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.


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

Recurring nightmare and Recent events

Just a mere two months ago, I was at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. On opening day the lunchtime speaker shared her family’s experience of losing their home to the Waldo Canyon fire. The 2013 conference was themed “Rising from the Ashes” in dedication to all that had happened to our community and with a vow that we would regrow together. The recount, beautifully written and presented, was a tearfest. Every local writer in the large ballroom had been affected in some way. Many, like me, had been displaced. A few lost homes, many opened their homes, some were actively involved in direct support to firefighting and everyone knew someone that fell into every category along the way.

The room contained about the same number of attendees as the number of houses lost and was dead silent. Her account was moving and informative, both relating to shared experience and revealing unique circumstances. The out-of-state visitors had many sincere questions and true compassion. The recollection stirred up raw sensations buried within me.

For about a month, I’ve been dreading the first anniversary, June 23.

The thought of seeing archived media coverage has been unnerving. Images of houses burning, beautiful National Forest destroyed, sirens, smoke plumes, the nighttime lava-like glow, the constant reel of news briefs, the smell and taste of smoke day after day, the orangey color when the sun pushes through the haze that shrouds the city, the sound of aircrafts delivering hope for containment are most but not all of the memories that have shaken my senses and quickened my heartbeat.

The surreality of a living nightmare.

Our city was preparing to face those feelings head on, celebrate the successes and continue to heal. I was bracing myself for the onslaught of images and searching for the comfort zones where tragedy meets community. Where friendships grow stronger and values solidify.

We were evacuated from our home and thankfully were able to return to a house and neighborhood fully intact. But 18,247 acres burned, 346 homes were destroyed, 32,000 residents were evacuated, and it was dubbed the most expensive fire in Colorado state history with insurance claims totaling more than $352.6 million.

Two days ago, well before our community has found peace, another fire has attacked our city.

It’s day 3 of the Black Forest fire. The latest news briefing stated 15,700 acres burned, 38,000 people evacuated, 360 homes destroyed and counting, no containment and two people have been found dead.

While it’s the most threatening fire right now, it’s not the only one in our state.

And the nightmare continues.

Karma – Love – Meow

I’m terribly behind on my A to Z. I spent the weekend at the best writer’s conference EVER. Pikes Peak Writers Conference — amazing. After a couple of prep days, then into four full consecutive conference days followed by one day of organizing all the new information and calming a swirling brain… I am back and vow to get on track with my A to Z. And this is how it’s going to happen… in chunks!

Here’s the high points of letter inspiration K thru M:

K – Karma
You do something good for someone and something good will come back to you. Ahhh… Karma. It’s all about the good, right? Until someone pisses you off then you want Karma to get them.

L – Love

love 17

M – Meow
(Kristina this is for you 🙂 )

Tips from my cat:

1. Be social
Widen your circle, get to know your neighbors.

2. Make time for play
Dogs are good for pouncing practice. Humans will think you’re cute.

3. Stay clean
Impressions count, no one wants to sit with the stinky cat.

4. Keep sharp
Take time to hone your claws, you will need them from time to time.

5. Cough it up
Don’t hold on to anything that upsets you.

6. Life is short
Enjoy each life like it could be your last.

7. Get face time
Take time to meet eye-to-eye with the ones you love.

8. Speak up
A quiet cat is a lonely cat, let ’em know how you feel.

9. Give back
Always share your finds, at least a portion of them.

10. Nap
Rest up because you never know when you’ll be left outside all day.