You are not a beggar at the gate. You are the gate.
It’s 8:30 pm and I’m on a plane flying through a star-studded clear night back to St. Louis. I’m in row 12, seat A, and my seat back is stuck at an awkward 90-degree angle. My elbows squeeze my ribcage thanks to the large snoring seat mate spilling over the armrest on my right. My Macbook is unsteady on the tray table, rocking a little as I type, but I am happy.
I am really happy.
I want to send you a note about the writer conference in Irvine, California, I’ve just been attending.
It was awesome to take a class from someone who is generous and down-to-earth and just loves stories and thoroughly knows his craft. Based on his recent book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction, Donald Maass (New York literary agent) taught the three-day session with a simple idea: Write emotion.
Write so that you, as a reader, have your own emotional experience while reading my novel.
Not by simply being a witness to the actions of my main character, Jo (I’ve given my protagonist Johanna a nickname) but by writing so that you are inside Jo’s head, seeing more than just what she is doing, but why… and then you can react: agree, disagree, anticipate what’s next, be happy or worried or touched or mad or moved or any other wild emotion you wish to feel through your own emotional experience when reading the story.
So, in contrast to writing the external events of the story, I practiced and struggled with going deeper, inside and behind what’s happening on the surface.
What’s funny is that even at this early stage of writing I’ve been worried that my writing about Jo has been too shallow. I don’t want to short-shrift you or her or her story. So now I’m more determined than ever. I have 100,000 words to write and 20+ techniques to turn to so that I can create a place and people and story you’ll want to spend time with.
The book still feels a little distant and out of reach, only now I believe I have a map.
So in the spirit of sharing both what’s happening on the outside, as well as what’s going on under the surface, here’s a snapshot of the 72 hours in Irvine.
21 women + 3 men. Multi-published to first-draft writers. Don’s two adopted young teenagers. 15-meter diving platform panic. White-chocolate chunk cookies. A row of slim silver-backed rectangles with softly glowing apple icons. Loud A/C air blower. Gesturing hands. Pacing feet. Soft patter of fingers on laptop keyboards. Infusion of rich coffee aroma. Purple-ribboned name badges. Barely legible black-marker scrawl. Cancer and chemo. Orange-brushed sunsets. Confidence. Resistence. Nervous reading aloud. 15-minute writing sprints. A dying queen. An Oklahoman leisurely drawl. Psychic teenager misdiagnosed as schizophrenic. Assassins taking ethics training. Tragedy in a remote Canadian oil town. Mermaid trilogy. Crimean War nurses in love. Twin brothers who-done-it. 19th century hack. Group dinner of Irvine baby back ribs. Business card exchanges. Facebook friend requests. Offers to be beta readers, to email encouragement, to see you at another workshop, to be well. Travel safe. You can do it! Get to the end! Get to the end.
Get to the end!
How I'm Writing the Book
Daily Writing: To maintain the awesome workshop momentum, my new specific goal is five good pages/day - we’ll see how it goes.
Scrivener Writer Software: I’m buying the download. At the workshop a fellow writer, Sheri, demo-ed it for me and shared its pros and cons. Time to bite the bullet.
Books I'm Reading: I downloaded Dying to be Me by Anita Moorjani onto my iPad to read on the plane (thanks for the suggestion, Ruth!) Wow - a thought-provoking, inspiring Near Death Experience and spiritual journey of a young woman who completely recovered from cancer following this experience.
In the meantime, as I was in Irvine, Juan and Eric met up in Phoenix to watch the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks battle on the basketball court (the Knicks won) and then drive up to Flagstaff. I asked them to do a little wedding recon on Airbnbs for guests coming to Eric and Angie’s June wedding. When I called to check in, I didn’t get much info. I think the guys did recon on bars instead. Critical research!
Back to the parting message Don gave our mighty workshop group:
Here’s to a fearless week!