Chautauqua Overview

July 31, 2006

I’ve been home for a little over a week now. I didn’t want to write about it because then it’s like officially over. The whole week was so important for me on so many levels, I don’t know if I can really articulate that. Spending a week with people that “get” me and encourage me to view myself as A Writer was enough to overwhelm me. During one session, I had to leave because I got choked up. Choked up because i was so happy and excited. And maybe a little hormonal.
It was also good timing for me to go because with baby number 2 popping out in around 7 weeks, I’m not going to get much writing time, let alone sleeping time or breathing time. So it was relaxing to do what I wanted to when I wanted to do it. I stayed up late with conference buddies, slept in one day, and ate food I didn’t have to cook. Of course, there was a four day long power outage at home while I was gone, so I did stress a bit about my poor family, but was also a teensy bit relieved I wasn’t there.
I literally have an entire legal pad filled with notes so I can’t get it all in here. So here are my notes on two speakers. Maybe I’ll add some more later if anyone cares, I think these are the most universal ideas. Everything Patti Gauch said was literary chocolate, so maybe I’ll go through my notes on her later.

Peter Jacobi– I can see why this guy is a legend. One of the best speakers I’ve heard, period. He used Handel’s surprise symphony to illustrate how important it is for the writer to eradicate the predictable. In the symphony, Handle builds us up with expected notes. When the “surprise” comes, in which the notes cause the listener to jump, the unexpected is more unexpected.
When a writer achieves this, they turn something on for the reader and create magic and an emotional reaction.
He went on to give qualities used to achieve QUALITY. I’m not going to list them because there are twelve and I’m lazy, but it’s mostly a balance of elements of craft and elements of virtuosity, meaning there are mechanical things to focus on and then the emotional impact the words provide. The whole talk made me view writing in an entirely different way and encouraged me to write to achieve greatness. What happens with the writing (publication, starred reviews, whatever) is only secondary to creating a worthwhile story.

Carolyn Coman– I attended two of her sessions. The first was on storyboarding, a simple concept that has already helped me restructure one of my stories. Fold paper into six squares. Draw the 6 big scenes of the story,including what details will need to pop out in the scene. Write the primary emotion felt on the top, and write in one sentence what is happening. Some stories may have one more/less scene, but basically you should be able to identify six. If not, the story may have too much character development and not enough action. Or, if there are ten scenes, focus on simplifying the plot and developing characters. Basic idea, but great activity.
Her revision workshop was also great. Just questions to ask to help the writer see their story from a more objective view. I’m not going to write the questions but the main thing to remember is ASK QUESTIONS.

Business things-
Cobblestone and Highlights both said they want anecdotal stories versus straight history. I’ve never written non-fiction, but I’m going to try. Soon. And submit. It was good to have motivation to submit again. Also, once you’re published in Highlights, they keep your name on file and are more inclined to look at work again. Even a puzzle or craft is a publication. Something to consider.

The biggest thing I got out of the whole week came from my manuscript critique with Rich Wallace. I heart Rich. He was great. His wife was great. Everything he said was… great. I wish I had it tape recorded so when I’m feeling crappy I can play it back and say “Rich Wallace said that. ABOUT ME!!” (I even kept my cool during compliments. Nodded and squinted my eyes like the big professional I am. I didn’t clap my hands and squeal until after he’d left.)
It’s crazy where an idea comes from. Rich read the beginning of my first manuscript and asked me some questions that made me reconsider the purpose of the story. Which made me re-evaluate my characters. Which made me cut a MAJOR character, thus changing the entire plot. Not that he said “You should do this”. It was some off hand comment like, “Now why is he important?” I thought about that all day and came to the startling conclusion– he wasn’t. And now I’m chopping up that story, the story I was so stressed wasn’t landing me an agent. Forget about an agent. This story, when I finish it, will be better. And I’ll be more confident in it.
Then, Rich was nice enough to look at my WIP and help me figure out where I’m going with it. And what my strengths are as a writer and how to hone in on those. If I would have gone for just the critique, it would have been worth it.
And of course I cried at the closing banquet, thinking how someone had made this possible for me. Something I financially could not have done on my own for a very long time. I want to give back when I can, to give another writer the chance I got to explore and learn and question.
So now I’m going to go write because that’s kind of the biggest part of being a writer. Writing. It was refreshing to be reminded of that.