First of all, Happy Easter! And if you are not into that holiday, then you can always celebrate the coming of spring. As a kid growing up in the Unitarian church, that was the emphasis we learned.
As you read this newsletter, I’ll be settling into an apartment in Lyon, France for two days, my month-long writing retreat in Ceret over. It was a great success. I wrote 33,000 words of a new novel and then switched gears to focus on a rewrite of a different novel to my agent’s notes. That required a lot of rearranging and so forth, and I’m happy to report that I got a new annotated outline done. So all I have to do now is plunge into the actual writing.
But beyond that, I learned some good lessons this past month. These are taken directly from what the five of us talked, stressed and obsessed about:
–Motivating your characters—giving them credible motivation—is all important. If your character’s motivation is weak or illogical, it throws everything off. But figuring out motivation is hard. Sometimes it takes a lot of thought and working through several drafts in order to truly understand your character.
–Arc in character, plot and scene, in other words, macro and micro is also crucial.
–Timelines are a bear. First of all you have to try to keep track of them. Then you need to monkey them around so they conform to the plot. It’s enough to send a writer to drink. Fortunately, this region of France is full of good, cheap wine.
–Having expansive time and space in which to concentrate on writing is truly remarkable.
–But, for me, probably the best part of this retreat has been the writerly camaraderie. The opportunity to discuss plot over Happy Hour is so helpful. One afternoon, I went to the upstairs apartment and blathered on my character’s lack of motivation. Jenni said one thing, Debbie said another and all of a sudden I said, “I’ve got it! I think I figured it out!” This is for a novel on which I am three drafts in, and I never would have discovered it without their input—and the strong espresso. Never underestimate how powerful writing community is. We writers work in isolation far too much.
I’m grateful for the time I’ve had to concentrate so deeply on my writing and also have a lot of fun. This week its back to the states. And it will be good to be home, too. And more writing surrounded by family and friends—which will be wonderful in its own way.
The moral of my story today is that if you get the chance to go on a writing retreat of any length even one day, do it!
Have you ever taken a writing retreat? What was the result? Leave a comment!
We arrived here in France two weeks and three days ago. Since then, I’ve written ten chapters on a new novel at a pretty good clip. Except for the two days last weekend when I stalled myself out.
I’d written up to the point I had outlined. And then realized that several other scenes needed to be inserted before that point. Which meant much rearranging and figuring and deep thinking. Which eventually turned into procrastinating, otherwise known as forgetting all the advice I consistently give in workshops and to coaching clients. Because I’d decided what scenes I needed to write. I was just having a hard time actually writing them.
And what is that advice about writing that I consistently dish out? It is quite simple: get thee to the page and write. Just freaking write. Don’t worry about making it pretty. Don’t worry about having it make sense. Just write. We are way past the age of typewriters, and rewriting is easy–that’s what God made computers for. And spell and grammar check. Getting something, anything on the page gives you a basis on which to build a draft.
I know that. And generally, I follow it. Knocking out ten chapters at a fast pace is proof, right?
But then I got myself blocked. And I forgot. Literally, forgot.
It wasn’t a matter of not walking my talk. It was that, in the moment of facing the page, I totally forgot. There was a gray concrete wall in my brain between the idea to write fast and get something–anything–on the page, and the act of doing it. And instead I fiddled. And thought I had to have everything all figured out before I wrote the scene. Told myself I was stuck. Ate a piece of chocolate. Stood up and went looking for the pet crow who lives in the house behind me.
The funny thing is, I’m surrounded by writers here at the retreat who are following my advice. Who are busting out the pages, even though it goes against their usual grain of carefully rewriting and revising as they go. So I should have remembered. But I forgot.
I offer this as a cautionary tale, because your brain, too, might play tricks like this on you. Fortunately, in a desire not to squander my time here in France, I have come to my senses and started throwing words on the page once again.
And I remembered another truth, which builds on the first one: the things you need to know will come to you as you write. Yes, I believe in planning ahead. But some things just reveal themselves to you on the page, plain and simple. And if you’re stuck, the best advice is to start writing.
