Writing Retreat = Saved

Right after I clicked “publish” on my last post, the winds in Southern California changed and a raging wildfire turned to head directly toward the little cabin in Idyllwild where my writing group had planned to have our mini-writing retreat this weekend.

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Now, I know that complaining about a canceled writing retreat when people are losing their homes is probably a little selfish, but forgive me – I was really, really looking forward to this. It was supposed to be this nice, simple thing I could look forward to after weeks of craziness.

As soon as we got the news we scrambled online to see if we could find a last minute vacation rental. Even my guy got in on the hunt (isn’t he the best?). There were plenty of mansions available (and man, some day, we’re doing our retreat in the 30,000 square foot Spanish-style estate with the tennis courts and pool), but not so many options within the budget of four not-quite-yet-famous writers.

We ended up renting a small cabin in Sugarloaf. It’s a no frills two-bedroom, but it’s up in the woods, quite, and hopefully far enough away from the fire that we won’t be breathing the smoke all weekend.

I’ll take it.

In fact, I’m heading up as soon as I finish this post. My hope is to stake my claim to a secluded corner (if I can find one) to lay out all my index cards. I’m considering reorganizing the story a bit. In fact, I’ve been losing sleep over it. I really don’t want to spend 10 years on this project, so I don’t want to write any more without knowing where I’m going, but I’m having trouble figuring that out.

Here’s hoping that two and a half days of solid work gets me over the hump.

Developing My Platform

I need to publish more short fiction.

Everyone is always saying that you need to get published in literary journals if you want to prove to potential agents/publishers/audiences that you are worth reading. You have to build your platform. This is what they say.

When my novel was in its nascent stages I was actually sending out short stories, and had some luck with getting them published, but it’s been years. I need some current work to go out into the world.

I was voicing this concern to my writing group last week and they reminded me that I actually do have some short stories that I’ve worked on in the past years, I just haven’t gotten them across the finish line. So I think, when I finish this draft of the novel, I will send it off to my trusted round two readers and pull out those short stories.

When I last sent out the novel for feedback I took two months away from my fiction. I didn’t write at all. And now I’m kicking myself. This time around, I’m hoping to finish two of my short stories while I vacation from the novel, so that I can be submitting them to journals while I do the next round of edits on the manuscript.

It’s a little daunting, but as I was saying in my last post, I am enjoying my current writing fitness. And taking two months off would be no good on that front anyway. So I guess I need to brace myself. No rest for the wicked.

All Weeks Should Be Like Last Week

It was a great week. If you follow my Facebook page

you were privy to the final count down as I wrote the last pages of my Northern California book. I finished up the first draft on Wednesday night and celebrated with my guy over a dinner of take out burritos and champagne. Ahhhh, victory.

As I was toasting, an email arrived asking me to write a piece for Yes! Magazine. It’s just a few hundred word assignment, but it’s on a topic I’m passionate about (organic farmers battling Monsanto), and I was just really psyched to have and editor contact me about writing a (paid) piece.

Then Thursday night I met with my writing group. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – they’re awesome. There were two big take aways that night. One was the idea of Admin Mondays. One of my group members more or less devotes Mondays to taking care of crap that builds up (like scheduling appointments or following up on that credit card fraud thing, or blah blah blah). That way when those things come at you during your writing week you can just put them aside until Monday. Love it.

The other inspiration was a member of our group who is working on her first novel (as most of us are). Her new years resolution is to write every day, even if it’s just a little. Her book is really coming along, and talking with her just reminded me that it’s so important to keep moving on big projects. So Friday I pulled out my own novel and read it front to back. It’s at about 190 pages now, but I haven’t touched it since August.

Even though reading it was encouraging (it’s not half bad), I’m finding it so hard to get back into it writing it. Like so many times before I’m reminded how writing is like exercise and if you don’t do it for a long time, it’s really hard to get back to it. But it’s not like I haven’t been writing. I just haven’t been writing on that project.

It was an awesome week, and I’m way ahead of my new years goal of finishing the Nor Cal book by the end of January!

Now if I could just get back into the novel…

Putting My Mask On First

I tend to try to do too much. It’s not that I’m an overachiever, it’s just that I really truly feel like life is too short for all the things I want to do before I die. I want to SCUBA dive in Maldives, hike the John Muir trail, take a surfing vacation with my sister, get back on my mountain bike for some wicked single track yo. I want to see the sun rise on the Inca Trail and meditate with the monks in Tibet. I want to drink wine with my friends pretty much every night. There are so many things I want to do, but the thing that trumps most is my writing.

So whenever I have free time I’m inclined of be in front of my computer typing away. The thing is, with the new baby and the three year old and the husband I still love spending time with after ten years, there just isn’t much free time and I often end up feeling stressed out.

I like to think I hide it well, but at my writing group the other night I wasn’t fooling anyone. It was probably the crying that tipped them off. They insisted that I make some time for me this week. One of the ladies in my group suggested I check out a place called Heart and Sole in Pasadena. They do a full body, hour long massage, clothes on, in the leather recliners that manicurists use, for just $25. I was skeptical, but was too stressed out to argue.

I got a babysitter and went for it.

I’m pretty sure the babysitter thinks I’m having an affair. I left stressed and frazzled, and came back relaxed, with my hair all a mess (from the scalp massage). It was just what I needed. It changed my whole outlook.

Sometimes it’s hard to put yourself first. In fact, I think as moms we tend to err on the side of putting ourselves last, but it’s like when you’re on an airplane and they tell you to put your own mask on first, then help the kids you’re traveling with. There’s a reason they say that.


So this one goes out to the ladies in my writing group. You were right. Thank you.

First Idea, Best Idea?

I met with my writing group last night. We discussed a 20 page section of my story that involves Tallula’s love interest and the question came up – should a predictable plot line be avoided? Or is the natural unfolding of a story what should be honored, even if it is expected?

I’ve always been a fan of stories that go someplace that I, as a reader, didn’t know they were going. The book that came up as an example last night was “1000 Acres,” by Jane Smiley. There’s a book I couldn’t put down, and mostly because it took me by surprise in a lot of ways.

As a matter of fact, as I sit here reviewing the books I’ve read and enjoyed, I can’t think of a single one that didn’t have some element of genuine surprise woven into the plot. So what does it mean to let a story unfold naturally? To me it means writing under the umbrella of that old adage “first idea, best idea,” and frankly, I’ve always found that to lead to dull stories.

For me it, it’s always 20th idea, best idea. If I need a brother and sister to have a fight I’ll make a list of 20 things they might fight about. It’s only around idea 15 or 16 that things start to get interesting. It’s only when I dig deep for story that I find the creativity that lends to juicy plot.

So where does that leave me in my challenge of how to manage Tallula’s love interest? Well in the first draft things unfolded very naturally (predictably). I think it’s time to shake them up a bit.