Why Every Writer Should Travel

 20150903_124030I'm just back from three weeks in Europe, one week for leading a writing workshop, and the other two for fun.

However, I am a firm believer that even the two "fun" weeks contributed greatly to my writing career.  Yeah, it might have looked like I was lolling about in the south of France, eating tapas in Barcelona, or wandering the back streets of Montparnasse, but it was all in service to my writing.  Riigght, you are saying, very slowly.  So let me count the ways, and convince you.

1.  Travel inspires me.  Duh.  This is the obvious reason most people travel.  Immersing oneself in different locales and cultures shows us new things, fires new neurons, inspires new ideas.   And, of course, ideas are good.  They are our life blood.  Awriter can never have too many ideas.  Ever.

2.  I'm different when I travel.  I don't know anyone, other than the people I'm traveling with, so all bets are off.  I can drink all night, swing from the rafters act anyway I want--talk to people I meet on the street, stop and stretch in the middle of the sidewalk, gaze with obvious rapture at a medieval cathedral.  Nobody knows me so I'm free.  And isn't this what we long to be on the page?  Once I regularly experience the feeling of freedom in my regular life, it is much easier to translate it to the page. IMG_20150915_161410

3.  Travel sometimes makes me uncomfortable.  Okay, let's face it.  Most of our lives are not hard.  Well, my life, anyway, is not hard.  Mostly I sit at the computer all day long and convince myself, hand on forehead that I'm suffering.  But travel is a different thing.  There are times when I don't know what's happening, or what stop the train just pulled into, or what the person in front of me is trying to say to me.  There are times I've probably embarrassed myself.  But you know what?  This is good, excellent, even.  It is good to feel discomfort once in awhile.  Because, after all, isn't that what we put our characters through? Don't we always say, the more conflict the better? Yes, yes, we do.

4.  Travel is fun.  And I don't care if you're trying to write or become an insurance agent, fun is important.  We get veeeery serious about our lives most of the time.

5.  Travel makes me adventurous.   I've gotten obsessed with reading the blog of Eugene Kaspersky.  He runs some crazy big cyber-security site and spends tons of time traveling, some of it adventuring.  He climbs volcanoes in Kamchatka, treks across snow fields in Iceland, circumnavigates the planet, and so on.  I'm just going to say right now I will do none of these things, ever.  But I love reading about him doing them.  And when I travel in my own tame way, I step out of my comfort zone into my own adventures.  And there are always adventures when you travel.

6.  Travel makes me try new things.  Like the unknown shellfish we tried at a seafood dinner in Port-Vendres, or climbing the side of a mountain (I exaggerate a tiny bit here) to reach the ruin of a castle when my hips were screaming in pain (again, a tad bit of poetic license, but still).  It can be as simple as turning now a new street, or trying a different café--things I don't do often enough here because I so easily get stuck in a rut.  Things that may somehow work their way into your writing.

7.  Travel lets me meet different kinds of people. There aren't a whole lot of French men or British women carousing down my street, for instance.  And it is relatively rare to even hear someone speak in a different tongue in my day to day life.  If there's one thing I love, its meeting people (I confess to a terrible extrovert streak--I'll talk to anybody, anywhere).  And one of the best things about travel is the different people you meet--the couple from Australia in Paris, or the nice lady from London who was toiling up the hill beside me.  Again, who knows what person might spark an idea for a character?

Okay, so I hear you.  You've got a newborn baby, you're in school, you have a demanding career.  And travel to Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, is just not on the horizon.   But, honestly, you can "travel" in your hometown.  Change up your routine, do something different, drive a new way to work.  Do something, anything to shake things up.

Last week, the morning after I got off the plane, my brain as foggy as a morning in November, and inspired by my visit to the Inter-marche Hyper (read=big, very big) supermarket in France, I went to the American version here that I usually avoid.  My shopping took me twice as long as I stumbled through the aisles trying to figure out where things were, but I discovered new products and chatted with an adorable, funny cashier.   One never knows when someone just like him shall appear in a book.

So, how about it?  How about we all spend the last three months of this year devoted to living with a spirit of adventure?  I'm in, are you?

Do you like to travel or hate it? Please leave a comment.


Ceiling of the amazing Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Sideways (no matter what I do, Typepad won't let me edit) image of a stone face at the cloister in Elne

(Tons more images of my trip on my Instagram feed.)

While She Was Out

PrintshopI grew up partially in my Dad's printing plant.  One of the many things I loved about that was hanging out in the front office, which was cleaner and more organized than the rest of the shop, but not by much.  And one of the best things about the office was the office supplies.  I particularly loved the pads of paper headlined "While You Were Out" with handy pre-printed lines to write the message on. I LOVED those pads.  

Alas, they did not survive.  But check out the photo to the left of some simple scratch pads that did. The business itself did not survive the onset on computerized printing in the eighties, and went bankrupt.  Tough times.  But I digress.

Because the point is that I will be out.  Overseas. Across the pond. Gone fishing.  Whatever.  It is time for the annual Let's Go Write workshop in France, this year in Collioure.  Last year, I think I actually managed to post once or twice, but maybe I just made that up.  It might well happen this year, too.  

But I have also made provisions for while I am out.  I have lined up a couple of fun oldie but goodie posts from the archives, written and scheduled a couple of new ones, and also created a couple of link posts that I think you'll like, drawing on the eight years of content (and 1266 posts) from this blog. So there you have it.  All will not be lost.  There will be a dim shadow of a Charlotte here.

But, alas, I've put the Inventive Writing Prompt blog and weekly posts on hiatus until I get back. But don't despair.  As of this writing, there are 392 prompts there, so that ought to keep you busy for awhile.

One more thing--don't forget that my Get Your Novel Written Now class starts in October, and I've extended the early bird registration until I get back so go SIGN UP NOW.

5 Things on Friday: Feeling Frazzled Edition

Paris-parigi-eiffelturm-1577018-lWhy I'm Frazzled: BECAUSE I'M LEAVING FOR EUROPE ON TUESDAY. That's why.

What I'm Reading: Same thing I was reading last week, The Surrender Experiment, by Michael Singer.  I'm about 10 pages from the end, and was going to finish it at lunchtime but then the phone rang and I got distracted.  But, for your curiousity pleasure, here is a list of books I've downloaded to take with me:

The Last Time I Was Me, by Cathy Lamb

My Very Best Friend, by Cathy Lamb

(She's a Portland author and when I learned from a friend at church that she had stayed up until 4 in the morning reading Lamb's most recent book, I decided to check her out.)

Splinters of Light, by Rachael Herron (love her!

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (love me a good science fiction read every so often and this one is loooong--great to take on a long flight)

There's no way I'll get all of those read, especially because last year on the way home from Paris I discovered that watching movies back to back makes the time pass really quickly, and when I'm traveling I don't read as much.  But I like to be prepared.  Because, what if the Iceland volcano blows and we're stuck in Europe? (We should be so lucky.) I will need books to read.

What I Have Left to Do Before I Leave: Host one family dinner, engage in a board of directors bonding outing, attend one birthday party, finish reading one manuscript, exchange one cardigan, write two newsletters, get my hair cut, and pack.  That's not so bad, is it?  Is it?

What I Love This Week: My new phone.  The Samsung Galaxy S4 Note.  It has a stylus!  A freaking stylus!  I went to the AT&T store on Saturday and ordered it.  (Wasn't in stock, small store.) Had great service there.  Went to a different AT&T store on Wednesday where they could do a data transfer and had, um, shall we way, interesting service.  As in, all the worker people telling me, "You're switching from an Iphone to a Galaxy? Girl! You're going to be back in here telling us you want your Iphone back."  Also telling me I have way too many contacts (Is 323 really that many? I didn't think so, either.) And so on.  Hear me now: I WILL NOT BE IN THERE TO SWITCH BACK. Because I'm stubborn that way.  And because I love my new phone.

