Conferences, Retreats, & Write-Ins: Oh, my!

A number of my writing peeps are blogging about the our recent Retreat From Harsh Reality, a weekend where we as an organization, Mid-Michigan Romance Writers of America, put on an annual writing retreat.

I don’t want to repeat all of their accolades and what we did specifically; so instead, I’ll answer those questions that writers often ask:  How is a conference different from a retreat?   What is a write-in?

Both writing conferences and writing retreats desire to make money for their organization, or at the utmost minimum, pay for the expenses, such as was my goal last fall when I put together our organization’s Halloween weekend write-in retreat.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  Write-ins can be free or they can involve costs depending on their location or whether they are sponsored.


These are formal affairs.  Dress is generally business casual.  There is always one main speaker, a noted professional of rank and success, which is a draw for the conference.  This individual becomes the plenary or featured speaker, sometimes providing a workshop or two.

Additionally, there will be other speakers:  published writers, agents, editors, sometimes publishers, and they provide workshops or sometimes speak in a panel workshop or panel event.

Smaller conferences may offer a day of speakers, where the audience stays seated and the speakers come up front.  Other conferences offer several workshops at the same time, forcing the attendees to choose from two more different workshops.

A common theme for all conferences is where members of the sponsoring organization offer workshops in their field of expertise.

Some conferences are specific genre focused, such as fiction writers or poets.  Other conferences invite writers of all genres to attend and then offer multiple genre tracks of workshops, such as fiction track, non-fiction track, writing for children track, and so on.

I’ve attended small conferences of 100, with the biggest having over 3,000 attendees.  Costs are in relationship to the size of the conference, its location, its speaker headliners, and the number of meals provided.

Generally, at the bigger conferences, only a few main meals are provided with attendees finding restaurants for the rest of their meals.


These are less formal events, but they still provide some structure.  Jeans are appropriate.  More often than not, there is a speaker.  It could be someone from within the group sponsoring the retreat or it could an invited professional, whose expenses are being paid.

Depending on the event location, some or all meals can be provided.  The retreats provide writing time for the attendees or free time where they can meet for brain-storming or discussing the business of writing.  Some retreats providing workshops in the morning, writing time in the afternoon, and sharing time at dinner.

A retreat at a bed and breakfast, or one with a great vista location and themed with a great writer, such as the weeklong retreat honoring Virginia Woolf, A Room of Her Own Foundation for Women, in New Mexico every year can provide the camaraderie for those who don’t belong to a writing organization that meets locally or regularly.


These are events where the goal is for participants to get away from day-to-day responsibilities and to spend their time writing.  While you’re all together physically, you’re working individually.

I’ve been at twice-weekly write-ins at various eateries, such as Panera Bread, Grand Traverse Pie Company, Starbucks, or other locations that cater to writers, while I was living in Kalamazoo.  We would meet for a few hours in the evening after work and then again on Saturday morning.

Last year, I hosted a Halloween weekend write-in at a nearby bed-and-breakfast, Lily Hill Farm in Paw Paw, where we brought in our own food and we came together at meal times.  Otherwise, we were spread throughout the spacious farmhouse working alone, whether in our rooms or at various tables in the main rooms.

Also, I’ve participated in virtual write-ins, such as are sponsored by the Capital City Writers Association through their Finish the Damn Book program.  As a member, while it isn’t feasible for me to travel an hour one-way to participate, I am able to participate online, quite easily.


These write-ins can be as long or short as you want.  They can cost nothing, cost little, or cost much more, depending on your need or desire.

I’ve always wanted to do an Ernest Hemingway Key West Retreat for a week, taking someone with me.  Or go to Mackinac Island for a few days alone or with another writer, or taking the train across the country while writing.  Lately, renting a castle in England sounds like a fun write-in event.

What about you?  Do you have any favorite writing retreat locations?

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The Sun Also Rises … It Does?

“Everyone behaves badly–given the chance.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

It’s 10 p.m.  I’ve been at my desk 11 hours today, starting the revision of a script I wrote more than a decade okay but had to lay aside, hoping one day I’d return to it.

That day has arrived.  I want to keep writing now but the so-called bedtime calls.

And yet, that call seems to escape me when I retire directly from the writing.  My creative mind is still a-whirling.  There’s no stopping it.

