As a writer whose work is regularly interrupted by piddly things like my job, I leave a lot of books and stories unfinished, sometimes for months or even years at a time. When I come back to a piece to start working on it again, it’s often hard to remember where I left off. But it’s not just the cobwebs that have grown over the words that obscure my vision. Sometimes even brushing away the dust and rereading the beginning aren’t enough to remind me where I was headed. I’ve simply lost the plot. Other times, I do remember where I was going, but the destination no longer makes sense.
When this happens, I have to sit back and ask myself, “Well, where do I want to go from here?”
The question is both freeing and terrifying. Is it really up to me? I can decide? Well, of course! It was up to me all along. I’m the writer. The story is mine to tell. But that doesn’t change the fact that deviating from a set path—even if I’m the one who mapped it in the first place—feels wrong.
Living in the spring of 2021 feels a little like coming back to an unfinished story long after putting it in a drawer. After more than a year of staying home and distancing from others, of not traveling and not eating in restaurants, my loved ones and I are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and ready to resume a somewhat normal life. But that’s proving to be harder than I anticipated.
I think of the things we used to do: tasting each other’s drinks at happy hour, blowing the candles out on birthday cakes, letting 130 teenagers flow in and out of my classroom every day without once sanitizing hands or wiping off desks. Can I really go back to doing these things? Do I want to? I’m having trouble finding the plot, and when I do, I’m not sure I want to keep going in the direction I was headed before.
The coronavirus has already been a horror story and a love story, a story of sacrifice and of survival. The tale is not over yet, and I worry there may yet be unexpected twists on the way. As we venture back into our lives—safely, carefully—let us rewrite the future and create a new, happier ending.
This weekend I’ll be attending the Writers’ League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference here in Austin. I’m excited because WLT always puts together a spectacular schedule for writers and invites a bunch of top-notch people from the publishing industry. But I haven’t been to a conference in a while, so I’m taking a moment to review my 10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Conference Experience. Maybe you should too!
If you’re also coming to the conference this weekend, let me know, and if you’re a first timer, hit me up with any questions you have. I’ve been to this event before and used to volunteer at it, so I know my way around pretty well. I’d be happy to help you navigate it. ☺
A couple of years ago, during my week of 10 Writing Tips in 5 Days, I wrote a post called “Join the Club” about becoming a member of writing organizations and attending events and going to conferences. At the time, I was talking to myself as much as anyone else, because I was still a newbie at the whole networking thing and I needed that push to get involved.
Luckily, I took my own advice and got out there, and I’m so glad I did. I’ve grown more as a writer, learned more about the publishing business, and met so many more people than I ever could have by staying in front of my computer. Now that I have a few conferences under my belt, I want to share my…
Ten Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Conference Experience
I love my home. I love my husband. I love my life. But two days ago, I took my dog and left it all behind.
Let me explain.
Teaching takes a lot out of you. Not only is it a lot of work, but it’s a lot of extroversion. You have to be ON all day, summoning patience and smiles and enthusiasm even when they don’t come naturally. On a good day, you get a conference period or two, during which you can bask in forty-six minutes of alone time (mostly spent checking emails or grading papers). But sometimes (like the past two weeks, for instance) practically every second of your conference time is taken up with meetings, which means you have to keep that patient, enthusiastic smile plastered on your face all day.
I love my job, but there are many days where I go home after work and just sit in a quiet room, alone, for half an hour. And often fall asleep. So, when spring break arrives, I’m not screaming, “LET’S PARTY!” and calling all the friends I haven’t seen in ages. Instead, I’m craving comfy clothes, quiet spaces, books, blankets, and tea.
All of which I have at home, which begs the question: Why did I run away?
Let me explain some more.
Writing puts a lot into you. Not only is it mental and emotional work, but it also opens the floodgates of creativity. I’m not good at compartmentalizing my writing. I’m not one of those writers who writes a chapter on her lunch break or gets to the doctor’s office a few minutes early and whips up a couple hundred words of a short story. I wish I could work that way, but I can’t. For me, it’s all or nothing. When I’m writing, I’m not doing anything else, and when I truly open my mind to the creative process, the ideas and inspirations start flowing in. While writing a chapter of my novel, I might also jot down notes for a story, or quickly pen a poem, or doodle a cartoon for my next blog post. My brain is everywhere all at once, and it can be very rewarding to get in to that zone, but there’s no room for laundry or alarm clocks or needy pets or schedules. I need time and lots of it, with no responsibilities except to the process. So, when holidays arrive, I often tell myself I’m going to finish those writing projects, but secretly I know that unread emails and unpaid bills and well-meaning friends and family will likely keep me from truly taking the dive.
And that’s why I ran away from home for spring break. To write and relax and be among people I don’t have to smile at or talk to. It’s temporary, but much needed.
Originally, I was going to take a solo journey, but then I remembered what happened at the Books With Bite Workshop. There, I was in a cabin by myself, but friendly faces were just a few yards away, and I knew the following morning we’d all have breakfast together, my absence noted if some dark thing dragged me away in the night. Since I generally prefer for dark things not to drag me away in the night, I decided to bring one responsibility with me—my faithful guard dog.
So here we are, at a cabin in an undisclosed location in the Hill Country. I’m reading and writing and walking and napping and basking in the sounds of nature (and the sounds of teenagers whose behavior I do not have to monitor). So far, I’ve finished reading two books, drafted one and a half blog posts, written two poems, added 1,000 words to a promising short story, and snuck up on my novel-in-progress to spy on it. (I’m planning my attack.) Uno’s stats are not quite as inspiring, although he has peed on an impressive number of trees and chewed on some fairly large sticks.
I think my favorite moment so far was the first evening of my stay, when Uno had finally stopped growling at every tiny noise, and I sat down to do a Tarot reading (as you do on the first night of an adventure). I was itching to get to writing, so I decided to do a simple three-card spread about my retreat, symbolizing what led me here, what will happen here, and how it will affect me. My Halloween cards never let me down, and they came through once again. The first card couldn’t have been more perfect.
According to The Halloween Tarot by Karin Lee, the Two of Pumpkins (Two of Pentacles in the traditional deck) “signifies duality, or a struggle for balance. The masked jester balances on her tip-toes, weighing two jack-o-lanterns (lit and happy on one side, dark and sinister on the other) in her hands.” Yep. A balancing act, indeed. These three days away are all about me holding on to just one pumpkin for a change.
The rest of the reading was spot-on too, but I’m going to keep that bit of magic to myself.
Tomorrow Uno and I will go back home. A few days from now, I’ll go back to work for the last long stretch before the end of the school year. I’ll pack my patience and enthusiasm and extrovert self to take with me. And my smile? Well… I never truly put that away. 🙂