I attended the Field’s End Writer’s Conference this past Saturday and though I’m still processing it all, I came away with SO much more than what I paid for. Really, though at the end of the day I was tired and, frankly, grumpy, I woke up this morning with ideas for revising my novel clamoring for attention and with fresh ideas about keeping my practice alive and productive.
The conference ran from 8:30 to 6 PM at the Kiana Lodge. There was an Opening Address (Stephanie Kallos), a Keynote Speaker (Roy Blount Jr.), a Closing Speaker (Timothy Egan), and three breakout sessions. The shore was right outside the window and the smell from the bay a few strides away, which seemed to me a perfect setting for reflections on the process of writing. The food was good, particularly the coleslaw served with lunch. No mayo. The way it ought to be.
Jennifer Louden explained her process of “Writing Naked”. She was overflowing with ideas to inspire us, to get us writing more and more often. There were ideas that I hadn’t heard before, or at least had not heard in that way. She explained “shadow comforts” and “time monsters” and offered tips to avoid these traps. She encouraged us to lower our standards—yes, lower—and preached, “It matters, but it’s not precious.”
Some ideas for stepping up my practice that I came away with is to make a commitment to write for at least ½ hour everyday (she says even five minutes will do), to make a couple of mix CDs just that long to write to, and to write about writing in my morning pages. Those are just the nuggets that I pulled from what was an inspired, organized lecture. I also bought a writing hat to wear to let my family know when I’m writing and would rather not be bothered, but that was not something she said directly, just something that came to me while I was listening to her.
This lecture balanced out the upbeat you-can-do-it tone of “Writing Naked”. Alice Acheson described how to create a pre-publishing platform and provided some very useful handouts. Her main point was to communicate that the author ought to take an active, leadership role in their own promotion. She came to us with loads of experience and expertise, and I will pull the packet of stuff she provided out again when I’m ready. One tip she offered that I will absolutely begin immediately, is to start a marketing folder for any piece you are hoping to market NOW, the minute you write the first word.
For this Page One workshop, I submitted one page of my novel At The Pump. As many pages as we had time for were read aloud by actor Ron Milton and critiqued on the spot by Alice Acheson and Laura Kalpakian. I would have felt better at the end of the day if my page (which did get read) had received glowing reviews. It did not. Not at all. But in the end, it helped me to see a change I’d made for the wrong reasons and helped me to see the path before me clearly. I’m going back to my original opening. It also helped me to unravel some knots I’d been picking at in the plot. There’s nothing like fear of drowning to wake up the creative spirit. After the critique, I was faced with two options: let the project die or resuscitate it. There might have been a third option—flip Laura and Alice the finger—if I hadn’t agreed with their critique, but they were right and I knew it.
Sunday, I printed my latest draft and put a paper clip on each chapter, then made some notes about what I wanted to add or change. This evening (Monday), I’ll lay out those chapters, and begin my third revision.