Five Things Freelance Writers Wish Our Sources Knew

Inspired by an “I can’t sleep (in part) because I’m freaked out about these sources who aren’t responding” kinda night. And morning.

In case it’s not clear, I am a freelance writer by day, something I really enjoy most days.

Dear Sources,

First of all, please let me say how grateful we are for you. We freelance writers could not write our articles without you. You give of your time and knowledge to benefit the world, and we thank you, truly.

But here are a few things we wish you knew/would do (or not):

1. If you are not going to respond to emails or phone messages, at least respond saying so. Please don’t totally ignore us. Hey, this is a win/win: if you have a business and we mention you, chances are, you’ll get more business. If you’re just a sweet human being who is willing to share your story, then you’ll feel good about yourself and get (semi)famous.

2. If you say you will reply to our emailed questions by Friday, please do so or let us know when you will — we have deadlines, and if we miss a deadline, either our editors have gaps in their magazines or they have to wait (which means others are put on hold, too). In case you didn’t realize it, that’s a bad thing. If the editor has to wait too long, your piece may be bumped for good. We don’t want that, do we?

3. Please don’t get angry with us if the piece doesn’t run when it’s slated to (or at all), or if you get cut out of the story. We know you worked hard on answering our questions and we are sorry, but we have editors who make those final decisions.

4. If we are doing a phone interview, please speak CLEARLY and distinctly. Please know that if we are quiet on the phone it is because we are scribbling furiously. And maybe because we have been taught to keep quiet so you will say more. But mostly because we are writing as fully as we can so that we don’t have to call you back to fill in the blanks. If we do have to call back, you’re not going to get cranky with us, are you?

5. Please don’t cyberstalk us. It’s creepy. We have provided you with our preferred method of contact in our initial message…let’s leave it at that, please?

After I got going I thought of other things, but five is enough for now.  Freelancers, what would you add to this list?

Wind it Up!

About a month ago I visited a doctor because of a knee injury. “Relax your leg,” he said. “You’re afraid I’m going to hurt you. Release the tension in your leg.” By the end of our exchange I wanted to neigh. I was just waiting for him to say “Take it easy, girl” and pat me. But I really didn’t think I was tense at all.

Then at my Pilates class the instructor kept telling me to relax my hips and tighten my ab muscles. She said this while drawing a cross on my lower ab. I wondered if that sign would banish all of my lower ab issues and pledged to try it privately at home, but again, I didn’t think I WAS tense.

When it comes to your muscles, you don’t generally want unconscious tension. When it comes to your writing, you most certainly do.

There are tons of types of tension. Sexual tension leaps to mind. Not all writing merits that of course, but it is one of the most powerful types of tension. Especially unacknowledged sexual tension.

There is subterranean tension — ancient issues and grudges that are a part of a family — or a relationship’s — DNA. (Did I just horribly mangle a metaphor? Sorry. I stand by it.)

Tension can involve imminent peril. Imagine a car coming straight at yours on a crowded interstate.

It can involve your character having what she wants just out of reach — imagine your character is a cat and you are dangling a string and she is batting it while you cruelly pull it away. Yeah, that’s what you’re striving for as an author. Maybe she wants a job, or a piece of chocolate cake. (Mmm…did I say chocolate?)

No matter what the situation, put the fulfillment of it just beyond your character but leave it within sight. Some men and women do this all of the time you know. It’s called playing hard to get, and it sustains interest, unless it’s taken too far.

Ah, dear author, you have to know when to stop toying with your character and give her what she (and by now what we) wants! Don’t do it too soon or we will cease caring. Don’t wait too long or ditto.

You know when you’re watching a movie and like, the man says “Come here” and pulls the woman into a room and you think, okay, now they’re finally going to kiss but then nope. That’s tension. If he kisses her, bye bye tension. However, if he NEVER kisses her (or, if she never kisses him), you will feel cheated unless there’s a very good reason why.

Readers want that tension. They need it. Without it, they will put your book down. They may like and/or admire your character(s), but if they don’t feel that contrast, they won’t stick around.

So as Gwen Stefani sings, “Wind it Up!”