Writing is my full-time job now.  This is my fourth month, third actually, as the first month I was settling into my new apartment.  I seem to have settled into a routine but it doesn’t really jive with the rest of the world.

I’m really not surprised at the 11 hours.  What does surprise me is that I think I’ve only been working for 5 or 6 hours, which can easily be 15 or 16 instead, with 11 and 12 becoming the average.  Obviously, I’m in the zone and falling down the rabbit hole of creation, losing track of time.  The White Rabbit would be furious, of course.

Strangely, I find myself wanting to arise with the sun.  Instead, it’s closer to lunchtime.

I’d like to more in sync with the rest of the world.  Although, there is something to be said for empty restaurants in the middle of the morning or afternoon.

Also, I’d like to spend evenings watching the news, then some favorite programs.  Instead, I’m watching the recordings of these programs late, late, late at night, speeding through the commercials.

I’m reading while eating.  Not a bad habit, until I’m eating more than I should because I want to keep reading.  Okay, I  can fix that habit.  Now that spring has finally arrived, I can sit out on my patio and read, enjoying the birds and relative quiet while others are at work during the day.

Overall, what’s wrong with this picture?  Nothing really.  I’m reading, writing, and enjoying life, ecstatic that each day is mine.

So what if at 5 or 6 a.m., I finally fall asleep, getting my best sleep.  A nap, really.

So what if I’m answering the door in my PJs when the mail, UPS, or Fed-Ex arrives, and I look like someone’s worst nightmare?  “Oops, you caught me!” always gets a laugh.  I’m sure it isn’t their first time.

I’m even considering sleeping in my clothes so they won’t be so embarrassed, but that just seems wrong somehow.

Trouble is, I have two early morning appointments coming up this week, the first in two days.  That means blowing the cobwebs off the alarm clock.  Actually, rising with the sun.

Maybe I should practice tomorrow morning.  Just to make sure I still hear the alarm’s obnoxious ring.  What does it sound like again?

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Creating Characters

I love creating characters.  This part of creative writing is one of my favorite activities, along with creating plot, and then creating the outline.

Whenever I begin a story, I usually have a visual of my main character and a slight idea of their nemesis or the counter character if a romance.  Generally, I see their goal and wound or flaw that drives the goal, and this goal becomes the driving force for the rest of the story’s development, both in plot and characterization.

Real relationships develop over time but in creating characters, I don’t have that kind of time.  I need to learn about them deeply and quickly.  So, I’ve learned to create character journals.

Starting with the main character, I write pages that are that character’s diary pages.  They’re simply recording on paper anything and everything they want to tell me.  I don’t care about what the character looks like, what their favorite ice cream flavor is, what they like to read, and other superficial characteristics.  Instead, I want to know if they were bullied, how they get along with others, what is their deep dark secret that they would be horrified if others know.  I want to know how they developed, emotionally.  What drives them to despair, what frustrates them, what gives them profound pleasure.

In the writing these pages, their voice appears before I’m at the end of the first page, especially in tone and sentence structure.  One may use flowery language, another speaks in short, choppy sentences, while another swears in every sentence.

I get to know these characters intimately, as if they are living with me.  Well, actually, they are:  in my head.

Early in my novel writing career, I discovered this method of creating characters for a romance I was writing.  In addition, I discovered this method by accident.

Because I was a journal writer myself, I thought, why not let my main characters write in their journals?

On this particular day, when both my hero and heroine had exhausted their thoughts on paper, each providing me with about four pages of single-spaced text, I had my daughter, who was in high school and good with English, read their journals.

When she was finished reading, she said, “Who wrote these, Mom?”

I replied, “I did.”

“No, who wrote these?”

I did.”

“No,” she said.  This time she spoke slowly, enunciating each word.  “Who.  Wrote.  These?”

I replied in like tone and enunciation.  “I.  Did.”

Exasperated, she said, “No, these were written by two different people.”

I grinned.

My characters were real.

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Creating a (Writing) Space

I moved recently.  I noticed as I removed items off the shelves and walls, those items some call knickknacks but I call reflections of my personality or that provide Feng Shui cures for structural obstacles, that the chi (another name for energy, pronounced chee) began to swirl around the room.