What Will Happen to This Blog While I'm Gone: Read my post Monday to find out.

Happy weekend! What are you doing this weekend?  Something fun?

Photo by al lannin.

How to Write While Traveling (Or Otherwise Distracted): 7 Strategies

The best travel journal ever

I am distracted. My thoughts, I will admit, are on Europe these days.  Because, I WILL BE THERE IN LESS THAN TWO WEEKS.  So I am distracted.  And when I am there I will be distracted.  (Because, Barcelona, people.  Paris.  Collioure.)  

And yet, I am still doing my best to write regularly. Why? Because I am a masochist.  No, really, its because I feel weird when I'm not writing.  Antsy.  A little anxious.  Like something is missing in my life.  Like my best friend is gone. (I felt this way for a year after I quit smoking but that's another story.)

I just feel better when I am writing, period.

You may be distracted, too.  By summertime travel.  Or small children (as I used to be 24-7 for what seemed an eternity and now am again whenever my beloved grown children can cajole me to babysit their children, which is, ahem, often). Or those pesky day jobs.  Or caring for an aging parent.  Or any number of the things that we deal with in life.

I know plenty of people who just set their writing aside when they get overwhelmed with distraction. But I'm here to advocate that you do not do this.  Because time is precious, and short. Because if you set your writing project aside, when you return to it, you'll have to spend lots of that precious time getting yourself up to speed.  And because, writers write.  Period.

So how shall we manage when the baby wakes up at 3 AM crying, or the hospital calls to tell you your mother has just arrived in the ER again, or you have to stay at work until 11 to finish something? Or you just might get to go to an exotic foreign land?  Here's how:

Use what you've got in front of you.  When you're traveling, this is obvious.  Everything is bright and shiny and new and different and it is relatively easy to write about it.  But it might not be so evident with the less positive distractions in your life.  So, write about how exhausted you are as the mother of a newborn, how worried you are about your parent, how much you loathe your job.  Of such conflicts many books have been born.

Take advantage of odd bits of time. Because, they may be all you have.  So maybe you've got a chunk of time while you are riding the high-speed train from Paris to Perpignan but you fall asleep because you're so jet-lagged so you only end up having twenty minutes.  Or you have fifteen minutes in the morning when you wake up before the rest of the house.  I know it doesn't seem like much, but let me share a little secret: I get more done with I have less time.  On the days when I have all day to write I fart around.  I tell myself I've got plenty of time to get to it and so I don't.  But if I know I only have thirty minutes, chop chop, I'm at the page.

Carry pen and paper with you everywhere.  Because you never know when you'll have a window of opportunity open up.  (Get a load of my adorable new carry-around-in-my-travel-bag journal above.)  Maybe there will be a bit of time when you arrive to pick your daughter up from soccer practice early.  (I knew a woman who wrote a novel this way.) Whip out your pen and paper.   You know the drill.  But it is worth reminding you because recently I found myself without a pen, which was a shocking state of affairs.

Remind yourself why you love writing.  And why it is important to you.  And thus why you are going to take just a few--a very few minutes--out of the 1440 we have every day to engage in it.  I can't answer this for you, but you can.  And while you are busy doing so, you might also write about--or ponder--why you love the project you're working on.

Quit worrying about not writing.  Because, what you resist, persists.  What you focus on grows. So stop worrying about not writing and use that energy to write.  A brief story: when my son, now a strapping man with a great job and the most adorable little girl in the whole history of the world, was a child, he used to complain and moan about cleaning his room.  And I always told him that if he just put the energy he was using to whine into cleaning, his room would be finished in a jiffy.  I think a lot of us are like that.  We spend so much time thinking about why we're not doing something, we forget we could be using that time to do it.

Just take notes.  Or make lists of things you want to remember.  Years ago, on a trip to Mexico, I made lists of the things I wanted to remember: the way the jungle pressed in on the resort, the flamingoes in the pool by the lobby bar (where they made the good, strong drinks), the terror I felt as I tried paragliding.  I didn't have time to journal, but I took good notes.  And came home and wrote a story about it, which you can actually read here.

If all else fails, have yourself a good think.  You're gazing out the window of the plane.  Think about your plot.  You're rocking the baby in the middle of the night.  Figure out your main character's backstory.  You're sitting by a hospital bed.  Ponder deep themes.  I believe that thinking is highly underrated for writers.  But the trick is to keep your brain on the plot, not the glass of wine and delicious dinner you're going to have when you get to Paris.

Those are my suggestions.  What about you?  How do you deal with distractions?  Leave a comment!

Are You a Right-Brain or Left-Brain Dominant Writer?

A Stack 'O Writing Books

I learned a different way of looking at my writing this weekend, a way that I think will help inform how I plan and plot a novel. (One of the things I love best about writing is that there's always something new to learn.  It's impossible to be bored by it.) I'm thinking this thing will help you, too, so let's discuss.  But first, some background.

This past weekend, I went to Seattle with my daughter.  We took the train up and back (the best way to travel), stayed in the Roosevelt Hotel downtown, and reconnected with an old friend and met her new family.  (One of the most adorable two-year-olds on the planet, second only to my own granddaughter.)

One of the best times we had was Saturday afternoon, when we hung out at the new (to us) location of Elliott Bay Books.  The bookstore is dotted with large tables at which you can while away the afternoon.  Which is exactly what we did. It felt like the height of luxury to spend a couple of hours doing nothing but looking at books.  My daughter perused books from the design section, and I pulled out stack after stack of titles from the writing section.  I read through many of them,  took notes from some, and ended up buying two:

Naming the World, and other exercises for the creative writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston.  I remember being at AWP years ago right when this book came out. It is comprised of brief essays and accompanying writing exercises from a wide variety of writers.  I'm always looking for exercises for myself and my students--I'm not sure why I haven't bought this one earlier.  It is excellent.  (I especially love the section of Daily Warm-ups at the back.)

PlotWhispererThe Plot Whisperer, by Martha Alderson.  I've read her blog, but for some reason shied away from the book, which has been out a few years.  I'm only a short way in, but the book is excellent.  And the thing that has grabbed my attention is the distinction she makes between left-brain dominant writers and right-brain dominant writers.  To wit:

The left-brained writer thinks in language more often than images and is quite comfortable with action.  He might also be analytical and detail-oriented.  Alderson says that if you crave action and "spew out dialogue at will" you are a left-brained writer.

The right-brained writer thinks in pictures rather than language and likely starts his writing developing characters or emotional moments in the story.  He takes a more intuitive approach.  If you fall in love with your characters and love to ponder theme and meaning, you are more right-brain oriented.

Raise your hand if you recognize yourself in one of the descriptions above.  Me! Choose me!  I'm a right-brained writer through and through.  I can't think of a novel or story I've written that didn't start with a character, and because of this I also have a few abandoned stories littering my computer, because I didn't know how to develop action for the character.

It doesn't matter which one you are, but it helps to figure that out from the get-go.  Because just as I've struggled with action in my stories, the left-brained writer will struggle with getting character emotion and detail into her work.  And if you know that going in, you'll know where your weaknesses lie and you can figure out how to correct them.

