Last Wednesday night I went with my friend Cameo (I’m using that name until I find out from her if it’s all right to use her actual name) to the Sonoma County Library Write-In Night. The main Santa Rosa Library co-hosted with Redwood Writers, (www.redwoodwriters.org) a chapter of the California Writers’ Club.
The event builds on the NaNoWriMo event. The room was open from 5:00 pm to 8:30 pm, with a speaker from 6:00 to 7:00 and free writing the rest of the time. They provide hot water, tea, coffee and decaf, and a librarian was part of the group, ready to answer any research question you might have. Cameo works at Sonoma State and had to catch a bus from work, so I got there before she did.
I hadn’t been to the main library on 3rd and E Street for a long time. Imagine going back to your childhood home (the good one, with the happy memories). Imagine walking into the living room and finding it completely unchanged from how you remembered it; the same ripple in the floorboards, the same carpet with the same tangled fringe; the same pictures on the wall; the same bookcase filled with books in the corner; the same sun-faded afghan over the back of the couch; your dad’s recliner, with the same depression in the seat; the smell of Mom’s lasagna, or enchiladas, or chocolate chip cookies wafting in from the kitchen. That’s how the library was, even with the updates in technology and the changes in the posters and signage, the Rules of Behavior prominently displayed in the foyer. It still looked, sounded and smelled the same. . .great.
The Write-in was held in the forum room, a rotunda. I sat at a table occupied by a guy tapping on the laptop keyboard. His name was Mike. I grabbed a chair at the other end and saved one for my friend. A few minutes later Luci, a woman with a wild cloud of silvery white hair and sharp blue eyes in a weathered face joined us. Luci is a poet.
Our speaker, Debbie Koehler, a six-time WriMo participant and five-time finisher (means she hit or exceeded the 50,000 words), spoke about revision and working with a free-lance editor. Her book is a fantasy novel and she is currently on her 6th revision. Cameo came in about five minutes after she started talking.
Debbie talked first about the value of WriMo as a way to push past the powerful obstacle of the inner editor, especially for new writers. Developmentally, I think I’m at a different stage than Debbie is, so some of her remarks didn’t resonate for me. I liked her humor, and her generosity impressed me. She had 3 paper handouts into which she had put a lot of work, sharing resources on writing, revision and “pitching.” She brought some books to show and recommend, and she had clearly done lots of research on the marketing process. It was clear she took this presentation seriously and had prepared for it seriously.
She wanted to be helpful and the group responded to that.
She didn’t talk much about actual revision though. This isn’t surprising, since revision is the perfect candidate for that old Nike slogan, “Just Do It.” It was plain that as a new writer, she hadn’t been able to identify plot, theme or character flaws in her first version and that is part of why she’s on revision 6. For me, this is where a good writers’ group is invaluable. Spotting structural problems in other people’s work sharpens your eye for your own work. At least theoretically.
The audience—there were about 15 people—had lots of questions and comments. People were interested and helpful, mentioning magazine articles, quoting writing teachers and generally sharing resources. Mike had a question about being blocked, and Debbie’s answer was, basically, sit down and write anything. “I don’t accept writer’s block,” she said. She also made a distinction between blocked and stuck, which I thought was good (speaking as someone who is stuck).
The program ran until 7:15 and even after that a circle of people stayed at Debbie’s table to continue the discussion.
Cameo and I elected to write. Mike went up to Debbie’s table, but Luci stayed to write also. She had driven all the way over from Sonoma for the write-in. She’ll be participating in a poetry slam in Sonoma on the 20th.
She and Cameo had a quiet, animated discussion about work written specifically to be spoken, like poetry. Cameo was officiating at her niece’s wedding on Friday, and talked about the need to make minor changes to the ceremony to capture her own rhythm and patterns, to make it her own.
The library and Redwood Writers is hosting write-in Wednesdays for four weeks in March, with a different speaker each time.
Cameo wrote a dialogue with one of her characters, asking him why he won’t do what she needs him to do in the current story, a tried-and-true technique when you’re stuck.
Me, I just kept writing on my current project, on which I’ve been stalled for several months. I printed out the last four pages of what I have and brought them. I re-read them and then plunged in, longhand, not letting myself worry about whether it was logical, etc. When I’m at home working on the computer, I am able to distract myself by burrowing back into the manuscript and doing small rewrites that make me feel productive but do nothing to advance my story. With only four pages, there wasn’t much of that I could do and I had to move forward.
I wrote 8 pages. I got my main character (can’t exactly call him a hero) onto the boat where two other characters are being held captive. He got one of them free and they are arguing about the third person. I stopped in mid-argument, which is good, because it keeps the suspense alive for me as well.
Cameo and I closed the place; at 8:20 we were the only two left except for our hosts. We thanked them profusely and headed out. It was a great evening and a wonderful way to feel enlivened and supported about writing. Cameo and I talked about “the energy,” that elusive thing you feel when the convergence of people, place and circumstance all mitigate toward your success, not away from it. For me, it removed permission to surf the net and call it “research” or word-smith minute paragraphs in chapter three on my still-unfinished novel.
On the 18th, Susan Bono, founder of the e-zine Tiny Lights, will be speaking. Luci, Cameo and I are going to meet there. I’m excited!