As the books came off the shelves and the pictures off the walls, the rooms began to echo.  Sounds became almost disturbing.  Hollow.  Lacking depth.  I shivered not liking this energy.

Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Prior to the day of the big move, when movers would take my dozens of boxes and heavier, bulkier furniture to my new place, I was moving my kitchen and bathroom, getting those two rooms set up.  My office equipment and supplies, along with my mementos and other Feng Shui materials were stacked, waiting for later placement after the big furniture arrived.

During this pre-emptive moving, I watched these two rooms became warm and the welcoming, positive chi return.

Because I moved into a much smaller apartment, moving from 740 square feet to 520 square feet losing 220 square feet in the process, once the furniture was in position, the boxes were piled everywhere, with most of them stacked in the living room.

Diana's new living room - from this to

The energy was stifling.  Instantly, I was reminded of my grandmother.  She was wonderfully creative and funny but a hoarder, a product of the depression, who lived with a single pathway through her living area.  For nearly a week, my home resembled hers and I thought of her often as I waded through my sea of boxes.

As I unpacked, I discovered I hadn’t pared down enough.  I had more furniture to get rid of.  A dresser.  A small buffet-like table with big, expansive drawers, a large bookcase, storage bins.  Lots of office supplies that I might use one day.  And, an assortment of other stuff.

As I hung pictures, placed my jars of collected sands, beach rocks, and other mementos on the shelves, I listened to and observed the clues that I was creating creative and positive chi:  goosebumps, a new movement of air, even an audible (in my mind’s ear) sigh that this was that item’s home.  Quickly, I noticed that a number of Feng Shui items I had used in my prior apartment weren’t needed for this place: the energy here is far better than the energy was there.

Almost two weeks after my official move, I’m finally settled in.

Diana's new living room

One friend commented that I have an office that comes with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen.  She’s right.  Virginia Woolf would be proud.

My new life is devoted to writing and my space wonderfully reflects this new path.

I’m home.

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A Writer’s Hell

It was a frightful dark and uprooting stormy night
when The Muse woke me with a start. The
clock struck three when she commanded,

“Follow me.” With her pixie face, light colored curls,
and luminous eyes, I was more than happy to
comply. The lightweight filmy material

of her dress danced around her body as the winds
blew through my bedroom window, first
hugging the dress to her body, then

pulling it away only to flutter and swirl around her
legs some more. She has fetched me many
times before. At first, I thought our journey

would be of light and merriment, maybe another trip
down the fragrant but mindless primrose path
we’ve past journeyed. Instead, I was led to

the edge of the sea where waves crashed repeatedly,
pounding the rocky cliffs, reducing rock to
gritty sand in the milieu of time. The

Muse forged a trail weaving among the rocks. A
virtual maze; there was no way back alone for
me. A huge gaping hole in the rock, like

the mouth of a giant snake with its jaw unhinged to
swallow its prey whole faced me. I trembled
in fear. When we crossed the cave’s threshold,

the ocean’s roar disappeared, replaced with a constant
rumble that tightly coiled itself around my
nerves. I glanced at my guide. I stumbled and

fell against the craggy wall. I didn’t care for this
experience already. Fear gripped me tight,
squeezing the air out of my lungs. The Muse

sensing I was no longer behind her, stopped,
turned, and looked back. I gasped at the
transformation. Her beautiful dress was

now a heavy, dark cloak that covered her so
completely that she was now a mere shadow.
When had she turned from a delightful,

playful creature to one who looked like the epitome of
Death? Gaunt bones, white skin, and dark
hollows where bright eyes should have been

stared at me vacantly. “Where. . .where . . . where are
we?” stuttered I, afraid to hear the answer.
“The Hole of Death.” Her voice was now

raspy, a harsh whisper. “Where all writers must
come.” “Must?” I shivered. “The price of
participation.” Her lips thinned into an evil

smile. “You think any of you can write without me?
I am your window of light, the door that
allows you entry into the New World where so

few are allowed, but the door so many want to enter.”
“But why me?  Here now?” I asked. “I’m not
yet dead in body.” “So you will know what’s

to come,” she replied. I learned all writers are given
the tour, but never a cure. Could I ever stop
my use of Her, I wondered. Did I want to?