You'll know that if your left brain tends to be more dominant, you'll need to learn to focus on character, imagery, and emotion.  Conversely, if your right brain rules the roost, you'll have to focus on plot and goal and structure.  (There are ways to do this without freaking yourself out.)

Alderson has an interesting offer on her website.  (I'm in no way affiliated with her, just intrigued by the info she's presenting.)  It's called Writing a Story Takes You on an Epic Journey, and since it is in beta, it is really inexpensive (like $14.99, amazing). 

So that's what I learned this weekend.  Does the concept of left-brain dominant and right-brain dominant writers resonate with you?  Which are you? Do discuss in the comments.

All images are by moi.  I've been using Instagram a lot lately.  Come follow me there, why don't you?

From Spark to Story Workshop Report

Scarritt Bennett Center

I am back from Nashville, y'all.  

I went there to teach a workshop with my good writing friend Terry Price.  We called it From Spark to Story, and planned it to be just that: a journey from gathering inspiration, to getting it onto the page, to shaping it into a story.  

It worked brilliantly.

Well, okay, so maybe I exaggerate just a little.  But the 17 people who were there (20 signed up but several had last minute snafus) seemed to enjoy it and get a lot out of it.  And I know that Terry and I loved teaching it.  Here are some of my main take-aways:

--15 minutes a day is all it takes.  Both Terry and I came to this separately and planned to present it as a method to find your way back to your writing and, just as important, sustain a writing practice. It resonated deeply with the participants, and many of them tweeted and posted on Facebook on Sunday morning that they'd done their 15 minutes.  (We created a hashtag for it if you're so inclined: #15minsday.)

If you were to, starting now, write 15 minutes a day every day you could have a novel written in a year.  Really.  I'm not kidding.  Do the math.  And the other thing is that often when you tell yourself all you have to do is 15 minutes, you get so engrossed that you end up writing longer.  But that's not even necessary.

--Prompts are good.  We worked some with a variety of prompts on Friday night and Saturday morning and our writers found them useful as portals to all kinds of inspiration and epiphanies.  So often writers sniff at prompts as being the province of beginners, but I use them all the time (hence, my prompt blog).  If you've not had luck with them in the past, try again.  Just remember to keep your pen moving across the page.  Its when you stop to ponder and stare out the window that prompts aren't as effective.

--Clustering can unleash you from your left brain.  More often now called mind-mapping (I like clustering better), this technique was popularized by the late Gabriel Rico in her book Writing the Natural Way.  To tell you the truth, I'd forgotten about it, but Terry is a fan and he made people try it.  Since I was icing my foot (I had a terrible attack of plantar fascitis while there) I didn't do it in the workshop, but I've been playing with it since and I can see its value.  Give it a whirl.

--Get thee to a labyrinth.  Scarritt Bennett Center, where I stayed, and where we held the workshop, has a labyrinth modeled on the one at Chartes, France.  It is a marvelous creativity jogger.  You ask a question or think of a problem before you enter, walk to the center, pause to listen, then walk back out again.  Note that a labyrinth is different from a maze.  With a maze, you're trying to find your way out.  With a labyrinth, you're finding your way in.  Take a journal with you because you'll likely have an inspiration or two to write down.  It has never failed me yet.  To find a labyrinth in your area, try Labyrinth Locator.

I'm sure more thoughts will bubble up over the next few days and weeks and I'll report.  For me, it was a rejuvenating experience to be back in Nashville and reconnect with a city I love and so many of the people I know and love who live there.  Southern hospitality truly is the most generous in the world and I've always been welcomed so warmly.

And stay tuned--because we are cooking up a Spark to Story Part Two to be held in the near future!


Amp Up Your Writing With A Travel Mindset

Nashville_skyline_before_earth_hourI'm in Nashville this week, teaching a workshop called From Spark to Story, with my dear, wonderful friend Terry Price.  I used to come to Nashville at least twice a year, sometimes more often, in order to teach at the Writer's Loft, (now called Write. ) But lately the orientations have fallen at the same time that I'm in France, for my Let's Go Write workshops.  So, um, much as I love Nashville, I chose France.

Wherever I decide to go, I love to travel, and it informs and inspires my writing.  (The idea for my just-about-to-be-submitted-to-publishers novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery, was inspired by one of my trips to France.)  I believe travel opens up my brain to all kinds of new ideas and inspirations that I wouldn't find any other way. However, it has come to my attention that some people really don't like to travel.  They much prefer to stay home.  

I get this.  I really do.  After all, to travel is to catapult yourself into the great unknown.  There's the hassle of airplane travel.  And a hotel or motel that might be iffy at best.  Maybe landing somewhere you don't know the language.  You may will say something wrong.  You'll feel like people are laughing at you. The food will be strange, and God only knows what is actually in that dish of stew. 

In other words, it's scary out there, people!  

But if you are the sort who likes to stay at home but you still want to jazz up your writing, I have a few suggestions on how you can apply a travel mindset to your writing.  

 1.  Seek discomfort.  This is the number one reason people don't travel.  Because, as mentioned above, you will have moments of extreme discomfort.  Plain and simple.  In 2013, the first year I traveled to Europe alone, I was terrified.  When last I'd been to Paris, waiters sneered at my feeble attempts to speak French and everyone was rude.  But once I realized that what I was really afraid of was discomfort, my whole attitude changed (and I actually have found the French to be lovely).  So, quit being so damned self-protective and catapult yourself out of your comfort zone.  Since I don't know what your particular comfort zone is, I can't offer any recommendations.  But you know.  I know you do.

2.  Cultivate a different mindset.  Part of the reason travel is so fun is that your usual boundaries and filters are off.  While you might hesitate to talk to a stranger at home, when traveling you might be forced to ask directions of one.  You become fearless because you have to be. You walk long distances because you get stranded miles away from your hotel and you don't know how to hail a cab.  You stay up late because you're having so much fun.  You eat sweets when you usually don't allow yourself to touch them at home.  And so on.  You can just as easily do this at home, it's just that we forget this and get mired in our regular routine.

3.  Seek out new sights and sounds.  Pretend you're a tourist in your own town and go visit new places.  We've got a fabulous Chinese garden here in Portland, and I'm embarrassed to admit that until I attended a wedding there a couple years ago, I'd never been there.  So visit tourist traps. Take part in corny local festivities. Drive to a different part of town, park the car, and walk. Seek out a new coffee shop.  Go hear a band you've never heard of perform.  Sit in a different part of the sanctuary at church.  Even the smallest change can give you a new viewpoint.

4.  Try different food.  Part of the fun of travel is sampling different foods. Food is a portal to sensory stimulation and sensory stimulation is a portal to inspiration.  Bear in mind, much of my recent overseas travel has been to France, where "different" means chocolate croissants for breakfast, Croque Monsieurs for lunch, and macarons for dessert.  Um, yeah.  But, as noted earlier, eating macarons in Ceret, France inspired a whole novel for me.  And I still recall the lamb dinner I ate at a small cafe on the Boulevard Montparnasse, after walking miles and miles on a sore knee. (The wine was damn good, also.) Surely your town has some wonderful restaurants that feature different cuisines.  Try them out!

5. Take your journal and go sit somewhere and write.  (This works especially well if you tend to stay tied to your desk at home, as I do.)  Record what is going on around you.  Write a description of the barista with purple hair.  Describe the dialogue you can hear at the table next door.  Hell, be really brave and strike up a conversation with the people at the table next door.  One of my fondest memories of being in Paris last year was all the people my husband and I met at bus stops, in our hotel lobby,  and on the street--people from Montreal, from Australia, from London, from all over!  There's no reason you can't do the same without leaving home.

