Thursday, October 28, 2010

Setting your Babies Free

Tonight I read the ending of my newly-completed novella, "The Hunt," out loud at the Nebraska Writers Workshop.  There's something amazingly satisfying about reaching the end of a good story.  And something even more satisfying if it's the end of one of YOUR stories.  Now that's not to say I'm finished, there are still edits, submissions, and in this case, a screen treatment of the manuscript to undertake. 

I don't quite know how to explain the rush of emotions that a writer goes through with the completion of a mansucript.  When I wrote "THE END" on the page, I was sitting in a conference room at Mahoney State Park, as part of the NWW fall retreat.  I plowed my way through the big climactic fight scene, and tied up all the loose ends before centering my cursor for those final two words. "THE END".  So final.  The picture that comes into my head is the end of a Bugs Bunny cartoon.  "Ebeday, ebeday, ebeday, that's all folks." Cue the target circles closing, and the Looney Tunes theme song. 

You'd think the first thing I would do would be to spring from my chair and proclaim to the world my triumph.  After all, I was in a conference room with a group of WRITERS.  People who understand the strange affliciton of those posessed by a story, unable to yield to anything but the drama unfolding within our mind, until the words have poured themselves from the soul and onto the page. 

But I sat there, starting in shocked silence at the words in front of me.  "THE END."  I've grown attached to these characters.  I've dreamt their dreams, spoken their words, heard their thoughts.  And now it's finished.  I like these people, and a part of me feels like I've lost my best friends.  I know by those two little words on a page, I'll never view the world through these characters' eyes quite the same again.

So, instead of wanting to jump from my seat and proclaim victory, I felt more like throwing up.  An overwhelming sense of...loss.  I think to be a good writer, you need to love your characters so much that you do mourn the fact that starting now, you won't be spending all of your time with them anymore. 

So, I sat there, in my chair and stared off into space for a while, choked back some tears, then on October 16th, at 4:13 pm  typed, "First draft of 'The Hunt' is FINISHED" onto my facebook page. At 4:19, fellow NWW writer and friend Rhonda Hall types back, "Yeah, I'm sitting next to you, and this is how I find out?" 

It's an odd thing how we writers give birth to our stories.  Sometimes, we're yelling and screaming to the rafters.  Sometimes, the peck of computer keys is all we can get out.  It actually took a few deep breaths before I could announce it to the assembled room full of writers. 

A couple weeks have passed, and I've taken some time to rewrite portions of the story.  There is still much work to be done.  Polishing the gem takes a much gentler hand than mining the raw stone.  I think of editing as "head work," and the first draft as, "heart and soul work."  Tonight I read the ending aloud at the NWW meeting.  It's nice to hear a collective sigh of satisfaction as my fellow writers appreciate the end of a journey as well. 

Another of the retreat writers, the wonderfully talented Aaron Lloyd, read the ending of his novel right before me.  His journey with the characters of his novel has taken him over two years.   That's about the length of four Hollywood marriages.  Before we entered into the meeting room to share our endings, we talked a little bit.  For both of us, there was some trepidation, a sense of "Now what?" A lot of joy, and a little sadness, as we send our babies out into the world to stand on their own, to sink or swim on their own merits.     

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Why do Writers LOVE Conferences?

October 1st and 2nd I attended the Nebraska Writers Guild annual Fall Conference in Grand Island, Nebraska.  Had an outstandingly amazing time, got to catch up with many friends in the Nebraska writing community, and made many more. 

For those who are not writers, or those who are forced to endure those of us who are writers, the question arises as to why we go to these things anyway.  I kind of understand the thinking, as I've endured my fair share of work-related conferences.  Boring, dull, and...and...and... Yeah, boring and dull. 

But here's the deal.  For the most part, writing is a lonely, solitary endeavor.  We writers spend hours staring at our computer screens, a splotch of paint on the wall, or out the window, trying to twist the thoughts in our head into the perfect combination of words on a page.  Trust me, it's not as easy as it seems.  If you'd like to try for yourself, National Novel Writing Month will kick off on November 1st, and I invite you to come join in for the fun.  But all in all, when I'm writing, it's me and the computer.

Writing conferences give me the opportunity to interact with other people who think the way I think.  Who else "gets" it but another writer?  I absolutely thrive on having the opportunity to join forces with other writers.  Usually, there is an opportunity for members to share readings from their various works-in-progress, or their latest publication.  I truly love getting to hear all these great stories.  It's broadened my literary horizon so much by getting hooked on stories I've heard read at a conference.  There's a huge validation when someone comes up and talks to you afterward about what you've read as well. 

We commisurate, lament, console, cajole, and generally encourage each other on our quest to the perfect agent/publisher/contract, and so on.  Haven't been applying the butt to the chair and actually putting words on a page?  You hang around enough writers, and they will kick that butt.  Which is a very good thing, I might add.  I write more when I'm going to a conference or writing group.  No way am I showing up empty-handed! 

Probably the most important reason to go is to recharge your writing battery.  I have yet to come away from a conference without at least one new idea.  And really, that's the most important thing.  A writer without an idea, is not writing much. 

Last night, a group of us stayed after the conference and hung out at the motel bar to socialize.  Loads of fun, lots of laughs, and great company. 

Until the wedding dance down the hall got out of control. 

The resulting melee spread from the room where the dance was held into the bar area where we were, and out into the motel parking lot.  It did not take more than a few seconds for the writers to break camp and disperse, either to their own motel rooms, or to their cars. 

As I drove from Grand Island to Lincoln, I had time to reflect on the situation.  First of all to feel a little sorry for the poor bride and groom.  No bride wants a brawl at their wedding dance.  But, I'm a writer, so of course, the plot-wheels start turning.  On the hour and a half drive back, I hatched a whole new plot. 

Six writers go to a bar...

More to follow~!