Writing, Writing Retreats

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!

Author Events, Author Spotlight, Local San Diego, Uncategorized, Writing

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.

 

 

 

Personal

A Very Writerly Birthday

Yesterday, I turned 23. As you might expect, when your birthday is that close to Christmas, the two holidays kind become of extensions of each other. Usually they’re pretty split 50/50. This year, I noticed I definitely got more writing related things for my birthday from friends and family than for Christmas (which is not a bad thing either way, just an observation). I decided to talk a little about things that make good gifts for writers, the whole year through!

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Clockwise, from top left:

– Touchscreen phone gloves! So useful, particularly if you live somewhere cold, or just have cold hands. It’s really hard to keep up the motivation to keep writing when your hands are slowly turning to ice. This way, you can take the chill off your hands and keep using the trackpad on the laptop, iPad, or smart phone. I’m excited to try these out. It finally warmed up again this week, so I’ll have to wait a bit.

– Tape recorder! I always think of my best ideas when I’m driving in the car. I usually take notes on some sort of note app when I’m out and about, but this is really inconvenient for the car. This way, you can just click the button on, talk, and click it off. Small enough to carry in your purse and small enough to set in your cupholder when driving. Also really excited to try this one.

– Books! You probably could have though of that one on your own. But when it comes to gifts for writers, you don’t have to get fancy. We love books. ❤

– Journal. Same as above. I’d also like to point out that this journal is made out of recycled materials. Horse poop to be exact. No, it doesn’t smell like poop.

– All the Starbucks! Also an easy one. Never underestimate the power of the obviously, but extremely necessary gift.

Graphic Novel, Memoir

Marbles

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney

Shortly before her thirtieth birthday, Forney was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Flagrantly manic and terrified that medications would cause her to lose creativity, she began a years-long struggle to find mental stability while retaining her passions and creativity.

Searching to make sense of the popular concept of the crazy artist, she finds inspiration from the lives and work of other artists and writers who suffered from mood disorders, including Vincent van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, William Styron, and Sylvia Plath. She also researches the clinical aspects of bipolar disorder, including the strengths and limitations of various treatments and medications, and what studies tell us about the conundrum of attempting to “cure” an otherwise brilliant mind.

Darkly funny and intensely personal, Forney’s memoir provides a visceral glimpse into the effects of a mood disorder on an artist’s work, as she shares her own story through bold black-and-white images and evocative prose.

One of the things I really love about graphic novels is that it’s entirely possible to read them in one sitting, inside the space of an hour or two. I started this before bed and definitely finished it all that night.

If you’ve ever been curious as to what being bipolar feels like, read this book. Forney does a great job of conveying the highs and the lows, with text, images, and spatial representations. In a weird way, I think the bipolar disorder is uniquely fit to be depicted in graphic novel form. I don’t Forney could have communicated the vast difference between the two if this were just a novel.

This is the fourth graphic novel I’ve read, the others being Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (highly recommended), Maus by Art Spiegelman, and The Watchmen by Alan Moore. I enjoyed and loved all of them. Graphic novels are very interesting, especially studying in the context of art-as-literature and literature-as-art. While I say that you can read these novels pretty quickly, you can also read them very slowly. There’s so much to take in on each page, particularly in the case of Watchmen which is just intense. No wonder it’s held up as one of the greatest examples of the genre. It really is exceptional, especially on the level of detail.

I picked up this book after seeing a review of it in a magazine (Entertainment Weekly, I think it was). I was attracted to it because I, too, have long contemplated the associations between artists and mental illness. After being part of a pretty close-knit writing department at a large university, by the end, it almost felt like if you didn’t have something “wrong” with you, you didn’t belong. Mental illnesses were worn as badges of honor, in a way. Which is not to belittle people’s struggles. I also count myself into the above category. (Generalized anxiety, depression, and a spot squarely on the obsessive spectrum of OCD, if you’re wondering what my merit badges are). A couple sections in Marbles particularly resonated with me because of this. One, the author’s struggle to decide if treating her bipolar disorder was equal to killing her creativity. In other words, whether her creativity stemmed from the “crazy”. Two, there’s a particular section where she discusses how among the community of bipolar sufferers, the numbers of meds you’ve tried are clung to like hard-fought medals of honor.

There are a lot of facts in this book, both about bipolar disorder as a disease and about the relationship between artists in history and mental illness. It’s definitely not a coincidence. I don’t think there’s a person in the modern age who’s decided to devote themselves to some type of art that hasn’t thought about whether, one day, they might become another Sylvia Plath or Virgina Woolf.

One of my favorite passages in the book, is the section where she finally tells people about her illness. None of her friends ran away screaming. All were accepting, in their own way. The interesting thing is, I think this is pretty typical of people’s experiences. Maybe it’s still taboo, maybe not, but people who really love you probably already knew you had (insert mental illness).

A diagnosis doesn’t make you a different person.