She turned, knowing I would follow. The further we
traveled through the tunnel—the snake’s
body—the steeper became the downward

slope, the more stagnant the air. A sharp turn. The
assault to my ears and eyes unbearable.
Screams, insane laughter, shouts, and

an overall din of babble bubbled forth like hot lava.
There was no escape. A huge abyss, deep into
the earth yawned before me. What

should have been darkness was lit instead. Across the
hole was a catwalk that led to the other side.
On the other side was an elevator—

totally glassed. And around the rest of the hole was a
rail. While I noticed there were other
people—writers I was told—it took me a

moment to realize that each writer was accompanied
by their own Muse. All The Muses were
clothed similar to mine. Suddenly, at my

side was the Marquis de Sade, tears running down his
face. “Why are you crying?” I asked. “Because
I can’t be down there, being punished. I’m

forced to remain here, to act as host. Worst of all, I
have to keep my clothes on and I have no
feeling in my hands!”  In between racking

sobs, he guided me to the rail. There I could easily
look down into the pit. I saw a multitude of
levels, thousands of writers, and various

activities taking place on each level. As more
writers—partnered with their Muse—entered the
area, the Marquis sobbed. “Is there

anyone who doesn’t want to write?” he moaned,
guiding us into the elevator. The Muse pushed
the only button. Down. The glass box

 stopped at the first level, but I noticed there was no
door to open. A wall of glass for viewing only.
The Muse told me that the residents reach

their different levels by a one-way slide. “Once you are
in The Hole, you are there to stay. ” “There is no
redemption?” I asked. “None.” I quickly

learned those on this first level were librarians,
bookstore owners, writing conference
attendees, English teachers, and students

who never wrote. They lay on the floor, side-by-side
and stacked, tight like sardines in a can, but on
their stomachs, chins pointed down, close

to the edge of the wall where it dropped off, their
mouths sewn shut. “Their sin was in the desire
to know writers, but to never do the work of

one. They bragged of their famous writer friendships,
too. Forever and more they are forced to look
upon that which they can never know or speak

of again.” The Muse pushed the Down button again.
We dropped down to the second level.
Immediately, I recognized many. Lewis

Carroll, Dr. Seuss, e.e. cummings, and A.A. Milne
among them. There was a table and chair and
an old typewriter on the table. “These are

children’s writers,” said I, “but why is cummings
there?” “Because he wrote small.” It was then I
noticed that they were all only one quarter their

normal size and that no one could sit on the chair; it
was too tall. To do so meant they’d have to
work as a team to boost someone up there. It

appeared, however, that they were squabbling, pulling
anyone away who got remotely close to
reaching that destiny. We moved down to

the third level. There were the drinkers and lover,
who indulged themselves every way possible, and
followed the fun. I recognized Poe and

Hemingway but couldn’t determine who the others
were by their weary and tired expressions.
They were forced to stand without aid,

without leaning, gulping ice water after every poem
read from the gentle poets, the likes of Robert and
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Frost,

Lord Byron, Longfellow and so many more. For all
eternity the poets read aloud works to those
who didn’t want to hear. At the fourth level,

Oprah’s authors, and others like Michener, Burroughs,
Clancy, the big volume, best-selling authors,
heavily were ladened with their tomes.

Bookshelves circled the room, but there weren’t nearly
enough for all these books, so they were
carried, not to be put down as more books came

They fought for the shelves, never succeeding. At
the fifth level blood flowed freely. Plagiarists!
All covered in ink and unrecognizable. There

was only one bottle of ink and everyone hacked each
other with sharp instruments—deadly pointed
quills—as they tried to dip tips into the bottle.