I do not know why it is so hard to remember this. But I will do my best not to forget again.
Does this happen to you? Please leave a comment and discuss.
As you read this, I’ll just be settling into my home-for-a-month in Ceret. (Follow me on Instagram for lots of photos.) Because I will be spending several days in transit, I went in search of an older post to set up ahead of time and this one from 2015 seemed especially appropriate. Enjoy!
I love travel, as you might have guessed. So let me count the ways, and convince you, too.
1.Travel inspires me. Duh. This is the obvious reason most people travel. Immersing oneself in different locales and cultures shows us new things, fires new neurons, inspires new ideas. And, of course, ideas are good. They are our life blood. A writer can never have too many ideas. Ever.
2. I’m different when I travel. I don’t know anyone, other than the people I’m traveling with, so all bets are off. I can drink all night, swing from the rafters act anyway I want–talk to people I meet on the street, stop and stretch in the middle of the sidewalk, gaze with obvious rapture at a medieval cathedral. Nobody knows me so I’m free. And isn’t this what we long to be on the page? Once I regularly experience the feeling of freedom in my regular life, it is much easier to translate it to the page.
3. Travel sometimes makes me uncomfortable. Okay, let’s face it. Most of our lives are not hard. Well, my life, anyway, is not hard. Mostly I sit at the computer all day long and convince myself, hand on forehead that I’m suffering. But travel is a different thing. There are times when I don’t know what’s happening, or what stop the train just pulled into, or what the person in front of me is trying to say to me. There are times I’ve probably embarrassed myself. But you know what? This is good, excellent, even. It is good to feel discomfort once in awhile. Because, after all, isn’t that what we put our characters through? Don’t we always say, the more conflict the better? Yes, yes, we do.
4. Travel is fun. And I don’t care if you’re trying to write or become an insurance agent, fun is important. We get veeeery serious about our lives most of the time.
5. Travel makes me adventurous. I’ve gotten obsessed with reading the blog of Eugene Kaspersky. He runs some crazy big cyber-security site and spends tons of time traveling, some of it adventuring. He climbs volcanoes in Kamchatka, treks across snow fields in Iceland, circumnavigates the planet, and so on. I’m just going to say right now I will do none of these things, ever. But I love reading about him doing them. And when I travel in my own tame way, I step out of my comfort zone into my own adventures. And there are always adventures when you travel.
6. Travel makes me try new things. Like the unknown shellfish we tried at a seafood dinner in Port-Vendres, or climbing the side of a mountain (I exaggerate a tiny bit here) to reach the ruin of a castle when my hips were screaming in pain (again, a tad bit of poetic license, but still). It can be as simple as turning now a new street, or trying a different café–things I don’t do often enough here because I so easily get stuck in a rut. Things that may somehow work their way into your writing.
7. Travel lets me meet different kinds of people. There aren’t a whole lot of French men or British women carousing down my street, for instance. And it is relatively rare to even hear someone speak in a different tongue in my day to day life. If there’s one thing I love, its meeting people (I confess to a terrible extrovert streak–I’ll talk to anybody, anywhere). And one of the best things about travel is the different people you meet–the couple from Australia in Paris, or the nice lady from London who was toiling up the hill beside me. Again, who knows what person might spark an idea for a character?
Okay, so I hear you. You’ve got a newborn baby, you’re in school, you have a demanding career. And travel to Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, is just not on the horizon. But, honestly, you can “travel” in your hometown. Change up your routine, do something different, drive a new way to work. Do something, anything to shake things up.
Last week, the morning after I got off the plane, my brain as foggy as a morning in November, and inspired by my visit to the Inter-marche Hyper (read=big, very big) supermarket in France, I went to the American version here that I usually avoid. My shopping took me twice as long as I stumbled through the aisles trying to figure out where things were, but I discovered new products and chatted with an adorable, funny cashier. One never knows when someone just like him shall appear in a book.
So, how about it? How about we all spend the rest of this year devoted to living with a spirit of adventure? I’m in, are you?
