Where I've Been: Europe. Spain and France, to be specific. I was there for our annual Let's Go Write workshop, which this year focused on structure and was a grand success. This year it was held in Collioure, a lovely seaside town in the south of France. And guess what? Despite a busy teaching, sight-seeing, and cavorting schedule, I wrote a whole chapter–5,000 words–while in Collioure. So to those of you who have asked if we really get any writing done, the answer is yes.
What I Saw: An Asian couple falling prey to scammers near Notre Dame, houseboats I want to live in on the Seine, a huge un-neutered pit bull at a sidewalk Tapas bar in Barcelona (apparently neutering male dogs is not a thing over there), stone steps up the side of the hill in Collioure and another beastly set leading to an ancient castle ruin, a fascinating medieval cloister with old stone carvings, one of the most beautiful villages in France, the amazing Sagrada Familia, heated towel racks, a precious little needlework stor in Paris, and more, much, much more. (I took tons of photos throughout the trip, and you can see them all on my Instagram feed.)
What I Ate and Drank: Orangina by the quart (funny–I don't drink pop here at all, ever); red wine by the gallon (the wines of the Languedoc region are superb and cheap); a divine confit du canard (duck) our last night in Paris, tomato toast at every Tapas bar (they don't call it that but I do),so much entrecote and frites (steak and fries) I finally got sick of it, tons of pate, cheese, and excellent French bread. Also amazing butter, tomatoes, radishes, and melon. Oh! And the jamon (ham) and sausage in Spain. J'adore.
What I Read/Watched: I only read one book while gone–Splinters of Light by Rachael Herron. I love her books but this one was my least favorite. One reason I didn't get a lot of reading done was because I've learned that watching movies on the loooooong (11 hour) plane trip makes the time go faster. Sort of. On the trip from Atlanta to Barcelona, I watched Life Itself, the documentary about Roger Ebert, which I highly recommend, and True Story, which was a meh for me. On the flight from Paris to Salt Lake City, I watched: Finding Vivian Maier, Before Sunrise, The Rewrite, and Still Alice. I liked all of them. And I think every writer should watch The Rewrite–its about a failing screenwriter, who, in desperation, takes a teaching gig at a small New York college. And plus, its Hugh Grant!
I am currently reading Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse, a book I bought at the gift shop at Perpeyteuse, and Big Magic, Elizabethe Gilbert's book on creativity.
What I'm Excited About: The CNN app on my phone. I can stream news live while I cook! I watched coverage of the Pope in America as I made an Ina Garten Tri-Berry Crumble for my husband's birthday. Its as good as having a TV in the kitchen. And, most especially, meeting the new member of our family, who is not here yet. My daughter is due to deliver her second boy any day now.
I'm also excited about fun, creative events coming up this fall, like a day-and-a-half publishing workshop Debbie and I will be putting on in November (dates TBA soon, we've had to change them rather abruptly), my novel-writing class, and more juiciness to come!
Image of Peyrepeteuse, home of the beastly stone steps, from this site.
Stay tuned for information about a Portland workshop on publishing, coming this fall!
Room to Write
This beloved Nashville event is being resuscitated! Start your new year out right and join me, along with Terry Price and Janet Wallace, at the gorgeous Scarritt-Bennett center on January 7-10, 2016. Meals will be provided so all you have to do is write, and, if you so desire, attend mini-workshops on aspects of writing and marketing and kibbutz with other writers. But make no mistake about it–the emphasis is on having plenty of time to write! What better present to give yourself? Find out more information here.
Every year, I co-teach a weeklong workshop somewhere in Europe during September. This year’s workshop is full, but consider joining us next year! We’ll have information up in October.
None of these work for you?
Feel free to contact me about teaching at your workshop or retreat!
(In case you don't know–what, you've lived under a rock for the last umpteen years? Kidding, just kidding–my title is a take-off of a song from The Sound of Music, the best musical of ALL TIME, and no I'm not talking about the stupid rip-off live version with Carrie Underwood in it.)
This is the last time you will hear from me this year. And I thought it might be fun to look back at what inspired me, perhaps inspiring you to think about what inspired you this past year and what might inspire you in 2015. I've been doing a lot of work with goals (there is nothing I love more than planning and pondering) for the new year, and an important part of that is looking back to see what happened in the last year.
