Friday, March 20, 2015

The Writer's Journey

It all started with a Facebook post.

Part of the long and winding road.

My friend Nicole said she was excited to attend this writers workshop in Big Sur. She had been planning to go for years, and she wondered if any of her writer friends were going. That was it. Normally I'm not the kind of gal to hop on board a random weekend getaway, but for some reason the idea stuck. It didn't matter that my book wasn't quite finished, that we would have to pull the kids out of school two days early, or that Dan would have to come because someone would need to take care of Ezra while I was busy. I don't know how it happened, but we went for it.

Nicole and I were planning to leave on the same day. We were also going to stay overnight in Santa Barbara; me at my in-laws with my family and she by herself at a hotel. We had tentative plans to meet up, but we didn't talk about caravanning or carpooling. (I couldn't offer, because our car was full.) Anyway, we were almost to Riverside when she texted me saying that her vertigo was back (she had it before for several weeks) and she wasn't sure she was going to make it. She had left late and had been stopping to throw up on the side of the road. She was trying to wait it out in Palm Springs. We turned our car around to get her.

When I climbed in Nicole's car she looked drugged, which of course she was. She had taken some dramamine and maybe something else. She had sunglasses on and was lying down. In fact, she needed to go to the bathroom but opted to stay in the car and hold it because she didn't think she could move. I drove her to her hotel in Santa Barbara, and we decided to caravan up the rest of the trip in her car the next day. By the time I dropped her off, she was feeling much better. We had some great conversations in the car. And we stopped a few times to eat (and feed Ezra) and to get gas.

The next day we got a Blenders smoothie, packed all of our writer's stuff and baby gear in her car and drove up the coast. We were running late because we had to make multiple copies of the chapters we planned to take to critique groups and the copy shop had terrible service.  We were stressed, but the drive was beautiful. I was in the backseat with Ezra for the last part of the trip, which also happened to be the most winding. (Blarf.) But we made it to the writer's workshop welcome segment with a few minutes to spare. Phew!

When Dan and I went to our room/cabin to unpack we saw it was filled with smoke. We thought it might be on fire, but it was only burning ash in the fireplace with the flu closed. Dan got it sorted while I went to my presentation and first critique group. Our room smelled like a campfire for the rest of the weekend.

An overview:

- My first critique group was awesome. I gave good advice to others and received good advice in return. Reading your worst chapters to strangers is hard, but immensely helpful. My second critique group wasn't as good, but I'm sure it was mostly my fault. I chose weird chapters to read.

- I had at least three people tell me I looked like someone they knew. In fact, one lady in my first group spent two hours nervously wondering if I was her adopted son's birth mother. She hadn't seen her in seven years, but she apparently looked just like me and her name was Jamie. She asked me how old my children were and what my maiden name was, and when she explained why she was asking I gave her a hug. She must have been freaked out by my story (teen pregnancy).

- The editors panel was interesting, the agent's panel was enlightening, and the query letter event was informative. There are so many simple things I did not know. For instance, I did not know that all queries are now submitted by email. And that 99% of the time you NEED an agent to submit your story to a publisher. Things were different before 9/11 and anthrax scares, now the writing industry sounds as difficult to navigate as the entertainment industry.

- The food was excellent, and the service was impeccable. I would totally go back to Big Sur Lodge.

- I was amazed at all the different types of people attending this workshop. Our group wasn't large, but it was diverse. There was a sweet lady who looked like she could be a great-grandmother, and there was a sixteen year old girl (I didn't meet her, but I heard she was a great writer). I saw a lady that reminded me of a viking woman, complete with a crown of flowers in her hair. We sat next to a guy at dinner who had written down things to say to others, and he kept consulting his paper so that he could ask us where we were from and tell us what he was writing. A nice girl stopped her car to give me a ride up the hill, and I later heard that she was autistic. I was not the only writer who had a spouse and child in tow. I kept wondering how many of us were introverts really stretching our comfort bubbles. I was consistently amazed that so many writers would want to meet together like this. At meal times we were a loud group.

- I found myself wanting to encourage certain writers in my groups. One man was writing a book called "The Day Elijah Learned to Fly." He thought his story was a middle school book, but the voice and themes seemed older. He got the advice to center the story around the children instead of the old man, and to try Christian publishing houses because the kids listened to sermons at church. I kept wanting to say "I like your book as it is, and I think anyone could publish it. Just make it an adult book, and your problem is solved!" Another woman in the same group was writing a middle school version of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" which I loved. She was given advice to make her characters and tone older (which would require re-invisioning and rewriting the entire book) so that publishers wouldn't be scared of the Shakespeare tie. I wanted to say "Who cares? It is a perfect story for that age group. Your middle school voice is perfect. Don't change everything, just tighten up some of the writing." But I wasn't the professional. I wish I had gotten emails for these people (and a few others) so that I could be a positive voice for the stories they created.

- It was a busy weekend, and I didn't get to do much other than write and attend workshops. But we did visit a few picturesque spots on the way out. Luckily Dan had lots of time to explore and to take Nicole and I to the good spots. Plus, he is an amazing photographer.

I call this one "Swirly Swirly Sea" because it reminds me of Van Gogh's "Starry Starry Night."

I could have stood in this spot and looked at this scene all day. It was gorgeous. 

Anyway, it was a great weekend. I learned a lot, got a few new books, made some contacts, and started tightening up my first chapters. Thanks Nicole for the random Facebook post that turned into a grand adventure, and thanks Dan for everything always.


Tracy Mills said...

What a cool experience! I'm so glad that you got to go. I hope it inspired you to finish up your book and get it published. :) You are talented. Love you.

Lynette Mills said...

I was hoping you would write this post cause I wanted to hear about your experience. The whole thing sounds like it could be a book, then made into a movie!

William said...

So glad you got to go and experience Big Sur and the writers conference :) AND I'm glad I got some time to visit with you and the family too!