Easy Steps to a “Quick Write.” (Borrowed from Mary Allen.)

As the title of this post reveals, I am sharing a technique that I have borrowed from memoir writer Mary Allen: the “Quick Write”.

I alluded to this technique in my last post, and it’s both simple and effective. Instead of an old fashioned writers group (I have experienced a couple go sour, for various reasons) she suggests finding a writing partner.

This method is useful when you want a writing accountability partner, when you feel stuck, or when you just want to have a writing jag.

Some commonsense tips for before you write: Get something to drink. Turn off your phone. Eat if you haven’t. Be sure you have everything you usually need when you write.

Here are the quite easy steps:

1. You and your writing partner contact one another via email, phone, or ideally, face to face and agree on how long you will write. While writing beside one another is perhaps the best method, it can also be done at your respective desks and you report back to one another.

2. Set the timer for the allotted amount of time and start writing. NO TALKING!

3. Write until the timer sounds.

4. Contact one another again to (this is the scary part for me) read your work aloud.

Caveats: NO criticism is allowed. These words are newly hatched and fragile; treat them with respect. Praise one another for having made the time and effort to write.

That’s pretty much it. I think she says you can tell one another ahead of time what you want to write about — a scene, an idea, whatever. And that’s usually what I do, just to clear it up in my mind a bit before I write. But otherwise, there are no rules.

As I said in my last post, Barry is my writing partner. We have amended the rules a bit: because we are both on deadlines, we will sometimes ask questions after we read our work: “Is this too long?” “What do you think of the POV?” As long as we are respectful and kind, we allow ourselves to ask and answer these questions.

I’ve used this technique when I have thought I have nothing further to say on a subject, only to discover I have plenty more to say. I enjoy that I can just hit “delete” if I don’t like a scene, though oddly enough I haven’t done that yet.

Writers produce at very different speeds, of course. I find that an hour’s write (and for us, an hour seems right: less is too short, more and I get antsy and want a snack or a stroll) usually yields between eight and nine pages for me. Which is something, because on my MOST productive days I have only ever written 24 pages before.

Maybe I should mention that those quick write scenes tend to be ones long on dialogue, which, of course, means tons of white space, so please don’t get upset if one only gives you two or three pages. Even if there’s a nugget in them that you can use, it’s totally worth the time.

And how precious to have someone write alongside you, and listen when you are finished, knowing you will be praised, even if you have just written drivel. Equally lovely to be able to hear someone’s brand new thoughts.

Should I admit that I don’t spend the whole time writing? I occasionally sneak a look at my partner to enjoyed how engrossed he is or, if we’re writing outdoors to admire how the sun lights his eyes. That’s part of the fun of the writing process.

Inspired? I hope so. I know I am.

P.S.: Since I don’t have a photo of us writing, here’s one of us goofing around at home:
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Honor Your Process: Know When to Write and When Not to!

Saturday Barry and I spent a luxurious two hours eating breakfast…unheard of for us! We drank two pots of tea, sitting and chatting, and finally we decided it was time to get on with our day.

A wonderful benefit to me of Barry becoming a Spalding MFA in Writing student is that he has writing deadlines. Which, of course, encourages me to write when he is writing.

Better yet, I have discovered a writing method called “Quick Write” that I will write a post about later. We have been indulging in them, and we had promised ourselves one this weekend. But.

But, when Barry asked if I was ready to write on Saturday, I said no. Yes, his face looks just the way yours does if you know how much I love to write. We were both afraid we were coming down with colds, and I just didn’t feel well all the way around. Writing was not appealing just then.

Also, the night before we had begun watching a documentary on Vermeer. Those of you who know that one of my life’s goals is to see all of Vermeer’s work will not be surprised that I really wanted to finish watching the documentary that I had fallen asleep trying to watch the night before.

Before we turned the program back on, I asked my dear husband if he minded if I applied my hair treatment so I could let it work its magic while we relaxed. Of course we became so fascinated by the video that my hair “marinated” for probably an hour longer than it was meant to! It took two days to get my hair normal again. Thankfully I am not a priss about my hair. :-)

Watching the Vermeer segment meant we rolled into the next one (hence the prolonged hair marinating), which featured the work not of the artist I am writing my novel about, but that of one of his influences. We were only a few minutes in when my eyes widened. Though I had known of the connection between the painters, it wasn’t until I saw the highlighted painting that I realized my painter HAD to have seen that painting.

