Monday, September 10, 2012

Retreat, retreat!

Hey, how was that writer's retreat, you might ask? I'm not posting tell-all pictures of round table discussions or people belting out Queen's "We are the champions," although that did happen (and I'm sure photos will surface...). Lyrics custom-made for writers, right? Karaoke night rocked. Agent Abigail Samoun put the cool into "Mack the Knife," and former stand-up comedian Karen Soliday sizzled Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight." What a night.

My phone camera came out, though, in reflective moments, which happened, too. Like this morning walk around a duck pond with a few other early risers.

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dabbling ducks jockey,
spreading frothy trails across
the olive-green pond

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This weekend event was held by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators on the grounds of a religious retreat, which had the perfect blend of quiet areas and up-to-date facilities. Our four-person critique groups moderated by agents and editors were intensive and inspiring. Most of us did revising between sessions, coming out with stronger work before we went home.
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Letting my mind wander in the non-intense moments was restorative:

web invisible,
spider huge as an acorn
against the pale sky
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A grotto Mary
prays for eternity
in her rock cave
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The early-morning clouds shifted from pale pink and gold to white-against-blue quilts. On the eastern horizon one stark white thunderhead fist-pumped.

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So what's the take-away? I'm still processing, but some immediate thoughts:

Inspiration: It's hard to beat pros discussing your work with you, giving insight into what they think will make it better. Great advice was given by author/agent Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency, Abigail Samoun, who was a children's book editor for ten years and now is an agent at Red Fox Literary and from Judy Enderle and Stephanie Gordon of Writers Ink. Heather Alexander, assistant editor at Dial Books for Young Readers, gave such substantive suggestions to each person that it was the buzz of the conference. Agent Jennifer Rofe of Andrea Brown Literary Agency came only for the final first-pages readings, so her comments came as one who hadn't heard earlier and longer versions.

Notes on writing and revising:
Learn to love revision. It's a time to explore.--Abigail
Look at every sentence and ask if it's developing the plot, the character, the world. If not, change it. --Heather

Fun: People had a good time despite the terror of reading their work in front of strangers and the horror of finding out how much work they still have to do if they hope to sell that work. Yeah, baby, no one said this is easy, so take a deep breath and try to enjoy the ride.

Deep breathing: Speaking of. The event included several stretch moments with Lynette Townsend, a certified Jazzercise instructor, who helped get the kinks out, not only for conference time but with tips for everyday desk work.

Organization: This almost deserves its own post. Every thing from check-in to meeting spots to meals was spot-on. I've rarely attended anything that ran so smoothly and was so well-planned in advance. Besides pre-event emails of our schedules and on-site print-outs, our name-tag holders included a little slip of paper with our individual schedule on it, so we'd never be clueless on where to be next. Just wow. On top of that, the organizers are all volunteer. I don't know everyone who helped out but here are some super-deserved shout-outs: Sarah Laurenson, Lee Wind, Nutschell Windsor, Marilyn Morton.

Would I go again? In a heartbeat.

19 comments:

Wen Baragrey said...

Wow, sounds like an amazing retreat! And what awesome agents to have there, too. It sounds like you got a lot out of it!

David P. King said...

I could use a good retreat. Just have to wait until the little ones are old enough to fend for themselves.

I gave you a Shout-Out on my blog today. :)

J. B. Chicoine said...

There's a part of me that would love to go on a retreat like that, and a larger part that I'm afraid would freak out with so many people around. It sounds very intense. I think I'd do better as the proverbial 'fly on the wall'.

That said, it sounds as if you've had a great experience and learned a lot, which I'm sure makes all the difference given the emotional pay out.

Janet Johnson said...

This sounds like a such a great retreat! I would love to find something like this. So glad you had such a wonderful time!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Wen: I wish you could've been there--well, after a day-long plane ride maybe you wouldn't ;). It was just what I needed right now, and I'm actually ready to take on the rewrite. *cracks knuckles*

David: You would have such a great time at something like this. It's such a shift from sitting at your own desk.

Hey, Bridget! I'm pretty introverted most of the time, so it's not easy to do something like this, but I can't tell you how good it feels when you power on through.

Janet: Hi!I hope you find one you can attend. It shakes things up in a really good way.

Sarah Wylie said...

Sounds and looks like you had a great time! "Learn to love revision. It's a time to explore." -- I love that, totally taking it to heart.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

*waves at Sarah* I did, I did. And I love that quote, too, because it's easy for me to feel overwhelmed in revision. Need to make it feel like an adventure into possibilities.

Bish Denham said...

So glad you had a good time. I'm sure you needed it/deserved it.

Learn to love revision. It's a time to explore.--Abigail
Look at every sentence and ask if it's developing the plot, the character, the world. If not, change it. --Heather

This is the area in which I need work. Though I've improved greatly, I still find revising difficult and not fun.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Bish: Me, too. I'm trying to adjust my thinking and make this rewrite a rip-roaring good time. :D

Jade Timms said...

Sounds amazing! I'd love to do a retreat one day.

The Golden Eagle said...

Sounds like a great experience! And those are interesting quotes about revision.

Donna said...

Thanks for being so generous, as usual, with what you learned.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Jade: I really hope you get to!

Eagle: Revision is so hard that I love any quote that makes it more palatable. ;)

Donna: I like to share the goodies. Hope you're finding good things, too.

Liza said...

Glad you had such a good experience. I'm in my revising glory right now, but wondering how I'm going to feel about the 12th time around...or the 22nd.

Talli Roland said...

Sounds fantastic! Love the photos. Glad you had a great time!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Liza: After a few rounds the story feels so stale, it's hard to look at it. I know. But we can do it!

Talli: I did, I did! Glad to read about your fun conference, too.

Sarah Laurence said...

It sounds like you had a wonderful time. It's good to see you back to poetry and revision. Nice photos too.

Jemi Fraser said...

That sounds completely awesome!!! I bet you enjoyed every moment. Great job by the volunteers to be so well organized - love it! I'm so glad you had a great time!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Thank you so much, Sarah & Jemi. It was wonderful & awesome, and I'm so glad to be getting back into what I love.