On Finding Your Tribe

It’s always amazing to me how spending time with other writers, and learning more about writing, can leave me so incredibly invigorated.  This past weekend, I, along with some of the other borrowed solace editors, attended the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference (PPWC).  The very first blog post that I wrote on this site was inspired by the first PPWC that I attended, so now, after my third conference, it all really seems to have come full circle.

The theme of this year’s PPWC was “It Takes a Tribe.”  At first, I honestly did not get where this theme came from.  It seemed very different from the types of themes that the other conferences I attended had, and it didn’t make sense to me.  I am more familiar, I suppose, with the saying “It Takes a Village,” and so I think I associated these two sayings in my mind.  The thing that made this even more troublesome was that I had only really ever heard “It Takes a Village” in reference to child-rearing.  The mashup of both of these phrases in my muddled mind did not leave me with a clear idea of what this conference was going to be about.

I quickly learned, though, almost as much through just physically being at the conference as through all the different programming and keynote talks, what this theme means.  I have my own tribe.  I don’t always thing of it that way, but some of my best friends and trusted confidants have come to me through writing.  There are still friends who I met in a writing group or class four or five years ago who I talk to or see on a regular basis.  And these are the friends who critique my work and help me along on my many writing endeavors.  They are the ones who will talk to me about character arc or how to get into freelance editing for hours on end, and then pick up the conversation in the exact same spot we left off the next time I see them.

The thing that stuck out to me the most about this past weekend was that every single speaker and New York Times best selling author (there were many of them in attendance) had their own tribe.  I don’t yet have a tribe or fellow best selling authors, or well known agents, or editors at one of the big five publishing houses, but when each one of these now wildly successful authors was starting out, their tribe wasn’t there yet either.  Regardless, though, the common thread through each of these author’s stories was that their tribe helped them arrive to that spot.

One of the things that stuck out to me the most was from John Gilstrap’s keynote address.  He, like many writers, ebbed and flowed in and out of the writing sphere.  Life ended up taking him to lots of non-writing careers and stops along the journey that caused him to give up or stall on writing.  I think any writer on the planet can relate to this.  There are times when sometimes you simply do not want to write (see my last blog post, if you’re wondering if that has happened for me).  But then he mentioned how someone from a previous writing group/class, a member of his writing tribe, met with him after several years and said ‘how dare you not write?’

If we as writers have stories to share, gifts to give, words to writer, how dare we stop?  We should be so impassioned about writing that we can’t stop because our story is not over yet.

So take this as encouragement from my tribe to yours – keep going.  Writing isn’t just solitary, and it isn’t just something to do when you have time and space for it.  It’s a calling of sorts, somewhere to belong.  Don’t give up on that belonging, and if you ever need inspiration, just reach out to your tribe (or make one, by going to writing groups, events, and conferences).

I know I have been more inspired to write than ever since the conference.  Sure, it’s only been a few days, but as I’m on this journey of finding myself and excavating my love of writing from the grave it’s been in for the past year, I’ve come to a new realization that I am going to stick to this.  Writing is something that I come back to again, and again, and again.  It’s where my people live, and if that’s the case, how dare I not pursue it?

On Turning Out

“You say I turned out fine, I think I’m still turning out…” – AJR

It’s something I’ve heard all my life – it’ll all turn out find in the end.  Those later in life who have been successful, made a life for themselves, and seem relatively happy say during a presentation or a Thanksgiving-dinner-speech that even with all the bumps in their lives, they’ve turned out fine.  Well, what is it like in the process of still turning out?  I’m not there yet – I’m not to a a point where I can say that I’ve turned out fine.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I’ve been living this lately. I am in a weird in between stage where I have accomplished a lot but am just starting out. I’ve come so very far but still have even farther to go. It is, quite honestly, a struggle. The in between is always beautiful, but I struggle to recognize the beauty in the moment.

Nevertheless, I am here. Still turning out.