6.  Change up your habits.  This is, in many ways, the easiest way to encourage a travel mindset., because most habits involve relatively small things.  But in some ways, it is the hardest, too. Because even though habits are small, they are deeply ingrained.  Here are a few modest suggestions: Drive a different way to work. Take a shower at night instead of in the morning. (Or don't shower at all!)  Go grocery shopping at 7 AM in the morning.  Drink tea instead of coffee.  Drink beer instead of tea. Drive through McDonald's for a burger instead of eating dinner at that luscious 5 star restaurant. Stay up late! Rise early!  You get the idea.

The point of all this is, of course, to shake up your brain and get some new synopses firing, which in turn should get those words flowing onto the page.

As always, I'd love to hear from you.  Do you like to travel?  Does it inspire your writing?

Wednesday Again

Plane_random_australia_56977_hIt's Wednesday again, in case you hadn't noticed.  And this is the day I devote to a personal post not related to writing.  Or the day I try to devote to a post not related to writing.  It seems like somehow or another everything links back to writing for me.  But anyway....

At this very moment I am sitting in the Portland airport, waiting for a flight to Burbank.  I'm going to Pasadena to visit my friend Mary-Suzanne.  She and I met many years ago at a Creativity Camp put on by Julia Cameron, and have been good friends ever since.  I'm going to stay with her for a week, hang out, eat the wonderful food Suzanne makes, work on my novel, and see my friend Diana.  Also, I shall bask in the 80 degree heat!

I was calculating earlier, and this is my fifth trip this year.  It's my second to southern California (the first in May for my nephew's graduation from law school and wedding).  I've also been to Kansas City twice, and to France for three weeks.  It's really not a lot of travel by many people's standards, but also more than a lot of people do.  

So, I thought it would be fun to do a list of things I like and don't like about travel.  I was going to do things I like and don't like about L.A. but changed my mind because the "don't like" list would be so much longer than the "like" list.

Things I Like

1.  Meeting people.  When we were in Paris in September, we met people from all over the world. These were brief but fun encounters that ended up being memorable nonetheless.  Who knew how many people came to France from Australia?

2.  Getting a new perspective.  This is especially good for writers.  Travel helps you see things in a different way just because your brain expands to encompass all the new stuff it is absorbing.  Or at least that's my theory.

3.  Being present.  When one travels, particularly in a foreign country, you have to stay present and alert.  In France, I'm always straining to understand what people are saying or figure out how to get somewhere.  Once I'm back home, I get complacent and fall into the old routines.

4.  Place inspires me.  I wrote my MFA critical thesis on landscape as character for goodness sake. Certain places inspire my writing and find their way into my novels.  My hometown of Portland is always a setting, and L.A. seems to appear a lot also.  Sun Valley and Santa Fe are perennial favorites. And yes, Paris is an important location in my next novel.

5.  Discomfort.  Let's face it, we are pampered.  And travel puts you into situations that cant you out of your comfort zone.  This is a good thing, as it stretches you.  (And yet, I think it is also the reason that many people do not like to travel.)

Things I don't like:

1.  Airplane travel.  Enough said.  Those long flights from the West Coast to Paris are killer.  But I did discover the joy of watching a million movies on my last long flight home.

2. Jet lag.  Anybody figured out how to mitigate this?  I tried melatonin with no results.  But this year I didn't suffer too bad on the way. I was not able to sleep, and so by the time I got to Pezenas it had been 24 hours and I'd been on a plane and a plane and a train with maybe three hours of sleep here and there.  I was so tired I fell right out.  But for some reason coming back home was brutal.  Felt like it took me forever to recover.

3.  Window seats.  Yes, I like the view, too.  But I also like to drink tons of water on plane flights so that I won't get a headache.  And that means several trips to the bathroom.

4.  Car sickness.  Ask my sister, when I was little I was famous for throwing up on car trips.  None of my sisters or cousins wanted to sit next to me for fear I would vomit on them.  I still have a hard time sitting in the back seat of a car, though I have discovered the wonders of Sea Bands that seem to mitigate most car sickness problems.

That's it!  That's all I've got.  What about you?  Do you like to travel or prefer to stay home?

Because I know you care desperately, here's the first Wednesday post from last week.  (I'm looking for a name for these posts.  Ideas?)

Come to France With Me in 2015

Just saying right off the top here--this is a teaser post.

Because you want to come to my next writing retreat in France, don't you?  You know you do!  We don't have every detail confirmed yet but we have decided where we will be.  Ready?

Collioure, France. Coll800

It is a seaside town with mountain views, and also the twisty, curvy medieval streets I love so much in part of it.  Tons to explore in the town itself, and many wonderful things to see nearby. Collioure is in the Languedoc-Roussilon region of France, and I can personally attest to the wonderfulness of their wines.  It is near the border with Spain (you could take the train from Barcelona if you so desired), in the south of France.

So, yes, that's the location.  But let's not forget that this will be a writing retreat/workshop.  I've had some questions about how this works, so here is the scoop:  Every morning (Sunday-Friday), we meet from 9:30 to 12:30 for the workshop.  This time is devoted to mini-lectures from Debbie and myself, and discussion about the designated subject (an aspect of writing).  We assign a book in common for all to read, from which we draw examples. There's in-class writing and every day, we give an assignment, which will then be discussed in-depth the next day.  (For an example of this year's schedule, click here.)

But we're not all work and no play.  Huh-uh.  Yes, you will have assignments to work on, but there will also be plenty of time to explore the town and a field trip or two to other locales.  And we have been known to enjoy the local wines, um, quite a bit, when we reconvene in the evening for talk and food and drink.

There's also the option for staying on for a second (non-writing) week.

Stay tuned.  Debbie and I are meeting next week to work on the schedule, and we'll have that posted as soon as we can.  We've got quite a long list of people who have expressed interest in the workshop this year, so drop me a line if you want to nab a space!

Soaking It In

As you may have noticed, things have been a bit quiet around here.  I've been in France, as some readers know.  France, people! Two weeks in the south and several days in Paris. 

And I have been soaking it all in.

So much so that my brain feels ready to explode and I can't wait to get on the plane and have time to write.  (But given a choice, I'd stay here longer in a hot second.)

To back up a bit:

The first couple of weeks in September, I wrote a lot. I took a class about fast drafting, and managed to write 80 pages on a brand-new project before I got on the plane for Europe.

The third week in September, I was in Pezenas, co-leading a writing workshop.  And, since all the participants were writing every day, I wrote, too.

Then my husband arrived in Pezenas.  And a group of us stayed on a second week.

There was no writing.  Instead, there were adventures.  Like a trip to Sete, where we rode a boat in the canals and harbor and got drenched in a rainstorm.  (None of us even had coats on.) A visit to St. Guilhem-de-desert to see the old houses built up a ravine and the Cloisters.  A journey to the beautiful and lively city of Montpelier.  And lots of time spent wandering the town of Pezenas, which has an historic core that is fun to get lost in (and get lost you will, the streets are very curvy and narrow).  And now, of course, Paris.  Just, Paris.

About mid-way through the first week I bought a journal.  (Buying paper goods is one of my favorite things to do here.) And I wrote in it a few times in the morning.   I thought for sure I would write delicate, important words about Paris in it once we got here.  But I haven't.

And for once, I'm not worried about it.

Because I am filled up with the sights and sounds of my time here.  And the flavors, let us not forget the flavors: macarons from Laduree, foie gras with fig jam in a small cafe in Pezenas, leg of lamb at a cafe on Boulevard Montparnasse after walking all day.  And the wine! Vin rouge, from theLanquedoc, the best wine in the world.

