Uncategorized, Writing

How to Enjoy a Writing Excuses Retreat (On a Boat)

Imagine a writing conference. If you are a writer like me, you’re probably already excited, especially when you know it’s composed of primarily science fiction and fantasy writers. You get to go to this writing conference to hang out with some of your favorite writers, meet a lot of cool people who have similar interests than you and learn a ton about the craft, art and business of writing.

You’re not excited yet?

Well, picture all of that on a cruise ship. That’s what makes the Out of Excuses Writing Workshop and Retreat extra awesome – in addition to hanging with Writing Excuses podcasts hosts Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Taylor – you get to do it all on a ship bound for several exotic destinations!

This does lead to a problem, however. If you are shelling out a ton of money to go on a writing conference on a cruise ship, how do you make sure you’re getting your money worth? Don’t get me wrong – the programming on a Writing Excuses Retreat is worth every penny – it’s chock full of great content, great writers and great opportunities to meet great writers. But how do you maximize your earnings on the cruise? Here’s are some best practices I’ve learned over the last two years:

Read The Instructors’ Books – Writing Excuses, like most conferences, presents seminars from both the hosts of the podcast as well as guest instructors. On the months before the cruises, I read Steven Barnes’ “Blood Brothers”, Tananarive Due’s “The Good House” and Claudia Gray’s first two Firebird books as well as her Star Was book “Lost Stars”, in addition to the most recent books from the primary hosts – Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells and Howard Taylor. Was it a lot to read? Yes. Was it worth it? Definitely.

Reading these books gave me several advantages. First, it made me extremely excited to hear what these writers had to say. But more to the point, it also gave me insight into their favorite themes and overall strengths as a writer. In addition to giving me something to talk with them about, it also gave me plenty of subject matter to pick their brain about.

Bring Something to Write – I know what you might be thinking. “Write? I came here to learn to write, to network, or to generally improve my writing career. I don’t have time to write.” Needless to say, the Writing Excuses isn’t buying it, and neither am I. The hosts have several incentives to get you in the writing mood, but without spoiling that, I found this second cruise was my most productive outing yet.

I came with a checklist of four or so projects, and not only did I have time for them all over the course of the week – but I’m also very pleased with how they turned out. I think being around so many people who are also passionate about writing super-charges the creative juices – so take advantage of it!

Keep in Touch – This last one might sound a bit basic, but it’s the truth.  Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells have said numerous times that there’s a reason they hit it big – by keeping their writing group going since meeting in David Farland’s fiction class. The same goes the Writing Excuses Retreat. You have ample opportunities to make friends, between group writing time, excursions, dinner, game nights and more. Don’t think of these friendly conversations as simply downtime – the relationships made here can prove extremely valuable.

The good news is that social media makes it extremely easy to keep in touch. There’s also Google Groups to help alumni stay in contact. Even so, it’s a good idea to take down each other’s information if you have the opportunity. Print a couple inexpensive business cards and hand them out at the cruise. When the event ends and everyone returns to their distant corner of the globe, you want to make sure you keep contact with friends from the cruise. These friends can keep you motivated and keep you writing, even when you are separated by state lines and oceans – so make sure you write down their name and e-mail.

The Writing Excuses Retreat is one of my favorite writing events to attend year after year, so if you can afford it, make it a point to sign up. While I admit it can be a pretty big blow to the piggy bank sometimes, the contacts, information and experiences make at these conferences is well worth the cost. So with any luck, I’ll see you next year on the 2017 Out of Excuses Writing Retreat!


NaNoWriMo Is Not A Cult

Let me preface this by saying National Novel Writing Month – aka NaNoWriMo – is awesome. The annual event challenges you to write one novel – or 50,000 words – in one month (namely November), all while providing you with an awesome community to brainstorm, share your work and compete with and much more. If you want to write a novel or have ever thought about writing a novel, stop reading this and sign up now!

But . . .

But . . .

If you are a seasoned NaNoWriMo participant and can’t seem to hit 50,000 words, or you just aren’t happy with the finished results, it might be time to consider if Nanowimo is part of your writing process or not. I’m a three-time NaNoWriMo winner, but something was missing from each project, preventing me from making the much-needed corrections during the revision phase. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered what it was.

I am a pantser. I still use an outline, but I write best with the freedom to move around and explore my narrative from the seat of my pants (or more accurately, shorts). While having a one month deadline is a great motivation for my deadline-oriented mind, it really kills the creativity in scene after scene. I need time to explore my story, time to get to know my characters. So over the past two years, I’ve carved out several months to write a novel. Now I have two finished projects – one that I’m sending out to agents, and one that I’m workshopping through a writer’s group. In either case, I came to the same conclusion: taking it slow and steady worked better than rushing through.

Of course, you might find the opposite to be true – NaNoWriMo might work wonderfully in your wheel house. If you are an outliner or a singularly focused pantser, you might be able to write a satisfactory 50,000 word draft with little problem. Or you might be like me, and require a little extra time to get the bugs out. Everyone’s writing process is different.

You can still use NaNoWriMo’s tools to craft your novel, even if you aren’t taking the 50,000-word plunge. Every time I start a new novel, I buy a copy of NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s workbook “No Plot, No Problem”, which features tons of exercises for figuring out your story before you begin. I’ve heard of writers customizing NaNoWriMo for their own needs, such as by number of hours editing or outlining in a single month. There’s also Camp NaNoWriMo, a summer/spring version which lets writers customize their own word counts for the months of June and August.

Even if you aren’t participating in NaNoWriMo at all, you should still try to approximate its tools to your own writing process. Make sure you have a writing group or organization to provide you with a sense of community. Try to listen to podcasts from fellow writers and other creative types to keep motivated. Don’t forget to set a goal or deadline – but make sure it’s one which doesn’t rush you or hinder your creativity.

NaNoWriMo provides an excellent kick in the pants for many writers. It helps you find the cracks in your schedule where you can squeeze in writing time while also evicting all those nasty doubts. But it’s not a cult sacrifice to your muse. It’s not the writing tax you have to pay in November. It’s not any kind of obligation. It’s simply a great way to start exploring your own unique process.

Where you take your writing from there is up to you.