It struck me last night that I haven’t been outdoors for 3 days, which is kind of shameful, but look, man, I’ve been busy. A few weeks back, I was stunned and thrilled to find out that I won the Mainstream category in this here contest run by Pikes Peak Writers. I entered for the critiques; the prize turned out to be free tuition at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference; I decided to deploy my air miles and venture to Colorado Springs, CO. I’ve been in the Colorado Springs Marriott (where the conference is held; where I’m staying) for going on 4 days straight now. And it’s been an unbelievable experience. I’ve kept comparing it to the two AWP conferences I’ve been to, which I loved and found inspiring in an overawed kind of way, but I’m leaving here feeling like I’ve made new friends: I met so many cool, sensible people, and different ones every meal time — you just kind of plunk yourself down at a table and introduce yourself, which I, The Introvert, have never been very good at doing, but by day 2 I realized just how lovely and friendly everyone actually is. They do not seem to be faking it. Just as importantly, I’m leaving here feeling like I’m more equipped with practical, concrete tools (the kind of thing that I need, that work for me) that will help me sit down and do the damn work.

In the Read & Critique session, I got feedback on the first page of a new new new project, which made me see things in a whole new way. Linda Rohrbough gave a dynamic, hands-on workshop (also good exercise — anyone who’s been to her workshop will know what I mean, but I don’t want to give it away) on how to write a log line, which made me a little less tongue-tied when I had to describe my book at the lunch table, and while pitching it. If you ever get the chance to see Linda in action, DO IT (also, you guys: LOOK AT THESE WRITER’S CLOCKS!). There were so many more sessions I loved, on writing memoir/a novel of your life; first chapter lightning; effective dialogue; productivity tips — and there were so many sessions I had to miss. I have a full notebook and a tangled brain and hand cramp, and as soon as I can get a chance to straighten it all out, I’ll try to put down some nuggets in here.

But I do have to mention that I bookended the conference with 2 sessions by the seemingly indefatigable Donald Maass — one was a full-day workshop based on his new book coming out in September, “Writing 21st Century Fiction,” and the other a 2-hour session. I don’t really know what to say about what he taught me; maybe it’s enough to say that in total I (hand)wrote 54 pages of notes, and I left with nearly full-fleshed scenes for my new novel and a new, deeper understanding of its emotional heart. I love teachers  who ask questions. Catherine Bush is self-deprecating about how many questions she asks: questions about the work, about your vision for the work, and about what you’re actually trying to say, and what-if questions that make you see things a whole new way. Donald Maass does that. He also surprised me into tears 3 times (the sudden, shocking emotion that one of his questions brought up — I’m paraphrasing, and badly, but “what’s the thing you cannot say to anyone? Write it down”; the deeply personal things he shared; the encouragement he gave us in his keynote address. I mean, I’ve had encouraging words said to me before about writing, but I often forget how goddamn important writing is — like, ask yourself what are you going to leave behind for a child who’s just learning to read). I’m British, I don’t take well to tearing up in public, but I thank you anyway, Don.

Is it a regional thing to say “you’re fine” to mean “that’s OK”, or “no worries”? I’ve only ever heard anyone say it here. I dressed up as Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for Friday night’s costume party, and “don’t panic” and “you’re fine” became my mottoes for the weekend. Don’t panic: you can sit and talk to these people you met five minutes ago. You’re fine: you made it through the pitch session and got a request for a partial. Don’t panic: you can go deep enough, put that stark-staring terrifying emotion on the page, write something that makes other people feel what you do, be a little unrestrained for a while.

Lastly, thanks to Michael for both talking me down and pumping me up. Cynthia, send out the damn short story. And to everyone who put together the conference — just… wow.

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