, so awful it would lead to the cancellation of our relationship. But part of that, I think, was just my psyche wanting to protect me from disappointment again.

This a cycle that we writers face all the time. Exultation and despair. Happiness over a new idea, puzzlement over how to implement it. Joy that an agent is interested in us, dejection when we are rejected by her. Giddiness when the work is going well, forlornness when we are stuck. Boredom and anxiety while we are waiting to hear someone’s reaction to our work. I could go on and on—and the point I want to make is that you can’t get around this see-saw. It is part and parcel of the creative cycle.

One of the best things I’ve been working on lately is acceptance. Of the crazy creative cycle. Of my quibbles. Of my work flow. Of how I approach my writing. As an example, I’m a person who never reads instructions—I just jump right in and start pushing buttons to see how something works. This drives other people to distraction, but it works for me. And this is how I approach writing, too. All my brave words about becoming a reformed pantser.  All my thoughts about writing a better draft.  They are all well and good and I hope you found some inspiration from them. But that was me trying to shoehorn myself into a different pattern, one that doesn’t fit me.

As I learned in the class I just finished (see below), I figure things out from the middle. Hence my habit of not reading instructions. And jumping right into the writing when I “should” spend more time figuring out the plot.

You may be completely different from me in how you approach the world and that is good. Just be aware of what works for you and don’t beat yourself up if you are not doing it the same way as your critique partner. Don’t let some expert tell you there’s a better way to do it. You do you—and do it to the best of your ability.

And remember that the creative cycle is full of ups and downs—that’s what makes it a cycle.

Now, here’s what’s been going on over the last month:

Monthly Round-up

What I Read 

The First Rule of Ten by Hendricks and Lindsay.   I loved this first in a mystery series. Our hero, Tenzing (nickname Ten), was raised in a Buddhist monastery in Tibet (long story). But now he’s a P.I. in L.A. Great blend of Buddhist stuff without being too heavy about it, and a good mystery story. Plus some romance.

Café by the Sea, by Jenny Colgan. A bit slow starting and I wasn’t sure I’d get into it but I did and thoroughly enjoyed it.  A woman returns to her home island off the northern coast of Scotland, after leaving it for the big city a few years earlier. Fun characters who grow on you.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate.  https://amzn.to/2tFseWt I bailed on this just a couple chapters in. It is a huge best-seller but it just didn’t grab me. I actually went on Amazon to read some reviews. Often my opinion is echoed there but not this time. People loved it. I didn’t.

No One You Know by Michelle Redmond.  https://amzn.to/2tNXp10 Another one I didn’t finish, though I made it farther in this one—more than halfway. Then I realized it was just unpleasant reading and I quit. True confession: I like books that are positive. I like happy endings. I don’t like to be depressed when I read.

The Art of Character by David Corbett.  https://amzn.to/2tEzAJN Love this book so much. I’m taking my time with it, as one should with a good craft book. I’ve already taken notes and written up some of his exercises and prompts for use in future workshops. Good stuff.

Women In Sunlight by Frances Mayes. This is my current read and it is going to take me a while—it is 420 pages long. I’m loving it, as I’ve loved her other books, a novel called Swan  and, of course, Under the Tuscan Sun. While I prefer France, the Italian setting is wonderful. Plus, it is about women of a certain age! We need more books featuring them!

–Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience  by Dan Blank. A book about marketing that emphasizes exactly what I learned in the class I just finished (see below). It is not about the metrics or the numbers or the money, it’s about the people you impact. Just started this one, but so far, it is really good.

 What I Watched.

 R.B.G.  We actually went to a movie this month! Going to see a film in an actual theater is one of my favorite things to do and yet we rarely make time for it. This documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg is fantastic, a must-see, especially with this week’s news that Justice Kennedy is retiring. I admit, I was unaware of how much Ginsburg has impacted women’s rights and the rights of all minorities. Truly inspirational.

–And other than that, nothing. A big fat nothing.  We used to watch a lot of TV, like every night, but since the family mob descended upon us in March, the show I’ve seen the most of is Justin Time Go. Don’t ask. It’s a two-year-old thing.

What I Loved

 Write Better Faster.  This is the class I just finished with R.L. Symes. It was so helpful in showing me more about myself and how to lean in to my quirks instead of trying to overcome them. Truly transformational.

–Finding out that the pain I’ve been experiencing in my knee is not because of knee arthritis, but because of hip arthritis. And getting a date scheduled for hip surgery. Woot woot! You can read more about it here.

