It was a lot to take in: cobalt to powdery blue waters; Olympic Mountains’ jagged and graceful peaks and the Cascade Range with Mt. Baker pointing heavenward; air so crystalline that it seemed to infuse each breath with a rare bliss. Blues permeated the landscape’s textures and forms, bringing me peace.
And the reason I was even there was to avail myself of expert advice during a writers’ conference in Edmonds, Washington. Each presentation was a study in the craft of writing, a series of stories about progress, failure and success. The past two days memories of the beauty have deepened as well the lessons offered during “Write on the Sound.”
During hours spent sitting in chairs that challenged pain-free posture, I kept voluminous notes. I am a dedicated note taker and have attended many writers conferences. I read the rapid penciled scribbling upon return. But there are moving pictures in my mind of the authors and editors. I recall their cheerful energy or lack of it, their enthusiastic or monotonous voices, their belief that writing is an art worthy of our passion–or a business that requires guts, thick skin and acumen. To such experienced and well-published authors, it likely is both. To those listening and questioning, it can appear more complicated than all they tell us.
One hard-bitten editor, Barrett (one name only), rapidly expounded on the importance of surprise, a writer’s “voice”, memorable characterization and the power of details. Nothing too new. But then I was riveted by her love of writing and her emotional reading aloud of excerpts of fine examples of prose. She offered us her own faith in writing, her own passionate hope in the craft and art of it. Though she had thirty-some years experience editing, she still could be deeply moved and wanted that moment to come.
Kristin Hannah has written 26 novels and stated she works and reworks plots and characters hard. Yet when she takes it to her editor she is told she must revise three or four times more. No one, not even someone like Ms. Hannah, can take their writing skills for granted; no one finds the artful craft of writing a breeze to accomplish. And she fell into writing, to her surprise, after becoming a lawyer and following her mother’s death. Her quick but methodical mind apparently keeps all things pertinent in check and moving forward year after year.
A nonfiction articles author for eighteen years named Kerrie Flanagan shared many interesting experiences about discovering ideas, such as choosing topics she knows nothing about but has always wanted to, then executing them in unique ways for magazines. That intrigued me. Her quiet, no-nonsense style reflected a commitment to dispensing support as well as data. Essayist and fiction author Windy Lynn Harris started her presentation with such excitement I wondered how she could sustain it. But she did, happy to share useful insights as well as her faith in our talents when woven well with hard work and good skills. She was encouraging of our submitting short stories and personal essays, stating there is a plethora of publishing opportunities.
I often take workshops on fiction and poetry. This time I primarily chose those about nonfiction. I began to write nonfiction regularly for this blog though I already had a few pieces published. Personal essays and articles have a directness and compressed style that is potent when done well. As a kid I pretended to be a roving newspaper reporter (I guess it is an old dream of mine) and the basics of journalism are applied to all types of nonfiction. I gathered more information on genres, newer submission requirements and markets (different from fiction or poetry). And I have heard it forever, this week-end heard it again: there can be no price put on the value of a disciplined practice of writing and a neutral persistence when submitting work. And first and last: revision is both the guts and heart of the writing life.
There were many opportunities to hand out my new writer business cards, shy as I am about it. After all, that is my job the past few years, and it’s helpful to be able to offer further information via an attractive card. I met people from all over the country. To share such love of language and storytelling is a regenerative experience. We each came looking for greater knowledge and camaraderie; writing is notoriously solitary so we forget how many out there have the same dilemmas and needs. It may be time for me to find yet another writers’ critique group and writing partner. I will take care in the search; thinly skilled or disorganized writing groups does more harm than none at all.
It was a very good conference so I may return next year. I am a teachable person (even if I fuss defensively at first about what I imagined I already knew) and it’s a fine opportunity to partake of such wealth of knowledge. But the bottom line is that I have to apply what I’ve learned, more assiduously explore my publishable options. I have a strong suspicion it’s time for more change regarding my goals and practice.
A huge draw was the geographic area in which it was presented. Each time there was a good break I’d rush outside to a flower-rimmed plaza on the second level floor and lean over the railing. I’d take in the rich, varied blues and textures of the Olympic Mountains and glass-smooth Puget Sound, ogle the attractive small town edging up to water’s edge. I looked forward to shooting photographs as my spouse (who worked on a business writing project at the hotel) and I roamed the area. I snapped over three hundred and have kept many of those. A couple of handfuls are offered below. Colors have not been altered. It is easy to be inspired by this Washington scenery, here a bit wilder and more open than my home area in Oregon.
Nature and Art: grand teachers, smitten companions.