In fact, I have been writing extensively about a painting that I now know I haven’t been seeing correctly at all because I didn’t know this new-to-me painting.

NOW I was ready, to write, or so I thought. While Barry did a Spalding assignment to free himself for a Quick Write, I wrote a brief outline of what the painting meant to me, what it meant to the artist’s work, and how I could prove it, if I could.

I should have been ready to write at that point, right? Except I wasn’t. This is where you have to dig down and ask yourself if you really shouldn’t be writing, or if you should press on.

When Barry set the timer I put my fingers to the keys and tried to write. About five minutes in I was fiddling with my phone, trying to pull up a photo of the painting. “Research,” I mumbled while he valiantly wrote on.

I wrote one scene, and then I felt as if I had finished what I had to say. I consulted my outline. I wrote a bit more. It was an effort. But finally, I realized that even though I wasn’t feeling it, what I was writing was important. It expressed some things about the artist that I hadn’t been able to articulate in the over two years I have been writing this novel.

I still wrote slowly, leisurely, compared to my usually feverish style.

The result wasn’t brilliant; it wasn’t polished, but when Barry called “Time,” I wasn’t totally embarrassed.

Honoring my process, allowing myself NOT to write when I didn’t want to, and yet pressing through when I really felt I should, opened a new door in my novel. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

As I always say, creative writing is not widget making. There are not definite steps to take to get out what you want to say. Please, honor your process. Whatever it is.

Care to share what your creative process is? I’d love to hear about it!
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Guilty Secret: I Like Editing!

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Some people hate editing. I don’t. Now I’m not talking about that prissy brand of “You really need a comma here” editing. That’s important, and it can certainly be useful, but people who like that sort of editing tend to be those who are less involved in creative writing and more all about the rules. That’s the sort of person who makes me more than a little cranky to be around.

While there’s nothing like writing twenty-five pages in one fevered sitting (my wrists ached, but I did it), there’s something even better about slowing down and reading and tweaking what you wrote.

It’s the difference between meeting someone at a cocktail party (I prefer them to dinner parties — if you get bored you can wander off and meet someone new) and going on a date with the person. You wouldn’t (at least I wouldn’t) corner someone at a cocktail party and start stripping them.

Ah, but with a rough draft, you have to get just that intimate. You stare at each sentence. You make every word explain itself, sometimes repeatedly. You ask it how it has earned its place. If it hasn’t, out it goes. There’s nowhere for a word to hide, no fig leaf you won’t pull away from it.

Oh and that’s just each word. Now what about POV? If you are using multiple points of view, you have to demand to know why the narrative is shifting. What’s gained? What’s lost? If your text can handle that, move on to:

Scenes. Is every scene necessary? Are any gratuitous? Have you mentioned your pet pig collection just because you like pigs or is the collection integral to the story?

Will summary tell more with less belaboring? Then summarize away!

What about half scenes? If you have half scenes, do you have good reasons that they aren’t full-blown affairs? Why are they hybrids? What’s gained? What’s lost?

Those are the two questions, actually, that you must ask yourself all along the way, no matter what you do to your pages. What’s gained by this choice? What’s lost?

I just finished (another) read through of my manuscript with a pen. Trust me, it is quite marked up. Next up will be to put in the changes and to write the missing scenes…or locate them in a previous draft and reinstate them! (The nice thing about changes are that they don’t have to be permanent. You’re allowed to change your mind.)

In multiple spots I noted “you’ve already said this.” Apparently I wanted to get those points across! I am merciless with myself. I will make fun of myself in the margins while editing. I just today wrote “Zzz…” at a particularly “talky” part. Nothing is allowed to escape the heavily wielded pen. That’s as it should be.