Excited About

 –We bought train tickets for our trip to France and our annual writing workshop. And we’ve nabbed an AirBnB for a couple nights in Paris on the way home.  Making arrangements ratchets up my excitement level about it. I can’t wait to see the Mediterranean again, and to eat fish just pulled from its waters. I can’t wait to drink the good, cheap wine of the region and eat the fantastic cheese and bread. I can’t wait to stroll the town and buy Christmas gifts to send home. But most of all, I can’t wait to see the transformations that occur in the writers that attend our workshop. Inspirations strike, epiphanies occur, writing gets done (yes, even with all the distractions of the region).

It’s the best thing ever. Want to come this year?

 Join us.

And Also

–Join the Facebook group.  Participating in groups is the only way I like to be on Facebook and this one is good. It goes quiet periodically, but then it perks up again. I try to post something of interest every day (or at least every few days). Recently we’ve had discussions on sensitivity readers, relatability in characters, pantsing versus plotting, and more! Do join us!

(This post contains affiliate links and first appeared in my newsletter.)

A Love Letter About Writer’s Block

I’m sure that you, like me, have read the statement, usually from some prolific author, I don’t believe in writer’s block. Or a variant, there is no such thing as writer’s block.

I always think that sounds a little too ivory-tower-ish. A bit snotty and unrealistic. Because I don’t care who you are, you can get writer’s block. It may not last for long, but c’mon, everybody gets stuck at some point. It may be as small as not knowing where the next scene should go, and floundering around for a few days. Or it might be as big as just not being able to write, period. And then not writing for months or even years.

And as anybody who has ever suffered through it knows, when it happens to you, it is painful.

I had a friend a few years ago (we’ve fallen out of touch) who was writing a book based on an article he’d written. He had an agent waiting for the book, and editors interested. But for whatever reason he couldn’t write the book. As far as I know, he still hasn’t.

Was it an issue of perfectionism? Too much research? Overwhelm? Nobody but he will ever know. And, sadly, the world will never get to read his book. (I read various drafts of it, and it was good.)

And I’ll tell you, when I get blocked, I get cranky. Irritable. I just feel off. I’m not much fun to be around.

So, yeah, I know, you’re waiting for me to give you the antidote for writer’s block and I’m going to. But you’re not going to like it. Because it is simple: you gotta write. Something, anything. Write one bad page. Write in your journal. Write a letter to the editor. As I’ve said before, writing breeds writing. Period.

So go forth and do it!

Free (Sort of) Coaching

Usually I stay away from politics in this newsletter and on my blog. But this is not a political issue, it is a moral one. I’m upset about the children separated from their parents and I want to do something about it. So I’m offering free coaching sessions to anybody who sends me proof that they have donated to an organization dealing with this issue.

Here are the details:

–I suggest donating to Together Rising. (I will, though, take donations to any organization as credit for a session.) You can read about what they are doing to help here.

–If you donate $50, I’ll give you a 30-minute phone coaching session.

–If you donate $100, a one-hour coaching session.

–Send me an email to charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com with the words I CARE in the subject, along with proof of your payment. (Screen shot, transaction ID, copy of receipt, etc.)

–I’ll get back to you promptly and we’ll book your session. We can talk about your writing, plotting, characterization, how to get more writing done, productivity, habits, how to motivate yourself, anything!

–I can only do so many of these over the next few weeks, and I’ll book sessions on a first-come, first-serve basis. So get those donations in! I’d love it if I got booked solid. Let’s do this, and change the world with our compassion and creativity!

This blog post first appeared in my newsletter. If you’d like to receive a love letter directly into your inbox every Sunday, sign up in the box to the right!

Finishing A Big Writing Project (+Monthly Round-up)

Okay, I did it. I finished my rewrite and sent it off to my agent. And now let us all have a silent moment of prayer that this is the final version. Or at least close. If not, I’ll be hanging my head and reporting back to you.

Finishing is a funny thing for me. When I near the end of a big writing project, I focus so much energy on it that I do barely anything else. Sometime during these periods I think longingly of things I want to do when I’m done. Like take the afternoon off to read or knit. Binge-watch TV. Clean my office. Something, anything, other than writing. But then when I’m done none of those things appeal. I’m witless and rootless as I wander around, trying to find something to capture my interest.