It really doesn't get any better than this.  Even if you're not writing.

So here are my recommendations for going with it and just letting it soak in:

1. Take insect repellent.  Les moustiques Francaise love me.  I was covered with bites the first two weeks, and they would suddenly activate in the middle of the night and start itching.  Once I bought insect repellent, my sleep improved dramatically.  The moral of the story? Be prepared.  I think being prepared in writing is related to soaking it in.  Being a sponge for every sensual experience is preparing yourself to disgorge words on the page.

2. Try.  I speak French haltingly.  But I find if I at least attempt a few words in French, people laugh and talk to me in English.  It is nice to try, though.  Same thing with writing.  Try putting some words down on paper.  When you're blocked, just try it and see what happens.

3.  Be willing to be uncomfortable.  I've written about this before, but on my table it is way too complicated to find the link.  Part of the experience of travel is a willingness to be embarrassed because you did something wrong in a different culture.  To get lost.  To have to walk 2 miles because you missed the bus.  To be uncomfortable.  And is this not also the essence of writing?

4. Have fun.  Every time something goes a different way than we anticipated, my husband and I look at each other and say, "Who cares? We are in Paris!" And then we soak in some more of wherever we find ourselves.  If you're not having fun with your writing, you might want to consider another career.

5. Use the toilet wherever you find one.  This is excellent travel advice.  Alas, I find I cannot relate it back to writing.  Maybe you can. 

As is so often the case with writing, I find that now I am to the end of this post I finally get what the true theme is.  And that is what I said in #4.  One should always live life, and approach writing, with the idea that wherever you find yourself is the most wonderful place on the planet to be.

Bon jour.  I promise that next week I'll be back to normal on my blogging.  In the meantime, what's up with you?  How's the writing going? Please report in the comments.

 (Alas, posting photos is too complex at the moment and I only have one day left in Paris so I am off to explore.  If you want to see some images from my trip, follow me on Instagram.


Writing in France (Or Anywhere)

Bon jour.

I am in Pezenas, France, down near Montpelier and Beziers (where we stayed Friday night and had an experience on the free bus trying to find our hotel that still makes me laugh out loud every time I think of it).  We--six of us--are staying in a house that could more accurately be called a mansion, with three floors and a grand marble entry on the inside, and a koi pond and swimming pool with a swag of oleander dripping above it on the outside.

Every morning at 9:30 we meet to workshop attendee's stories and discuss our book in common (Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes).  Our subject this year is character, so everything is viewed through that lens.

And every afternoon we write.  (I got in five pages yesterday).  Then at 5:30 we meet for wine, olives, pate, cheese, and bread--lots of bread.  (Paleo people just have to put aside their thing about carbs.  Besides, the wheat is better here.  And so is the butter.  And the eggs.  I'll stop now.)

In between, when the writing is done, there are walks into town (curvy streets barely wide enough for cars, restaurants tucked into every alley, shops and art galleries and lots of people smoking) or into the country side (vinyards and big old stone houses).

But notice I said, when the writing is done.

Because that's the point of being here, after all.  And it is surprisingly easy to get writing done, even in paradise, when you've got a whole houseful of people doing the same thing.

Between this experience and the Book in a Month class I took before I left (which entailed writing 20 pages a day for 14 days, thus finishing a draft, and then rewriting it the last two weeks of the month)I've come up with new knowledge of how to get words on the page and, as always, I am here to impart this wisdom to you.

Are you ready?  It's a multi-part process, so it is imperative that you pay close attention to the very end.  Here we go.

1.  Write

2. Write some more

3. Take no longer than one minute to ring your hands about how bad the writing is and then get back to it.

4. Write more

5. Notice you are writing utter crap and charge ahead anyway

6. Write, write, write

7. Finish your goal of pages or words for the day and breath a sigh of relief because you did it.

So, yeah, I'm being a bit tongue in cheek here (ya think?) but the gist of it is true.  I'm come to realize that we (myself included) make the act of writing way too complicated and emotional, when really, it all boils down to one thing: getting words on the page.

It doesn't matter how good or bad those words are, your only job is to throw them at the page.  To sit your butt down in the chair and write.  Because the wonderful thing about writing is that it can always be revised--and revision is ever so much easier when you actually have word on the page to work with.

What about you?  How is your writing going? What tricks do you use to get yourself to the page?

Traveling Discomforts and Mercies

Contrast_tower_toureiffel_14714_hWhen you read this, I'll likely be sitting on an airplane from Seattle to Paris.  It'll be cramped and the flight attendants will be speaking in French and I'll have no idea what they're saying and the person next to me will look like they just got out of prison, or the hospital.

Yeah, you're not feeling too sympathetic to me, are you?

Because, Paris.

And the south of France.

I know.  I can't wait.

But just because I'm gone doesn't mean the blog won't continue.  As mentioned in a previous post, I hope to be able to blog from Pezenas, unlike last year when I got to France and realized you can't freaking blog from an Ipad.  And I have at least one guest post scheduled.

Also--there's seven years of content, over 1,000 articles to explore on this site.  (One of these days I've got to figure out a better way to organize it.  I've tried and failed in the past.)

And before I leave, I want to say something about travel that bears on writing.  One word:


I've realized that a lot of what we fear in travel is discomfort.  We fear not being able to communicate, sleeping in an uncomfortable bed, eating weird food and drinking water that makes us sick.  Getting lost or missing a plane.  

And then when one or more of those things happens, we realize its not that bad.  And then you feel really good for having worked through the discomfort.  All of which adds up to something my wise friend Mayanna said yesterday: "I've learned that I have to do things that scare me."

And sometimes traveling is scary, or at least anxiety-producing.

Much like writing, no?

So next time you're in the middle of a writing session and you stop, paralyzed with fear because it has suddenly occurred to you that what you are writing sucks beyond repair, remember that a little discomfort is good.  Because it forces us to go places we've not been, whether in the real world or your writing world.

And remember how much better you'll feel once you have pushed through it.

So, what about you?  Do you like to travel?  Where's the most recent place you've traveled to?

Photo by Shawn Allen.

My Mind is as Dry as the Desert

(Brief aside: you know how you can remember the difference in spelling between dessert and desert? You want more of dessert, and thus it has two of the letter s in it.  My seventh grade teacher, Charles Nakvasil, taught me that.  He owned movie theaters after he quit teaching.) Desert-arizona-summer-47866-h

Last week I was out of town.  This was not the usual kind of travel I do, to writer's retreats or workshops or conferences or meetings with clients.  This was for fun only.  My nephew graduated from Pepperdine law school and two days later got married in Malibu.  Yeah, he's kind of nuts.  Runs in the family.

We, all of us, went to the wedding. Kids, grandkids, the whole shebang. Long-lost brothers and sisters-in-law.  Stayed at the same hotel, congregated for breakfast, hung out by the pool, like that.  We spent a day in Santa Monica (on the beach!) and wandered around the Venice canals. And then, when the kids went home, my husband and I played tourist, taking the best Hollywood star home tour ever, and wandering along Hollywood Boulevard to see the Walk of Stars and Grauman's Theater.  You gotta love all that.

And now, I'm home.  Have been for a few days.  Came back to appointments and laundry and family duties and tons of errands to run, as one does.  

But I haven't done a lick of writing.  

I've not written down a single idea.

Taken even the tiniest note.