The past year has been one of my hardest on many levels. I’ve had a hard time adjusting to a full time job – which is not what I thought I would be adjusting to this year – and have battled with my mind almost non stop. I have tried and tried again to maintain friendships that simply may not be worth maintaining. I have moved on to a new stage in life (a new confusing stage) while some of my friends have stayed in the phase they are in. I’ve tried to bring them with me, but it’s not worked out. I’ve tried to fit back into their lives, but the space that once was reserved for me isn’t there anymore.

I think that’s the thing that has been hard and unexpected. Life after graduation is not glamorous. It is mundane. It is stressful. It is tiring. And it is not at all what I expected. It is part of the turning out process that is wonderful in some ways and painful in others. Growing pains are a real thing, and they have come out in full force over the past year.

Life is continuously not what I thought it would be. The road I am traveling isn’t going where I thought it was, and it’s missing people I thought would still be traveling beside me. Somewhere down the line I will be able to say that I have turned our okay, but right now I’m still turning out.

So in the meantime, as I am trudging along the road, I have made it my goal to strive for beauty. I’m running towards things that make my spirits bright, even if only a little bit.

While I’m still turning out I am noticing the good days. The shouting cherry blossoms this spring that quieted and gave way to billowing lilacs. The fragrant air that rushes past my ear as I drive with the window down. My precious cat who greets me every day when I come home. The fact that there’s flowers on my desk at work and can go on walks outside everyday. These are the good things that help me trudge with a slightly lighter step. It doesn’t make everything better, but it sure does make the process of turning out seem more lovely than simply bearable. At least for a few fleeting moments throughout the day.

On Workshopping

Hello blogosphere!  Sorry I have been MIA as of late – this semester has been kicking my but, for lack of a better phrase.  I have been writing and typing like mad lately, finishing stories for my classes and publishing articles for Odyssey, and have unfortunately neglected my own little corner of the Internet.  Never fear, though, I’m back – at least for now.

Given my aforementioned stories that have been written for my creative writing classes at school, I thought I would focus on something almost exclusively done in said classes: the creative writing workshop.  Workshopping is crucial to being a writer.  It’s a pretty widely accepted form of garnering critiques and is how most college level creative writing classes are taught but, as with almost anything, there are positives and negatives to this form.  Up until this semester, I would have to say that my workshopping experiences have been largely positive, aside from a few snafus where I put my foot in my mouth in front of the entire class, but I have had some interesting workshops this week in particular that have left me with a sense of fear at the mention of the word “workshop.”

I find that sometimes workshopping is a tedious balance between a love fest, or a bashing fest, on a writer’s work.  It can be hard to establish the sense of what is appropriate and useful and what is unhelpful and sometimes just rude.  Letting a large group, especially of college students, have almost free reign on a discussion of their peer’s work can be tricky.  Like I mentioned, I’ve never really had a negative connation with workshops, but this semester has gotten off to a rocky start in terms of my two creative writing classes.

After experiencing an extremely disorganized workshop in which some student’s work received less attention than others, a workshop consisting of – there’s really no better way to say it – a big mouth who thinks they are better than everyone else, and a pretty brutal workshop in which both my story a classmate’s got picked apart by our vulturous peers, you could say that I am over workshopping altogether.  At least for this week!

All of this has made me realize the importance of establishing boundaries when it comes to workshops and the importance of carefully thinking through what you are going to say.  Sometimes things come across harsher than intended, and sometimes people don’t actually know what they are talking about (the constant “in my experience, life doesn’t happen this way” thing).  I’m not saying that I’m a perfect workshopper myself – I’m sure sometimes I come across in ways I don’t want to – but I always attempt to ruminate on my comments before saying them (if I can get a word in edgewise, that is).

I’m not quite sure what the purpose of this post was.  Perhaps a rant.  Perhaps a way for me to get over the bashing I went through earlier this evening.  Whatever it was, I hope it might inform some mysterious reader of how important thoughtfulness and balance is to having a beneficial workshop.  Without workshopping, writers cannot grow, but there must be guidelines to go by that allow for a pleasant and useful experience for everyone involved.