But then, of course, life rushes in to fill the vacuum. Yesterday, I went to pick up groceries I’d ordered because it was my night to cook. Part way home I got a panicked text from my daughter-in-law—could I pick up my granddaughter from school? So I turned the car around and grabbed her adorable five-year-old self. And then there was dinner to cook. And exercise to do. And pretty soon it was just like every other day, with all the life things pressing in on me.

And then as I was riding the stationary bike I had a moment of horror in which I knew, absolutely knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the manuscript I’d just submitted was bad. Really bad. Ridiculously bad. That my agent will now release me and I’ll cry and be sad and have to be shamed in front of my whole writing community. But a moment later that feeling passed. It is what it is. I was too close to it for too long to be able to make any judgments about it.

I swore I wasn’t going to start anything new for a while, like, oh, a few days. But already I’m itching to get the ideas I had for new projects into some kind of form. I have a full-length novel and a loooong novella finished on my computer, both of which need substantial rewriting. While I was ensconced in the rewrite, I had good ideas for them both. And I’d love it if they each saw the light of day soon. (One of my goals for the rest of the year is to finish things.)

Oh, and it is June! When did that happen? Geez, the year is going too fast. Yeah, I know you know that. So, anyway, happy June, and check out what I’ve been doing below (a bit light because of the rewrite).

Monthly Round-up

Reading

 Winter Stroll by Elin Hildebrand.  I picked this up at the grocery store last year and never read it, finally decided it was time. She’s a very popular author. I’m lukewarm. Apparently, it is book two of a trilogy and at the end, she doesn’t wrap things up, so you have to read the next one. I mean, I know people do this, but it was so blatant. I was lukewarm-ish about this book, but damned if I didn’t go order a used copy of the next one.

The Abundance Project, by Derek  I have this terrible habit of being enticed by books like this—cheesy self-help tomes ones that promise a more abundant life or increased productivity or instant karma. Seriously, I’m a fool for them. And they rarely pan out.  So I get bored and don’t read them. So far, I’m not that thrilled with this one, but I’m not that far into it, either.

–We took a day trip over the weekend and visited a favorite bookstore where I found a novel about, gasp women of a certain age.  Being one myself, I can’t remember the name of it and it’s downstairs. I’ve only just read the first page so I’ll report next month.

I’ve also ordered or downloaded or have in my queue:

The Café by The Sea, by Jenny Colgan. This author has written five million books and I want to see how she does it.

Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work, by Dan Blank. My friend Angie recommended this and I can’t wait to dive in.

The First Rule of Ten, by Hendricks and Lindsay. A friend/student recommended this to me last year when we were in France. I downloaded it then and promptly forgot about it. She mentioned it again this week and I pulled it up again.

I’ve got my reading work cut out for me.

 Watching

 We’ve not been watching much TV lately and while going to movies is one of my favorite things to do, ever, I don’t do it much. (Go figure.) But we are almost done with Wild, Wild Country, the documentary about the Rajneeshies taking over a town in eastern Oregon. It’s fascinating, especially because I lived through it.

And, late to the party as usual we just started watching Frankie and Grace. Really fun. Lily Tomlin is hysterical.

Loving

 Momentum. As in the momentum you get when you are regularly working on a writing project. When you’re half in one world and half in another all the time because even when you’re living your normal (so-called) life you’re thinking about your book. When all you want to do is get back to it. When you finish a writing session and you’re in love with the world because you feel so good. It’s the best feeling. I had it during the rewrite and I look forward to getting it again. It sometimes takes some work to get into the momentum flow (like committing to writing every day), but it is so, so worth it.

 Excited About

 I had the great pleasure of spending a whole month devoted to writing in Ceret, France in March of this year. Ceret is a town in my favorite French region, the Lanquedoc which is in the south, near Spain.  Leaving was hard, except for the fact that I was eager to see my family, but made easier by knowing that I’d be back to the area soon. Like in September. To teach.

When first I started going to France to teach six years ago, I had half a mind that I wanted to travel all over Europe. But my teaching partner, Debbie, preached the wonders of staying in one place and sinking into it. And now I have to say I agree with her. You get to skip the hassles of travel, for one thing. But for another, you get to really know a place, to have a favorite restaurant, to understand the best spot to get a glace or an espresso, to sink into the rhythms of the place. And that, my friends, is a wonderful thing.

All this and writing, too? It’s the best thing ever. Want to come this year?

 And Also

Join the Facebook group.  Participating in groups is the only way I like to be on Facebook and this one is good. It goes quiet periodically, but then it perks up again. I try to post something of interest every day (or at least every few days). Do join us!