Do you love to travel or hate it? Hit reply and tell me. (I’ll have a good wi-fi connection and be eager to hear from you.)
Well, howdy. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Five on Friday, mainly because I’ve been busy doing stuff but no particular things stand out, if you know what I mean. But since I know you’re just dying for an update (ha, like you don’t have five million things going on yourself), here goes:
What I’m pondering: Podcasting. As in, good ones to listen to. Podcasts for writers and creatives. Got any recommendations? Also, as in, maybe I’d like to start one. Do you listen to podcasts? Would you be interested in one on motivation, inspiration, productivity, etc., for writers and creatives? It is somewhat of a big production so I’m pondering this even longer than usual. I get these big ideas and then realize how much work they are going to be and forget about them.
What I’m watching:Le Tour de France. I’m so excited to be returning to that beloved country in two short months (I just booked my Paris hotel today) and I adore the shots of the glorious countryside. There’s only one problem–all those bicycles zooming along are like the best soporific ever. Hub and I both fall fast asleep.
What I’m reading:Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo, so that I can read his newly released sequel, Everybody’s Fool. And because we might use it for the France workshop. And books on organic gardening, weaving, and food. Oh, and Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt’s book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes.
What I’m looking forward to: A writing retreat on the Oregon coast with my friend and biz partner Debbie. Two full days to write! I’ll be working on the most recent rewrite of The Bonne Chance Bakery. And a few other bits and pieces here and there.
What I’m excited about: Rocks! Some time tomorrow, God and the delivery truck willing, we will have gotten a yard of small river rock dumped on our driveway apron. We have an awkward spot in the backyard by the fence to our neighbor’s backyard. We love our neighbors. Our visiting dogs love their dogs. So much running about and barking in this area ensues, leaving it unsuitable for gardening. So it is going to become a sculpture garden. It is likely that I am more excited about this project than hub, because my job is to rake rock as he loads wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load and transports it to the backyard. Fun times!
What are you working on? What has your attention? Please leave a comment and let me know. Also–there’s one spot left in the France workshop. It’s going to be awesome! Let me know if you’re interested.
Writers often have to carve out precious moments from hectic schedules in order to practice their craft. Room to Write invites writers to get away for a long weekend of writing, inspiration, connection and rejuvenation.
Co-produced by two of the former directors of the successful MTSU Writer’s Loft program, Charlotte Rains Dixon and Terry Price, along with brand and marketing strategist and founder of UTOPiAcon (the convention for writers and readers of contemporary and paranormal MG, YA, NA and adult books), Janet Wallace,Room to Write is not a conference, but a time for uninterrupted creativity.
Participants write in chunks of time, breaking only for meals and optional mind-stretching exercises, such as walking the labyrinth, or attending optional workshops and presentations dedicated to elevating your creativity, energy and confidence.
Room to Write welcomes writers at any stage in their writing careers.
The loosely structured retreat leaves plenty of room for meeting word count goals while still giving you time to get the support you need to take yourwriting career to the next level.
For those who would like feedback on a current work in progress, the program provides optional mentorship from writing coaches, Charlotte Rains Dixon or Terry Price.
5 PM: Goal-setting Happy Hour – pick up your writer’s gift bag and discuss what you’d like to accomplish over the weekend. LOCATION to be determined.
Grab dinner together or on your own. (not included in price of retreat)
Friday, January 8
AM: Surrendering to the Power of the Labyrinth to Unleash Your Creativity — Led by Terry Price
A labyrinth is a walkable path that has been used for centuries as a personal, spiritual, and artistic tool. The walking meditation provides a safe, guided path that unlocks the right brain giving it space and freedom to muse and play. It really is exciting and amazing what wonderful things can be revealed when the ego melts away during a labyrinth walk.
During this session, you’ll learn about some of the historical usages of labyrinths as well as possibilities for your own creative exploration. Although there are few rules to a labyrinth, you’ll learn some basics on how to get started and from there you will find and make each labyrinth experience your own unique path. Weather permitting, we’ll walk the labyrinth at Scarritt-Bennett Center as a group to get your oriented so that you can return again and again on your own as desired.