At the sixth level, Truman Capote received paper cuts
from Margaret Mitchell, Wm. Faulkner,
Tennessee Williams, and Mark Twain. His

high-pitched squeals made the blood run cold. Conan
Doyle, Earl Stanley Gardner in the following
level continuously told O’Henry synopses of

their tales with O’Henry crying piteously with his ears
covered, “Don’t tell me the ending!” On
another level, teams of writers, like Virginia

Woolf & Mary Shelley, Ralph Ellison & Boris
Pasternak, Anna Sewell & Oscar Wilde, were
slugging it out with the Bronte sisters, forced to

learn the sisters’ manners. The ninth level was the
romance writers. Chocolate hung from the
ceiling just out of reach, tempting, teasing,

tantalizing them to a bloody frenzy as they climbed
over each other. The floor was littered with the
sharp points of their author giveaway pens. The

tenth level contained the critics, forced to drink ink,
and stab themselves relentlessly with #2 lead
pencils. The Muse then told me there was only

one more level, but that we could continue no further,
for the flames were unbearable and would roast
me as I was still alive. I could see flames and

feel the heat rising from below despite our glass
enclosure. “Writers of erotica—they like it hot,
so now they get to feel the heat,” the Muse

declared. “No more,” I wept. “I can’t take seeing
anymore!  This is a nightmare.”  She cackled
with laugher. “This is no nightmare.

This is but the dream. For creation continues here. In a
nightmare, there is no writing. Only writer’s
block. The only way to avoid this future

of hell is to put down your pen.” The Muse assured me
my salvation was guaranteed if I walked away
from The Word. I vowed my promise. A

vow I was determined to keep. I awoke, sheets wet
from the nightmare, frantic at the unbearable.
No hell for me! To the computer, I went,

resolved to delete my files. It automatically opened to
Word, and the last words I had saved flashed
back at me. I screamed. My fingers

trembled, unable to delete, poised to add more. In
black and white horror, the page read: “It was a
frightful dark and uprooting stormy night. . .”

Diana Stout © 2004

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Gutting It Out

Two days ago, I finished writing the first draft of a medieval novel that I started almost ten years ago.  What’s really ironic is that most of the writing occurred in the last six months.

After a decade of missing endless self-inflicted deadlines, boring family and friends, and having the main character whisper in my ear and bug me relentlessly to finish her book, I started making public goals.  Beginning in fall 2014,

  • it became my academic personal goal at work to have it finished by June 30.
  • it became my Write For the Money monthly goal at my local romance writers’ chapter.
  • it became my Write A Book goal for the same writing group.
  • it became my Finish the Damn Book goal for the Capital City Writers Association group, of which I became a member this past winter.
  • it became my oh-my-god-what-have-I-done goal once I told an agent in January who was disappointed to hear it wasn’t already finished, and who asked, “So, by the time I read your query and get back to you, it’ll be finished?” and where I said, “Yes.” As of this date, I haven’t heard back from her.  Typically, we writers prefer quicker responses, but in this case, I was fine with the slow response time.

And then it happened.  I was so close to THE END, I had to get there.

These past two weeks, I’ve been on vacation and I thought, perfect!  There’s no reason whatsoever why I can’t get these last 20 pages or so written.

The first week, I added a couple thousand words, thanks to the bi-weekly write-ins I attend.  I was encouraged, too, by fellow chapter members who are on our monthly NaNoWrMo online loop.  Their confidence propelled me forward.

I was frustrated going into the second week of my vacation not having done more, but I felt good in all the various tasks, projects, and catching up with friends and relatives I don’t get to see during the semesters much.  I was caught up on those tasks.

As the days of the second week crept by, I knew I was setting myself up for disappoint if something didn’t change.

Wednesday night at the write-in, I added another 1000 words, but it wasn’t enough.

Thursday, from 12-2 p.m., I wrote almost 3,000 words, adding 11 pages of manuscript.  I still had a long way to go to the end, considering the monthly chapter meeting was Saturday, and I knew there was no way that I wanted to get even early so that I could finish.  The good news was, I had bits and pieces of scenes already written but they needed bridges between them.  That chore, I figured, would require at least another 10 pages if not 15 or 20.

Each night, I was recording my progress to these various groups.  Two friends in particular were holding my feet to the fire.  Maris Soule expected it to be done by Friday, when I was going to visit her.  Alyssa Alexander, especially, was cheering me on, telling me I could do it.

Friday, I spent part of the day with Maris, celebrating her birthday with lunch and a river cruise, coming home tired and a little sunburned but knowing I had to finish the book.

Home at 3 p.m., I began.  By 7 p.m., I was exhausted.  I had added a lot, but when I looked at what was still needed, I thought, I can’t.  I’m not going to meet my goal.  I need to stop.  I’m tired.  I’m just going to have to say, nope, I didn’t make my goal at the chapter meeting.

