Why do writer’s conferences inspire us to write?

I recently attended the @PNWA 2014 Summer Writers Conference, and as soon as it completed, I went to Buckley’s in Queen Anne for a quiet moment and a blackened salmon sandwich. But I pushed my plate to the side and moved my laptop to center stage. After four days submerged in the world of writing, I felt compelled to write.  And this has happened before.  It got me thinking. Exactly how does the conference environment spark that kind of magic, probably not just for writers, but for any profession?

Over the long PNWA weekend, I repeatedly heard stories from newly enthused writers about plans to outline/start/rewrite/ or finish a story.  They promised to read more, learn more, query an agent or create a marketing plan. And like them, I couldn’t wait to get my fingers back to my keyboard.

But why?

Yes, the workshops were thought provoking and useful, often highlighting a way to solve an old problem with a new approach. It was wonderful to meet with agents, editors and writers.  And a simple, yet powerful quip from keynote speaker James Rollins might very well change my life (“Write every day, read every night”).

But technically, I could find much of this information in a book.  And I could make a few – though not all – of the connections online.  What was it about the immersive experience that morphed that long weekend into a catalyst for change?

I did some research and I have an idea.  It sounds simple, but I think that being at an extended conference inspires us to be writers. For a moment, we no longer identify ourselves as mothers or fathers, students or retirees, shop keepers or project managers – all who write in our spare time. We’re writers first.

In an article by Scott Barry Kaufman in the Harvard Business Review, Why Inspiration Matters, he posits, “Inspiration awakens us to new possibilities by allowing us to transcend our ordinary experiences and limitations.” I think this is the crux of why we’re motivated by any kind of well run conference.  It becomes a kind of fuel to redefine ourselves based on who we aspire to be, as opposed to what we currently do.

Kaufman’s article is chocked full of benefits that either follow inspiration or perhaps enable us to be inspired, as well as a link to Elizabeth Gilbert’s related TED talk.   But the article goes on to say, “…inspiration involves approach motivation, in which the individual strives to…actualize a new idea or vision.” So, being inspired to see ourselves primarily as writers can motivate us to more fully act like writers.

And the trick is holding onto motivation after the conference fades. Kaufman says the magic is triggered by “exposure to inspiring managers, role models, and heroes.”   In other words, we can reclaim inspirational benefits by immersing ourselves in learning and networking situations similar to a conference, where the participants around us become mentors.  I think we see others being the people we want to be and we become inspired to believe that if they can do it, so can we.

What do you think?

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Is there really time to blog?

shutterstock_MouseI recently received a tweet from my friend @tarasheets, and it  linked to her blog posting about PNWA’s upcoming conference.  It reminded me that we’ll get to hang out with other writers, as well as agents and editors at the event in the third week of July.

It did, however point out a sobering fact.  I haven’t blogged since last year.  As Snagglepuss would say, “Heavens to Murgatroyd!”

I really do want to blog.  I know that as a writer it’s important to blog.  And I’m harboring a list of interesting and humorous topics sure to change peoples lives (uh huh) if I could just convince myself to blog.  I just don’t see how the act of blogging fits into the hours of the day.

As it is, I wrote this posting while sitting at a Seattle Center restaurant after dinner (I didn’t even cook) wondering how to slide back into the online saddle.  I was guessing I needed a clever and probably complex way to wedge the activity into my priorities.   It’s just that I still need to find time to:

  • Write
  • Work
  • Eat
  • Go wine tasting (I may prioritize this before eating)
  • Volunteer with PNWA
  • Pay bills – after they go to collections.  No, not really.  It’s just that it feels that way because I’d rather be writing.
  • Sleep, often after wine tasting
  • Wait, don’t I have a family somewhere in the US?

It’s a busy world.  Plus, not to be obvious, but Winter is coming.

Contrary to what many social media experts claim, writing a blog posting isn’t always a quick process.  At least, I don’t think so, not if you’re a “budding” writer.   Maybe it’s just me, but I agonize over the choice of every word.  I worry my ideas don’t seem good enough.   I edit and edit and then, edit some more.  And I’m convinced that I’m confusing my readers with an array of dizzying subjects (Hello readers, are you still there?).  I certainly confuse myself sometimes.

I envy the kid in Chef (@Chefthefim), a satisfying movie that’s guaranteed to make you smile and expect nothing less than amazing food for dinner.  Young Percy knew exactly what to post on Twitter.  Plus, he could upload videos faster than his Dad could smash a Cuban sandwich between the jaws of a press.  And Percy worked his social media magic all without looking at his phone.  I wanna do that!

Bottom line, I guess if you’re a character in a movie or a book, maybe there’s time to go online.

Of course, I did find time to write this posting sitting around after dinner for thirty minutes, or so.  It required some editing later on, and a second glass of wine might have been involved, but the solution wasn’t so complex.

