The 12-hour Write-a-thon: Saturday, January 5, 2019
I did it! I wrote for 12 hours (with a break for lunch). Happily, thanks to Lighthouse Writers Workshop, my writing year began this Saturday with a 12-hour Write-a-Thon at Lighthouse’s historic headquarters building on Race and Colfax in Denver. (Of note, the working title for my book is Adrift and the resource keeping me on course is Lighthouse.) This Write-a-Thon, five days into the new year, gave me 12 blissful hours to integrate what I learned in 2018, to sink back into my work in progress, and to plot a writing course forward in 2019.
My 2018 Writing Year in Review
The first half of my writing year in 2018 was occupied by a full manuscript critique class. Each month, a different person submitted their full manuscript. The rest of our small group read that person’s work, then we gathered to critiqued face to face. Each manuscript brought interesting insights and I learned to critique better from the people around me. Writing communities are critical to our writing.
I submitted in May, but I had only produced half a manuscript plus outline of the second half. In the end, it seemed that my format helped my cause because my readers could see both my writing (the skin) and the structure and intent (the bone). In the five years leading to that submission, I have attended numerous writing workshops and participated in several critique groups that met regularly. I have learned to write complex characters, maintain tension and land the reader in the character’s experience (all through much effort and soul searching). Cherry picking events from lifetimes is one of the big challenges of creative nonfiction and memoir, so we had an interesting conversation about the overall structure. (There are many routes to presenting this story.) The biggest critique, though, was the desire to hear the wise, adult voice of the author.
I wasn’t necessary surprised with this advice – I had written with a focus on scene work with the intent to “add the glue” later. But the more I sat with this advice, the more I saw its relevance to and potential impact on my overall story.
The second half of 2018 was fuller than usual of work, visitors, vacation, and family obligations. None of these are inherently bad things, they were reality. My heavy workload and family obligations meant a drastic reduction in hours spent writing on the bus rides to and from work and very little weekend writing.
With that said, the most important ways I advanced my writing after May were:
- Tuning into Author’s voice: To best engage with the idea of author’s voice, I sought out women I consider to be masters of truth seeking and emotional resonance. In 2018, I read and listened to Brené Brown, Pema Chödrön, Anne LaMott, and Cheryl Strayed. (Jeannette Walls and Mary Carr belong on this list, too, along with local author Tracy Ross; however, I had read them in previous years.)
- House Swap: In 2017, a classmate from my early elementary years contacted me via Facebook messenger to let me know she had purchased the house Dad built when our first house burned to the ground. (Sometimes I question the role of Facebook in my life, but this is one of the best reasons to stay engaged.) In a series of excited messages back and forth, we planned a house swap. In August, I wrote for large blocks of time as we drove cross-country. My week in that magical house that was so devastating to leave as a little girl was nothing short of cathartic and solidified my memories. (Expect an upcoming blog post with pictures.)
- One-Day Writing Conference: In October, I managed to attend a writing conference at Lighthouse North (Louisville, CO location). Preparing a 10-page submission for the chance to speak with an agent, forced me to hone a piece for submission. Though I have won this contest in the past, I didn’t win this year. The woman who won the slot for memoir has a distinct, funny, smart writing voice and deserved to win. (Hmm, there’s that author voice again.) A day of workshops and classes landed me back in my writing when so much else was demanding my time.
The last, most important thing I really needed to tackle to set myself up to have any time to write in 2019, was address my professional workload. In 2018, I was doing far more work than the managers in my Department realized. I won’t go into details on how I am doing this, but I am actively working with them to solve for my volume, so I have a reasonable workload moving forward.
2019: A Year of Deep Writing
2019 is the year of the Pig according to the Chinese zodiac. The pig represents happiness and prosperity. (Book deal? : )) As a Rabbit in the year of the Pig, I am told by one website, an excellent year awaits me.
So, in this excellent year sure to be excellent for writing as much as anything, here’s my writing plan:
- Large weekly blocks for going deep: Arriving at emotional truths requires time, particularly for me because I am wading in deeper than I have before. I can’t go deep with my typical stolen hour before the rest of the house wakes up, half-hour on the bus going to and from work or distracted hour while my daughter is in her aerial dance class. Those have their place, but don’t generate depth. Each week that I’m not doing personal (see #2) and monthly (see #3) retreats, (or on vacation or hosting visitors), I will calendar three-hour blocks for working on my writing.
- Personal writing retreats: This year, I will take a day off from work for a personal writing retreat each quarter. I have the vacation time to make it happen.
- Mini group retreats: For the past several years, I have attended one or two writing retreats annually with the same four to six women. This spring, we are planning to mini retreat once a month. We will meet at different locations (each other’s home, coffee shops, libraries) for five-hour blocks or writing with some read aloud and feedback at the end.
- Group weekend retreats: This year, I hope to have two weekend-long writing retreats with that group of women.
- Content: This blog will be my space for working out new angles and new writing territory.
All of these retreats are going on my calendar as soon as I post this.
Here’s to abundant writing from a place of authenticity in 2019!