Creative Vibes by Lake Quinault

Yesterday, I got home from four days at the Rainforest Resort Village on Lake Quinault, on the southwest side of the Olympic Mountains. I was there with 36 other writers, surrounded by lots of awesome creative vibes as well as some awesome scenery– the event was the Rainforest Writers Village, and the goal was to retreat to somewhere isolated with other like-minded folks to get some writing done.

For me, it definitely worked. Over the course of those four days, I wrote 22,346 words for a new novel– it’s a steampunk alt-history story, and I’m really pleased with how it went. Being in the Rainforest, able to focus on the writing for long periods of time without worrying about going to the gym or filing taxes or sorting bills or checking the Internet, was a blast– and because I had a plan, with a freshly-outlined novel ready to start, I feel like I was both more productive and more successful than the last time I went to Rainforest Writers, back in 2012. It was the most fun I’d had writing a novel since my first NaNoWriMo, back in 2009– I loved the characters, I loved the scenes, and I felt like I was playfully romping through the prose, like a puppy playing in a field, chasing zeppelins and dragons and intrigue during an alternate version of the Second Opium War.

Needless to say, I’m pretty excited about this project. But that wasn’t the only good thing about Rainforest– I got to hang out with some good friends, several of whom I hadn’t seen since my last Rainforest two years ago. I also felt less socially awkward than I did back in 2012, and had more fun hanging out with new folks and meeting people. Part of the reason is that I feel more a part of the writing community than I did two years ago– and probably part of it is also the antidepressants I’m taking, and the general progress I’ve made with my depression.

But in addition to being more comfortable socially, I was also more comfortable alone– I was more than willing to go back to my room in the Inn, which had a fantastic sitting room facing the lake. There I could sit on the couch, put my feet up on the coffee table and write alone with my laptop, sometimes for an entire afternoon. I probably did two-thirds of my writing in my room, and a third in the public writing area in the Lounge, which was a nice occasional change of pace.

In addition to writing a third of a novel, I also got a lot of great photos of both the people and the scenery– after breaking my own personal record for writing fiction in one day on Thursday (about 7200 words), on Friday I went for a 4-mile hike on what turned out to be our one sunny day, taking pictures of mushrooms and waterfalls, then watching a fantastic sunset over the lake. We were also lucky enough to get some clear nights, with some of the best views of the night sky that I’ve seen in years.

The best part, though, was the people– the group meals, the conversations, the Saturday night party, sharing photos, and bouncing ideas off each other. I’m planning to head back to the Rainforest next year.

Here’s a slideshow of pics from the weekend!

The Clarion West Write-a-Thon

Update: The Write-a-thon has started! Click the “Write-a-thon” tab at the top of the page to see my day-to-day progress.

A few days ago I signed up for the Clarion West Write-a-Thon. For those unfamiliar with Clarion West, it’s an intensive six-week workshop during which participants basically eat, live, and breathe writing. During those six weeks, they attend classes taught by well-known professional authors of science fiction and fantasy: in the past, instructors have included Greg Bear, Orson Scott Card, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. LeGuin, Cory Doctorow, and China Mieville, among many others.

I won’t be attending the actual workshop. Not this year, anyway (hopefully I’ll be able to attend sometime in the next few years). Instead I’m doing the Write a Thon, which anyone can sign up for, and during which participants set a writing goal and sort of “shadow” the workshop during the six weeks in which in takes place.

This year, Clarion West (and hence the Write-a-Thon) takes place from June 19-July 29. During those six weeks, my goal is to write 1,000 words a day toward the first draft of my novel. Hopefully this will enough for me to actually finish the first draft– if I finish before the six weeks is up, I will consider that a success. Or if I don’t finish, but still manage to add 40,000 words to the novel, that’ll be a success, too.

I have a secondary goal as well, which is to finish the short story that I’ve been poking at for a few weeks and submit it to the Writers of the Future contest by the end of June. That means my writing plate is going to be really full until the end of the month, although things will get easier in July. 1,000 words a day is the pace I set during May, when I was attempting a personal NaNoWriMo, so this is pretty much going to be six weeks of the same thing. If you’re interested in showing your support, and also supporting Clarion West (which is one of a few workshops that helps develop serious talent in the genre), go to my Clarion West Writer’s Page and make a donation via the PayPal link. If you’re a sci-fi/fantasy fan, then the money’s definitely going to a good cause.

I’ll post to the blog with regular updates on how things are going. And hopefully by the end of it, I’ll have the finished first draft of a novel to show for it.

