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?

Greetings from Summer

And from my front porch. It’s been six weeks since I finished the A to Z Blogging challenge and I’ve only just mentally recovered. I had a blast blogging (almost) every day for the entire month of April…but it took a toll on my introverted nature. So I withdrew for a little while.

In the interim, I finished up another year of work at my other job (I’m on the academic calendar), took a road trip with my kids (we survived!) and asked myself a lot of questions about what I’m doing and why.

My life is less complicated than many, yet I still feel that if I can get to the end of the day without completely sinking, I’m doing okay. Hanging on has become the new goal. Parenting takes a ton of time, not to mention emotional and creative energy. My other job contains its (un)fair share of mental and emotional drains. Then there are the basic tasks of life – food to be bought and prepared, schedules to maintain, workouts and adequate sleep and even time for relaxation.

There’s always just a little too much to do and not quite enough time. For a few brief days in May, I seriously considered dropping the writing bit for awhile. It would free up time and be one less thing to worry about.

I said as much to my husband somewhere along the endless corridors of Indiana and Ohio. “You can’t do that,” he said. “You have stories to tell and the world needs to hear them.” He confirmed a decision I had already come to on my own – nothing (aside from the ones I love) is more important to me than writing.

I may never make a full time living as a writer. I may never publish a novel. (Heck, I may never finish either of the novels I’m currently writing.) I may never earn more than a “oh, that’s nice,” comment and a look of vague concern when I tell people I’m a writer. But writing is important to me. It’s what I’m here on this earth to do.

So what matters is that I do it. I will orient my life around my writing. (I already do this, actually, but sometimes I need a little reminder.) There will always be interruptions and setbacks and things that look like setbacks but aren’t. It will never be perfect, but that’s okay. If nothing else, I’ll have even more fodder for stories and blog posts like this one.

Okay, off to write!

Z is for…Zabuton

A zabuton is a type of meditation cushion. Mine is a flat rectangle that serves as a base for a smaller zafu (a round meditation cushion) or a meditation bench. I’m making it sound like I have a robust, sustained meditation practice. In truth, the cushions get far more use by my cats than by me. But my lackluster meditation practice is perhaps a topic for another day.

I went to a panel at AWP about authors and social media. One panelist made the observation that any work authors do on social media should be to support their writing, not to take the place of it. While I’ve dedicated a bunch of time to the blog this month (and will be scaling back for a time starting tomorrow), my blog – and the  A to Z Challenge in particular – have supported my writing, just as the zabuton acts as a support for meditation:

  • The challenge helped me develop my blogging voice and also spurred me to consider how I continue to develop my own voice as a fiction writer, as well the unique voices of my characters.
  • The challenge provided 26 opportunities to write succinctly and quickly. I’ve already seen this lesson at work in my shorter and longer pieces. When I was working on my fiction this month and laboring over a scene, this was part of my inner chatter: “Get to the point already, Julie.” It was usually good advice.
  • The challenge offered time and space to reflect on – and share – the contours of my writing career as it currently stands, especially in the context of my life. There’s something very powerful about sharing some of my innermost thoughts, fears and hopes for writing with the wider world.
  • The challenge facilitated connections with other bloggers and writers. While I didn’t visit as many blogs as I intended this month, I have the whole list of participating blogs to visit over the coming months. And through the generosity of other bloggers who visited and commented on my posts, I’ve already found several kindred blogging spirits.

Thanks to everyone who made this journey with me, whether you read snippets here or there or if you read every single post. A special thanks to my readers who get new posts delivered to their inbox. That’s a lot of mail from me in the course of one month! Thanks for sticking with it.

I’m off to rest – wishing all of you time and space to reflect on all the things that support your lives, as well as the courage to discern and make necessary changes.