Has This Ever Happened to You?

Suzanne Brazil at Haven Retreat with Laura Munson
Suzanne Brazil at Haven Retreat with Laura Munson

Me at Laura Munson’s Haven Writing Retreat in Montana 2014

Has this ever happened to you?

Life got in the way the last 10 days or so, and my writing ground to a standstill.

No novel revisions, no new words on blank pages, just lots of ruminating in my head. E-readers have evolved but I don’t believe they’re telepathic—yet.

I spent the 10 days tending to family medical issues, financial issues, employment issues, everything except writing.

That happens sometimes. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Life Goes On.

The world isn’t waiting for my debut novel or another of my essays on motherhood, marriage, body image, etc.

But maybe one person out there is waiting for something I have to say or the way I have to say it. Maybe I have the words that help one writer, sitting in their living room, wondering if they should go for it.

So, it’s time to climb back on the horse. Back to work. I’m not going to waste precious time forming the perfect post. My blogging goal was every Monday and today is a victory because I showed up.

Here are a few previous posts that helped guide me back here today:

Avoiding the drift (keeping in touch with your project).

Thinking about writing (sometimes it does count).

Establishing a fall-back point (when life forces you to take a break).

If any of these links are useful to you, I’d love to hear from you.

In the electric words of the late genius, Prince: We’re gathered here today to get through this thing called Life. LET’S GO CRAZY!

Prince

Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons, Graffiti in Vitoria-Gasteiz (Spain), 2009, Zarateman

 

 

 

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Why Writers are the Best People

Avy
Avy

Ana’s beautiful pup, Avy

My commitment to living my life as a writer has brought me into contact with some interesting, creative, impressive and kind people. One of the many writer friends/mentors I’ve been lucky to meet is Ana Hays McCracken. She writes a whimsical and lovely blog about her dog, Avy and other curious things.

She has written professionally for many years and has been published in two Chicken Soup books. She also has an insightful, entertaining essay in “Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God: 51 Women Reveal the Power of Positive Female Connection.

Nothing But the Truth Book

Recently, she gave me a shout out on her website for which I am eternally grateful. I am moved to do the same.

We had lunch not too long ago and reminisced about meeting on a Haven retreat in Montana and how we’d love to have more writer-y experiences where we could talk books, write in a cabin in the woods and sip hot cocoa around a fire. My writing community is growing and that’s a great thing!

Ana Hays and Suzanne Brazil

Another exciting mention came from Laura Munson! She was kind enough to link to our interview in her Haven Newsletter. For inspiration and news about Laura’s retreats and her books, visit her website.

Writers never get tired of talking about books and writing and books and writing. Most are helpful and most love animals. See, they’re the best people. How have you been growing and tending your writing community?

 

4 Thoughts on “Why Writers are the Best People

  1. Kathy on April 27, 2015 at 7:24 pm said:

    Thanks Suzanne for stirring my pot of memories! Spending time with you, and all of the talented writers in the Montana woods fed my soul! I am enjoying your journey, and feel blessed to have participated in a sliver of it. <3

    • Thanks for reading, Kathy! I have a feeling we’ll be thinking of that time many years from now. I know I will…thought of you often as I walked on the beach looking at rocks yesterday 🙂

  2. Hi Suzanne!

    Avy Baby here. Mommy was so excited to see a post about herself on your website today. (She’s so vain.) And I was thrilled to see my picture hers and my hike this weekend. Arf. Hope you and Mommy can find that cabin in the woods soon so you two can continue chatting about books and writing. Maybe the cabin allows dogs. Arf. Arf.

    xo Avy

Interview: Laura Munson, Author of the Memoir ‘This is Not the Story You Think It Is’

Laura Munson

I’ve written about my experience at my first writing retreat several times on this website. I’ve also written about taking risks and “thinking big.” Still, it took me months to work up the courage to email a best-selling author to ask her for an interview. She replied immediately, generously and enthusiastically. She never questioned my status as a “real writer” or warned me about adverbs. Thank you, Laura!

This interview was originally published on www.Blogcritics.org. Check out their website for the latest pop culture news.

Laura Munson 

Laura Munson is the New York Times and international best-selling author of This Is Not The Story You Think It Is (Putnam 2010) and founder of the acclaimed Haven Writing Retreat. Her essay in theNew York Times Modern Love Column was recently listed as #2 on The Ten Best Modern Love Columns Ever list (New York Times, December 19, 2014). Her work has also appeared in  the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, O. Magazine, The Week, Huffington Post, Redbook, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping and More Magazine.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started writing?

I have written since I was little.  I was that kid with the flashlight under her covers or up in her treehouse, writing in a journal.  I have boxes of journals that go back to 4th grade.  That said, the things that come most naturally to us are often the things we ignore, so I put all my passion into theater and film in school until I took a screenplay elective and realized that I was a writer.  I started writing screenplays, switched quickly to fiction and memoir, and have been writing ever since with all my heart.  It’s an obsession, really.

