The Write Life

Reflections from a big weekend at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. In short, it was amazing as usual.

My fellow writers have been making posts about their experiences and it has been fun to see the personal and shared takeaways. Inspiration is in bloom.

The theme that threaded its way into my personal experience: “You got this.”

While my manuscript is well beyond draft, it’s not at a place I can personally call “done”. The loose ends are a mix of doubts and a tingling sense that I’m forgetting something critical but can’t quite place my finger on it. No one has explored the numerous uncertainties with me more than my greatest supporter, my husband. He often sees in me what I can’t always see in myself, patiently reassures me when I’m steering toward another revolution of the “here we go again” topics, and understands that the words are the code behind the program. Much like users of software, the reader wants a seemingly bug-free experience.

To get there, it’s a personal journey that’s rarely taken alone. It’s a contradiction. In order to learn and grow we need the influences of great writers before us, hungry learners beside us, and strong supporters surrounding us while weeding through subjective viewpoints and absolute rules with numerous exceptions.

And just when a clear path emerged, I discovered there is no real destination. Writing as a whole is about the journey, the adventure of straying off course, reaching various check-in points for refueling, continually setting markers and determinedly marching forward.

For the first time, I can see the point where the “done” marker for this particular manuscript will be set. I’m a strong believer in following my gut. That feeling of knowing what sits within the core of what this work means and why I need to get to it. This is my fourth writing conference and with each year the vision has gotten clearer. Among the incredible spread of writerly wisdom and knowledge, three workshops caused me pause.

  • Angel Smits in “Making Characters Matter” confirmed my need to dig deeply into the souls of my characters. While patting tear-rimmed eyes, she shared haunting tales of the inspiration behind her latest story. People, whether fictional or not, are motivated by the same things. Events define us and human needs motivate us.
  • Brandy Vallance in “Unlocking Personification and Metaphor” reminded me in the most beautiful way that I need to follow my gut and listen to the whisper my manuscript is calling for. To, as she so eloquently put it, “Pluck the metaphorical guitar string and let it resonate throughout the manuscript.”
  • Barbara Samuel O’Neal in “Cornerstones of Excellence” focused on those refined details that take a revision from good to great. Tasked us with exercises to amplify senses in a given moment and uncover the complex layering of memories.

Outside of workshop sessions, our keynote speakers offered laughter, advice, and nuggets of wisdom.

Mary Kay Andrews, the late bloomer, and Andrew Gross, the retailer gone thriller writer, inspired me with personal stories of their highs and lows in reaching significant markers of success. Each story unique but carrying the commonality of being driven by the passion to write with no sure steps, no guarantees, and no definitive end point.

I was reminded that there are a lot of ways to become a writer and a lot of variations of the published author. That it can be a hobby or it can be a job. We decide what it’s going to be. But if it’s going to be a job, then stop waiting for the muse, sit down and take care of business.

One of our keynotes, Seanan McGuire reminded me of the life lesson we all encounter at some point. Usually earlier than we are ready for, life is not fair. And in this unfair world where some people have advantages over others, be kind.

Of the many highlights, meeting R.L. Stine, who was not scary will remain a favorite memory. He was funny and a pleasure to mingle with. There was an air of comfort that accompanied him. He told us he didn’t understand writers’ self-doubt. “What is this self-doubt? Just sit down and write.” Many of us looked on dumbfounded, heads swirling with burdensome writing experiences trying to make sense of this rather simple notion from the man who has authored 330 books and has reached countless readers — not only young but from an unexpected fanbase. So, I salute those words…you’re right Bob, I’m gonna sit down and write.

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P.S. My name is Aaron Michael Ritchey and my success is inevitable.

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