This is not a post about the notorious ‘writer’s block’–this is about another form of mind-shutdown. This is about trying to understand where I want to go from here–as a writer and as a person traveling through life without the partner I cherished for over forty years. I have discovered that my enthusiasm for certain types of stories has waned. I have also discovered that my desire to write something that resonates — with me mostly — and perhaps with others has increased. And yet I am my own worst enemy when it comes to this. I have deadlines coming–reasonable deadlines that I could easily meet well ahead of schedule if I weren’t one of those people who has for all my life procrastinated until the last possible second. I could work on the story I truly want to write at the same time that I am turning out the stories already under contract–but somehow my mind does not work on dual tracks like that.
The truth is that I am filled with self-doubt in all facets of my life. There’s a song in the film FUNNY GIRL (that I don’t think was in the play). It comes after Nick has left Fanny Brice and the lyrics are something like “Who are you now? Now that he’s gone?” Yeah–I get that.
So, time to come up with a plan and right now the plan is to complete the obligations I have and meanwhile look for a writer/artist colony that I might apply to for next fall–there to dedicate several weeks to just writing that story I want to write–the one that maybe sheds light on the life I am now leading.
To that end I would love to hear from others who may have had the ‘colony’ or ‘residency’ experience–where? how was it? how did it change your work–and you?
I am in Madison WI on the campus of the university which also ‘houses’ Wisconsin’s State Historical Society Library. This is a little gem of a research center located in a historic building in the middle of the campus. The exterior of the building is impressive–the entrance lined with fat Greek columns. Once inside you climb the marble steps to the library’s research and reading room, and the steps actually dip from the thousands of people who have climbed those stairs through the decades. The reading room is old school and the stacks are even more so. I make this trek to Madison annually and the library is always a stop for me. Through the roller coaster that has been my writing career this place has offered inspiration and solace. It has also never failed to offer just the exact research material I might need for a book in progress or a new idea I’m researching.
Through the years I have discovered many resources for researching my stories–museum collections, small libraries in small towns, the new standbys: Google and Bing–but I admit to having a special place in my heart and mind for this particular library. I would love to hear from others–writers, readers, historians–and be introduced to the research gems you may have discovered through the years.
If you are an author or reader of historical fiction, you should know about The Historical Novel Society, which is “a literary society devoted to promoting the enjoyment of historical fiction. We are based in the USA and the UK but we welcome members (who can be readers or writers) from all round the world. Through our print magazines, conferences, website, social media and through the dynamism of our membership we help bring the excitement of these novels to the widest audience.” Check out their website: https://historicalnovelsociety.org/
1. Plan ahead–look through the schedule BEFORE you arrive and mark off the sessions you plan to attend. BUT once there do not be afraid to move on should the session turn out to be something not up your alley.
2. Plan ahead: Part 2– extra sessions pre and post conference that cost extra $$ can be some of the BEST bang for your buck so consider taking one of these.
3. Schedule appointments–if the conference offers agent/editor appointments, choose the person(s) most in tune with what you are writing and get on the list. BRING BUSINESS CARDS and carry them in a pocket or easy-to-get-to-without-fumbling location.
4. Pack light–chances are you are going to need room for books you will buy/receive at the conference.
5. If this is your first time at this conference attend the orientation–you have a limited time to cram in a LOT of opportunities.
6. Do NOT hide out in your room!!! I assure you that I am the world’s greatest introvert but at conferences I make it my mission to talk to as many people as possible–you just never know!! Start with something like: “Is this your first time here?” Or the surefire conversation starter: “What are you working on now?”
7. Do NOT hang out exclusively with your friends–this is your opportunity (and theirs) to work on advancing a career.
8. If you are fortunate enough to find yourself seated next to an editor or agent at a meal or event, do NOT try to pitch your story unless the person specifically asks what you are working on. Instead take advantage of this golden opportunity to get them talking about trends in the business–where are things headed, what’s in and out, etc.
9. If you have a finished manuscript, do NOT try and give it to an editor at the conference. Instead, prepare your “elevator pitch”– how you would describe your novel in the 10-15 seconds it might take to ride an elevator to the lobby–and on the back of your business card write down the keywords (Irish historical suspense, for example) to hand to the editor should there be interest.
10. HAVE FUN!!! BE A SPONGE and soak in everything you can… if sessions are recorded on a flash drive, consider buying that so once you are home you can review the sessions you attended and “attend” those you missed.
FINALLY do not be intimidated by the “stars” in the crowd. Lee Childs, Jodi Picoult, Nora Roberts and the like are people who write — just like you!
NOTE FROM ANNA: From time to time I’ll post information on projects completed, books coming out, projects that are in the ‘noodling’ or idea stage. Hope you will let me know your comments on my stories–past, presetn and future.
I just finished the second in the LAST CHANCE COWBOYS series. Book One: THE DRIFTER will be out in September (and available for pre-order soon); Book Two: THE LAWMAN continues the story of the Porterfield clan from Arizona. I hope you enjoy getting to know this lively family as they find true love while working their way through the trials and challenges of life on the frontier in the late 19th century.
Available for pre-order
NOTE FROM ANNA: From time to time I will send out writing exercises for those followers who write or have a calling to write. These are just for you–no need to share unless you feel called to do so.
Where are you? Describe in detail as if setting the scene for your novel or short story.
Why are you there?
Are others there as well? If so, describe them. If not, describe your feelings at being in this place and alone.
NOTE FROM ANNA: From time to time I plan to post comments on books I have read–or am reading–on this blog. I hope this will inspire you to share your comments on that book–or one you have read as well.
If you have not yet read Anthony Doerr’s ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, and you are a fan of historical–especially WWII–fiction, I urge you to download, purchase, borrow this Pulitzer Prize winning novel now.
Currently reading: THE SEA by Irish author, John Banville. Stay tuned!