2017 Writing Retreat at Lake Cuyamaca

I can’t believe it’s been over two years since my last writing retreat. And it’s not for lack of trying. Life has been quite busy in the meantime and I’ve been doing a lot more traveling than I normally do.

Anyway, I finally managed to go on a writing retreat in October. My friend and I ended up deciding to do a camping writing retreat (if you think that sounds crazy, you’re not alone, judging by the number of strange looks I got before the trip). But it totally worked!

We packed a tent and supplies and drove up on Friday, through Ramona, past Julian, to our campsite near Lake Cuyamaca. I’ve always enjoyed the beauty of the mountains surrounding Julian, but have never camped out that way, despite living in San Diego for nine years.

Our campsite was quite popular and there were quite a few sites booked for the weekend. It definitely wasn’t the isolated experience I’ve had on other camping trips. I camped at Joshua Tree several years ago and I swear there were only two other people there the whole weekend.

We didn’t get started on the actual writing until Saturday morning, but I ended up having one of the best writing sessions I’ve had in months. Really helped me break through the lack of confidence I’ve been suffering lately. And it brought me that much closer to finishing my Tesla book (yes, the SAME book I was working on at the last writing retreat).

View From the Front Door

After writing for a bit, we decided to go to Julian to do a couple things. On the way, we learned of a fire burning at another campsite in Lake Cuyamaca, which made us understandably nervous. The fires were still burning in the California wine country and we were acutely aware even as we left San Diego, that fire danger was high. Luckily, we found out later that they were able to quickly get that fire under control and I don’t believe anyone was hurt.

On the way to Julian, we stopped off at Lake Cuyamaca to look at the lake, take some pictures of the fall leaves, and torture my dog by walking him onto the dock. Zoom in on his face….Elliot was so not amused.

In Julian, we visited our favorite little teahouse, Julian Tea and Cottage Arts, and of course, bought some tea! Then we went and waited in line to get a slice of the famous Julian pie and cinnamon ice cream before heading back to our campsite for a sunset walk around the campgrounds. Our campground was literally right across the road from Stonewall Peak.

That Famous Julian Pie

I was able to fit in a little more writing time before bed that night. The wind had been high all day and it continued after dark, making our attempts at a campfire both sketchy and sort of impossible. We tried to go to bed early, but our neighboring campers kept me up most of the night making sausages. We thought it was funny when they went to bed early, but I guess they were just napping in preparation to wake up and cook sausages around the campfire at midnight! I kid you not, that is what happened.

In any case, I was able to rally myself the next morning and do a little more writing before heading back to San Diego to unpack and get ready for my trip to Colorado.

Stonewall Peak at Sunset

I’ll pause here to explain about a few of the discoveries I made about how a camping writing retreat can actually HELP your writing process.

-No Internet Can Be a Godsend

I’m writing historical fiction and if there’s one thing to be said about historical fiction, it’s mostly researching with a side of actual writing. I’m constantly thinking of things I need to look up/research/doublecheck and it does slow the process considerably. If you don’t know the answer to something offhand, you only have two choices: keep writing and look it up later or stop, drop, and research. With the Internet at my fingertips, I often do the later. But while we were camping, I couldn’t access the Internet unless I gave myself a hotspot and I didn’t want to run down my phone battery doing that. So I was forced to keep going and just write notes for myself and I actually think that is the better method. It took me a lot less time to go back and fact-check my work than it usually does to write and research at the same time. (In case you’re wondering, I don’t do just Internet research, I have quite a library of books that didn’t come along on the camping trip. But the Internet is a great place to start and many times I can find an answer for a small detail or locate the book I need to order if I need more in-depth information).

-Those People Who Handwrite in the Computer Age Might Not Be Crazy After All

I’ll be honest and say that I have written the vast majority of my books on my computer. Ever since I got my first laptop when I was fourteen, I have been in love with how quickly you can type down your racing thoughts without sacrificing legibility. I have poor handwriting to begin with so the later is an important consideration. Occasionally, I have written short passages in my phone’s notes or jotted them down on scrap pieces of paper (Once, I even used a paper towel!) But I have never intentionally written sections of my book longhand to transcribe later. I know many writers have this as part of their process, but I do not. Though I have to say, I got the chance to try it out at the writing retreat and I am now convinced that maybe those writers aren’t crazy after all. That there’s actually something to it and it doesn’t just create extra work. When I tried out this method, I noticed that I naturally edited my work during the transcribing process, which was pretty neat – I can now see why people write this way!