I've had a few disappointments, goals that didn't get accomplished and progress not made in certain areas. But I really prefer to dwell on the positive, and besides I have it on good authority (I read it in two, count them, two different places on the interwebs and we all know how reliable that source is)that 2014 has been a year of discovering what it is you truly want while 2015 will be all about accomplishing it.
Here we go with my inspirations (in no particular order except for the way they came out of my brain):
1. Indie publishing. As the year began, everyone, all over the webs, was talking about making it as an indie writer. All you had to do was throw shit up on Amazon and it sold and made you a millionaire! I was intrigued. Then, in March I went to AWP in Seattle and heard Hugh Howey, the poster child for indie publishing speak. More enthusiasm! Much excitement! He made $150K in one month with his books!
I was intrigued enough to experiment with putting a wee bit of effort out, and posting a story for sale. While I didn't get rich selling it, I do like to think that it has introduced some new readers to me. Maybe. Not sure.
Now, as we head towards 2015, I hear much less noise about how easy it is to make tons o' bucks on Amazon and I think they may be due to their Kindle Unlimited option. I don't know the exact details but it is something to do with customers getting all the Ebook downloads they want for free with a Prime membership. Yeah, that might put a crimp in author's royalties. Ya think?
However, I still applaud the indie publishing movement. It's going to continue to be fascinating to watch the battle between Ebook and print, and indie versus traditional publishers as the future rolls along. And I am planning to publish my MFA novel myself, because it is sitting on my computer, so why not?
2. France. 'nough said. No, wait. Not really. Because, France. And Paris. And writing with a group of like-minded people. It really is the best. Getting away from your regular routine and devoting yourself to writing in an exotic location rocks. That's all there is to it. (You can still join us–3 spots left.)
3. Family. Always and forever. I am blessed, no doubt about it.
4. Splashy Success. Not mine, not yet, but as the year ends I've got people like Cheryl Strayed on my mind. She is, of course, the author of the memoir Wild, which burst splashily upon the world when Oprah reinstituted her book club in order to feature it. And then Reese Witherspoon made a movie of it, which premiered recently. I saw the movie a couple of days ago and I liked it. The film is about courage–the courage to confront the demons of your past and put one foot in front of the other over and over again while you do so.
By all accounts, Strayed, who is a Portland resident, is a woman who went from so-broke-she-couldn't-buy-Christmas presents to millionaire status seemingly overnight and has maintained a lovely even keel throughout.
5. Writing Fast.The class I took about it was a bust, but never mind. More and more I'm seeing that writing fast without thinking too much is the way to go. Because, rewriting. Once you get the words on the page, then they are there for you. As Henry, my 3-year-old grandson would say, of course. But we so easily forget that of course and allow our writing to stall as we stare out the window at the 27-degree morning because we don't know what words to put on the page. These days, when I catch myself stopping to think, I force my fingers to fly across the keys. There's nothing more satisfying to a writer than toting up a massive word count for the day!
I'm in the midst of rewriting my novel at the moment, (on page 209 of 305 and I'm aiming to complete this rewrite by the end of January) so I'm not actively writing a rough draft, though every so often I do write 1K words or so on a new idea I have. (New ideas are one of my tragic flaws. Bright shiny object! Let's abandon this WIP and start a new one! I really have to be careful with this tendency.) But, in September, when I took the above-mentioned class that really was more like a support group, I batted out 24, 280 words in the first two weeks of September. Then I got on a plane to France and that was the end of that. However, the novel is waiting for me on my computer and when I complete the current rewriting project I shall return to it. The story needs a lot of work, and I've had ideas that will take it in a new direction, but again, all those words are sitting there waiting for me. Woot woot!
6. Breathing. I'm going to brag here for a minute, so avert your eyes if that bothers you. But, many, many years ago now I bore two children. And I brought each of them into the world without one bit of anesthetic. Completely natural births (though I did have to have Pitocin the second time through, because he got stuck and it turned into an emergency, but that's another story). And how did I accomplish this? Through breathing, of course.
So I find it ironic that all these years later I have realized how often I constrict my breathing. I just did it as I wrote that sentence! I hold my breath at the throat as I write and I'm not sure why I've developed this habit. Anyway, I've been working on becoming aware of it and changing and also just taking deep breaths throughout the day whenever I think about it. The results are quite wonderful, though I confess to backsliding a bit during the holidays. It is something I will continue to work on in 2015. (I wrote about it earlier in the fall, too.)
That's it. I know there's a lot more that inspired me, but those are the things on my mind as the clock ticks toward a glorious new year. I wish you all the very best for next year and I thank you for reading my blog. Why not take a minute and share–what inspired you in 2014?