And then, in my mind’s eye, I saw Maris and Alyssa’s faces hearing that news and feeling my own disappoint in saying those words.

The little voice within, the one I’ve learned to listen and trust, started chirping at me:  You can do this.  Gut it out.  Just do it!

 And gut it out I did.  Already exhausted, I stayed in that chair, typing faster and faster, fully engaged in a stream-of-conscious writing, digging deep into the soul of this character from whom the words were pouring.

I ignored whether I was using the right tense, whether the sentence has clarity, and if I was using the most correct word.  In a few places where I struggled, I simply put XXX and added a few reminder words, followed by another XXX.  These XXXs are easy for me to later find and go back and fix the problem, which often is more plot or consistency related.  There are probably 50 such problems throughout the manuscript already, but I’ve learned not to edit when laying down that first draft.  Often finishing the draft resolves many of those issues, so they become easy fixes later.

I kept moving forward.

I gutted it out.

And then it happened.  I reached THE END.  Ecstasy!

I looked at the clock: 9:30 p.m.  I was starving, having forgotten to eat.  I printed the pages, three-whole punched them, and placed them into the sacred notebook that holds these draft pages, which I carry around with me everywhere, and from which I edit.

Gutting it out is what I did when writing my last two romances, one of which the first draft took me only eight days to write after completing a full outline.  Gutting it out is what I did when making life changes and leaving unhappy marriages and moving into the unknown futures.  Gutting it out is what I did while working on my dissertation when my sister died and my mother began having more health issues that required my involvement.  Gutting it out is what I did when needing to finish my dissertation so I could graduate on time.

Gutting it out.  It’s a goal completer.  At least it’s my goal completer and the best way for me to finish amazing goals.

Yes, gutting it out is a sacrifice of energy, time, and even relationships, but these goals are MY goals.  No one else’s.

I derive great strength in knowing I’ve gutted my way through the pain and came out the other side triumph.  Successful.  And loving what I do.

Gutting it out is not easily seen, but it is thoroughly experienced by those who do what needs to be done, what needs to be completed, so that it can become part of the past as another stair step that lifts us into our futures.

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Storyboarding: Creating Structure to a Project

I love Orly Konig-Lopez’s blog Writing in the Storm, and particularly today’s Writing Process Throwdown.  She talks about her plotting method, which is one I use.

Basically, it’s a method I borrowed years ago from Hollywood’s storyboarding, where the story is put into small pictures and pinned to a board for all to review.

Instead of pictures, I use Post-It Notes with a few words that depict a scene.  I use different colored sticky notes to depict different actions or character plotlines.  For example, here’s a story I created one Halloween night in just a couple of hours, based on an idea I had for a thriller.

Diana's plotting board

It’s a scientific board, much like the ones students use for their science projects.  The board as a tri-fold divide my stories into three acts (based on the folds) naturally.  My boards are based on the plotting devices that authors Chris Vogler in The Writers’s Journey, Syd Field in Screenplay, and Blake Snyder in Save the Cat! wrote about, and methods that David Freeman and Michael Hauge discuss in their writing workshops, and I’ve attended several from both.

For this particular story, which I originally created on Halloween more than a decade ago, the reddish brown notes indicate psychological elements, the purple are emotional elements, the blue are physical  elements,  The mossy green are simply descriptions of place, and the brown, pink, and yellow notes each belong to a character.

As that Halloween evening got later, the more intense the plot became, and I started scaring myself.  Badly.  Finally, I had to quit so that I could sleep that night.  That story has stayed with me since and I will return to it soon.

The plotting still needs work.  In fact, I haven’t touch the story since that night because I was in school and homework took up all my free writing time, along with my working full-time as an office supervisor.  Since then, I’ve obtained four degrees, which enabled me to change careers from business to academia and a job I love, where I teach others how to write.

Now that I’ve returned my focus to my creative writing once again, I’m pulling out my boards.  Some are large with the tri-fold scientific boards and others are small with file folders and tiny Post-It notes.

