Sunday, October 31, 2010

Writing Retreat #3: The Bugle Call to Go Forward

     Rather than ‘retreating’ on Friday, I had lunch in town with a new writing acquaintance from the conference in Eureka Springs. It was a long lunch—and a productive one. A retreat signals getting away from, but meeting with a fellow writer always signals new ideas and directions.
     I came away from the meeting committed to being part of a new Facebook page featuring local writers, as well as a blog featuring same. Platform. I can remember when I didn’t know what the word meant, and now I look for every possible plank to plunk down! So stay tuned here for future developments and opportunities to guest blog at a brand new blog that may well reach a brand new (local) market.
     The weekend turned into a ‘double whammy’ as I decided to brave the unknown and find my way to the regional NaNoWriMo Kickoff in Little Rock. For those of you who are unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it is National Novel Writing Month in which people from all over the world—and I mean that quite literally!—commit to write a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. Just type in the full name or the abbreviation for a more complete explanation and all the information you could possibly ask for.
     So why do writers get involved in something like that? I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I have a couple of reasons why this is my fourth year and, hopefully, my third ‘win’. No, there’s no $$ involved, just a nice badge to download to your website or blog that says you’re a ‘winner’—and the self-satisfaction of having accomplished a rather monumental feat. I write for the satisfaction of the badge—and also because it gives me yet another ‘completed’ work to revise and perhaps submit somewhere.
     The most important reason why I’m part of NaNo is the camaraderie of it. To be a part of a world-wide people who are, wonder of wonders, ‘like me’. To get to know new people and soak up ideas both online and in person. To write—because that’s what writers do.
     If you’d like to see what I’m pursuing this year, visit my website at and click on the NaNoWriMo tab.
     As for writing retreats, I’ll still be doing them this month, mainly at local weekly write-ins where watching another person’s fingers fly over the keyboard will inspire mine to do the same. At the end of the month, I’m treating myself to a long weekend of R&R in a nice hotel. Of course, the lappy will go along as there will be more words to write in order to finish. With the necessity of turning out an average of 1,667 words per day to compete the task, one doesn’t want to waste a single day. 
     NaNoWriMo 2010 officialy begins at 12:01 AM. I’m smiling in anticipation!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Retreating from the Retreat OR the Retreat That Wasn't

     Ah, Friday, and time to retreat! Lady and I headed for Lake Ouachita, not too far from here, and reputed to be a lovely spot. It wasn't far, and it was lovely, BUT. Always the disclaimer. The picnic area was totally inaccessible for Lady. Backed into the parking area, she was faced with a sharp drop-off over a concrete wall and nowhere to go but down.
     All right, there's always Plan B. Off again to the scenic overlook we'd visited before. We hadn't been there long, mostly time enough to get 'set up' and ready for the day, when car #1 arrived. These nice folks were down for a week from Buffalo NY, and we had a nice conversation. When they got ready to leave, I moved the car (the turn-around is a tight squeeze), and the driver maneuvered expertly past me with a wave and a smile.
     Comes out the laptop...and comes car #2. These folks (locals, wouldn't you know?) stroll to the overlook where they view the scenery for perhaps 10 seconds (I'm not exaggerating) and stroll back to their car. I asked if they could get out. "I don't know" came the rather frosty answer. I moved the car again, but they made no attempt to go around me. Ended up driving totally out of the overlook area, down the road, turning around, and coming back.
     Back to laptop. Lady slumbers peacefully under the Trailblazer amid fallen leaves. Arrives car #3. At this point, I give up. Packing everything up, not forgetting my disturbed dog, I find myself hemmed in by these folks and spend awhile inching forward, inching backward, etc. until I am able to make a get-away.
     Obviously, Plans A and B are off the table forever. However, I did get some writing done at home, and after some reflection, I find the following analogy for writing in general:
     With the best planning, the best of intentions, the best effort, we put our words down and sit back, only to find the first attempt 'inaccessible' for submission...and frustrated by unpleasant disturbances. The characters are wooden, the plot is stagnant, the story is going nowhere. Sometimes all we can do is pack up and move on. Hopefully,there'll be a new day, a new place in our writer's mind, and a successful outcome.
     Meanwhile, the words of an old song echo mournfully:
Will I find a place,
a little space,
that's meant for only me?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mini-Writing Retreat #1: What IS a retreat after all?

Thanks to those who shared links to lists--they'll appear in a blog when I take up 'resources for writers' again. For the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about mini-writing retreats and what can be gained from finding a new and different place to write. 
BTW, congratulations to Lori Robinette who won the CD with my books, Where Is Papa's Shining Star? and Finding Papa's Shining Star.
 There are an even dozen definitions for the word ‘retreat’, most of which don’t apply to what I did yesterday and plan to do once a week for the foreseeable future. My goals were to (1) get away and see something new and (2) accomplish more writing in a shorter time by virtue of no internet access. Both goals were met. (More on that later.)
Lake Catherine State Park is located just over 40 miles from home, so I loaded up everything on a carefully-prepared list—and the dog, who is always ready to go somewhere—and headed out. Temperature: cool. Sun: warm. Breeze: constant, like the sound of rushing water. Leaves: crunchy underfoot. Scents: earthy. Music: classical. Diet DP: of course. Dog: loving it.
We found an unoccupied picnic spot (um, guess there were ALL unoccupied, actually) and pulled in. Dog out on long tether, water bowl filled, tablecloth spread, CD in player, computer booted, DP open, first writing project completed in no time at all. I deserved a break, so I settled back to consider just what a ‘retreat’ is really all about.
I wasn’t running away from anything. As Nellie Forbush said in the inimitable South Pacific, it was more like running to something. I had the satisfaction of having taken control of my day. Now there was time to think and, most importantly, to sort out those thoughts and make sense out of them. And what better way to preserve them than by writing everything down? I filled three pages of a spiral notebook in just over half an hour.
Feeling quite smug and self-satisfied (or are those one and the same emotions?), I leaned back and squinted up at the tree branches which formed a canopy over my cozy place. Look closely at the picture, how the branches grow randomly from the trunk, ending up virtually nowhere. Ah, but do they really? 

Look again. Those branches are necessary for growth. They provide the base for the leaves which shield the observer from the sun. I noticed that even Lady’s attention seemed to be drawn upward rather than outward.     
Being a writer, I naturally began to make a comparison between the growth patterns of the trees and writing. Consider the limbs (ending nowhere) as the foundation of writing—call it ability, talent, determination, desire, whatever you please. The leaves are the words and ideas that flow from that.
But, you say, they don’t go anywhere. They just hang out. That’s right—that’s all they do. But the point is, they DO something, just as we do something when we write. Whether we publish traditionally, independently, or not at all, we’ve grown those limbs and filled them with leaves, and they are there—and useful—and beautiful.
One of yesterday’s projects was more reading in Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, in which he says, “…you must express your creativity, your true nature, or die…”
When the trees cease to grow new limbs, to produce leaves, they die.
When the writer ceases to write, he dies (the creative part of him anyway).
There are many reasons to write. Mine is simply to write for the sake of writing.
I’m alive.