On Pretending

When I was younger, my sister and our friends would constantly play in a world of make believe.  We always had a flare for the dramatic, and liked to pretend we were orphans in the twentieth-century on a ship sailing to the untouched country of promise that was America.  If not orphans, than we were princesses.  Then we were spies, stealthily hiding clues across our backyard and trying to trick the other rival spy-team.  We went through a videography phase after I got my ‘new’ digital camera and learned how to use Windows Movie Maker and even made our own terribly cheesy action flick about a clumsy spy who ended up saving the world.  Although I’m sure if I saw it now it would seem awful, we were very dedicated and ended up with a thirty minute long mockumentary (before it was even a thing, I might add) including bloopers.  After we tired of spying, we moved on to being mermaids in the pool during the still heat of summer.  We were pretty imaginative little girls, and these bouts of pretending, and dolling up in the crazy costumes we made out of contents of the dress up bin, are some of my fondest memories.

Sometimes I feel like the job of a writer is to pretend.  I constantly feel like I am pretending to be “a real writer.”  The world of the writer seems to be one of make believe – where stories are published and paid for, where success is easily at hand, and where imaginary worlds become reality with only a few words.  Really, though, writing is tedious work with little reward, and I’ve realized that someone really can’t plan to become a writer unless they genuinely love their craft.  Just like my friends and I used to pretend when we were little, I have come to pretend in a new way as a grown up (take not that I use that term extremely loosely when referring to myself).  As adults, I think we all put on a facade and act like people we are not.  For different people that means different things.  For me this often means putting on a brave face and sending out stories that I have combed through a million times in hopes of getting a yes, or publishing my words on the internet pretending like I am confident in what I have written.  Oftentimes I feel a little shaky.  It’s tough reading the words of incredibly intelligent and talented individuals and then trying to live up to them.

I think that’s where I go wrong, though.  When I was little, I didn’t care if I was living up the expectations of others.  It didn’t matter that my friends and I weren’t putting on an Oscar-worthy performance in our spy themed short film.  It didn’t matter that our clothing when pretending to be orphans in the 1800s wasn’t historically accurate or even very orphan-like (I’m pretty sure old wedding gowns from garage sales weren’t the typical attire of orphans).  We created our own world, though, and we lived in it wholeheartedly.  That’s the key.  Whether I am a “real writer” or I’m pretending to be one, I need to just embrace the fact that I write.  It doesn’t matter if it’s good or not (hopefully it is), but I love writing.  I genuinely love crafting something out of nothing – taking a stark white page and filling it with someone, some place, and something.  My sincerest hope is that this something is actually worthwhile, but ultimately I’m the judge of that.  If I put all of my effort and time into creating a work of writing, then it is worthwhile.  Even if only to me.

Just like that spy movie was great to all of us while we were making it.  We must have watched it fifty times, just between the five of us who were in it.  We loved making that movie.  I love writing.  There’s success in that, even if it’s not the typical type.  Success is ultimately in doing what you love, and I’m certainly doing that.

Via Quotegram

On a;lskdjfoepc,eyxz

How about this title?  This is how I feel right now.  I am slightly (okay, maybe very) overwhelmed with life at the moment.  I like writing.  I love writing, but with the start of the semester I have been falling of the writing train as of late.  I keep getting textbooks in the mail, keep having meeting to go to because I am a teaching assistant this fall, and have been completely slammed at work (the weeks leading up to the start of the fall term are always absolutely insane in the financial aid office).

I know I’ve written almost this same thing in the past, but it is something I struggle with.  Finding time to write is hard, and trying to not beat myself about it is harder.  I know that I am busy – I work, go to school, am a teaching assistant, and am the president of a club at my university – but I’m not the only busy person in the world.   In fact, busy people are able to churn out books at an alarming rate sometimes.  Heck, even published and successful authors are insanely busy and still manage to write.

I think, though, that I am starting to learn to not listen to and compare myself to others.  I know I’ve written about this before, too, but it’s important.  Right now, getting my degree and being a successful and involved student on campus is of the utmost importance to me.  I hate to say this, but I will have time to write my book later.  I will also have time to resume writing my book once the semester has started.  I can write for small little chunks of time whenever I can.  I will still write, it may not be as much as I would like but I will write.