A couple of quick notes:
–Don't forget to download my book of free writing prompts! There's one for every day in January. Fun, fun, fun. (And it will help you with writing fast.) Go here. It is free, free, free.
–And for anybody who lives in Portland, I'm having a signing next week! My Twitter friend (and guest poster here) Tam Holland and I will be signing books, drinking coffee, and chatting with "fans" as the wonderful coffeeshop owner calls them on Wednesday, January 7, at 4 PM. The location is the Rain or Shine coffee shop on SE 60th and Division. Come meet us!
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?
Yes, I'm returning to France this year, and you can come, too, if you would like! (You know you want to.)
My business partner Debbie and I have been running writing retreats together for the past few years. This one will be our third, our second overseas. Last year we went to Ceret, and our participants had a blast–and got a lot of writing done. This year we are going to Pezenas, in the same region, and we've got a gorgeous house right in the middle of town–which means you can walk to shops and cafes (where you might want to partake of the French habit of a glass of wine mid-afternoon while you write).
This year our workshop will focus on character. The way it works is this: We meet every morning from 9:30 to 12:30 to discuss our topic, workshop your writing, and talk about the book-in-common we all will have read. Debbie and I are both published authors with many years experience teaching, and we guide our classes with a supportive yet firm hand.
After the workshop, you're free to explore and write (you will have assignments) all afternoon. Sometimes we do group activities but we also like to keep it loose and open so you can do what you want. In the evenings, we reconvene for wine and dinner (again, you're free to do what you like, but our groups tend to be wine-focused convivial).
You guys, this is as good as it gets for writers. Trust me. It's wonderful. But don't just take my word for it. You can read testimonials here (and also learn a lot more about the retreat).
It truly is amazing how much you can get done when you are away from home. In case you've not yet gotten the retreat bug, here is a collection of posts from previous retreats and workshops I've participated in, which will help to give you a flavor of them:
France was wonderful. Paris has only gotten better in the years since I've been there, and Ceret, the small town in the south of France where I spent a week leading a writing retreat, charming. I had full intentions to blog regularly during my trip. Obviously, that didn't happen. To my credit, I did try, but discovered that with an Ipad, one can only use Typepad, my blog host, on an app. Which I did download. But then it seemed easier to walk to town and enjoy an afternoon glass of vin rouge than figure out how to use it. So I didn't. (But, between teaching and drinking, I did manage to write quite a bit on my own projects, so that, at least, is something.)
In the meantime, after the 12-hour flight (10 from Paris to Salt Lake City, and 2 from SLC to Portland) home on Sunday, I've been a bit wigged out, trying to straighten out a weird sleeping pattern, and catch up with a million things that happened while I was gone. So my grand plans for blogging have gone astray.
However, I am working on a round-up post (that will also go out with my newsletter) for Thursday, and I'll have a book review posting on that date as well. So please stay tuned, and know that I missed you. By the way, the writing retreat/workshop was fantastic! All of our participants turned out a high level of writing and seemed well satisfied with the week's work. Next September we're going to Italy–so start making plans to join us now!
Until then, you can view my photo stream, with tons of pictures of Paris and Ceret, on Instagram.
I'm in France, embarking on a week-long writing adventure, co-leading a workshop/retreat. (Not to make you jealous or anything.) There's probably nothing more invigorating for your writing than to get away with the specific intent to write. And, if you struggle to find time to write in your daily schedule, a retreat can offer that time. I have a client who gets all his work done on his novel by taking writing retreats every month or so. Here are some ways to accomplish this:
1. Find an organized retreat, where a group of people comes together to create time to write. Sometimes other activities are planned and in most cases, these activities are optional, should the writing be going well. You can find listings at Shaw Guides, or if you're looking for the best of both worlds–instruction and time to write–check out my retreats at Let's Go Write. (We're heading overseas again in 2014, possibly to Italy, so stay tuned.)
2. Band together with a group of friends and create your own retreat, as I have done on several occasions. Going in a group can reduce expenses considerably, and the camaraderie after writing sessions are over is priceless. Some writers like to read their work at night, either what they've been writing that day, or finished work, and some prefer to keep to themselves and ponder the next day's session. You can rent a house, stay in a bed and breakfast, or find a resort. Just make sure everybody is clear on the ground rules from the outset.
