Friday, April 29, 2016

Conferences and Drafting: Writerly News

You might have noticed it's been a little while since I wrote a blog post. Or you might be going merrily along with your life none the wiser. Either option is fine. But suppose you ARE that person who has noticed it's been a while. Suppose you've been waiting for me to complete my blog series on boys and reading. If you are among these people, then you might have worried the past month or so that I wasn't writing much any more.

Well, worry no more! Because as it turns out, the problem was the opposite. I was writing. A lot. And it all pointed towards one purpose...


Last year I completed my Master's, and while that was awesome and exciting, it also left an empty space in my life. During my studies, I'd been enjoying the support of a school writing community that pushed me to produce large amounts of work and also to refine that work into something better. I can't emphasize enough how amazing it was to focus entirely on writing during that time.

But perhaps even more important, school created a sense of urgency in me when it came to writing. If you didn't show up with new pages every week, you looked like you were slacking off, even if you were technically *allowed* to miss a week or two. But why would you want to? The feedback we got by workshopping our stories each week was incredible. All you had to do was finish on time, and people would read your work and comment on it and help you improve it.

Deadlines were one of the best things about school. I could take or leave the grading, but the chance to learn and workshop once every week - well, I can't over state it. Since graduating, it's been difficult at times to force myself to keep to a writing schedule, largely because I don't have someone external to me expecting results in a timely manner. I tried setting my own deadlines, but I felt strongly that I'd do better if I was writing for something.

The best solution I could come up with was to look for a writing conference I could attend at some point this year. Conferences provide a great opportunity to network with other writers, enter contests, interact with publishing professionals and - highly appealing - join critique groups and get feedback on work.

I spent a long time finding a conference that I both wanted to attend and could afford to get to. Eventually, I settled on LDStorymakers. There were agents and writers in attendance I was interested in hearing speak, an impressive schedule of classes and, perhaps most compelling, it was all taking place in Provo, Utah, where I could stay at my sister's house for free!

I've already thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the Storymakers community. People have been supportive and reached out to one another, offering feedback for the First Chapter Contest and playing Twitter games with each other. It only seems like it can get better from here.

I'm also excited - though, honestly, nervous too - about the chance I'll have to interact with other writers who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For anyone who was either raised in/currently belongs to a religious community, it's pretty much impossible for your faith not to influence all aspects of your life. I think this is particularly true for Mormons and other minority religions. We're used to coming off as oddballs to other people at times, because our beliefs aren't common and we might not see things the same way as those who hold more mainstream beliefs. And despite this obvious influence, my writing life and my religion have often been kept in neat, separate boxes.

While I was at school, I was hyper aware of how weird I may or may not seem to people, due to my faith. I'd grown up as a decidedly uncool nerd, and away at Grad School, I got my first taste of acceptance by the wider population. We were all a bit weird, and it was so exciting to be around people who shared that experience and the accompanying enthusiasm for art. But even there, I was still DIFFERENT different. I couldn't go to bars or clubs and, as a result, missed out on some of the wider university culture.

My friends at Chatham were warm, accepting and never challenged me to do anything that went against my beliefs. Any barriers that existed between my faith and how I expressed myself were largely of my own making. My friends all knew I was Mormon and we had a lot of awesome conversations about faith and what religious beliefs we'd grown up with. But when we got into the actual classroom, I had a tendency to shut down that side of me. It was easier to come across as something neutral and non-threatening than to expose that more vulnerable part of me. We come from a culture where "common knowledge" suggests that religion is a topic that makes people angry and uncomfortable, so even when I was experiencing acceptance, it was hard for me to shut down this script in my head, that if I spoke about my writing from a position of faith, I would be yelled at or labeled as narrow-minded.

I don't know if I would have even noticed I was doing this if it hadn't been for a student/teacher mid-term talk I had with one of my favorite professors. He was trying to encourage me to be freer in my work, and I wasn't getting what he meant. As his careful, professional words failed to get through to me, he looked me squarely in the eye and said, "you're Mormon. You believe God put you on this earth for a purpose. That's what you need to write about."

I was instantly in tears, struggling to express how grateful I was to him for saying that. This fundamental part of why I write and why stories matter to me was something I'd never dared express in class. In my head, it would only make me sound crazy. But deep inside, I knew he was right. I didn't tell stories for fun, but because I believed they were part of what I was supposed to do with my time on earth - something I felt accountable to God for.

It's a memory that still makes me cry. In many ways, there are three things that matter to me in my life. My faith, my family and my writing. Inside me, they're all deeply intertwined, but it's rare I get the chance to experience them as united. I don't expect every Mormon author I meet to experience their faith and writing the same way I do, but that's part of what's exciting about the chance to go to LDStorymakers. I'm curious how others have integrated these things in their life and their work. Some will be people who write directly for the LDS niche market. Others will be like me, influenced thematically, but more drawn to books and stories aimed at a wider audience.

Hopefully, all of us can learn from each other. The conference starts on Thursday, May 5th with an intensive workshop, and I'm super excited! And one of the main reasons I'm excited is because I'm bringing a brand, spankin' new manuscript with me.


Earlier tonight, I finished drafting my current Work-In-Progress (or WIP as we writerly types like to call it), a Young Adult fantasy novel set in a world based loosely on pre-revolution France. It's about the transition of a country from war to a state of peace and the uneasy tensions that still litter the countryside. And at the center of it is a young woman who's thought of as a traitor by both sides.

Doesn't that sound exciting? I'm so glad that story exists now. And I would likely still be dragging my feet drafting it if not for the fact that Storymakers is starting this coming week.

Remember that talk about deadlines? Well, I promised myself that when I went to Storymakers, I would focus on classes that could help me edit my manuscript. But in order for that to be relevant, I needed to be finished the book I planned on editing. It is rough rough rough, my friends, but it exists. I love this story, and I'm really looking forward to going over it again and reshaping it into the story it is in my head, if not yet on the page.

Later, I might write another post talking about the differences between drafting and editing. For now though, I'm planning on focusing on the conference. I plan on writing at least one more post on LDStorymakers after it's finished. Maybe even more than that. :) We shall see!

Until then, I also want to say thank you to everyone who supported me while I finished this story. A huge thanks to my friends who were very understanding when I had to blow them off so that I could write. Thanks to my brother, who not only was patient with me through this process, but also has let me write about him and our relationship in the most bizarre, twisted of manners. Thank you to my sister who - did I mention? - is letting me stay at her house FOR FREE! Major props to Disturbed, whose cover of Simon and Garfunkle's Sound of Silence literally got me through a few of the darker chapters. A colossal thank you to my dad, who volunteered to drive me to the conference so he could see his grandsons and because he loves me a crazy amount. And a "I couldn't have done it without you" to my best buddy, Miranda Leavitt, who listened to long, rambling talks about characters, plot twists and my neurosis. She's a super hero, and I couldn't be more thrilled that she's coming to the conference too.

And above all, an amazing, all encompassing THANK YOU to my mother, who put up with a flaky daughter who constantly forgot to clean things and instead of getting annoyed with me, would time and again tell me to go finish my book instead. She's even volunteered to do my laundry tomorrow so I can focus on my other conference prep activities, because she's a saint.

For the rest of tonight, I'm gonna celebrate and rock out to the Dolly Parton album iTunes had on sale tonight. It's a good day, folks. A very good day.