Hmm…maybe it’s not as difficult as I’m making it?  🙂

Posted in Musings, PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association), Uncategorized | 2 Comments

PNWA 2013 Writer’s Conference – What Did You Learn?

2013 PNWA Writers Conference

2013 PNWA Writers Conference

Bummer, it’s over.  The 2013 PNWA Writers Conference finished this last Sunday and I’m excited to use what I’ve learned!  I had a wonderful time and I’ve dedicated this posting to a trip report, from the perspective of both a writer and board trustee with PNWA.

The Seattle conference, held July 25th – July 28th, covered a wide selection of topics important for writers today. Workshops addressed the craft of writing, agent/editor relationships, marketing and social media, and the many ways to become published. In parallel, the schedule highlighted a set of nerve-wracking sessions called, “Power Pitch.” Organized like speed-dating, these ninety-minute pitch fests connected writers with agents and editors searching for new manuscripts to read and represent.

Pam Binder (PNWA President) and Sandy McCormack (PNWA Vice President) kick off announcement of literary contest winners

Sandy McCormack and Pam Binder (PNWA Vice President and President) kick off the literary contest awards on Saturday night

Several well-known authors stopped by to regale the attendees en masse. Keynote speaker Greg Bear was welcomed at the Thursday evening dessert reception.  Friday’s panel with Deb Caletti, Stella Cameron, Robert Dugoni, and Gerry Swallow offered encouragement and humor. On Saturday night, we celebrated the winners of PNWA’s Literary Contest, announced over dessert.  And on Sunday, Mary Bisbee-Beek wrapped up with a discussion on the differences between Marketing and Promotion.

Some new activities were introduced to the program this year.  PNWA hosted a free workshop for budding writers (ages 8-12) called, “Kid’s Day with Dr. Cuthbert Soup.” They also launched the 2014 PNWA Nancy Pearl Book Award, an annual literary contest.  The pilot program recognizes PNWA member’s Best Books published in 2013.

Margie Lawson, Tara Sheets, and me

Margie Lawson, Tara Sheets, and me
(Sorry for the blurry photo!)

I now have three conferences under my belt and this year was my favorite.  As a writer, I focused on the craft workshops, anything to help finish my WIP!   And I moderated three wonderful sessions, Introduction to Speculative Fiction by Danika Dinsmore and two of the many mind-bending sessions led by Margie Lawson on her EDITs system and deep editing techniques. (This list barely hints at the packed agenda.  See PNWA’s website for the full listing.)

Tara Sheets & Jean Miller

Tara Sheets & Jean Miller

The conference was also a terrific forum to speak informally with agents and editors and a way to connect your peeps.  I hung out with Tara Sheets, a 2013 finalist for the RWA Golden Heart Award (Thanks for the photos!).  I caught up with Richard Hacker, who recently signed a contract for his third book with Champagne Press. And had the opportunity to say hello to many writer friends, like Jean Miller, who I met in the Popular Fiction Certificate programs put on by the UW.

Tara Sheets and I, waiting for more caffeine.  And look, our outfits match.

Tara Sheets and I, waiting for more caffeine. And look, our outfits match.

And as a new writer, I send a big thanks to the conference organizers.  A special shout-out to Pam Binder, best-selling author and PNWA president, for her vision and tireless efforts.  And a call-out to the amazing PNWA staff, volunteers, and other board members who helped make the conference such great event.

My favorite learning from the conference?  For me, it was Margie Lawson’s workshop on how to write dialogue cues like a psychologist.  That, and her review of “power words” provided a focus for final edits on my current WIP.

What’s the favorite thing you learned?

Posted in PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association), Reading and Writing Events, Seattle Events, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Come On, Babs! Do You Want To Miss the Sky God?

Why do we yell and scream like maniacs, just to celebrate the new year?

I live about a block away from the Space Needle, where there’s a spectacular fireworks show on New Year’s Eve.  Last December, I decided to stay home and comfort my cat, Pandora.  It was a loud night.  Partiers grouped on the sidewalk outside, drank openly and hollered at the top of their lungs, all the while the show exploded overhead.

A couple guys seemed to freak out mid festivities.  They ran back and forth, down the center of my tiny street, flailing their arms along the way, and you would have thought the world was coming to an end.  But nope.  Not even in 2012.  But it got me thinking.  Why do human beings celebrate like this?  When did we start going a little crazy, just because tomorrow happens to be a new year?

So I checked out history.com.  

shutterstock_38809144According to one of the site’s stories,  Babylonians were the earliest on record to kick up their heels on New Year’s Eve, some 4,000 years ago. These party-hardy ancestors actually whooped it up twice a year in a festival called “Akitu,” celebrating renewal from the past and prosperity in the future.  Festivities coincided with both the spring equinox (the beginning of the lunar calendar) and the fall equinox (the time to harvest).

