Progress not seen by the naked eye?

A photo Jenny took while walking around downtown Dallas, where she was attending the NCAA women’s basketball Final Four instead of writing. (Research!)

Well, you won’t see my original blog post because that just evaporated into thin air. Do other writers feel this way? Nothing annoys me more than losing something I’ve written and having to write it again. Which makes you wonder why I’m not more careful about hitting the save button, wherever they’ve managed to hide that on this updated version of WordPress.

Caroline and I have neglected this blog, though we’ve been successful at getting work on our books done. Still, that progress seems to come in surges, and we both worry that we’re not as far along as we should be. (I’m not sure who determines “should.”)

So we met last week for a check-in. Caroline points out that we’re more focused on our projects and getting close to the finish. It’s true, and a clear benefit of our Year of Submission. Now, to get to that submitting part. It’s only weeks away. I swear.

Meanwhile, WordPress–why’d you have to go changing? I guess this is what happens when you don’t post for a few weeks. Okay, months. Dang. Cross your fingers that this one sticks!

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Big Sur Writing Workshop Notes

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Trudging up the path to the conference center at Big Sur Lodge

It’s been ten days since I walked (okay, drove) out of the woods at the Big Sur Writing Workshop, and I’ve had a lot to think about–and work on. I got good feedback on two projects and left with a clear idea of which one to work on first and what to do with it.

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Andrea Brown organizes these workshops. Here she’s introducing writer Eric Adams, who gave a great talk on theme, plot, and character.

That, I believe, is called progress!

Here’s what I liked about this workshop:

  1. Critique groups were small and you got specific feedback on your work that you could use for an immediate rewrite.
  2. Because one of my group leaders was an agent (with good, sharp insights, btw), I also got to see how an agent thinks about submissions–what seems marketable and what is off-putting.
  3. Because my other group leader was an author and screenwriter, I got another kind of feedback that was every bit as helpful in a different way.
  4. I heard other works in progress that I really liked, and that made me value the writer-to-writer feedback I got even more.
  5. The faculty was smart and accessible, eager to talk to you even when you might have felt a little shy about imposing on them.
  6. Everyone attending was friendly–and I didn’t meet a single person who felt the need to show off.
  7. I left challenged to improve my novels and encouraged that they have a future.
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Nice people attending, including Nadine (front, right) who wound up sitting with me maybe more than she might have liked.

Despite years of attending work events and mingling with people, I still find that activity exhausting. One of the nice things about the Big Sur group is that lots of other people seemed to feel the same way, so people were sociable but not too. There was enough down time to write and regroup. Maybe not enough time to sleep. But I caught up on that later.

I emailed Caroline after it was over, letting her know it had been good for me to attend. Here’s what she wrote back: “That is so exciting about the coach’s feedback. Think of how far we’ve come since you got us started last January!”

That really made me smile. With just a couple of weeks left in this year, I can see we are getting somewhere, both of us, because we’re making a focused effort to do it, helping each other keep going, and being just a little more aggressive.

The workshop, in case you want to know more, is organized by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and The Henry Miller Library. It lasts for one weekend. The focus is children’s literature. You can find more details here.

Blogging When I Should Be Packing

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My well-used Kami Kinard handouts, in their special orange file folder

In a few hours, I’ll be dashing off to the airport, so that I can attend the Big Sur Writing Workshop this weekend. Writing a blog post is the last thing I should be doing right now, but I had a couple of thoughts to jot out before I go.

First of all, wow, the impact that one 90-minute workshop can have on your writing life. Back in May of 2014, I registered for a little session led by writer Kami Kinard at the S.C. Book Festival. I still have the simple handouts, and they’ve made so many things possible. Because of Kami, I applied to and was accepted for the Rutgers One-on-One Conference, a great experience that gave me a huge boost in confidence. I also joined SCWBI and went to one of their conferences.

I’m going to the Big Sur workshop because of Kami’s class, as well. If it provides even half the help that Kami delivered, it will be fantastic. And it’s in Big Sur, so how can it not be, really?