Diana's tiny plotting board

What I like most about plotting this way is:

  • The entire story is visual at a glance
  • The story is easy to carry around with me (file folders method)
  • Colored sticky notes enables me to see where I have holes in the plotting
  • Nothing gets disturbed

I used to use 3×5 index cards but I found them clumsy and awkward for large stories.  They’d spill.  I’d have to spread them out on a wide surface—often on the floor or tack them to a cork board, which made for sore fingers pushing in all those pushpins or thumb tacks.  And then, I’d have to remove them, picking them up in order, numbering them in case of spillage.  And then when I would rearrange them, I’d have to renumber them.  I didn’t like that I couldn’t see the story in its entirely the way I wanted.

While the index cards can work for smaller works, such as an essay or short story, I prefer the Post-In Notes method for larger works:  books, full plays, and screenplays.

Once my plotting is done, I type up the notes and that document becomes my outline from which I write.  Essentially, every project is fully plotted or structured and the structure is always with me as I write.  The outline provides me with direction should I start feeling lost or get off topic.

Even though my plotting is done, I keep the board or file folder as it is and just file it with all my other notes and research documents.  Once in a while, when the first draft writing was done, I discovered that the structure wasn’t working, so I was able to restructure visually and quickly before attempting to move huge blocks of texts, which we all know can get messy.

Actually, I rarely use index cards anymore.  I much prefer the versatility of the sticky notes regardless of the project:  academic, creative, small, large, and everything in between.

What do you think?  Do you have a method/process that works for you?  Do you have a different style of using sticky notes?

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Managing Potential Submissions

I subscribe to a number of writing newsletters that alert me of contests and open submissions.  As an academic, I get lots of Call of Paper announcements, to which I can submit papers or presentation proposals to journals and conferences.  Presentations have been easy for me to put together and perform.  Judging scripts and manuscripts and reviewing journal articles have deadlines, so those tasks are relatively easy to perform.  Not so with papers I want to submit unsolicited, and the stack is high.

My inbox probably receives about 50 of these every week.  I get excited thinking, oh, I could submit X paper or Y paper, but wait, they both need revision for those journals or publishers.  So, I keep the announcement in my inbox as a reminder, or I move the announcement to my Call of Paper or Contest file folders thinking I’ll go back in and find it when I’m ready to submit.  (I spend a lot of time, getting excited, and then making goals.)

The problem is the deadline passes before I have time to dig the project out the pile or get it revised in the short time period.  Sadly or fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it, I have a lot of papers that are finished but need revision work of some kind.  Sometimes, it’s as simple as changing the style from APA to Chicago or MLA, but even that kind of revision takes time.

The problem is that I always feel I’m always behind and can’t get ahead.  (Wait a minute . . . didn’t I just say that in a previous blog—Life’s Little Hiccups.  Am I seeing a theme here?)

I prefer to work pro-actively.  Is it possible that I’m performing this process backwards?

At one time, I thought tracking various deadlines would help.  It didn’t.  I became bogged down with maintaining a list I wasn’t even using, because my time was spent collecting these deadlines and on the spreadsheet I was creating from them, rather than on the writing.

The focus needs to change.  My first step was to save these announcements in hardcopy format as it’s far easier to flip through a stack of papers than it is to open and close numerous e-mails.  I created files folders: one for academic journals, one for Hollywood, and so forth, all within easy reach of my computer.  DONE.

Why save them you ask?  Because I’ve learned that many of these institutions repeat these contests, conferences, or calls, which leads me to my next step.

Second, my goal is to revise one paper at a time, until I think it’s ready for submission, then go search for an appropriate publisher, journal, agent, editor, and so forth.  I’ll go to my hardcopy file folder and find an appropriate place for submission.  If the deadline has already passed, the manuscript and the submission notice goes into a ticker file (by month) so that when the next deadline arrives, I’ll be ready.  TO BE DONE.

As you can see, I’m in the middle of changing my methodology.  I’m hoping this method will work.  It’s one I’m going to put into implementation during this year’s Christmas break.  If the method doesn’t work, I’ll have to revisit my process.  Of course, I’m always open to ideas.

So, I’m wondering.  How do you deal with the plethora of ideas, getting them finished, and then submitted?  Was it a struggle for you in the beginning?  Have you found your rhythm?  Or do you still struggle with the entire process?

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Life’s Little Hiccups

I’m behind.  Again.

I wish I could say that I don’t know how it happens, but actually, I do know how it happens.