While I may be proud in many areas (just ask my husband), when it comes to my writing, I am egoless. Anyone may say anything about my writing, and I can remain objective. If there is a grain of truth to the criticism, I will know it. I will grasp onto it and not make that mistake again. If the criticism is of the ignorant kind, I will know that too. Careless readers, jealous “friends,” may have agendas. I know how to negotiate around those to find even a kernel of truth.

This is, of course, because I have confidence in my writing abilities. If you don’t have that, keep writing, keep reading, until you do have it. I’m not sure editing tips are going to help you if you don’t believe in yourself. (See Anne Lamott’s “Sh*tty First Drafts” in Bird by Bird if you need permission to not write perfectly. Then come back over here.)

When I was learning how to sing, I had no confidence whatsoever. People I trusted put me down harshly, and it hurt. It stung. While a core of me thought that somewhere inside I could sing, I wasn’t convinced, and because of it, I was unconvincing. It took (finally) gaining some confidence, trusting my own ear, and practicing in a nonjudgmental environment to be able to sing. While I still don’t relish solos, I do know that I won’t totally embarrass myself. But I still can’t sing without being really hard on myself.

When it comes to writing, you’re going to have to be totally convinced that you know how to write to edit as harshly, as lovingly, as you need to. Perhaps “harshly” is the wrong word. Be solidly sure that you know how to write, if not perfectly. Demand of yourself that you keep going until the words say exactly what you want them to say. Don’t allow less.

Here’s what I do: I read through the passage I’m editing until I catch a “ding.” I stole that from someone. My apologies because I don’t remember who said it first, but it’s true. Keep reading until you hit upon a word, a phrase, or an idea that just doesn’t sit right. Then see if you can get rid of what doesn’t work. Unkink the syntax. “Verbify” a draggy sentence.

You do know to use vivid verbs, don’t you? If you have not read Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch by Constance Hale, please stop reading and go order it. Now. (Unless you are my husband who is one of the most vivid “verbers” I know. In everyday speech, no less.) Seek and destroy passive sentences.

By the way, I will not be able to come even close to saying in one post everything there is to know about editing. There are editing checklists out there, some good ones. I’ll let you find the one that speaks most to you.

Now, if you’re writing historical fiction as I am, you also need to fact check. If a fact is unverifiable, or if it is different in multiple sources, choose how to handle it: which source will you follow? In the event that it is unverifiable, make it up. I say that cautiously. Try to make it as close to what probably happened as possible, but you have more leeway. And pray new source material doesn’t come out after you have published your book. :-)

Editing shouldn’t take place until the bones of the piece are there: the basic plot has been settled and you likely have a pretty complete rough draft. If not, you might as well get your beginning, middle and end finished first. That’s another reason I don’t like those schoolmarmish editing types: they always want to edit your work too soon. Don’t do it. Don’t let them, either. Many a fine story or novel has died due to early, undue criticism. A flower just emerging from the ground does not yet bloom. Don’t expect more of your work. Not yet.

Beware plot/logic jumps. Sometimes you mention something in chapter one and contradict yourself in chapter eight. Yeah, I’ve been known to do that. Honestly, I’m not so great at catching that stuff. Perhaps you can guess that I’m a pantser, not an outliner. Although after my tortured reworking of this novel I keep saying I’m going to become an outliner in the future. Uh-huh. And I may also shave my head. Right.

For me, those issues are easiest fixed by asking others to read it for me. Another way to do it is for me to read the work all the way through a couple of times. The problem with that is that I become self conscious and only half pay attention as I read because I feel shy of my own work. It feels immodest to enjoy it. I do note high points, but anything that wobbles at all makes me despair. Just for a moment, but enough so that I honestly can’t keep the whole flow in my head at once. I suspect that is a singular failing of mine.

Don’t confuse quantity with quality. I recently lopped over fifty pages off my WIP. I don’t mind that at all. It’s a stronger story for it. Now, that said, I will likely continue to warp and weave another block of pages back in because I got rid of a character who wasn’t working. She just couldn’t convince me that she lent anything to the party, so O-U-T and out goes she.

When you can read through the book more than once and nothing sticks out, nothing stops you, chances are any changes that you make at that point will be nervous tics. Stop. Hit “print.” And consider your work edited. Then go find an agent, for pete’s sake. You didn’t write it just to stick it in a drawer, did you?