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Caroline at The Gourmet Shop, where the table is much less cluttered than mine

Also on my mind is the help Caroline gave me as I stood at my dining room table this afternoon, wired on espresso, trying to settle on what pages to pack for my two critique sessions. I had ideas, but it helps so much to have her thoughtful take on things. As I’ve said so many times, the deliberate approach she takes to work is such a great counter to my many-things-at-once style. (BTW, she’s working on finalizing her novel, chapter by chapter, but I’ll let her write the update on that.)

So, here I go, hoping to move two middle grade novels a little closer to published status. One is a story I’ve been working on for a long time. The other is a draft I’ve just finished. And of course, there are others. But it looks as if they’ll have to stay at home this time and wait their turn.

Greetings from Panem!

It’s been a tough week for Jenny the writer, mostly because it’s been a big week for Jenny the public speaking coach. I’ve led four days of presentation skills training in Monterrey, Mexico this week. I left for the job early on Sunday morning. I’ll be getting home Friday night. I’ve been working long days. I have a cold. And I’m tired.

Wah, wah, wah.

I’m not as tired, of course, as J-Law‘s character in The Hunger Games. And the Panem I’m visiting happens to be a charming upscale panaderia in one of the nicest parts of Monterrey. I’ve loved working here this week. And I’m earning a nice paycheck for my efforts.

But I’m feeling haggard, nonetheless. And discouraged. When will I get this writing life thing right?

I was reading one of those encouraging self-helpy emails I get, scanning it with half-closed eyes last night before I fell asleep. The email’s writers suggested that we need rituals to get the important things done, their more soulful way of saying that we need habits or a schedule or structure. (So, like my mother always told me, just not quite as annoying.)

After this totally exhausting week, I’m not even sure what to say about that.

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Really, I did not indulge in drinks at “The Embassy.” Though I did have some crispy fish tacos. Hey, a writer’s got to eat.

Without a doubt, I intended to get work done. I intended to wake up early and do some writing. I intended to come back to my hotel room and research submission opportunities.

That hasn’t happened.  And it’s not because I’ve been slacking off, lying by the pool and sipping margaritas.

This has been one of the main challenges of my adult life, one I’m sure other writers do a better job of managing. My paying work has a way of upending my writing work. So I wonder, is a “ritual” of writing every day possible? Or is it akin to dieting–setting yourself up to become a disappointment and to feel like a failure?

But, optimist that I am, I still hope to salvage the week–on the long plane ride home tomorrow. Maybe writing on planes can be my ritual.

 

From Venice to Memphis: Headed in the right direction?

Venice Caroline

Text from Caroline: “Took a photo of my short story in Venice. Didn’t work on it once!” Hey, at least she TOOK her short story to Italy.

Like most other people, both Caroline and I have work to do, places to be–a dozen reasons every day not to write and submit. The past week was a good test for both of us.  Caroline had enrolled in a photography class and was headed to Venice (Italy) for the week.

Here’s Caroline on confession cam while living it up in Venice:

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Jenny conducting important research on the “ageless grease” of Dyer’s in Memphis.

Meanwhile, I was teaching a public speaking class in Memphis (Tennessee) and eating as much as possible, adding up to two long days of training plus two long days of snow-socked travel (and several very good meals).

How did we do despite the distractions?  Better than we expected.

Caroline got a crash course in using Instagram as a storytelling medium with one of the most successful “grammas” out there–and she took her short story along for the trip. (You can see some of Caroline’s great photos here.)

I continued to develop a character for a new story through a comics writing and drawing class I’m taking, and I used my travel time to re-read and edit both a play and a humorous book I’d written a couple of years ago.

Leading to this week:

  • Caroline is getting feedback today at 1:00 on her novel, from an editor she’s been working with off and on for the last year. More on that to come.
  • I’ve sent my play to an actor/director for reading and input. I’m editing the book today and doing research to submit it to some agents/publishers in the next week.

Proving, at least to ourselves, that it’s possible to keep moving toward our goal for the year, no matter how deliciously greasy the distractions might be.

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Taken at our status update meeting, Jan 28, at Drip Coffee in Columbia, SC. (Appears someone wears that slouchy sweater far too often. Meanwhile, someone else was wearing an adorable sweater from Venice. Where’s the pic of that?)