-A Dying Computer Battery is the Best Motivator

Since Julian is such a tourist town, they actually lack the normal writer refuges: coffee shops and a library. I was still determined to bring my laptop along on this trip since I do prefer to write with it. But knowing I only had so many hours on my battery and that I wouldn’t be able to recharge it, definitely kept me motivated and on track. And with no Internet to waste time on, I definitely made the most of all of the minutes on my laptop battery!

Overall, it was a great writing retreat. If anything, it was a little bit too short…I could have spent several more days on our retreat! But as most writers know, reality often knocks before the writer’s creativity is even close to exhausted.

Have you been on a writing retreat this year? Where did you go? Let me know in the comments below!

2017 SDSU Writer’s Conference in Review

This is months and months overdue (I attended this event in January!), but I definitely wanted to review this event because it was awesome!

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The SDSU Writer’s Conference is an annual event in San Diego and one I’ve been trying (and failing!) to attend for the last 5 years. However, after the 2016 conference, I emailed the coordinators and asked if they could add me to their mailing list so I would know when to sign up. Problem. Solved. I registered for the 2017 event with no problem and eagerly waited to attend my first ever writing conference! UCSD had a writing conference in the fall of 2011, but I was sadly not able to attend any of the panels between my class schedule and traveling to San Francisco. So the 2017 SDSU Writer’s Conference was my first taste of the world of professional writing.

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Jonathan Maberry Speaking

It poured rain all weekend and since the event was in Mission Valley, we even got a flash flood alert during one of the panels that scared the bejesus out of all the out of towners. The San Diegans were quick to reassure the concerned that that’s just want Mission Valley does when it rains, it floods. Still, the bad weather could not dampen the energy and enthusiasm that this event had in spades.

It was divided between keynote presentation and panel events, which was nice because you could pick and choose your trainings you wanted to attend. The keynote speakers this year were Jonathan Maberry, R.L. Stine, J.A. Jance, and Sherrilyn Kenyon. We also had a special presentation on the final day from Marjorie Hart, author of Summer at Tiffany. Of the keynote speakers, the only one I was familiar with prior to the event was R.L. Stine because of course. All the keynote speakers gave wonderful and very inspiring presentations!

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R.L. Stine Speaking

The panel events were fabulous as well. They even had historical fiction panels led by author Gina Mulligan which apparently is relatively rare for writing conferences. As I’m still working on my historical fiction novel about Nikola Tesla, I made sure to attend all of these events. Also, Gina is probably the sweetest person ever. Seriously, ever.

Some other standout panels were the panel taught by agent Mark Gottlieb on how to write an effective hook and all of the panels taught by Bob Mayer. There was also a cool panel I didn’t get to attend where you could see real weapons and chat with experts from the FBI, CIA, police, and military. I did not attend one panel that was not fabulous and I purchased the recordings for several more (I still have not listened to these yet, but I am grateful this was an option and I have them when I’m ready).

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Panel With Authors J.A. Jance and Sherrilyn Kenyon

I met so many nice attendees, editors, and agents at this event! I only did one pitch which was okay because I’m not where I want to be with the book yet. But I walked away with valuable information from the editor I met with on how to fix my story synopsis!

I highly, highly recommend this conference. I am planning to attend again in 2018. If you live in San Diego and are a writer, you should really sign up. Yes, conference fees are relatively expensive, but this event is worth every penny!

 

An Evening With Neil Gaiman in Review

In an effort to become a better writer, I’ve been doing a lot of things lately that are kind of outside my comfort zone:

1. I joined a writer’s group. I’m still not sure why they like me, but I’ve spent enough time around horses to know not to look a gift horse in the mouth!