I will get there.  It’s alright if it just takes me a bit longer than I anticipated.

On Trust

“Wherever you lead me, I know you won’t leave me.  Wherever you call me, you will make away.  Wherever we’re going – I will keep holding to the promise you have made: you will make a way.”

Sometimes doubts and insecurities flood my mind.  Lately it seems like I can’t shut them off.  I’m concerned that my graduation and, of course, about my writing.  It’s all too easy to let “what ifs” flood the mind.  I try to only let the positive “what ifs” take over, but the negative ones often stage a coup d’etat and take control.  “What if I can’t find a job after graduation?  What if my writing is more dreadful than I think it is?  What if I never get published?”  I should instead be taking risks and listening to the good “what ifs,” “What if I succeed?  What if my book hits the best seller list?  What if I have so many job offers next spring that I don’t know what to do with myself?  What if I get into that MFA program fully funded?”  I’ll never know what could happen if I let the negative “what ifs” keep me from trying.

I’m finding that trust is what helps quell those negative thoughts.  It has a lot to do with trusting myself and my own capabilities, but also in trusting my God.  My faith is what reassures me that everything will work out in the end, even if it takes longer to get to that happy ending than I anticipated.  The quote above is from a song by I Am They called “Make a Way.”  It’s core message is one of trust.  Trusting that no matter what, if what you are pursuing is what is ultimately intended for your life, then God will make a way.  

I have been listening to this song a lot lately.  When those doubts and negative “what ifs” have creeped into my mind, I’ll sing this chorus over and over in my head “I know you won’t leave me…you will make a way.”  It helps me to trust in what God has promised for my future.  It helps me remember that if writing is what God wants me to do, then I will be successful at it.  It helps me trust in his plan, even though I don’t know it yet.

I’m sure not all of you believe in God, but perhaps you believe in your own capabilities, or in the faith others have in your success.  If this song isn’t something that will inspire you to keep to the path, then let something else inspire you.  It’s crucial, though, to not let the negative “what ifs” drown out the positive ones.  Don’t let your purpose waver, and don’t stop doing what you love – whatever that may be.  

On Consistency

Last week was the first week that I failed to write a post.  I went from a published piece on Thursday to this new piece on Sunday, with nothing in between.  Although I certainly have not been on this little blogging venture for long, I have been consistent.  I’ve churned out a post every week since I started this thing back in April, and I must say that I feel a little dissappointed in myself for not having something ready to go last week.  I’ve skipped a week, and while that little tiny blunder is going to cause my perfectionist brain to have an aneurysm (figuratively at least), I know that it’s okay.

I even have a good reason.  More than one good reason to be precise.  For one thing, it was a holiday week.  I know, I know – that doesn’t make for an excuse, but it does make the week feel a little wonky.  Where was it that I used that word lately? Wonky.  I even looked it up – it’s British in origin, for those who are wondering.  Now every time I hear it I am going to hear each syllable in a British accent.  The other excuse I have for not posting last week is that my first summer class began.  Summer classes this year are an odd combination of being the bane of my existence and my saving grace (for more on why I’m taking summer classes, see here), but that first class has made the last week of my life a little bit crazy.  It was four days in a row for almost eight hours each day.  My hours being consumed with leadership practices, creating a presentation, and working on group projects made focusing on this blog a little bit difficult.

I’m not sure why I’ve decided to turn this post into an excuse-fest.  I think I’m trying to explain my actions to myself.  You see, my greatest fear is disappointing myself.  If I can wake up everyday and feel pleased with who I am and what I have accomplished, then I’ll be happy.  It’s when I wake up in the morning dreading what I have to do that day, or having an unfinished task nagging at me in the back of my mind that I’m miserable.  One of my New Years words (I decided to do words and ideas this year instead of resolutions) was consistency.  I didn’t know that this word would eventually apply to my blog, but it has.  Not writing a post last week felt like breaking a promise to myself.

Consistency is so important to a writer.  Without it, fishing one voice from the sea of many is virtually impossible.  As a writer, I believe that I need to be consistent in what I put out into the world.  I need to make sure that what I say sounds like I would say it; that it holds true to my values and beliefs; and that it appears on the World Wide Web when I said it would.  Granted, I’ve never promised anyone that I’d publish every week, but my brain likes to think that it counts as a separate individual.  I promised myself.