And a lack of making writing the priority it deserves.

What’s frustrating is that I know better than this!

June was my last blog before this one and the “Dear Plant” blog posted earlier tonight.  July, I spent dealing with my mother’s care and then dealing with her funeral at the end of the month.

What surprised me was the depression that followed.  I hadn’t felt that depression when my father died in 2008 or when my sister died in 2012, so why was I experiencing it now?  Was it because when their deaths occurred, I’d been writing regularly due to hefty deadlines where I buried myself in the writing instead?

I think so.

While I had a writing project that I was carrying around with me when dealing with Mom’s health issues and then, ultimately, her death, I had no deadlines, so the writing could be postponed.

So July melded into August as I prepared for the new academic year.  I noticed that despite the work, my depression wasn’t lifting like I would have liked.  Then, I became buried and exhausted with all of my work, which was more atypical than normal and with new responsibilities.  Basically, I was too tired to think.  Or write.

Only at the beginning of November, when some of the responsibility eased was I able to breathe again.  I got my writing out and was making headway doing some kind of writing every day, proudly putting red Xs on my calendar.  (Jerry Seinfeld would have been proud!)   And the more I wrote, the better I was starting to feel.

And then, BLAM! I found myself involved in a multi-vehicle (over 20, with 3 semi-trucks, a tow-truck, and police car) crash due a sudden white out on the highway, after having left town with the sun shining and only wet cement.  Michigan weather and living within the lake-effect weather zone, the weather can change quickly, and so it did that day.  Fortunately, there were no deaths, and only one driver seriously injured.  I had a few bumps and bruises, but I was okay.  The car, however, was not.  It was totaled.

That following week was a blur, filled with teaching, doctor appointments, and having to find a new car.  But now, I’m back on the writing track and with renewed energy.

Frankly, I had asked the Universe to put deadlines in my path, so that I would be forced to write.  How quickly the Universe reacted.  Deadlines I had wished for, I got!   A new writing opportunity was presented to me, which I took without hesitation, plus I volunteered to be part of a short-story anthology.  Work deadlines began piling up too, far earlier than usual for the end of the semester.

Despite all these deadlines, here I am writing.  What’s that old adage about the busier we get, the more we get done?

Yes, I’m several blogs behind, but that’s okay.  I’ve learned some lessons about myself and life as I’ve traveled through summer and fall’s events, and . . .

I’m joyously happy to find that I’m losing track of time again as I write.  Yup, I’ve reclaimed that zone.

Even better, that novel I’ve been trying and wanting to finish all year, well, I made getting that first draft finished as a professional goal at work, which has a spring deadline.

I have every confidence the book will finally get written.

Bottom line:  I do well with deadlines.  How about you?

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Dear Plant . . .

Lilly Conference
Traverse City, MI
October 2014

Dear Plant,

I miss your green, your silent acceptance of my work, even when I’m goofing off.

Oh, dear, did I forget to give you extra water?  I don’t worry about you as much as I do about your younger siblings—plants I’ve only had only a year or less—however, they are succulents and should be okay with drier conditions.

I always forget how you found your way into my plant celibate life, that I rescue you from a window shelf when I was working at Kellogg’s in various offices the summer of 2002.  You’d been deserted, stuck on that ledge by someone no longer there, and with no one claiming you, you were on your last breath, dirt totally dry, crumpling quite a bit in the sun.

What amazes me about you is your ability to thrive in the dark with little light other than the weak rays that filter in through the slabs, and even with our Michigan gray weather, which is definitely transitioning into its fall rains, you still thrive and bloom offering me quarterly pearly blossoms and new shoots almost monthly.

Looking forward to seeing and being with you again.

Love, gee how should I sign this?  Mom?  Your friend?  Your keeper?  I know I call you Buddy quite frequently and know how you prefer being near my desk, near my work, but what do you call me?  Hmm, I need to listen more carefully, don’t I?

See you on Sunday!


P.S.  This letter was an assignment for a workshop.  After writing this letter, the session leader wanted us to rewrite it, since we needed to have asked questions about your plans, what you’ve been doing (ha, like I don’t know what you’ve been doing while I’m gone!), all of which is to inspire you to write back.  Yeah, like that’s going to happen.  Besides, I think this is a damn, fine letter.


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