Lunch in Susie Gray Dining Hall on SCB campus
1 – 2 PM Clyde & Mary Room (2nd floor Laskey Hall): Sustaining Your Creative Energy Over the Long Haul — Led by Charlotte Rains Dixon
You’ve had the best idea ever for a novel. You’re excited about it—really excited—and you launch in writing with gusto. The excitement lasts about a week before it starts to dissipate. And suddenly you are having trouble convincing yourself to get to your desk, let alone open your computer to write.
What happened to all that energy and enthusiasm you once had for your project? The long haul happened, that’s what. Committing to a lengthy writingproject is much different than popping off a blog post, or writing an article or short story.
In this presentation, Charlotte will discuss useful ways to sustain your writing energy for the long haul, including:
The power of the H (habit) word
Refilling the well
Fostering joy and tempering despair
5:30 PM: Dinner in Susie Gray Dining Hall on SCB campus — discuss our day; goals check-in.
Saturday, January 9
AM : Creating from Wildness Through the Poetry of Rumi – Led by Terry Price in Clyde & Mary Room (2nd floor Laskey)
“If you can’t smell the fragrance
Don’t come into the garden of Love.
If you’re unwilling to undress
Don’t enter into the stream of Truth.
Stay where you are.
Don’t come our way.” ~ Rumi
Rumi was a 12th Century poet, scholar, philosopher, and theologian. He has become immensely popular in recent years, in large part, due to the intense wildness and passion of his words and poetry. We’re going to read some of this poetry and talk about the courage of creativity, the braveness of vulnerability and the willingness to be who you are and to express from that sacred place. You will not be required to share your work but you will be challenged to write from the sacred wildness of your soul. An open mind, a daring heart, and instruments with which to write are all that are required for this session.
Lunch in Susie Gray Dining Hall on SCB campus
1 – 2 PM: Clyde & Mary – Leaving the Writing Cave & Building the Dream: the mindset and marketing pieces you need to take on the business side of your writerly life. – Led by Janet Wallace
You know you were put on this planet to bring all the worlds, stories and characters in your head and heart to life on the pages of books. And your hope is that there are readers out there who need those stories, lessons, book besties and book boyfriends in their lives to escape… or to connect. You want to build a living and a LIFE as a writer.
However, the thought of leaving the comfort of the writing cave, and having to “market” yourself, or spend hours on social media lost in the quagmire of other authors, and books and laser cats, makes you want to crawl under the covers with a pint of Haagen Daaz.
It’s time to move forward. And you can’t do that if one foot is stuck in a place where you “think it’s safe.” It’s time to forge ahead with your talents, and share them with the right people so that you can inspire, share and grow. It’s time for you to put all the missing pieces together FOR GOOD, so that you can make the income you need and have the confidence and knowledge to know that you can do so again and again. It’s time to leap the hurdles and turn the dream into reality.
In this workshop, Janet will share her 12-Step Program on what you need to connect the Mindset Pieces to the Marketing, Business and LIFE-building pieces so that you can find serenity — and security — now.
5:30 PM: Dinner in Susie Gray Dining Hall – goals check in, Q&A
Sunday, June 10
Check out is at 10:30 AM
Brunch at Panera — discuss accomplishments, say farewell.
Terry Price is a Tennessee-based writer and creative coach, having attended The Writer’s Loft (now MTSU Write) creative writing program at Middle Tennessee State University and graduated with his MFA in Writing from Spalding University in Louisville. He has published several short stories and excerpts from his novel-in-progress, two of which have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Terry served as the program director of The Writer’s Loft and now is a Director Emeritus of, and a mentor with, the program. In addition to working one on one with creative clients, he also leads creative retreats, workshops, virtual retreats and webinars.
He is an photographer, long distance cyclist, Appalachian Trail section hiker, and sailor. He is an aspiring bon vivant and raconteur, likes bourbon neat but his journal messy and lives on a small farm in Springfield, Tennessee with his family and two dogs and lots of squirrels.