I can just imagine the typical Babylonian husband calling to his wife during the hoopla.  “Hey Babs.  Let’s run from hut-to-hut and scream joyous prayers at the sky.  Plus there’s a show over at the neighbors.  They’re reenacting Maruk’s victory over Tiamut, in costume.  I love it when that evil, sea goddess bitch gets tromped by the god of the sky.”

Fast forward several thousand years, in 46 B.C., when Julius Caesar had to solve a “syncing issue” between the Roman calendar and the actual orbit of the sun.  Apparently, part of the fix was to move New Year’s Day to the beginning of the month of Januarius, honoring Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, an interesting dude.

Janus is a deity with two faces who can simultaneously look into the past and out to the future.   His particular festivities included crazy parties, and “sacrifices to Janus, exchanging gifts, decorating their homes with laurel branches.”

Sounds a little like today?  Well, sort of.   Instead of sacrificing a goat to Janus, we destroy a few brain cells.

That said, I do think we see New Years Eve as a time to look with two faces, to be relieved we’ve survived the past year and to hope for our futures.  When we blow paper horns and scream at the top of our lungs, are we (like our ancestors) issuing a boisterous prayer to our gods for renewal and prosperity?  Maybe the simple act of railing at what lurks ahead provides an added strength to cope?

Celebrating in the street – or the center of an ancient village – must help, right?  And what better way to rock the ancient Babylonia’s sky god, Maruk, than the dazzling fireworks of today.  I’ll bet that even Babs would agree.

As a footnote, I was inspired to write this post by my friend Pam Binder.  She posted a wonderful summary of ancient Yule Tide celebrations (“Winter Solstice”), in her blog at pambinder.com.

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NW Bookfest: Another Reason to Buy Books!

Yesterday, I attended Northwest Bookfest 2012 , a festival held this past weekend in Kirkland, WA.  Free to attendees, it celebrates the literary arts and provides a forum to connect readers, writers, publishers, editors and authors.  Attendees can participate in and host workshops, panels, and author readings.  Plus, you can buy more (signed) books than you can carry!

I staffed a booth at the festival with author Tara Sheets. Tara is amazing – it’s always a kick to hang with her and we’re doing complementary blog postings on the topic!  We were at Bookfest supporting the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA), a non-profit dedicated to helping “develop writing talent from pen to publication through education, accessibility to the publishing industry, and participation in an interactive, vital writer community.”  Tara and I followed Jim Harris and Brian Mercer who worked the booth on Saturday.

Throughout the day, we chatted with festival attendees, described the benefits of PNWA membership, and awarded newly-signed members one of the amazing Author Magazine mugs, rumored to improve writing skills with each use (I’m using Tara’s perfectly staged photo of the mug for this blog).  New members also received a PNWA tote bag and for the brave, an electric, lime-green tee shirt, size large.

It was great to be surrounded by others with a passion for reading (make that, obsession?).  I ran into a couple folks I knew from Vulcan Inc., Betty Mayfield and Christey Bahn.  Some of the other wonderful visitors included:  romance author Deb Schneider, also a tireless Bookfest volunteer, historical romance author Gerri Russell, who taught a workshop on indie publishing, YA steampunk author Ren Cummins, who in addition to writing other books, wrote a series for his daughter with a strong girl protagonist who also likes pretty dresses, historical fiction author Katherine Pym, pilot author Karlene Petitt, Karen Junker, the founder and executive director of Cascade Writers. Also Cynthia White, a development editor, and an author about government and politics, George Scott.  Plus lots that I missed.

A heartfelt thanks to everyone who joined PNWA – member fees enable the organization to operate.  And a shout out to all the volunteers that made Northwest Bookfest possible. Well done!

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Jump, You Big Chicken, Jump!

What enables someone to fling themselves into the Blogosphere, pushing past fear of failure in a very public way?  I think it’s a combination of knowledge, chutzpa, and knowing they’re not alone.  I salute these brave souls.

I’ve talked about “launching a blog” for several months, studying books and websites which espouse the rules of creating a web log.  I lurked, strategized, planned and started listing out my tasks.  But I like to get things right.  And the prospect of baring my soul before being completely ready – much like many writers – turned me into an immobilized skydiver, quivering at the open door of a plane, staring down at the world of WordPress below.

Today, my internal pilot took control.  She accused me of wasting precious fuel and pushed me out of the plane.

So here I am, hurdling into this aspect of my online journey with what I’ve learned to date.  Successful bloggers note that the best blogs serve to educate their readers.  They communicate in a way that’s consumable, entertaining, and they inspire people to connect.  Kristen Lamb, in her book, Are You There, Blog?  It’s Me, Writer, explains how blog postings should be true, helpful, informative, necessary and kind.  I plan to take these teachings to heart.  And since I want to enjoy what I’m doing, I hope the things I’m passionate about can be made of service to my readers.

I own a small plaque painted with a quote from John Burroughs, “Leap and the net will appear.”  I guess it’s about time to dive into the discussion.  Maybe, my followers might want to come along?  I just hope that, like me, they don’t take too long to jump in!

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