Write it down a lot. Let me get this out of the way, I did write a LOT of words. Like a little over 52,000 words. Now I KNOW a lot of those words will get tossed in the second draft but I’m very pleased that I got at least half of my first draft done. That said, I think I will rest on my laurels next year and withdraw from the wordcount wars.
Let’s talk about the retreat itself. It’s in beautiful Lake Quinalt up in the Olympic peninsula. There are no houses on the hills. There is almost no cell reception (oddly, I could only get a signal on the road and in the parking lot) and no phones in room. There is internet but trust me, with 20, 30 people on the connection, you won’t be playing WOW or spending much time online. What you will be able to spend your time doing is writing. And it is perfect for that.
It helps a lot to have a plan when you go, stories you want to write, an outline for your novel. If you do, you can just go, go, go. Or at least that’s what I did. I knew what I wanted to write and I’d been planning this, imperfectly, but planning for this for a month.
If you don’t want to grind all the time. The workshop provides some great workshops and seminars by pro writers. Then there’s the camaraderie. Everyone is just there to write. There’s not a lot of jockeying or the ‘tiers’* you see at conventions. Everyone is just there to write. And that is beautiful. I’ve met amazing writers, and not just that they’re as talented as all get out**, but genuinely nice, cool folks. And the pros that are there are pretty willing to give you one-on-one time, if they aren’t writing. It’s all very casual and very cool.
I want to talk briefly about two workshop/seminar thingys that I went to this year. The first, on character by Nancy Kress was very, very good. In fact, I bought her book on character and POV just because I loved her thoughts on it. She mentioned how specific details can be used to reveal character. Like what kind of clothes they wear, their hygiene, what music or books they have around, how they treat other people, how other people treat them. This is gold, especially in the re-writing phase. It was an excellent, spot-on example of HOW to ‘show’ instead of ‘tell’.
The other seminar was Mark Teppo’s ‘Nuns with Guns’, which wasn’t really about Nuns or Guns, but instead about plot***. Since Plot was a big problem when I got started, it was nice to hear about how people resolve plot problems, like managing characters that don’t do what you, the writer, expect them to. Mark had some great words about making sure your story really needs ‘nuns’ or ‘guns’, that you’re including the plot details that you need. Mae Empson (who is awesome and talented) had a great suggestion that came in handy: Let your characters veer off the script, then deal with the consequences of veering off. For example, I sorta…killed off my main antagonist****. Yeah, didn’t expect that. But instead of going back and re-writing the scene the way I’d scripted it, I left it in and had everyone deal with the consequences. As it turned out, killing that guy was even worse for Balt than merely losing to him in a duel. Huge thanks, Mae.
I can’t say enough about how great this retreat is. If you can, get to it. There’s talk of a third session next year. If there is, I’m going to stack it with all the Wordslingers I can beg, encourage or blackmail into attending. It’s completely worth the time and money.
On another note, I’m finally getting off my hinder and submitting stuff. I’ve submitted about seven stories this month so far. I’m actually surprised at how…few stories I felt were solid enough to send out as-is. I think that’s telling me something else…frelling EDIT YOUR STUFF, EDWARDS! So, I’ve got that to do this month as well. Meanwhile, I’m still moving forward with the novel I started. Getting the first draft done is just the beginning but it is A beginning. It’s going to be a lot of work, all of it, but you know what? I love it. I really, really do.
*You’ll know it when you see it. All the professional writers sit together or hang out in the green room. All the aspiring authors are in their own group, desperately trying to break into the higher tier, trying to belong but they haven’t ‘earned’ it yet. And the fan teir who just want to hang out or get acknowledged by their idols.
**Which they are, Mae, Wendy, Liz…I’m looking at you, among others.
***Or at least, that’s what I got out of it. It got pretty free form and I was sort of in a fugue state for most of the weekend.
****Balt, my swordsman character from Angel Odyssey is brought to the Great Eyrie to teach Jacob and the other Rider Candidates. When he’s challenged by the former instructor, Balt…sorta kills him. That told me that Balt was looking at the Riders as if they were enemies, not allies. Very interesting insight, something for him and the Riders to work on. Unless I kill Balt, accidentally or on purpose.