Founder of two thriving businesses, Social Deviants, a social marketing company that helps creative entrepreneurs build online business platforms that profit; and UTOPiA, an annual writing conference and awards ceremony that nurture and celebrate writers of middle grade, young adult and new adult fiction, Janet has a passion for people, books, and dark chocolate-covered almonds. She uses her expertise to help clients grow powerful communities and create top-of-mind brand recognition and authority.
She hosts events and speaks regularly to local, national and international groups about how to effectively attract raving fans, loyal clients and increase sales while building businesses of purpose using your powers for good. Previously a brand strategist for a London-based, award-winning agency, Janet has worked directly with clients such as ooVoo, Oxygen Women’s Television, Film4/Channel4 London, Elle magazine, and a growing client list of New York Times best-selling authors. She has also been an adjunct professor at Middle Tennessee State University where she lectured on Social Media for Authors. She lives in Nashville with her husband, two children, two Shepherd-lab mixes, and one American Curl cat. Oh, and now the boy wants a pig.
Charlotte Rains Dixon
Charlotte Rains Dixon’s mission is to make people happy, whether it is through reading her women’s fiction novels, her blog (charlotterainsdixon.com) on the writing life, or by coaching her students and clients to access the depths of their creativity. She is the author of the novel Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior and the forthcoming The Bonne Chance Bakery, and her non-fiction has appeared in a variety of regional and national publications. Charlotte teaches at Write, the certificate in writing program at Middle Tennessee State University, and offers private instruction as well. She received her MFA in Writing from Spalding University. Charlotte lives in Portland, Oregon, where she enjoys travel, her family, knitting, popcorn, wine, kitties and pugs, not necessarily in that order. She is represented by Erin Niumata at Folio Literary Management.
Room to Write Refund Policy:
Full refund available for 60 days from purchase or until December 31, 2015, whichever comes first. Fifty percent (50%) refund available after 60 days and/or until December 31, 2015, whichever comes first. No refunds after December 31, 2015 for any reason.
I am in Pezenas, France, down near Montpelier and Beziers (where we stayed Friday night and had an experience on the free bus trying to find our hotel that still makes me laugh out loud every time I think of it). We–six of us–are staying in a house that could more accurately be called a mansion, with three floors and a grand marble entry on the inside, and a koi pond and swimming pool with a swag of oleander dripping above it on the outside.
Every morning at 9:30 we meet to workshop attendee's stories and discuss our book in common (Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes). Our subject this year is character, so everything is viewed through that lens.
And every afternoon we write. (I got in five pages yesterday). Then at 5:30 we meet for wine, olives, pate, cheese, and bread–lots of bread. (Paleo people just have to put aside their thing about carbs. Besides, the wheat is better here. And so is the butter. And the eggs. I'll stop now.)
In between, when the writing is done, there are walks into town (curvy streets barely wide enough for cars, restaurants tucked into every alley, shops and art galleries and lots of people smoking) or into the country side (vinyards and big old stone houses).
But notice I said, when the writing is done.
Because that's the point of being here, after all. And it is surprisingly easy to get writing done, even in paradise, when you've got a whole houseful of people doing the same thing.
Between this experience and the Book in a Month class I took before I left (which entailed writing 20 pages a day for 14 days, thus finishing a draft, and then rewriting it the last two weeks of the month)I've come up with new knowledge of how to get words on the page and, as always, I am here to impart this wisdom to you.
Are you ready? It's a multi-part process, so it is imperative that you pay close attention to the very end. Here we go.
2. Write some more
3. Take no longer than one minute to ring your hands about how bad the writing is and then get back to it.
4. Write more
5. Notice you are writing utter crap and charge ahead anyway
6. Write, write, write
7. Finish your goal of pages or words for the day and breath a sigh of relief because you did it.
So, yeah, I'm being a bit tongue in cheek here (ya think?) but the gist of it is true. I'm come to realize that we (myself included) make the act of writing way too complicated and emotional, when really, it all boils down to one thing: getting words on the page.
It doesn't matter how good or bad those words are, your only job is to throw them at the page. To sit your butt down in the chair and write. Because the wonderful thing about writing is that it can always be revised–and revision is ever so much easier when you actually have word on the page to work with.