Who knows why I’ve decided to get so personal for this post.  Although I think I’ve often gotten pretty up close and personal with other posts, this one seems different.  It’s showing the world the inner workings of my brain.  Some of you will probably think that I’m a psycho control freak – and maybe I am.  I’ve always been brutally hard on myself, especially when it comes to my personal creative endeavors, and this blog is very important to me.  I don’t want to let it, or myself, down.

But I also need to lighten up.  I get that.  I’m going to publish this, and all will be well in the world.  Even when I didn’t publish last week, the world kept turning, God was still good, the grass was still green, and I still had summer classes (which is just dreadful, really).  I need to learn to be okay with whatever happens.  Consistency is important, but so is my sanity.

I think that this is enough for today.  Rambling on about blog posts and consistency won’t help anything, but publishing this will help my schedule get back on track.  I’ll no longer wake up with that nagging in the back of my head to get something posted here, and my days will no longer seem wonky (you heard an accent there this time, right?)

On Risking it All

“Risk being seen in all of your glory.” 

I watched a video recently of a keynote address that Jim Carrey gave several years ago, and in it he said the above quote.  “Risk being seen in all of your glory.”  His speech, like many commencement speeches, was encouraging graduates to continue on in their lives with the caveat that they need to be their best selves.  He was encouraging them all to not let the light of their talent go dim and to give what they have to the world, because the world needs it.  This quote, though, is what really stood out to me.

Every person out there has something that they burn for.  Something that grabs a hold of them and doesn’t let them go.  I thin for me, this is writing.  For others, it’s music, teaching, helping others, or sports.  There are so many things that so many people are passionate about.  What stood out to me in Jim Carrey’s speech was the idea of risking it all in favor of letting your passion out into the world.  That passion is, theoretically, what you are good at.  It’s what you are able to wake up in the morning and be excited about.  Risk putting it all out there into the world, because it will be worth it.  You could fail miserably and end up stuck, but risk that anyway.  Risk everything for a chance at doing what you love.

While the word “risk” definitely stood out, the second part of this quote cannot be ignored.  For me, the second part can be summed up in the last word: glory. Take that passion and make it magnificent.  Put so much effort and sweat into this thing so that you, and everyone around you, is blinded by the light at the end of it.  So that it keeps shining on.  So that it can be seen in all of its glory – so you can be seen in all of your glory.

When I say you, I mean you reading this.  But I also mean me.  I need to listen to this too.  I need to dive headfirst in the pool  ocean of writing and swim so far and so deep that I can’t get out again.  I want to drown in my craft so that when I finally see the light of day every inch of my being will be soaked in words that I must put on the page.  I want to risk being seen in all my glory, because it would be excruciating to not risk it all and wonder – to not even attempt to shine. You, reading this, you should too. Let’s risk it.

On Writing Conferences

I know it’s been a long time coming, but this is going to (finally) be my post about The Pikes Peak Writers Conference (PPWC) and about my take on conferences in general based on my experience there.  PPWC was my first conference that I have attended, and it was a pretty wonderful experience. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the conference with the writing club at my school, which made it even better.  It truly was a magnificent experience and one that I will cherish forever.  Cheesy, right?  But it was a genuinely wonderful experience and what actually got me going with this blog and with the writing side of my life in general.  I’m not goig to break down the conference day by day and workshop by workshop.  Each day had it’s amazing aspects, but I want to focus on the entire thing as a whole because everything combined is what made the experience such a great one for me.