Reflections On the Occasion of a Birthday, or Why I Write

My 30th birthday was two days ago. It ‘s a little unreal; I feel more like a twenty year old than a thirty year old, although since I don’t have much experience yet with what being thirty feels like, I guess that’s a little silly to say. But you usually figure, someone who’s 30, they’re confident and comfortable with who they are, they’re well into their chosen career, maybe they even have a marriage, a house, children. I guess for a long time that was my picture of adulthood. And by the time you’re 30, well– regardless of achievements, it’s tough to dodge being placed in that “adult” category.

Looking back on my twenties, it feels like a large chunk of it was spent trying to obtain those things: a solid job, a house, a stable life. But in retrospect, it wasn’t the right thing to do– or maybe I just did it wrong. Through school and college, I mostly just surfed along, and was able to succeed without putting much thought into things. It’s like I was on a conveyor belt, cruising my way toward graduation or finals or the end of the year, and simply knocking down the obstacles as they came up. After I graduated, I guess I expected life to keep being like that.

For a while, it was. Holding down a regular job is the same sort of “conveyor belt” model: as time proceeds, you complete assignments as they come along, and sort of coast your way through a series of days, which turn into weeks, and into months, and into years. It’s possible to live your whole life that way. A lot of people do, and many of them are happy.

But other things don’t fall so easily into the “Conveyor Belt” model of life. Relationships, for example. I suppose once you’re in one, it feels a bit like a conveyor belt, but the process of meeting someone, of starting a relationship, of falling in love, is in my experience one of the least predictable things ever. Maybe it works differently for some people– in fact, I know it does. Some people I’ve met are able to move from relationship to relationship with hardly a missed step. For me, it’s never worked that way, but that’s a story for a different blog post. Probably a different blog.

When I moved to Seattle, I very deliberately stepped off the conveyor belt of the job. Admittedly, I do still have a job, but it’s part time, I set my own hours, and being a writer shares equal or greater priority with it. And writing, especially before you’re getting paid for it, isn’t a conveyor belt at all. It’s a trail, and a poorly marked one at that. There’s nothing and no one pulling you along. You have to move your own feet, and you better bring a machete, ’cause you’ll be doing a lot of bushwhacking.

If I don’t write, no one will fire me. No one will pull me into a performance meeting and yell at me. I won’t let down my co-workers. The only punishment for not writing is that I don’t get to be a writer… and since this is not an acceptable outcome, I keep doing it.

I tried not being a writer. I tried it for six years. Then, when I grew more and more restless, less and less content, I tried other things. I looked into graduate school. I tried just writing as a hobby. None of it worked. And one day, thinking about this, and all the things I could do with my life, I came to a realization that while I could probably be successful at a lot of things, they would never feel right, because none of those other things were writing.

It took me most of my twenties to realize this. Maybe if I had been more honest with myself, or been more courageous, or not spent a few years’ worth of free time playing WoW, I would have reached that realization sooner. But that’s water (and time) under the bridge; it’s gone, and it’s not coming back. So here I stand, at the start of my fourth decade. I know for sure what I want to do, and it’s goddamn terrifying.

In a way, wanting to be a professional writer is the ultimate conceit. You have to believe that you’re good enough to do it, and that one day you will succeed, even in the face of poor critiques, piles of rejection letters, and plenty of stories of other people’s failures that tell you otherwise. You ignore that nagging voice in your head which tells you that you suck and you’ll never be good enough and you should just quit now. Even when you know for a fact that the story you just wrote is bad, you still have to hold on to that nugget, that belief that you can and you will succeed at this, or all will be lost.

If you let that belief go, if you get discouraged, you’ll stop writing, and then here’s the thing: nothing will happen. You won’t fail out of school. Your boss won’t give you a bad review or fire you. If you’re not making money, the decision won’t cost you anything financially, and heck, you’ll find yourself with a ton of extra free time. But you won’t be writing, and that part of your soul is always going to hurt, and eventually, it will drive you crazy. It’s happened once to me already. I don’t want to waste time letting it happen again.

So here I am. Thirty years old. I’m staring down a long road paved with rejection letters, of years of unpaid practice and work, hoping for a break, hoping that maybe at some point I’ll write something good enough, which when combined with a dose of luck, means I’ll be able to make a living at this thing. And then I’ll do it again. And again. And with each bit of success it will hopefully get easier, but until then, it’s a long, long slog. And all the time, that voice in my head will whisper, You should have a career and a house and a family and be settling down by now, not living in a tiny apartment working a part-time job and putting tons of work into some crazy whim with only marginal hope of success.

Maintaining that level of determination, in the face of a pile of self-doubt and rejection, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done; the thought of doing it for years and years to come is scary as hell. But if the alternative is not being a writer, then I’ll do it.

The next decade is going to be interesting.