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter. To subscribe, fill out the form to the right.

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Writing a Better Draft (A Love Letter)

You probably know, because I’ve been whining about it incessantly, that I’m in the throes of completing the umpteenth rewrite of my current novel. I am determined to finish it this long Memorial Day weekend if it kills me. And it might. Kidding. Sort of.

Anyway, I had dinner with a couple of writing friends this week and we talked about how to write a better draft. As in, getting more of your vision for the book on the page in the first place so that you don’t have to go through the torture of rewriting it so many times.

I want to learn how to write a better first draft. I am good at writing fast and I’m a big believer in it. But the last two novels I’ve written were both lightning bolt ideas I was so excited about that I just started writing. I wrote a loose outline and did some minor character work, but that was about it.

Yes, I am the self-same writer who has taught and preached the wisdom of prepping to write the novel. As in taking time to think plot and structure and arc and character and motivation through. Two examples of how this didn’t work so well for me: A. the above-mentioned torturous rewrite, and B. the novel I started writing on my month-long idyll in Ceret. I stalled out on that one after 30,000 words, without a clue where to go next.  I got bored with my main character. And if I’m bored with her, my reader will be also.

I do know there is a thing that only happens in the actual writing—and that is that the writer begins to understand the story better as she puts it on the page. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement beforehand. So here are the things I’m doing to get better at first drafts:

–I’m going to do tons and tons of prep work.

–I’m studying story structure. Again. It’s one of my favorite topics, and it is time to return for a refresher course.

–I’m actually taking a class! It’s full, or I’d link to it here, but it is designed to help you figure out your best route to writerly productivity based on brain science (for which I am a total wonk).

–I’m reading obsessively in my genre. I always do, but right now I’m stepping it up.

–And finally, I’m not being too hard on myself—and vowing to remember that sometimes you just have to let the magic come in the writing.

Do you have any tips for writing better first drafts? Leave a comment and tell me!

**You might want to come to France with me, right? You do, don’t you?  Find out more here.

Ah, The Writing Life (A Love Letter)

And this week, for something completely different, some random writing thoughts:

Writing. My constant companion, my best friend. Until I decide I hate it.

Because it’s hard.

But sometimes it is really easy.

Most of the time, though, it is hard.

It’s the best life in the world.

But it’s hard!

That feeling you get when you finish a project.

The even better feeling you get when you start one!

Waking up early and going outside to write on a soft June morning.

Traveling to writer’s conferences and retreats.

Or staying home and meeting with my local writing tribe.

A new idea! It’s the best idea ever. It will make me a million dollars! I’m soon to be rich and famous.

But oh yeah, first I have to write it.

And that’s hard.

I never have any good ideas.

An editor likes my work!

Writing is so fun and easy.

I got a rejection.

Writing is too damn hard.

Oh God, I want to be done with this.

So that seems like a good time to procrastinate. I wonder if anybody emailed me?

But wait. If I just tweak that sentence a tiny bit…

What? Two hours have passed?

Writing. I love it.

(With thanks to Jimsy Jampots’s newsletter for the idea).

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter,  along with a compendium of useful and interesting links for writers. I also offer my list first crack at sales and books and cover reveals. I’d love it if you joined!

 

 

Have You Noticed This Weird Paradox? (A Love Letter)

First of all, Happy Mother’s Day to those of you who are mothers. The best mother’s day I ever had was the one in which I took myself out to a writer’s tea for the day—leaving my young children behind.  Anyway, to the rest of you—Happy Wise Women’s Day. Is that a thing? I thought I saw it somewhere. And I’m quite sure that every single one of my female readers is a wise woman. So happy day.

This week, I’ve been reminded of a weird paradox. I’m seeing in all areas of my life. It’s this: the more you do, the more you can do.  The more energy you expend, the more you have available to you. The more your read, the more you can read. The more you write, the more you can write. The more you knit, the more you can knit.

Okay, you get my drift.

And you might be disagreeing with me, scowling as you read. But hear me out. At first glance this paradox seems to make no sense. It’s backwards, right? There’s only so many hours in the day. How can the solution for getting more of something in your life be to add more of it?

But, it’s a thing, I tell you. I’m noticing it in my knitting. The more often I pick my current project up and work a few stitches, the more I want to. And the more I want to, the more I pick it up and work on, thus actually completing things (something I have difficulty with). So it’s a loop.

