We are still in beautiful Steamboat Springs, Colorado, being joined by fabulous writer friend Paul Aertker and his super-cool wife Katherine . . . and a very cute bear who likes our storage shed. It was great to reconnect with Paul, a friend from L.A. SCBWI . . . and the bear? Well, we're hoping he gets bored with us pretty soon.
On Saturday, I attended A Day for Writers, a conference sponsored the Steamboat Springs local arts council and their writers group. Two talented writers led talks: Wick Downing and Erika Krouse. Wick was wonderful in a groovy, writer kind of way with some incredible nuggets of wisdom, and Erika (you could tell) is an amazing writing teacher. She led two talks. The first was on "when you're stuck" and the second was about "revision and reinvention". If any of you have ever seen me at a conference, you have probably guessed that I took about forty pages worth of notes.
So . . . I give you conference notes, part I:
When You're Stuck--
Erika started her talk by saying that those writers who claim to "take dictation from God" and who "never have to revise because it's perfect the first time" are LIARS. She said that it is an important part of the writing process to get stuck and that it is often a wake up call that you need to go in a different direction. Getting stuck is natural--staying stuck is not.
Four Reasons for Getting Stuck:
1. Tendency towards flight vs. fight (fighting is writing)
2. internal critic (who has good intentions because he thinks he's saving you from yourself)
3. both creating and critiquing at the same time (right brain vs. left brain)
4. Conflict stinks and all literature is based on conflict--we build this difficult world and then we have to live in it
1. Find comfort within your conflict by using your five senses. Your senses will ground you to the real world while you're writing--channel distractions to a smell or other ritual (chew gum, smell a candle). You could also deprive yourself of a sense by closing your eyes or blocking out all sounds.
2. Defeat your critique by addressing it--take it head on. You created it, you defeat it. Don't give it a chance to talk through speed (quick automatic writing). Another option is to trick it by writing badly on purpose--the worst possible thing you can write--until it goes away.
3. Use safe escapes--instead of breaking from your writing break with your writing. Stay at your desk and write something completely different. Stretch or shout. Do a finite task (NOT something like answering emails or surfing the net).
4. Create your own writing rituals (take a walk, physical location, music, schedule, etc.)
5. Use props and prompts (Erika has a file of interesting pictures that she's cut out of magazines. When she's stuck, she pulls out a picture and starts writing about what is going on in the picture).
Finally, we did a writing exercise. Erika asked each person to write down a bizarre occupation on a piece of paper and put it in the middle of the table. Then she asked us to write down a bizarre behavior (unrelated to the occupation) and put that in the middle of the table. Then, we picked one of each and wrote about the character--quick, automatic, free-flowing writing.
My prompts were "a person who likes to get married a lot" and a "stair rail polisher". I ended up with a pretty interesting character sketch.
She also stressed how important it is to figure out when and where you write well--find that place where ideas come naturally and keep a notebook in that place.
Great stuff, and a great day. I'll post about revisions next . . .