What about you? How is your writing going? What tricks do you use to get yourself to the page?
I’m beyond excited to be returning to France to co-lead another workshop/retreat. We’ll spend a week in Pezenas, a lively city in the south of France, where we will write, eat French cheese and chocolate croissants, drink good wine and write some more. Interested in joining us? We’d love to have you, but spaces are limited. For more information, check out our website.
I'm working on a post for Thursday that will appear here and go out in my newsletter as well. It's about the advent of autumn and ways to jumpstart your creativity and writing for the remaining months of the year.
As I wrote, I realized something: we've got a little more than three months until 2014. 101 days (I asked the Google).
So let me ask you this: how are your writing goals for 2013 coming along? What would you like to accomplish the rest of this year?
I'm a gentle, supportive, type of writing coach and teacher (just ask the participants at our French retreat, who referred to my biz partner Debbie as the "bad cop" and me as the "good cop") so I don't usually rag people about goals. But counting down the days to a new year seems like a good excuse to look at what you wanted to accomplish this year.
Taking a look at my own year, I've had two huge highlights: the publication of my novel, and the success of the retreat in France. I've also had two fantastic ghostwriting jobs and enjoyed working with a ton of writers and their manuscripts. But, and this is a big but, I'm not as far along on writing my next novel as I'd like to be.
So, here's my goal for the rest of this year:
To finish a draft of the novel, which just yesterday I titled Lost Causes.
Now that I've announced it publicly, I expect y'all to hold me to it.
And, perhaps you would like to share what exciting things have happened to you so far as well as what you want to finish in the time you have left this year? I'd love to hear about it–leave a comment.
(And come back on Thursday for the blog post on 10 Ways to Welcome Autumn and Awaken Your Creativity.)
A couple weeks ago I did something that all the experts tell you not to do.
I "launched" a product without much fanfare. Well, let's be honest, there was no fanfare. I got the idea for the service, wrote the page and put it up. Just like that. No hype and not even much promotion, besides some tweets on Twitter.
But this morning the thought occurred that it might be nice to do, um, a little promotion on it. But more than that I thought it would be cool to explain where the idea came from. So here goes.
Every April and October (used to be December, but it is being moved next year) I'm the "book doctor" at Room to Write. This is a writing retreat held in the heart of Nashville, where a dozen writers meet for four days to write. We also walk the labyrinth, meditate, talk publishing, and meet for meals, but all those activities are optional. If you'd rather stay in your room and write, that's fine, too. Writers hire me for an hour session if they get blocked or need help with their writing.
And here's the deal: these hour-long sessions are rockin'. They are so totally amazing, not only for my clients, but for me. Because we sit and discuss where the writer is at in his or her writing, where he or she wants to be, and how to get there. We read a bit of their work, and talk about it some. And over the course of the hour something really amazing emerges: clarity. Writers come to the session with a myriad of projects cavorting in their heads and clamoring for attention, and leave with clear direction on which to start first. Or they are confused about a character. Or a plot point. Or they have an idea for a novel or memoir and don't know how to get started.
They walk out of the session with clear direction, and what I like to call "marching orders" for how to proceed. They've generally got a list of books to read, perhaps some websites to visit, a few supplies to purchase. They are energized and motivated. And so am I. I love, love, love doing these sessions.
So at the start of this month, when I was at the most recent Room to Write, I thought about all this and then struck myself on the forehead in the proverbial duh moment. My epiphany was this: why not offer this service to people who cannot make it to Nashville for the retreat? Why not offer these sessions on my site?
And so I have. And, I have to say, the sessions are pretty damn rockin' on the phone as well. When you sign up for a session, you automatically get sent a questionnaire that helps me learn where you are. From there we schedule your time to talk. And you get clarity. And motivation. And inspiration. And energy. And marching orders. And resources galore.
For more information, to sign up or buy a session as a gift for someone, click the tab above or this link. And by the way, the sessions are great for non-writers as well. Creative types, entrepreneurs, small business owners, or anyone with a dream will benefit.