It’s been happening in my writing this week, too. I love journaling every morning but sometimes tell myself I don’t have time. I must get my word count in! Work on that rewrite! Write a blog post! Read manuscripts! But lately I’ve been starting my day with journaling again. I’ve also been doing random writing spurts to prompts in my writing notebook. And my writing productivity has increased exponentially. I was meandering along on my rewrite and suddenly I’m obsessed with it. Working on it is all I want to do.

Why does this happen? Here’s my theory: it has to do with passion and momentum and commitment. You allow your passion to have free reign (don’t take me too literally here) and that engenders momentum. And the more momentum you get, the more committed you become.

It’s a bit like being obsessed. And I don’t know about you, but I like this state of being because too often I’m meandering about the opposite way. How to achieve it? A lot if is about allowing. Allowing yourself to pick up the pen, even when you are feeling tired. (Writing is a surprisingly energetic activity, at least as far as your brain is concerned.) Allowing yourself to dive fully into the work. Allowing yourself to steal minutes away from watching TV and write instead. In other words, it’s as choice, my friend. It’s all about commitment.

And once you get obsessed, don’t forget to take some breaks once in awhile, too. In yet another weird paradox, getting too obsessed can lead to burnout and creative breakdown.

What have you gotten obsessed with lately? Leave a comment and tell me.

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, which also includes links to cool things I’ve found in my internet travels. To sign up, click here.

Charlotte’s Monthly Round-Up Love Letter

Okay, so I probably should have done this last week, because we are already six days into the month, but I just thought of it. I’m talking about a new feature I’m trying—a monthly round-up of what’s going on in my writing life. Hopefully you will find things of use to you.

Outside my office window, the blossoms on the cherry tree are already fading. I can’t believe it is May! My month in France seems like a distant memory. And it is—I’ve been home nearly a month and a half. I’ve been busy working on my rewrite (see below), organizing my office, teaching, and working with clients. Oh, I also do quite a bit of shepherding of small children. (In case you need catching up, my daughter and her family moved in with us in March.)  It’s like being a parent all over again, only at least this time I can go close the door to my office. (Never mind that my office is the most favorite place of the two miniature humans who now live with me.)

Often sometimes I long for the gentle pace of the days in France, but I feel pretty blessed to have so much going on here.  We’re settling into a good balance. And if all else fails, there is wine. So let’s get to it.

What I Read

Train Your Brain, by Dana Wilde.  This book covers familiar ground—what you think affects your life—but the author writes about the topic in a way that I found convincing and easy to grasp. I’m a total wonk for brain stuff, and she talks about it without getting too science-y for me. Woo-woo warning: the topic lends itself to the woo, can’t be helped, so if this is not your thing, stay away.

A Gentleman in Moscow. I am loving this book. I bought it in hardcover for my husband a year ago Christmas. He read it and loved it but I ignored it. Finally picked it up and it’s so good. Amor Towles writes in an elegant style. He is also very good at dropping you into a scene, and explaining later. Something to emulate.

The Hazelwood, by Melissa Albert. Wasn’t thrilled with this one, though I had high hopes for it. I got confused with all the activity in the other world they enter and thought it went on a bit long. But points for inventiveness.

Digging In, by Loretta Nyhan.  This was a good garden-variety (hahahaha, I crack myself up) women’s fiction novel about a protagonist getting over the death of her husband through gardening. That she pisses off the home owner’s society in the process is a fun bonus.

On My To-Read List

Love and Ruin, by Paula McClain.  This is about Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn, who was quite a star in her own right. She was a globe-trotting journalist in a time when that was relatively rare. I’ve always wanted to know more about her.

Willpower Doesn’t Work, by Ben Hardy. I hear this is a great book on productivity, which is a topic dear to my heart. I also recommend his newsletter.

What I’m Loving

My rewrite.  I was having hand-wringing fits about it earlier in this month. But, finally, I’ve reached some momentum on it again. I’m rearranging chapters and man, does that get complicated. My friend Mayanna says I need to get Scrivener for this. But when I’ve used it in the past I’ve ended up so frustrated I ditched it. Your advice?

What I’m Excited About

I never thought I’d want to teach writing. But when I got my MFA, there was a built-in component on teaching. From there I got hired to teach at MTSU in Nashville (distance program) and turns out I love it! I learn so much from my students and also from the process of figuring out how to share what I know.

Debbie (my teaching partner) and I taught a class on motivation yesterday and it was a lot of fun. Tricky topic—one of those ones that sounds so easy but is really quite complex. We’re teaching another half-day workshop here in Portland on May 19th, this one on arc—another tricky topic.

