In October I went to Jane’s Stories annual Writers’ Retreat. It was my second time at a writers’ conference. At the first, three years ago, I met Sandra, who told me that her goal is to find one new writer friend at each workshop she attends. It was Sandra who encouraged me to go to the Jane’s Stories retreat. click
I needed no urging. Like most loving mothers, I welcome any chance to re-enter the adult world. And this time, unlike the last, I felt I had something to offer. If a writer is anyone who writes regularly, and an author is a writer who has been published, a blogger is somewhere in between. I’m proud of my blog, and had just acquired beautiful cards to identify myself.
Just before my first conference, Amanda came to live with us for the second time, and I wondered whether I should go. Leaving Joe on his own for three days with an unhappy and confused little girl was troubling. But the conference was here in Gainesville, so I would be home every night, and Joe urged me to go. This time it happened that once again Amanda was going through a rough patch, and once again I considered cancelling. But Joe is an old hand, and it was just 24 hours. So I headed off to St. Augustine early Saturday morning, enjoying the solitary two-hour drive into dawn.
The retreat was at a restaurant, in a room overlooking Matanzas Bay. It included a two hour workshop on memoir by Karen Sayler McElmurray, author of two novels and her own memoir, Surrendered Child. Sandra Lambert and Anne Martin Fletcher described their successful quests for an agent, and gave pointers. Georgia Banks Martin spoke on fairy tales and poetry. We had the opportunity to have a manuscript or query letter critiqued. I brought a query letter for my third novel and Anne wrote useful scribbles all over it. click click click click
Attendance was small, which surely disappointed the hard-working, all-volunteer Jane’s Stories board. But it produced a most wonderful workshop, in which everyone felt free to participate, and had valuable things to say.
This was all interesting and helpful. But for me the most important part was being with people who are writers, who know what writing involves, and think it is worthwhile work. For each of us it is different - we are more or less fluent or blocked, frightened or brave. Most of us have been all of these.
These women have experienced writing as I have. Mucking around in my mind to dig up thoughts and catch them as they fly out. Beginning with a plan or throwing scraps at the screen to see what happens. Returning the next morning to find words dead on the page, or a sentence that sings. Tidying up the mess - one of my favorite parts, as I am a decisive editor. Exulting when, after many revisions, a draft feels final. (It never is.)
They have also experienced the grim and tedious business of trying to get published. I have submitted for years with no success, though once I had an agent, and two editors have been effusive about my writing as they rejected it.
“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money,” said Samuel Johnson. In truth, only a fool writes for money. The odds of making money by writing are probably smaller than the odds of a high school athlete making it in the pros. If it’s money you’re after, play the stock market; if it’s fame, try serial killing.
I had dinner with Sandra, who is herself beginning to experience success, with publication in two prestigious literary journals. Her generosity is an inspiration. On her blog, full of beautiful photos and paeans to Florida nature, she tirelessly promotes the work of others, new authors and old. She doesn’t waste energy on carping and belittling. Unless she is critiquing, she saves her breath for praise.
Sandra’s attitude was an example and a gentle rebuke to me. In the intensity of my long wish to be published, to be heard, I had become selfish and envious. I clung to a distinction between real writers and dabblers. As though it were a race, I looked around to see who was ahead of me. But writing isn’t a competition, though the world would make it one. There is room for all the flowers in the garden.
POPPY GARDEN - by Slatesculpt at flickr.com/photos/57031315@N02/page3/
After dinner we went to Anastasia Books, where five women read from their work: memoir, poetry, essay, fiction. I bought a book of poems by one, and a memoir by another. Some of the writers have had more success than others; all were well worth listening to. To hear them was to remember that we each have unique vision, and can speak with a unique voice. I intend to go to workshops when I can, and be inspired, not threatened, by other writers’ gifts.
I'd love to hear from you! Click "comments," below.
NEXT WEEK: The Muumuu Mamas Go to the Beach