2. I went to a writer’s conference. Which I realized I still need to review on the blog. More on that later then.

3. I signed up to go to a second writing conference in May.

4. I got tickets to go see Neil Gaiman speak in San Diego.

The last one is notable because I bought a ticket without finding out if I knew anyone who wanted to go with me. At the time I was thinking I’d probably find someone to go with and we could carpool. Which did not happen. So I’m super proud of myself that I didn’t flake especially because I had to drive myself downtown to go.

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Anyway, back to the event. I really had no idea what to expect. It was billed as “An Evening With Neil Gaiman” which is all I really needed to know. What I didn’t expect was how many other people find Neil Gaiman as cool as I do.

Earlier that day I was explaining to someone how the event I was going to was at the San Diego Civic Center. To which they pointed out that it’s an enormous space for an author to book. I looked this up later – The San Diego Civic Center seats 2,967 people. While not every seat was filled, the majority were. And that is just so cool for an author to fill that many seats with booklovers and wordnerds. I’ve been to concerts and sporting events, but there is just something so uniquely magical about gathering a crowd of overly excited introverts together to talk about books.

The setting itself was just as dramatic: a single podium on that massive stage. No signs, no backdrop, no video screen. The whole evening was blessedly free of pomp and circumstance. Just Neil and a microphone.

As could be expected, he did some reading of his work. Nothing I had actually read before so it was nice to experience it for the first time being read by the author. He read a story from his book Norse Mythology and he also read a short story about a genie.

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Apparently Neil had also been accepting questions prior to the event. I didn’t know about this, but it was okay. He had quite a stack of questions up there on the stage which he picked from. Some of the questions required longer answers, some just a few words.

Overall, I really liked how the evening was unscripted and fun. It ended up feeling like a very intimate event, despite the fact that perched high on the balcony I had to squint to see the tiny figure on the stage. My only real complaint was that 90 minutes was over much too soon.

If you get the chance to hear Neil Gaiman talk, I highly recommend! He’s as lovely and entertaining as all the Twitter posts have led you to believe.

Speaking of Twitter, this happened the next day:

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Life. Made.

 

 

 

Dedication, Resolve, Commitment, and Self-Reliance in Any Form

I’m about ten weeks into my new fitness regimen. What that looks like is five days at the gym (three days weight training, two days cardio) and another three days at the barn. I’ve been working with a personal trainer, mostly because I knew it wouldn’t be enough to hold myself accountable to myself. And it’s been great. I feel like I’m getting stronger/healthier.

So what does this have to do with writing? A lot. Living a life as a writer is similar to the commitment one must make to health and fitness. What do you need to succeed as a writer? Dedication, Resolve, Commitment, and Self-Reliance. What do you need to succeed with your fitness goals? Same four ingredients.

Going to the gym daily is just like practicing your writing daily (or whatever habit): you’re not always going to want to do and you’re going to get frustrated. Especially in the beginning. It’s hard to form a new habit-30 days, 60 days, 90 days, whatever the going rate is on new habits. If you can find someone or something to hold you accountable for your writing in the beginning, you’ll be better off. Join a writing group (even online!), find some like-minded friends, or even enlist your roommate/significant other into goading you with, “Did you write today?” When you tell people you’re going on a diet or you’re going to go to the gym more, people almost automatically take it upon themselves to point out things like, “You’re eating that? What about your diet?” or “I thought you were supposed to go to the gym today”. These things can be annoying, but it’s people just trying to be helpful. If it works for you, get your friends to annoy you into writing.

What have I learned recently? Waiting to write until inspiration strikes is as much of an excuse as “I’m tired” is in regards to the gym. Excuses take many forms, some not so blatant as others. Psychosomatic symptoms, fatigue, lack of inspiration, and phantom aches/pains all contribute to keeping you from your writing and fitness goals.

One last thing:

A healthy body –> healthy brain –> healthy writing –> healthy person–> continuing to treat yourself right–> a healthy body, etc.

It’s a feedback loop. Which would make sense if I could denote it in a circle. Which I can’t. Because that’s too much effort. What do you want from me? Health/fitness and writing success > being technically proficient with the computer/spending time drawing a diagram. Fin.