I will be a happy camper when I can do so with this novel. But I am also enjoying the journey, every syllable of it. Because to me, editing is when you get to sit back and enjoy your work, knowing you can still change things that don’t please you. Once your work is in print, it’s no longer just yours. That’s the beauty and the sorrow of it.

Shh…I am reading! Lisette’s List

After waiting ALL DAY, while I was on my walk my husband texted to let me know that UPS had been. So I am happy to report that I am now blissfully reading Susan Vreeland’s newest book, Lisette’s List.

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Shhh…you may not hear anything from me for quite some time.

Ah, writing about art. Is there anything like it? Reading about art.

I Like the (Non)sound of That! Meditation and Me

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I have been (sporadically) trying to learn how to meditate. There are several reasons I’m doing this, but probably the biggest reason is that my mind is a continual whirl of (mostly) fun thoughts and ideas and sometimes it’s hard to be inside my own head and my long suffering husband can only bear so much of my excited chatter (because he’s a talker too!).

I’d like to be able to slow down and focus on one writing idea at a time, actually make use of the notebooks crammed with ideas which I currently have. Enter meditation. Theoretically.

A week ago I was attempting to meditate. I find I do best when I force myself to lie on my exercise mat and stay still. This, also, is difficult for me. My father once said I had more energy than anyone he knew. I think he was saying in a very kind way that I’m hyperactive. It’s a miracle that I am a writer (which requires long bouts of relative stillness), but although I am a fidgeter, I also know how to fully engage with what I’m doing at the moment IF it fully interests me. Which, clearly, meditation does not.

Last week rather than lying on my mat in the dining room I was sitting in a chair in the living room, dressed to substitute teach at LMC and not willing to crumple my clothing. Perhaps it was where I was sitting, but I became aware over top of the meditation music just how LOUD the living room clock was.

Side journey: Barry has acutely sensitive hearing — he can actually hear a dog whistle. Don’t try to whisper a surprise for him from across the room, because he will hear it. And don’t try making snide remarks to his back when he has his headphones on, because even though they are noise canceling, yup, he’s going to hear every word. Trust me. :-)

Barry has been complaining about how loud our clocks are for, well, years. But my mind has never slowed enough to let me hear them (or his complaint) much. Until Tuesday.

A woman of action, I quickly decided that before the day was through I would buy a new living room clock. After teaching I went shopping. Though none of the clocks at the store promised silence on their boxes, I decided that since our kitchen clock has glass on its front and is silent, perhaps getting one with a glass cover was the key to quiet.

Except it wasn’t. When I arrived home I quickly stood in front of the kitchen clock and closed my eyes and focused. Damn! It DID audibly tick. That glass-cover theory was obviously wrong.

No matter. Perhaps there had been major clock advances made in the decade since we bought those clocks. And I liked the elegant scrollwork of the new timepiece. I put a battery in it, only to discovered immediately that It. Ticked. Well I was “ticked” by then as well.

When Barry arrived home from work he immediately praised the pretty new clock.

“It’s going back,” I said.

“Why?”

I told him my theory about the kitchen clock and he laughed. Of course he had noticed the kitchen clock’s ticking, but he doesn’t spend as much time in that room and so he hadn’t mentioned it. Or he maybe had mentioned it and I hadn’t been listening. Oops.

That’s what comes of marrying a musician who can play everything under the sun: every noise, every rhythm catches his attention.

He offered, half heartedly, for us to keep the clock.

“No way,” I said. “If you want a silent clock you shall have one.”

A few internet clicks later I discovered that these non-ticking clocks DO exist, and as my fingers are swift to shop online, we should have one, no, two, posthaste.

And the meditation? Sometimes I have mercy on myself and allow myself to stretch while listening to the shortest guided meditation I can find and I try not to mumble about what a waste of time it is. Because it’s not: if meditation allowed me to hear (and react) to something that has been bothering my husband for years, what other, less concrete, things might meditation bring to me? It was certainly worth seeing the delighted look on my husband’s face that said “You heard me. Finally.”

If you’ll excuse me, I do believe I have a yoga mat to unfurl. Sigh.

