I loved the conference. I felt like a kid sitting at the grown ups' table. There were 25 participants, all writing enthusiasts, some published authors, some with proposals and query letters at the ready, eager to be pointed in the right directions. Others were like me, needing some inspiration and validation that the process is worthwhile, whether publishing is in our near future or not.
The most rewarding part of the weekend for me was the women I met. Wow. I've never felt so much story telling potential in one room, and I found myself looking at each woman (and one man) wondering what ideas and experiences were lingering just below the surface, waiting to be put to paper. It was invigorating just to be in the same room.
We took turns sharing what holds us back from writing. Lots of camaraderie there. No matter what stage we were at, we could all commiserate with anxiety or lethargy or anticipation. The presenter (a senior editor at a small publishing house in Berkeley, CA) talked about the importance of writing practice, a regular exercise to develop writing as a discipline. She encouraged us to ask ourselves, "Do I have a practice?" "Is my practice holding me back?" "Is my practice based in superstition?" (i.e. I can't write until the house is clean, I can only write in coffee shops, etc.).
She asked us to write for a few minutes about our own writing practice.
What is my practice?We created mantras for ourselves. We were paired up and instructed to discuss what would motivate or define us using the following format: I am the (noun) that (verb) __________________ .
- Friday morning at the coffee shop, before work.
- Journaling a few mornings a week, in my notebook or laptop. It's very sporadic.
- My "practice" is emotionally driven (I only write from an excess of anger, pain, sadness; rarely joy).
- Blogging is squeezed into break time at work, usually 2 or 3 15 minute chunks throughout the day.
- Notes to friends and self (I've written whatever is on my mind in a greeting card a few times, and mailed it to myself. It's a mini journal-time-capsule).
- My feelings about writing practice is that anything forced is unauthentic. However, inspiration strikes at inconvenient times, usually at work, following a large intake of caffeine or reading a funny email or finding a new blog and having a sudden writing-crush on the author.
- My writing is often bi-polar: either manic or depressive.
Some examples from my classmates:
I am the breeze that lifts the veil of memory.
I am the clock that can't be turned back.I explained to my mantra partner that the writing project I have in mind is to tell my Mom's story and to write about the impact Alzheimer's has had on my family. It felt odd to be candid about a topic that is so personal and buried below a lot of emotional layers. I got choked up, but managed to explain that I want to write about my memories of her before Alzheimer's (as the first born, I feel a special responsibility to paint her in the most positive light for my siblings, who don't have as many memories of her in her glory days as wife, mother, teacher extraordinaire). I also want to describe the progression of the disease in our specific case. I have little interest in reading a lot of reference material about the disease, but rather take on one day at a time and carefully observe and record what it's like.
OK, I didn't really articulate all that, but I think my classmate got the gist of it. My mantra's first draft was something like "I am the daughter that remembers the good." But I wanted it to be more visual than that, so I kept tinkering with it.
We did a collage project later that afternoon, and while others illustrated ideas for a book cover, I decided to put my mantra into graphic form. I really like the finished product.
I have a lot to think about, following the conference. The information I gathered (handouts, notes, resources) were all super valuable. The people I met inspired me. Most importantly, the ember of desire to write was re-kindled. Let's see where it takes me.