I can't seem to land on anything.  My brain is full up, that's for sure.  But nothing is coalescing.  When I think that I should sit down and write, I can't seem to remember any of the projects I was working on before I left.  (Um, that would be the novel, and the two stories, and the idea for novella.)

I can't connect with anything.  My brain is as dry as the desert.

And, of course, I know the antidote for this.   Say it with me now:

Write something.  Anything!  Just put words on paper! 

And so I will.  Because I'm familiar enough with the creative process to understand that this happens sometimes, and while it's often important to just go with it, as I have been, it is also important to break the spell at some point with activity.

In other words, writing.

It's gone on long enough, and so I shall get to it.  Because if I don't get to it, the Not Writing may become a habit, and I can't allow that to happen.

What about you?  How do you break dry spells?  Leave a comment!


***For fun, some other posts I've written about southern California:

 Here's a post I wrote about attending a party on the Venice canals a few years back.

A post on why travel is good for your writing.

A letter from L.A.

A post titled, Ah, L.A., in which I discuss how its illegal to be anything but thin and blonde and tan there.

There are no doubt more, but that's all I can find for the moment.  Enjoy Memorial Day Weekend, everyone!

 Photo by Wolfgang Staudt.

10 Ways to Connect With Other Writers

The crowd of writers probably will not be quite this rowdy.

As you read this post, I will be attending the annual Associated Writer's Programs conference in Seattle, more commonly known as AWP.  Rumor has it that 11,000 writers will be there, though I'm a bit suspicious of that number.  (I've had numerous people, writers among them, ask me what on earth an AWP is, so here's an explanation: it's the organization that all the university writing programs belong to, and it also hosts a massive book fair of independent presses and journals.)

I've been to AWP four or five times in the past, in such disparate locations as Baltimore, Chicago (twice) and New York City.  It is always a blast to be around a bunch of other writers (the bars are crowded all day long) and wonderful to sit in on various panel discussions and presentations.  One year I even presented on a panel--biggest crowd I've ever spoken in front of, and it was pretty great.

Anyway....all this has got me thinking about how important connecting is to writers.  After all, independent ad solitary by nature, we like to sit in our rooms and write, so connecting may not be uppermost on your list of goals.  But I've always found that writers, once they get unchained from their desks, are the most interesting people in the world.  That's reason enough to connect with other writers, but you'll also find a sense of belonging that only talking shop with other knowledgeable souls can bring.  When you get stuck or discouraged, or face another rejection, you'll know someone you can call on who will understand.  (Because, let's face it, non-writers just don't get so many aspects of our lives.)

I've had several students and clients, though, ask me how they can get connected to other writers. This post is my answer.  Here you go:

1.  Conferences.  These tend to be big and glitzy and lots of fun.  You can take workshops on all aspects of writing, meet agents and editors, and kibbutz with other writers.  Some conferences also offer workshop components.  Many conferences tend to be held in the summer, so now is the time to plan to attend.  Look to Shaw Guides, Poets & Writers, Writer's Digest and The Writer for information on writer's conferences.

2. Workshops.  I'm arbitrarily naming these workshops, for gatherings that will be smaller and more intimate. While a conference may host hundreds or even thousands, a workshop can be as small as 6 participants.  Most often, there is a teaching component as well as a chance to share and discuss your own work.  I offer workshops through my business Let's Go Write, and our next one, in September will be in Pezenas, France.

3.  Retreats.  Many organized retreats for writers exist.  I used to be on the staff of one in Nashville that featured a few scheduled events and lots and lots of time to write.  It filled up every time we held it! There's something about getting away from your ordinary life that encourages writing.  If you can't find an organized retreat to your liking, create your own--hide out in a motel room for a few days, or rent a room for AirBnB.  It doesn't take much to make a writer happy--computer, pen, notepad and lots of coffee and you're set.  Okay, maybe some wine for the end of the day, too.

4. Ongoing Writer's Groups.  I'm talking about critique groups that meet to discuss work.  Some are led, i.e. you pay someone money to guide the evening, and others are informally organized.  I'm a huge fan of these.  I've belonging to two very-long running groups, one informal, the other led and I actually co-lead a group now.  I also belong to a small ( 4 person) informal group that I organized last year.  Not only will you get some good feedback on your work, you'll most likely make a few writing friends as well.

5.  Beta Readers.  Many writers I know make a habit of assembling a group of beta readers to send their work to when they've finished a draft.  This may not have quite the same degree of connection as in-person contact, but it is still a form of community.

6.  Crit Partners.  Other writers limit their criticism to one crit partner.  I can't speak to this process or how it fosters connection as I've never done it, but I hear good things about it from others who have.

7.  Local Writing Associations.  Here in Portland, we have two largish and very active writing associations who sponsor conferences, regular meetings with speakers, workshops, and readings. When I first started writing years ago, attending Willamette Writers meetings is how I first met other writers.  From there I became active in the group, found an ongoing writer's group and my path was set.

8.  Readings.  Most bookstores offer regular readings.  Go attend them!  Not only will you be supporting other writers, but there's a good chance you'll meet a few while there.  At the very least, you'll hear some good words being read.

9.  Classes.  And, of course, you can always take a class.  The first writing class I ever took was at a local community college, led by the wonderful (and under-read) Craig Lesley.  That was where I first experienced a workshop-style reading of my work.   There are many private classes as well, and don't forget certificate programs such as the one I teach at, The Loft.  

10. Online friends.  Through Twitter, other social media, and this blog, I've made many connections with other writers that I treasure.  Don't be shy--dive in!  I love the way I can communicate with other writers I'd never otherwise meet online.

So those are the ideas that spring to my mind.  What about you?  What are you favorite ways to connect with other writers?

Photo by rp72.

10 Takeaways from France

CobblestonesI flew home from Paris last Sunday, and as I write this, I'm still a bit jet lagged.  One of these days I'm sure I'll get back to a normal sleep schedule.  I now seem to rise at 4:30 every morning--at least it gives me time to write.

But I'm not complaining.  Because travel--any kind of travel, but especially international travel--is good for the writer's soul.  Really good.  So herewith is a round-up of some of my impressions of France, and how I see they relate to writing.  (Because, you know, everything relates to writing.)

1. Potato chips.  You gotta love a country that is as obsessed with potato chips as France.  Nearly every bar or cafe brings you a little cup of them with your wine or Orangina (my new obsession).   It's offering a little something extra--a habit we writers would be wise to emulate, don't you think?  Take the time to go deeper, to go back and rewrite that scene you've never quite been able to get right.  Take the time to give a little extra in your writing and your life.

2. Fantastic wines from the Languedoc Roussillon region.   Oh man, we loved the wines from the area we stayed in.  (It was the south of France, but very close to Spain.  Big Catalan influence with many signs in both languages.)  What can I say?  Setting is important. Bring yours to life with details from the location you're setting your story in.

3.  Water follows a natural course.  In Ceret, the sides of the narrow, cobblestones streets have gulleys in which water flows all day and night.  (See photo above.) The sound of running water and church bells chiming the hour (starting at 7 AM--no sleeping late there) are a constant backdrop.  Hopefully, your writing flows, too.  It does when you just let it, go I've learned.  And it doesn't when you force it.

4.  You will get jet lag.  And that's a fact.  The best way I found to cope  was to go with it.   The first few nights in France, I awoke every night and stayed awake for a few hours, but I was so excited to be in Paris (and have a 360 degree view of the city, including the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur) that I just got up and admired the vista.  You will get writer's block at some point, too.  My advice?  Quit resisting and go with it.  Take a break.  Refresh yourself.  You'll get back to the work, trust me.