What can you share about your current project?

I am working on several projects at the moment — a novel, a memoir, and a book about living a healthy, balanced writing life.  I also blog regularly for my Haven blog and the Huffington Post, and write personal essays for print and online magazines.  I’m all about process, and I try to always have something in the creation process, something in the submissions process, and hopefully…something in the publishing process.

Is there a theme or common thread that runs through your previous books? If so, is that intentional?

I like to write about the stuff people do to each other and how we grow from it — good, bad and ugly.  I’m fascinated by the facets of the human heart and how we survive this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called Life.  I also like to weave the subject of Home into my writing, both in the world and in ourselves.  And usually, since I live in Montana, there is an element of wilderness that finds its way into my stories, real or imagined — the wilderness of nature and of the Human Condition.  I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but it’s what comes out naturally, and I believe that when we tap into our natural flow, we are writing in communion with our best selves.

Do you derive creative satisfaction from other writing assignments that you may have for commercial purposes, i.e. magazine articles, essays, etc.? Is it the same as working on a memoir or novel? If not, how does it differ?

I only write what feels real and authentic to me, so whenever I have a writing “job” it’s always a perfect example of that quote: “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.” I’m lucky that way. For a long, long time I didn’t get paid for my writing, and I didn’t let it stop me.  We must cultivate a hunger for our voice and once we do, the pay-off is immense. When we know our white-hot subjects, we attract writing projects/assignments which grow organically from what we have already put out there with past writing, so one honest, congruent piece begets another. At my Haven Writing Retreats, I work hard with people to find the subjects that are charged for them, and once they put their finger on the pulse of those themes and give themselves permission to write their way into them…that’s when things start cranking for people.  And there’s A LOT of satisfaction in that!

Who are your first readers — or do you share only with your agent/editor?

I have a strict protocol that I use for my early readers. The short version is: only give your stuff to people who really want to read it, who are relentless about asking you, have zero agenda, share your taste in books and writing in general, and will be honest. And set up a contract that works for you both to avoid awkward run-ins at the grocery store! That said, I love my agent and I trust her opinion with all my heart. Agents are very busy, and it’s in many ways a thankless job, so I only send it to her once I am SURE it is as good as I can get it and that usually means it’s been read by at least three people, and that I’m well into my third or fourth draft. The attitude that “an editor will fix all my issues” isn’t a good one to adopt. It’s the writer’s job to deliver as clean and alive a piece as possible and that takes work and time and a wide-open third eye.

Describe the difference in the feeling or emotion you receive from writing (the work) vs. publishing (the outcome).

The work: I love the journey. If you don’t love the journey, find something else that you love because it’s all about the journey. Delight in it, even and especially when it’s hard. Embrace the hardship! Breathe into the groundlessness of it.  Understand that all writing has an inherent problem and become the exact sleuth that will find the solution!

The published work: It’s between the published work and the reader at that point. It’s nice to be paid.  And it’s nice to have readers. Sometimes REALLY nice. But once your work is out there, it’s really none of your business anymore. It’s time to get back to the next writing journey!

One tip you think aspiring writers should consider ignoring?

Anything that starts with:  “10 easy steps…”  Or asks you to follow a method, a guru, or pay out a lot of money. All you need is a piece of paper and a pen and the guts to put your heart in your hand and translate thought into the form of heart language.  Sounds easy, huh.  It ain’t.  I wish someone had told me this a long time ago: You don’t have to do it alone!  Find a writing community.  Go on a Haven Retreat!

Where do you write? Special pen? Favorite chair? Beverage while writing, etc.?

I like to say that I’ve raised flexible children and a flexible muse. I’ve written on everything from cocktail napkins to fancy Italian leather-bound journals, from my laptop to my Mother-ship computer…in trains, planes, automobiles…you name it.  Lots of green tea with jasmine when writing. Sometimes wine while editing. Endless water. The muse really likes water, especially Montana well water.

Most unexpected experience bringing your first book to publication?

That would take a few hours. Suffice it to say that pretty much everything that has happened to me on the road of publication is totally outside of anything I ever read in any book about the publishing process. SO that’s good news. Know why you write, write, put it out there, and go back to writing. At a certain point, it’s a numbers game and all bets are off.  The only thing you can control is doing the work and submitting it.

Favorite book or author growing up?

Growing up, I loved anything with horses or nature in it. Now throw in a few derelicts on a hero’s journey who like good food, and I’m good to go. Which means, I really love Jim Harrison’s work.

Last “great” book you read?

When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams. She reminds me of the life that exists between the lines of prose.  You have to learn how to read those too…  Correction:  you GET to learn how to read those too. When you’re really doing the work, it’s all one big beautiful journey, even the hardship. Especially the hardship.