PPWC 2016 was the first writing conference I have attended.  You may be thinking “well why are you writing this post about writing conferences (plural) if you’ve only attended one?”  That would be because I think that my experience at PPWC is similar to the experiences that are out there to be had at other conferences across the country (across the world?  I can only hope someone is reading this in another country).  The biggest take away I got from this conference was inspiration.  It may seem a tad cheesy (again, I’m sorry), but the conference was so inspirational.  It was such a pleasure getting to hear from well known writers, and it was just as valuable hearing from writers whose first books have just come out, or from my fellow attendees hoping to land a book deal.  I learned so much and it was so incredible just being around other writers for four days straight.  It’s always nice to find someone who shares your love of writing and reading, and to be able to talk to that person about anything and everything involving those two topics as much as humanly possible.  Well, at conferences, that is literally all you get to do for [insert number of days here].  Regardless of what I actually learned from the workshops – and there was plenty I learned, I’ll get to that in more detail shortly – I was able to be around other writers, to hear their crazy story ideas, to encourage them in their craft, and to talk about my own progress towards writing my book.  It was pretty swell, if you ask me!

The thing that I expect everyone wants to hear about is the workshops.  Well, let me tell you, they were pretty swell as well (ha! A rhyme).  I took a copious amount of notes and now have a seemingly endless amount of resources on writing a novel in a short amount of time, on building more vivid settings, on creating a better first page, and on social networking successfully.  I will say, with that last one in particular, I am already seeing the progress!  Nowhere before have I been able to learn the tools of the trade from the actual masters.  Not only did I get to learn, but I got to speak with them one on one, pick their brains a little bit (though not too much I hope), and now I follow them, and some of them follow me, on Twitter.  I may be a bit of a book nerd when it comes to these things, but I’m pretty excited about that!

Going into the conference without a finished novel manuscript, I wasn’t sure what I would get out of the weekend.  I didn’t know if I would actually learn anything since I didn’t need to know how to successfully query or how to self publish (hopefully one day soon I’ll need that information).  While I do think that the conference as a whole was geared more towards those with completed manuscripts, that definitely did not mean that there wasn’t anything for me to do.  I wasn’t twiddling my thumbs in the back corner the whole time.  The first page of one of my stories was critiqued by a literary agent, an editor, and a New York Times best selling author, for Pete’s sake!  My time and money were definitely well spent. Still, though, the most valuable thing I got from this conference was the time away from the world of reality spent in the world of writing.  I’ve been having withdrawals since the end of the conference (yes, almost a month ago.  I’m really late to the after-conference blogger party, I’m sorry) because I haven’t been around people who talk novels and short stories non-stop.  It was really a rejuvenating experience, and one that I think is important for every writer out there.  It’s important to recharge your writing batteries, and that’s what this conference did for me.  With the expertise and encouragement I received from others at PPWC, I hope I can extend my writing battery life all the way until next year (or at least until one of the other numerous Pike’s Peak Writer’s events coming up).  That’s why this post in on writing conferences.  It’s plural because I think that every writer should take advantage of an opportunity to attend a conference and refill their tank (I’m brimming with cliche metaphors this evening) so that they can finish their manuscript or start on that book that they’ve been waiting to begin.  My philosophy is to take advantage of any writing related opportunity that comes my way.  Who knows if I’ll be able to attend conference again?  That’s a long way off, but at least I took advantage of the opportunity I had this year and made the most of it.  I had a fantastic time at PPWC 2016.

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Image via Word Sharpeners

On Writing

Sometimes I feel like a failure.  Last week would be one of those weeks.   Not only did I fail on the new blog venture, but I failed at some other things. Like going to scheduled meetings, turning in assignments on time, and this little thing called writing.  I came back from the Pikes Peak Writers Conference (post to come) feeling uber motivated and excited to start writing more – here, there, and everywhere – and then proceeded to to write nowhere.  It’s been a crazy few weeks and lots has happened, but this doesn’t mean that I should stop writing.  I must keep the motivation going so that I can really get somewhere with my first novel!

There’s so much to juggle right now with the end of the semester finally approaching (hallelujah) and the realization that I will be graduating sooner than anticipated (again, hallelujah but also complete terror) that it’s tempting to put writing on the back burner.  I need to be conscious, though, of the fact that this is not actually going to help anything.  If I want to become a writer, I need to write.  I need to put everything else aside and get some words on the page because a writer is nothing without words.

So for now, I will get the words out into the world here on this dinky little blog.  In the future, I’ll get the words out in a published book (fingers crossed).