Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Month Devoted to Writing

November's National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) passed me by this year, as did PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) and NaPlWriMo (National Playwriting Month) and probably a lot of other NaMo things I've never even heard of.

But November was still a wonderfully writer-ish month, filled with events that took me away from the computer and into the company of other writers and all the inspiration that such mingling can bring.

For starters, I went to a writers' retreat for the first time ever, namely the "Weekend on the Water" retreat at Port Ludlow in early November. This event was associated with the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. The speakers were Patricia Lee Gauch, author and former Editorial Director of Philomel Books, and author Linda Urban (A Crooked Kind of Perfect).

And what a spoiled-rotten weekend it was. I sat enthralled as Ms. Gauch analyzed passages from Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout, drawing our attention to the author's word choice and imagery, tone and voice in a way I hadn't enjoyed since college.

My mind traveled back even further, to my 10th-grade English class, when teacher John Long surprised us all with a pop quiz on To Kill a Mockingbird that tested our knowledge of seemingly ridiculous details in the book.

His purpose, it turned out, was not to prime us for winning trivia contests but to show us how important it was to read carefully and closely instead of gobbling up pages and racing the clock.

The spoiling, of course, also included excellent meals, walks in the woods, beautiful views, lively conversations, and time to just read and write.

To top it all off, my roommate and I discovered we shared all sorts of connections; not only did we live in Hoboken, New Jersey, during the same span of time in the 1980s, but also one of her oldest friends turned out to be one of my former work colleagues.

The retreat was followed a few weeks later by PubCamp, hosted by, an online marketplace for writers in search of editors, book designers, and marketing assistance. This event took place in Seattle in the lovely Center for Urban Horticulture, where the plants were edged with crystalline rime at the start of a very cold day.

The morning got rolling with an introduction by Shawn Welch, author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, followed by advice from a social media expert, Peggy Fitzpatrick, and CEO Kelsye Nelson. After that, I had the luxurious choice of presentations divided into four blocks of three sessions each.

I opted to hear Peter Rowan (Coinstar) discuss "The Business of Self-Publishing."  Next up was Waverly Fitzgerald (author of Slow Time, Dial C for Chihuahua, and more). Ms. Fitzgerald focused on the considerations one should keep in mind when thinking about self-publishing or going the more traditional route with a publishing house; paramount among these considerations were how to best locate and connect with your readers.

After lunch, I attended a "self-editor's toolkit" workshop presented by author Wendy Call, which provided a nice summary of levels of editing, and rounded out the day with a lovely, humorous presentation about memoir writing by author Theo Nestor (How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed and Writing Is My Drink).

Peek-a-Who Owl from "Peek-a-Who" by Nina Laden watches readers
peruse books at the Ballard Writers Collective "Writer Next Door" event.
As if this weren't enough, the month also included an evening at the Sunset Hill Community Center called The Writer Next Door, hosted by the Ballard Writers Collective (authors' panel! refreshments! books! readings! raffle prizes, of which I won one!).

Not long after, I enjoyed an SCBWI informal gathering on a chilly Sunday night at a Bainbridge Island pub called the Harbour Public House, a cozy restaurant tucked inside a house built in 1881.

I feel as if I need another retreat and evening at a pub to process it all. In the meantime, here are a few quotations and observations I jotted down during these events. I'm amazed I can read my scrawled notes, actually. So, see? I did do some writing outside of my freelance work this month after all. It was all part of NaJoDoMo (National Jotting and Doodling Month).

When writing for children:
"Honor the small things in a big world that matter to kids."--Linda Urban

On "show, don't tell":
"There's a terrible thing going around: 'show, don't tell.' Don't you believe it!"--Patricia Lee Gauch

(Ms. Gauch went on to explain what she meant, so she was certainly not advocating dull writing. I wish I could summarize what she so eloquently expressed, but basically she used Olive Kitteridge to show how showing related to introspection. Showing could also help you "navigate the contours of your character's life." I believe this topic was linked to another of my cryptic notes about the author writing as though on a dolly used for filmmaking, to move in and out of a scene. Ms. Gauch also stressed, "Don't report it; let it live.")

"Of course, use adverbs when you want them! Give me a break! [Banning adverbs]'s the dumbest thing." --Patricia Lee Gauch

Attitude is like "a fine rain casting a mist over the whole story."--Patricia Lee Gauch

A quip on being realistic:
"If you want to make a lot of money, publishing probably isn't the right business for you!"--Waverly Fitzgerald

Serial commas or not?
"You know, there are comma people!" --Wendy Call

On submitting your memoir:
"Yes, it's been done before. Here's how mine's different." --Theo Nestor

On the universality of your story:
"A book about you that is also about others makes your want real; they [readers] will want it for you." --Theo Nestor

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