Update: I asked one follow-up question and here is Laura’s reply…

If you could give just one piece of advice or say one thing to writers at the start of their journey, what would it be?

Get clear about why you are writing in the first place.  Write a one line author statement.  Put it somewhere close by.  Refer to it often. Start it with:  “I write to…”  If you are clear about why you write, then no matter what happens along the way…you will always have your compass.  And it will help you do the work.  That’s all you can control: doing the work.  That’s good news!

You can find out more about Laura and Haven Writing Retreats by visiting her at www.lauramunson.com.

This is not the story you think it is

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How to Find a Writing Community

Finding a Writing Group
Finding a Writing Group

By Leesa from southtown, usa  Wikimedia Commons

You’re getting serious about this writing thing and you need to bounce ideas off someone. Your family’s eyes glaze over when you ask for their opinions on your new opening paragraph and your friends don’t understand why choosing a name for your main character is such a big deal. You need new people. Writing people. But how do you find them?

This was me last year. I was on the outside looking in and didn’t quite know where to start. I spent hours on various internet searches trying to find like-minded people. I’d like to save you some time.

While some websites like www.Meetup.com offer possibilities, the most promising options come from other social connections. In other words…it helps if you “know a guy.”

Hints for finding your community…

Take a class – Ask the students and teacher for recommendations and introductions. You chose the same class and have at least that in common. The teacher has some level of expertise which promises a wider circle of contacts. A good teacher will know the importance of a community and will want good word of mouth about the class. She will want to help.

Haven Writing Retreat

Photo by Author and Haven Host Laura Munson

Go to conferences/retreats – This works much like a class but in a more concentrated and often more intense environment. You can’t be a hermit though. Take down email addresses and cell phone numbers and reach out after you return home. Before I submitted my essay to Chicken Soup for the Soul, a fellow writer I met at a retreat ‘read it and offered invaluable feedback.

Hire a coach/mentor – Most offer a free consultation. A coach can be a sounding board for your writing goals, story ideas, or even help you conquer self-doubt.

All of the above require an investment of both time and money. If writing is your passion, you’re worth it.

Low-cost and free options also exist.

If coaching or classes are out of your financial reach, consider your local library. Many offer free monthly writing groups. These may have members at all different levels of skill or commitment. I found my first paid writing gig through the leader of my local library’s writing group.

Tell everyone you know that you’re a writer. Your friends and relatives have circles of people in all walks of life. Writers are a helpful bunch. A dear college friend introduced me to her cousin, a journalist. We met for coffee and she ended up passing on my name to her editor. A few months later, I was hired to do a freelance piece for their paper.

Social media is free and full of writers. It can be a huge time-suck so beware. If you’re disciplined and enjoy Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram – search their writing groups. Most have writers at all levels (both traditionally and self-published) who are happy to answer questions, suggest critique websites, or just boost your spirits on a tough writing day.

Websites like www.Scribophile.com and Women Writers, Women’s Books offer  active communities with opportunities to share work or even contribute content.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Writing can be lonely – but it doesn’t have to be. Finding a writing group or community requires that you take risks. The rewards are incisive feedback, links to opportunities, and old-fashioned friendship. Where did you find your people? If you have some hints or shortcuts not mentioned here, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

4 Thoughts on “How to Find a Writing Community

  1. Great post. Yes, we writers need writers. I don’t think there are any shortcuts as what we need is to build trusting relationships where we feel safe to share our work and receive constructive criticism. Trust takes time to build.

    • Thanks so much for reading. Couldn’t agree more about your point on trusting. Writing makes us vulnerable and we need to feel that it’s a good fit before we can share.

  2. I love Women Writers, Women’s Books! I have been keeping in touch with this group, led by the fabulous Barbara Bos, on Facebook. What a fun group of amazing women who happen to be writers. They help me feel less alone as I am busy writing away. Thank you for posting this. I did attend a writing critique group for a while at a local library and I loved it, I’m just so busy writing that I haven’t gone back yet. I’m also fortunate to get lots of support from others in my writing adventure. Happy writing, everyone!

    • Barbara has been an inspiration! The main website is full of inspirational and informative pieces designed to help every level of writer. Like you, I love the support on the Facebook page. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. Much appreciated – Best of luck with your writing!

What I Learned at my Writing Retreat – on Women Writers, Women’s Books

glacier 1

One of my favorite websites for writers just published my essay on Haven Retreats.

women writers

If you haven’t read Laura Munson’s book This is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, you should download immediately!  Laura leads these beautiful groups in the Montana mountains and….well….you can read about my experience here.

laura's book                         glacier 1

Check out the website for both – endless resources and a bountiful wealth for writers and readers.

haven group 2 haven group

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