In praise of writing festivals

At the beginning of November, I got in my car and took a solo road trip to Grand Marais, Minnesota, to participate in the North Shore Readers & Writers Festival: A Minnesota Voice. The trip marked the end of the busiest period of library work (September – October), a time when I probably wrote at most 500 words, and they weren’t even good ones.

I was worried I’d get snowed out, but the weather held. (It was unseasonably warm on the shores of Lake Superior.) I carted a bunch of food, some wine, and the hope that the festival would give me a chance to reflect, unwind and focus on my writing.

The festival itself was phenomenal. I met a bunch of super cool Minnesota writers. I learned a lot about craft and author promotion. I had good food, drank good wine and slept soundly. I also thought about the ways in which I do and do not prioritize writing in my life.

It’s a difficult balancing act, pursuing a writing career on top of maintaining a library career and having a family. I’ve blogged about this before – time seems to be one of my issues. Even as I was enjoying the heck out of myself at the festival, I was aware of the work piling up in the office, not to mention the deeper cut of a family who missed me almost as much as I was missing them. And of course, when I’m at the office, I’m aware of the story lines stagnating in my head and the short pieces that aren’t getting submitted. And let’s not even get into the emotional tangles of parenthood.

I don’t have an answer to this. Maybe the first step is for me to acknowledge the messiness. That I might never get to a mental or physical place where there won’t be other priorities requesting/demanding my attention. Maybe acknowledgment comes first and then I can work on how to respond by silencing those other demands for a time in order to focus 100% on the task at hand.

Hm. Any suggestions?

J is for…Journey

20131107_154645When I started the challenge I told myself I didn’t want to “cheat” and use adjectives for any of the letters, so nothing like “jolly revisions” or “jubilant beta readers” to fill a post. (Note, not sure this is actually cheating but it was a standard I wanted to follow.) J proved a challenge, however. For awhile I was going to write about the time I made freezer jam, but even I could not figure out a way to tie it into my writing.

I was inspired by a post from Pen in Her Hand about “El Cheapo” writing retreats – writing retreats you can do at home. This is an excellent idea and I can’t wait to try it. The post reminded me of a trip – ahem, I mean a journey – I took with a friend a year and a half ago. My friend was working on a book for one of her courses and I was blasting through the first draft of a novel.

We piled into the car and drove up the North Shore of Minnesota, one of my favorite places in the world. Lake Superior stretches to the horizon on your right as you drive through birch forests and pines groves dotting ancient mountains. It was the off season and we stayed at a tiny resort right on the water.

The first few hours were odd, complete with a grunting woodsman who had the master keys to all the cabins (including ours) and an old woman in a red coat who was peering in the window of our cabin as we pulled up “Are we going to get murdered?” we asked ourselves. (We did not, as I am most definitely not posting this from the ghost realm.)

Instead, we settled into an easy rhythm. I wrote in the cabin during the morning while my friend wrote at the lodge. We came together for long lunches in the nearby town of Grand Marais and then went for a walk. Then back to our writing for the rest of the afternoon, capping off the day with chats over wine, cheese and other goodies.

It was rejuvenating. I finished the rough draft of my novel during those few days. I stayed at my keyboard and with the story because I knew my friend was doing the same. (Also because there was a bottle of wine waiting for us at the end of the day.) It was creatively draining in other ways – it’s not something to do all the time – but this journey proved instrumental in giving me the final push to finish an important stage of the manuscript. The wine (and especially the friendship) was nice, too.

F is for…Financial Resources

I’m an academic. My spouse is also an academic. We are not high rollers. We have a mortgage, car payments, student loans. We are raising our children with the plan that we will help them pay for college some day. (They also want to buy lots of Legos right now.) We are comfortable, however. We have retirement accounts and savings and health insurance. We have safety nets and fallback plans. We have the stability that two decently-paying jobs can provide.

I’m writing about this because of the article that sparked my theme for this year’s Blogging from A to Z  Challenge: the Salon piece by Ann Bauer, which recounts the resources she has that support her writing life and the reluctance people have about discussing their own resources. While I’m not in the top income bracket, I’m able to go on writing retreats a few times a year, take an online writing course and hire a freelance editor without breaking the bank.

It’s odd to write about my own financial resources. It feels like I’m showing off in some ways (look at all that I have!) and also reminds me that while I’m not in the uppermost income bracket, I have a lot of privilege.

Sure, I did all the work in college and grad school that gave me the credentials to secure my current job. But I also had opportunities (like attending college & grad school) that lots of people don’t have. I have the kind of financial security I have today mainly due to being born into a particular situation. Sheer luck.

I also have the resource of time, thanks to my job. I have time to write because I have a nine-month contract, several breaks during the year, and a tremendous amount of autonomy regarding how I spend my time at work. Whenever I get down because of my job, I remember that I have more time and autonomy than I would in almost any other profession.

Lots of people write from countless circumstances, but I don’t want to pretend that I am able to write because I’m somehow “special.” I’m able to write because of the financial advantages – as well as the time perks – that come from my profession and the privilege of being born into a certain situation. One of my jobs is to remember not to take it lightly.