5.  French women do have more style.  They just do.  And I think its because they make an effort to put their best selves forward in every situation.  Even if they are running to the corner boulangerie, they pay attention to what they're wearing.  Do me a favor, would you?  Check over your manuscript one more time before you send it out to anyone.  Make sure its formatted correctly (double spaced, please) and that there are no typos. I've seen a lot of manuscripts lately wherein the writer seems to have forgotten this crucial step.  Put your best self forward.

6.  If you don't speak the language, try anyway.  My high school French is rusty, very, very rusty.  But a smile and a sincere effort to communicate always did wonders.  Funny, because this was one of the things I worried about most but I always muddled through.  So maybe its time for you to try writing that personal essay you've been mulling?  Perhaps you really do have a novel in you? (And by the way, if you decide you want to learn a language, there's a fabulous free website called Duolingo that can help you.)

7.  In Ceret, there's a boulangerie on every block.  (Kinda like there's a coffeeshop on every corner here in Portland.)  Every morning, I'd take a walk and swear I would not return home with chocolate croissants.  I'll leave it to your imagination to decide how successful I was.  But this baked goods abundance made me think about ideas, and how we live in a rich stew of them.  An idea on every corner!  And many more in between.  We just have to become aware.

8.  Tourist areas are fun--but many other areas offer delights as well.  I traveled through Paris on my way to and from Ceret.  My first couple of nights in the city, I stayed in the home of a wonderful woman named Diane (this was where I had the amazing view of Paris).  I rented this place through AirBandB.com.  On my way back, I stayed in a fancy hotel on the Champs Elysses (thanks, Marlene).  Two very different experiences.  Is there a different area of your creativity you'd like to explore?  Painting?  Line dancing?  Fiber arts?  Head off the beaten path and see what you create.

9.  A community of writers is crucial in so many ways.  Our hardy band of retreaters read and commented on each other's work every morning as part of our workshops.   Not only did they enjoy the support and trust that sprang up, but they spurred each other on to new heights in their writing.  No kidding.  You wouldn't believe some of the amazing work that got put on the page! Find your community, whether it's a physical or in cyberspace.  (And I have one word for anyone interested in going on retreat with us next year: Italy.)

10.  All roads lead to Perpignan We took the bullet train (that baby really is fast) from Paris to Perpignan, which is a bit of a hub.  It's where Salvador Dali reputedly had a psychedelic experience that led him to declare that Perpignan was the center of the universe.  This may well be true.  As we were out and about on the countryside, we discovered that no matter which direction we traveled, there would be a sign saying we were on the road to Perpignan.   For me, this is true of writing as well.  All roads lead back to my writing.  All experiences, everything that happens, are reflected in my writing one way or another.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

What about you?  Does travel, foreign or domestic, inspire you?  What exotic locale would you most like to visit?

***The above photo was taken by moi.  I had planned to add a bunch more images to this post, but major wonkiness is going on with Typepad and photos.  I took tons of pictures, some blurry, some crooked, some actually halfway good, and you can see them all on my Instagram stream.


Jet Lag

I have returned.


France was wonderful.  Paris has only gotten better in the years since I've been there, and Ceret, the small town in the south of France where I spent a week leading a writing retreat, charming.  I had full intentions to blog regularly during my trip.   Obviously, that didn't happen.  To my credit, I did try, but discovered that with an Ipad, one can only use Typepad, my blog host, on an app.  Which I did download.  But then it seemed easier to walk to town and enjoy an afternoon glass of vin rouge than figure out how to use it.  So I didn't.  (But, between teaching and drinking, I did manage to write quite a bit on my own projects, so that, at least, is something.)

In the meantime, after the 12-hour flight (10 from Paris to Salt Lake City, and 2 from SLC to Portland) home on Sunday, I've been a bit wigged out, trying to straighten out a weird sleeping pattern, and catch up with a million things that happened while I was gone.  So my grand plans for blogging have gone astray.

However, I am working on a round-up post (that will also go out with my newsletter) for Thursday, and I'll have a book review posting on that date as well.  So please stay tuned, and know that I missed you.  By the way, the writing retreat/workshop was fantastic!  All of our participants turned out a high level of writing and seemed well satisfied with the week's work.  Next September we're going to Italy--so start making plans to join us now!

Until then, you can view my photo stream, with tons of pictures of Paris and Ceret, on Instagram. 

On The Road

Last week I drove to Baker City, Oregon with my friend Sharon.  5

Yeah, I know, a lot of people here in Portland don't know where Baker City is, either.  (For the record, it's about five hours east of here, in the dry side of the state on a high desert plateau surrounded by gorgeous mountain ranges.)

It was a quick trip, just overnight, and a long drive for the amount of time that we actually stayed in town.  But, like most travel, its had an impact on my writing.  I'm not writing about Baker City directly, (except in this post), and most likely its not going to creep into my novels or stories in the future (although you never know). 

But it has informed my writing since I returned, because my mind keeps going back to:

--driving for miles beside the blue expanse of the Columbia River

--taking a deep breath and driving up (and down the next day) the slightly hairy grade over the Blue Mountains

--watching the temperature climb to 107 and stay there for hours as we drove home

--staying at the historic and wonderful Geiser Grand Hotel

--eating dinner in the bar of said hotel and enjoying great conversation with other guests

--hanging out in the hotel room (there are few things I love more than a hotel room)

--checking out shops on Main street

--driving around the small town, looking at the Victorian houses

There's just something about getting away that inspires me.  I've written about this before, most recently when I spent ten days in Louisville in May at my MFA alma mater.  I travel to Nashville regularly to teach, and I'll be heading to France at the end of the summer to host a writing retreat.

But, really? It doesn't matter where I go, whether by car or plane.  I just love getting out in the world and it always, always, always loosens something in me that translates to words on the page.  Whether it is describing the new landscape I find myself in while journaling, or turning somebody I've met into a character in a book, travel always inspires me.  It expands my brain, and trust me, the old noggin can always use some expansion.

Does travel inspire you or make you cringe?  (Some people really don't like it.) Where have you gone (or are planning to go) this summer? 

I stole the photo from the Baker City website, but I don't think they'll be too upset with me.

A Writer Travels

Boeing_window_wing_248675_lOne of the missions of this blog is to write about the writer's life, all of it, and for this writer (moi), travel for work is an integral part of it.

My writing-related traveling began when I was accepted into the brief residency MFA program at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky, and fell into the flow of flying back there twice a year, in May and October.

It continued when I was hired as a mentor, lo those many years ago, at the Loft Certificate in Writing program in Nashville (well, really, Murfreesboro, but close enough).  For that gig, I traveled in September and January, and for awhile also went to Nashville in December and April when I was on the staff of the now-defunct Room to Write retreat.

Back in the day, I had clients in Los Angeles, and I'd fly (my favorite commute ever--just two hours on the plane, long enough for a good session of reading and voila, you have arrived) down there several times a year.  (Now I just go visit my friend Mary-Suzanne.)

And now that I do writing retreats, I get to head off the exotic locations such as Diamond, Oregon (population, 9, and we meet in a hotel that was once a stagecoach stop), and Ceret, France, where I'm headed the first week of September.

But at the end of this week, I'm heading back to Louisville again, to be a graduate assistant at Spalding after a ten-year absence.  This all started because at the beginning of the year, I started jonesing to be in the MFA environment again.  I wanted to see how different or similar it might be from the kind of teaching I've been doing, both privately and at the Loft.  I longed to be seriously immersed in the world of writing and literature again.

