Advancing on Retreats

Whenever I hear that someone went on a writer’s retreat or stayed at a writing colony, part of me wants to ask “But how did you manage it? Don’t you have to hoard money and vacation days?” Obviously, some retreats are expensive and require a fair amount of time off, but that doesn’t mean all retreats have to be that way. The Writers Alley has some great suggestions about how to create your own awesome, inexpensive retreat.

I like the idea of going somewhere to write. It forces you to focus on your work and means you can’t make excuses like, “I should probably get this load of laundry in,” or “But it’s the perfect time for a nap!”

A couple of things to remember about super cheap “retreats” at, say, a coffee shop or the library:

  • If you’re somewhere that is first and foremost a food service location, make sure to buy something. And if you’re there for a while, buy something else. Don’t be that person who gets a small coffee and takes over a table for five hours.
  • Be aware of where the outlets are. Claim them and don’t let them go.
  • Bring someone with you. That way, if you need to leave your stuff and use the restroom, you don’t have to rely on strangers/hope your stuff doesn’t get stolen/take everything with you.

If going to a coffee shop or the library is part of your usual writing routine, try to mix up the setting. Head somewhere totally new (even if it’s another coffee shop or library). The change of setting might help you focus more or expand your creative outlook.

Also, I really want to check out The Porches (which is pretty close to Charlottesville, VA, one of my favorite places in the world) for a not-super-expensive actual writing retreat. And how cool would it be to write in a treehouse?

This summer, Walt and I have planned a vacation/writing retreat in the mountains of Pennsylvania. I’ll let you know how it goes. (Hopefully productively, with a good dash of relaxation in there, too.)

Have you ever created your own writing retreat?

(H/T Debbie Ohi)(image: adrian, acediscovery)

Tips for Writing Conference Success

Great post at YA Highway about how to enjoy and get the most out of your conference experience. They have very helpful suggestions like “bring snacks” (I’d also add “bring mints” because they’re perfect for sharing) and “talk to agents like they’re human beings.” My favorite:

Be cognizant of other attendees. During workshops, try to ask questions that apply to other attendees – not only your specific book. During group pitch sessions, don’t talk about your project the whole time – let everyone else have a chance, too.”

This is my biggest pet peeve from any kind of Q&A session. If you need to preface it with a very specific story from your very particular experience, it might not be a worthwhile question to ask during a group session. If you really want to go into something specific, wait until after the session and ask in private.

A couple of other suggestions I have for conferences:

  • Only going to conferences that have specific draws for you. If you want to talk to a particular agent or hear a particular writer talk, that’s a good reason to go. Attending a conference just because you like books in general might not be worthwhile. There are a lot of conferences out there, and they can be expensive.
  • Don’t get conference burn-out. It can feel like you need to see absolutely everything, but it’s okay to skip a session and take a walk, call a friend, or nap.
  • Get pumped on the writerly energy and actually write. Maybe wake up a little early and work on that outline that’s been frustrating you, or try a new writing exercise.
  • Don’t take more free materials and books than will fit in your bag. Seriously. You probably won’t read all of them right now anyway.

And remember, conferences should be fun and energizing. You want to act like a professional, but writing is also a really awesome profession filled with lots of awesome people. Take advantage of being around a bunch of cool writers and readers all in one place. Ride that wave of literary enthusiasm!

Links Galore

A few more fun links for the day:

Books for Our Boys: Armed Service Editions

My friend Caitlin wrote a fantastic article about a little-known aspect of WWII history: Armed Services Editions. Pocket-sized versions of popular novels like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn were given to soldiers to boost morale.

The history of how the books came to be published is fascinating. One part in particular I liked:

The concept of issuing pocket-sized books to the military didn’t come to the government immediately, nor was the idea of sending books to those overseas new. Book drives for the military had occurred regularly at libraries across the country during World War I. But after the outbreak of World War II, Americans began raiding their personal libraries for books to send to troops overseas with a vigor that far outstripped their previous efforts—motivated this time by nearly a decade of exposure to news stories about Nazi book bans and photographs of towering infernos built to consume “un-German” tomes. The first Nazi book burnings, organized across 34 college towns by the German Students Association on May 10, 1933, reduced some 25,000 books to ash; by 1938, the Nazi government had outright banned 18 categories of books—4,175 titles in all—and the works of 565 authors, many of them Jewish. Now that the United States was officially at war, what better way to strike back at the enemy than by allowing soldiers to read exactly what they wished? Books were no longer simple diversions for fighting men—they had become totems signifying what those men were fighting for.”

I love this idea. Books aren’t just a form of entertainment–they signify intellectual freedom and an appreciation for humanity as a whole.

Make sure to read the whole article; it’s really moving.