I love these classes because they are very hands-on. We build in lots of time for in-class exercises and discussion, which makes them more fun. And, I submit it is a better way to learn than to listen to one of us lecture on and on.

This is the same format we follow for our France workshops, and we just happen to have a couple openings. You know you want to come study writing (and write) by the shores of the Mediterranean in a charming town. Right?

What I’m Listening To

So, try as I might, I haven’t gotten on the podcast wagon. Because I’m so visual, I don’t process information auditorily well. That makes it hard for me to retain information I hear.

And, I don’t listen to music while writing because it distracts me. So, sorry, no play lists from me. But I do like to listen to music at other times and since we were gifted an Echo from Amazon (which we usually just call the Alexa, since that’s the name you use to get her to do something) we’ve been listening to a ton of it. So far, we’ve not been able to stump her, although my son said he asked her to play Frank Zappa and she didn’t know him. Shocking!

On The Blog

Spring Cleaning Your Writing

Is It Procrastination or Percolation?

The Usefulness of Thinking Small (In Writing and In Life)

Writing Rituals That Work

Write It Imperfectly, Do It Imperfectly

The Ritual is Opening the File (How to Get Your Writing Done)

How About Some Writing Prompts?

On Story Questions and Traveling Home

I’m hoping that May brings a lot more of the same—writing, reading, working with clients—only that more of it will be done outside! What about you? How is your writing going? What have you been reading? I’m always in the market for new titles. Leave a comment and tell me everything.

(This post contains some affiliate links)

About Writing Workshops and Retreats (A Love Letter)

I talk a lot about writing workshops and retreats, because I love them both so much. But I’m aware that sometimes in the past I’ve used the terms workshop and retreat interchangeably, causing all matter of confusion and consternation.

So let’s discuss, shall we?

During a writing workshop, writers submit work, either ahead of time or by reading it out loud in class. The work is then discussed by everyone in attendance. (Hopefully in a respectful, helpful manner.) The writing workshop is the cornerstone of every MFA program, where it is accorded sacred status. That’s because writers learn a ton from this experience, both in the process of having their own work critiqued and in reading and reviewing the work of others. And, as writing is discussed, there are many teaching moments for leaders to point out issues of craft.

But the writing workshop isn’t just for MFA programs. You partake in a writing workshop if you are a member of a critique group, and in a mini sort of way, if you have a critique partner with whom you share work.  And, many writing teachers hold private workshops, myself included. At the France workshop I offer each year, we workshop writer’s pages which have been sent in the night (or sometimes at the last minute) before. But, we do more than that. We offer in-class writing assignments and fun exercises. And, we give mini-lectures, imparting our vast wisdom on the topic at hand. It’s a great mix.  We also do this on a smaller scale at local Portland workshops.

And then there are writing retreats, like the month-long one I had the luxury of taking in March. This is when the focus is solely on writing. Period. The point is to get as many words on the page as possible. Many prestigious places offer retreats, often called residencies, such as Hedgebrook, Sitka, Yadoo and more.(Here’s a Poets & Writers link to a ton of them.)

But, you can also create your own writer’s retreat. Find an Airbnb room someplace nearby and grab a couple days to devote to your work. You can go by yourself or with like-minded writers. I’ve done this in two different Oregon coast towns and, ahem, in France, and each time come back refreshed and energized. The fun part about going with other writers is that you work all day, then spend your evenings discussing your work or reading it out loud, and trouble shooting. Sometimes talking about thorny plot issues is just the ticket to unscramble them.

So, which one is right for you? It depends. Where are you in your work? Do you need quiet, uninterrupted time to get a lot of pages done? Are you working on your first discovery draft? If so, what you need is time and space to get it done and a retreat is a perfect solution. But maybe you’ve finished the first draft and are working on crafting more complete chapters. You have questions about how it’s all coming together. You want input. And you’d love to learn a bit more about craft. In that case, a writing workshop will suit you best.

Let me also put in a plug for the person who may not have a project in mind, or has several they are thinking about. A writing retreat might overwhelm. Because: all this time to write but do you write about? But a workshop could help you focus you idea and start to shape it.

So, there you have it.  I hope this is helpful. Which appeals to you more, the workshop or retreat, at this point in your writing?  Leave a comment!

And, by the way, there are still spots open in the France workshop this September, but they are filling fast. Contact me if you are interested in hearing more!