Literary Term Larcency: the Co-opting of Narrative

In “The Cognitive and Anthropological Origins of Narrative,” Richard van Oort argues for the “coeval origin” of narrative and language. If that’s true, maybe I have no business complaining about this, but I’m going to anyway.

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As a writer, we have certain literary devices and terms which we call our own. They are the tools in our proverbial toolbox, and they are ours. Here’s my issue: I don’t like hearing the word “narrative” used outside of literary circles.

My husband is a political enthusiast. I am not. Our compromise is a Netflix marathon of “Scandal,” a White House-based drama. While the show isn’t the first place where I have heard the word “narrative” used to describe something quite unliterary, its repeated use in a political context unnerves me. It angers me. Our pure tool, so beautifully designed to shape truth by fiction, there means nothing more than “make the story palatable and helpful to our political aims.”

It’s unforgiveable. It’s outright theft, and I’m angry.

I suspect I am not the only one who is angry about this perpetual (in my view) word/device abuse. Did you catch Sam Lipsyte’s story in the May 5, 2014 issue of The New Yorker called “The Naturals”? He speaks of a company who wants to create a lakefront development but the area needs a “narrative.” “The main thing is we’re trying to tell a story here. A lakefront narrative,” says a consultant. Huh? His main character seems just as puzzled as I am by that usage.

Throughout the story the main character, Caperton, encounters people who openly admit to being storytellers: a wrestler, his stepmother who works in “narrative medicine” helping patients tell their stories, and his dying father who tells him that “Death is just a part of the story.”

While I think Lipsyte’s claim is a bit different than mine — I believe he’s complaining about everything needing a story and I’m specifically complaining about the misuse of the word “narrative,” our beefs may not be so far apart. Why must politicians have a narrative, which implies a purposely crafted and presented tale rather than a strict presentation of the facts which would allow a person to decide for him or herself what happened?

Okay, there may be some writerly ego involved here: I want to be the one who tells the stories, who explains through fiction, which means admitting that my story, although true, is based on a narrative created by me.

“Stories were devices for deluding ourselves and others…” says Lipsyte’s truth-disguised-as-tale. Sometimes. Sometimes our stories make the world a much more beautiful place. Sometimes they make a hero of someone who is not. But when we admit to shaping the, yes, narrative, that’s fair, not manipulative. At least not a veiled manipulation. To hear riverfronts and politics using it, well, that’s just dishonest. Give me back my narrative, you hear me? Or at least find another word to call it.

Something Borrowed…

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There’s something special about reading a borrowed book. I don’t mean a library book, although that can be special too. I mean reading a book pressed into your hands by someone who can’t wait for you to read it, because they know you’ll love it. Someone you trust to know your tastes enough that you know you’ll enjoy the read and who wants to discuss it with you when you’re finished reading it.

Borrowed books feel better. Someone else has broken in the pages, unstiffened the spine. They have made the book friendlier than a brand new book.

When the friend has made notes in the book, ah, that’s bliss! Then you can have a conversation with them about the book even when they’re not there. “But how can you SAY that?” you ask when you don’t agree with their scribbles, or “Oh, I didn’t see that,” when you are suddenly enlightened by their notes. I’m a visual learner, so seeing things written down is so much better for me than hearing them, and being able to read someone’s notes is a gift.

It’s been awhile since someone’s told me I “must” read a book and handed it to me fresh from reading it.

When I was a child, a dear pastor friend accidently left his Bible behind while visiting our family. As I knew it was his favorite, I stayed up all evening copying down his notes out of it before giving it back to him the next day. Somehow I thought this would teach me everything he knew.

I’ve found interesting things in borrowed books. Candy wrappers. Photos. Postcards. Receipts. A hair once. I think that was the most startling, the hair, because it was so unexpectedly intimate.

Have you ever loved a book someone lent you so much that you just didn’t want to return it? Have you ever treasured the obvious love and affection someone has lavished upon a copy of a book so much that you don’t want to part with it, valuing it maybe even more than they do?

Maybe this explains why I often buy second-hand copies of books. For one thing, they’re not as intimidating. And they don’t come with those annoying slipcovers that I just take off anyway.