And, well, seriously immersed doesn't really begin to describe it.  The schedule for the 10 days is 30 pages long!  I'll be assisting one of my former mentors, Mary Clyde, whom I adore, in workshops devoted to critiquing student work, recording lectures, running errands, setting up events, attending readings by faculty and students, and soaking in as many words about writing as I can cram into my brain.  (Oh yeah, and there will be lunches, glasses of wine and dinners with old friends and new along the way.)

(I will also be reading from Emma Jean on Friday the 24th, I believe at 6 PM, and selling my book.  So come see me if you're in Louisville.)

I am going to attempt--attempt--to blog from the residency while I'm there. (If Patrick Ross can do it, surely I can!)  But, like I said, the schedule is 30 pages long, with every day packed and lots of duties outlined for me.   I am not complaining, however.  On the contrary, I cannot wait.

Oh, and the best part?  I don't have to take that cursed 6 AM flight to Dallas that I always get booked on.  My plane leaves at a leisurely 8:20 AM.

Do you travel for work, writing-related or other?  What do you like best or least about it?  Please leave a comment!

Photo by Dolphin22.

Freelance Writing, A New Publishing Model, and Haiku (Or, What I Learned in Nashville)

VanderbiltYesterday I wrote a post about my adventures in Nashville.  Today, I'm writing about what you really want to know more on, some of the writing activities I partook of.  Wait, that's a poorly constructed sentence, with that dangling participle.  Today, I'm writing about the writing activities about which you want to learn more.  Technically correct, but a bit high-faluting.  Well, let's just get to it.

The Writer's Loft

To refresh your memory, I travel to Nashville twice a year, in September and January, to participate in the certificate writing program sponsored by Middle Tennessee State University, the Writer's Loft.  It's a program modeled on the brief-residency MFAs that are so popular now, and in the words of the Loft's founder, Roy Burkhead, it's "MFA lite." (By the way, Roy's editing a cool literary magazine that I contribute to called 2nd and Church--check it out.)The program offers weekend orientations during which students hear lectures and workshops on all aspects of writing, and meet with their mentors after which, students go forth and do what they should be doing--write.

This year, I presented a lecture at the Loft on Scene and Structure, a variation on one of the sessions of my Get Your Novel Written Now class.  It was an information dense hour and a half, let me just say, so much so that I feared my student's heads might explode.  They graciously refrained from allowing this to happen, however.  I also sat in on a variety of other presentations, two in particular that I want to highlight here.

Freelance Writing

Writer Jennifer Chesak spoke on freelance writing and got me all inspired about it again.  She went through the basics of getting started, establishing relationships with editors, and so on.  Jennifer recommends starting with querying on small articles that would go in the news sections at the front of magazines and working your way up.  When I graduated from journalism school a gazillion years ago, I got married and had babies right away and so working at a newspaper was something that never happened for me.  But I did begin free-lancing and did it off and on for years, until I went back to school for my MFA and began doing more teaching and coaching.  But listening to Jennifer made me want to have another go at it, so I'm now on the lookout for ideas. 

A New Publishing Model

VPWebsiteBannerClassic-600x230Jennifer has also begun an innovative publishing company that intrigues me. It's called Wandering in the Words Press and here's how it works: it's submission-based, so you submit your work and go through a vetting process.  When Jennifer selects your novel or memoir for publication, you pay her for the editing process, either upfront, or through your royalties.  She not only edits, but creates you a website, and assists with marketing.  And the royalties are good--50%.  This is a very similar arrangement to my publisher, Vagabondage, though I didn't pay any fees to them for editing or anything else.  What I like about it is that you get all the benefits of indie publishing but there's still some quality control, which is often lacking in self publishing.  It's worth checking out.


Another one of the workshops which captured my attention was Aaron Shapiro's on writing Haiku.  He went through the rules of writing Haiku, gave us some visual prompts and let us have at it.  Okay, okay, if you insist, I'll share my brilliance with you:

Past his given time Absolutwade_model_wasp_255102_l

Fading days of a short life

A bee in winter.

This was my ode to the bee that appeared in my Portland bathroom at 4 AM as I was getting ready to catch my plane to Nashville.  What I liked about the Haiku writing was the idea that you could play around with it as a warm-up to writing.  Or when you're blocked, or don't know what to write but want to write something.

So that was what I learned in Nashville.  But I also want to give a shout-out to the Living Writer's Collective, this amazing group of writers in Spring Hill, about a half-hour away from Nashville (in which direction, I'm still not entirely certain).  I had the great good fortune to speak to them on Thursday night before the Loft orientation began and I loved it.  What a great group of writers--not a wanna-be in the bunch.  All of them, as far as I could tell, were actually engaged in the work of putting words on the page.  They were a friendly and welcoming group, also, and if you live in the area, check them out.  Thanks, guys, for having me!

And I think that is quite enough from me for the moment.  What have you learned of heard or read about writing lately?  Comment, please.


The top image is one I took on the Vanderbilt campus, which is serving as a stand-in for MTSU.  They are two very different beasts, but oh well.

I snitched the Vagabondage Press image for the website.

The bee is by Mordac.

To Nashville and Back

Estock_commonswiki_353383_hYou might have noticed my absence from this space over the last week.  That's because I went to Nashville on a teaching trip, which was wonderful as always and also turned out to be a bit more adventurous than usual.

To wit:

--My husband got so sick before I left I almost cancelled my trip.  I did try to delay it by one day, but the airlines charge a lot for that.  Like $1,000 a lot.  So off I went anyway, with promises by my daughter to look in on him.  Instead of him rising at the crack of dawn (4 AM) to drive me to the airport, I ordered a cab and had the dubious pleasure of riding with a taciturn Russian driver who did not say one word the entire trip.  My husband started antibiotics and soon felt much better. So did I.

--I stayed the first two days with a student I had worked with for three semesters but beyond that didn't know well.   I think we were both a little nervous about it.  I mean, what if I burped or farted in front of her and/or her husband and embarrassed all of us?  You'll be happy to know that didn't happen, and I had a great time, ending up the time feeling like I made a wonderful new, close friend. (Hi, Karen!)

--Got my debit card hacked.  Yes, really.  Somewhere in my travels across the country, the card got skimmed.  Was it the surly cab driver?  The sweet woman at the newsstand in Dallas?  Who knows?  I've got to hand it to Paypal, they took immediate action and dealt with the problem without a lot of fuss on my part.

--Almost missed my flight home to Portland from my connection in Denver.  Apparently, Frontier Airlines likes to cut things close with connecting flights.  I had 30 minutes in which to make it.  And, of course, the plane from Nashville to Denver was late.  Turned out there were 50 of us on the flight with the same insanely short connection time, so they held all the planes for us.  It still required a mad dash through the airport (wearing boots and an oversized purse, wheeling my computer bag behind me), because, wouldn't you know it, the arrival and departure gates were about as far apart as you could be and still be in the same concourse.

--Remembered about fear: that it's a sneaky beast that can masquerade as anxiety or a variety of other emotions.  And really, it all just goes back to fear.   I remind myself that the word that pressed itself upon me this year is fearless and it is that word that I have pledged to live by.  And so I shall.

So those were some of my adventures.  In my next post, I'll write about the actual writing part of the trip, including some of the highlights of the Loft orientation.

Have you had any adventures lately, in life or  your writing?  I'd love to hear about them.  Leave me a comment and share.

***By the way--you can get $50 off my next Get Your Novel Written Now class if you sign up by next Thursday, Jan. 31st.  It doesn't start until March but sign up now for early bird pricing!