3. Design a personal writing retreat. When you're coming down the home stretch on a project, going off by yourself to work on it can help you finish. Hours of solitude devoted only to your writing fuels a lot of inspiration. Find an inexpensive room in a nearby city and take yourself away to work. I have a friend who often takes personal writing retreats at a college town, because accommodations are plentiful. Resort towns in the off-season are also good. Or check out this site for more options.
4. Go to a writer's colony. This is a bit different in that there will be an application process involved. Writers apply for residencies of anywhere from a week to several months, and in many cases, meals and everything you need are provided. Competition is fierce, especially for the most prestigious colonies, such as MacDowell. But there's also quite a list of lesser-known colonies that might interest you. Either google or check them out here.
5. If all else fails, design your own retreat while you stay at home. Inform everyone you know that you'll be focusing exclusively on your writing and then follow through–turn off the phone, shut down the email boxes, refuse to answer the door. Because in reality, retreating is a mind-set more than anything else. It is committing to keeping outside influences at bay while focusing deeply on your own work, that which is most important to you. And that can be accomplished anywhere.
Once you get there (whether there is across the ocean or behind the doors of your office), here are some guidelines to get the most out of the retreat:
1. Go with a specific project in mind. It is generally best to stick to working on one thing, but if you have a crazy right brain like me, you might want to bring several. Retreats are great for making lots of progress on a novel, for instance, or for conceptualizing and get a great start on a short story or essay.
2. Have a goal in mind. We start our Let's Go Write retreats with a session in which every participant names their goals. As with all goals, it is good to be specific. Not, "make progress on my novel," but "write 8000 words on my novel."
3. If the muse hits, go with it. If you're in the flow, don't stop. Doesn't matter if you are at a retreat with planned activities, go with the flow and get those words on the page. That's the point, after all.
4. Don't overlook the power of bonding. One of the best things about organized retreats is that you'll meet other writers. Connecting is vital for writers, and something we often overlook in our furious efforts to become good writers. You can go to a retreat, have plenty of time to work, and still meet other people. Our Let's Go Write retreats are famous for our convivial Happy Hours.
5. Don't judge by word count alone. If you don't hit your intended word count, don't brand yourself a failure. You've probably gained more than you think, because having space and time away from the concerns of day to day life allows the mind to open up and expand. It is easier to conceptualize, and to look at the big picture.
Do you take writing retreats? Do you prefer going in groups or alone? Leave a comment–I'd love to hear your experiences!
I promised a run-down of the recent orientation weekend my partner Terry Price and I put together for the Writer's Loft, at MTSU in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Terry and I took over the program last March, (geez, it seems much longer ago than that) and so this was the first orientation on our watch. We were delirious with excitement over how it turned out, mostly because of our wonderful presenters.
The event started on Friday morning with a three-hour workshop given by Darnell Arnoult. People who live in Nashville, North Carolina, and really anywhere across the south are familiar with Darnell's workshops which are so full of information and inspiration I could sit through day after day of them, even if she said the same thing over and over again.
In her workshop, "Writing Out of Chaos, OR How to Write a Better Story than You Know," Darnell presented the specifics of her system for writing a novel. She believes avidly, as I do, that story comes from character, and that the first draft is a learning draft. Where Darnell departs from common creative writing wisdom is in her insistence that one can write a novel without knowing much about the plot or having to tackle it chronologically. She advocates getting to know your characters by setting them in motion through exercises that she suggests. And one thing I love about Darnell is that she is adamant that you can get a lot of writing done in 15 minute chunks. You can complete a character exercise in that amount of time, or write the beginnings of a scene.
Darnell also has an exercise that she does called "Finding Fiction in a Photo," which is a very useful idea generator. She passes out photos and asks you to choose one and then she has you literally stare at the photo for five full minutes. Just sit there in silence and stare at it, taking in every detail you possibly can. Then she has a whole list of questions that you can answer about the photo. Things like List five observations about the scene in the image, List five physical characteristics of the person you've chosen in the photograph, what is the person's full name? and so on, through over fifty questions. (of course, we only got through the first few questions in the workshop.)
The total of all of this was that I came away re-energized to work on my novel, and I've been working on it, to the detriment of all my other writing projects ever since.
I'll have more info about the other Loft lectures and workshops in the coming days. Meanwhile, enrollment in the Loft is not just for people who live in Nashville. We videotape the entire weekend, and since the heart of the program is one-on-one mentored writing, you can do it from wherever you live. Check our website for more info, or email me at the address listed at the top of this page.