Borrowed books seem to be the ones whose stories stick with me the longest, and are the ones of which I have the fondest memories. Thick Dickens and other Victorian tomes. Worlds handed to me when my own was a bit bleak, a place to hide out until the storms passed, as they did.

What about you? What are your favorite books that were lent to you? Do you, too (shhh…), have a few you have just never returned and don’t think you could bear to? Leave your “confession” here.

A Writer’s Retreat…in Changzhou, China!

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Until recently my body was in China, my mind in France, and my heart in the United States. Let me explain.

I apologize for having been silent for some time. My last post was actually written while in Changzhou, China. Drat these days of having to be so careful when one travels that one can’t shout from the rooftops “I’m in China!”

This post is not meant to be a travelogue. I’m sure stories of my time in China will come out in my posts, but I wanted to deal more with my writing while I was there. If you’re truly interested in more about our time there, may I refer you to an article I wrote about it for glo Magazine? http://www.the-papers.com/OnlineIssue.aspx?pub=glo  (It’s on page 42.)

“How do you think your writing was affected by your trip?” I have been asked multiple times since returning. One of my friends has given me the perfect reply: “We’ll see.” She’s so right. How anything changes us often takes some time to reveal its effects. But I can say how lovely and fantastic the experience was!

The beauty of this retreat:

1. I did not have to do laundry.

2. No cleaning house.

3. No cooking. (That was a mixed bag as I actually like to cook.)

4. Naps!

5. Staying in a five-star hotel.  Very posh!

6. Being treated as if we were royalty by the hotel staff. They gave me a private writing space complete with an attendant who brought me drinks and snacks! Weekly fruit selections delivered! Nightly cookies! Surprise cake and desserts!

7. Amazing food generously supplied wherever we went. I now adore seafood and eating with chopsticks!

8. The gift of not being able to speak the language. This allowed me to focus on my writing, even when I was in a teahouse full of chattering people. The sound was mere music because I couldn’t understand a word! It also forced me to find other ways to communicate: hand gestures, drawings, etc.

9. Being fully appreciated by very sweet people for…well…everything! That I am a writer. That I am an American. That I am a blonde.

10. Sightseeing! Beijing. Shanghai. The architecture was spectacular. Always something new to see. Everywhere.

11. Buying pearls. In the above photo I am standing in front of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower…my favorite building in Shanghai, and I’m wearing the pearls Barry had newly purchased for me. (I’m having a hard time not wearing them every day! I’ve always been a fan of pearls.)

Clearly, I could go on at length. Let me shift gears.

My goal for writing in China (other than accompanying my husband, who was there for work) was to write a new section of my WIP. I had hoped to add 50 to 75 pages. I ended up writing over 100 new pages. There was something about writing in another country that allowed me to tap into something I did not at home. The section that I had no clue about in the States came to me bit by bit, then page after page. I wrote with pen and paper, something else I don’t usually do. It was wonderful to look up form a long morning’s writing only to realize that I was in China, not France.

Barry and I spent many fun evenings out with new friends, but we also had not only private evening dinners or room service, but we also had cherished hour-long breakfasts. We would sit and drink cup after cup of tea and talk, which thankfully emptied my mind for my day’s writing and energized him for the work day. It was perfect.

You wouldn’t think it would be any different, writing at a desk, sitting in a chair, or on a couch or a park bench, no matter the country, but it was. I honestly haven’t had much time to look over the new material I wrote while I was there, but I’m eager to see how it was different. In part I think there’s a real difference in writing not in stolen moments or almost as a hobby, but instead writing because the day was created for you to write, and everything in the universe confirms that, down to the weather. Everyone and everything seems as if it’s your handmaiden, your doula.

If you ever get the chance to take a writer’s retreat — even if you have to steal a weekend and go to a hotel, do it. There’s something special about purposely created moments. The muse, I am firmly convinced, is ever with us. (S)he’s just waiting for us to say hello, no matter the country in which we find ourselves. There’s something very comforting about knowing there’s a whole other world ever present, ever ready for us to tap. Here’s to catching buckets full of rich writing.