Postulating Purpose

Hello friends. Today is the start of the Writing Heights Writers Conference here in Fort Collins, so I’ll be away from my website and blog for a few days while I help out.

I’ve been a part of the writing community for quite a few years (15?) and have attended several conferences, classes and events as both a member and now part of the team. Far from being an expert, I feel like I’m still learning things every time I step out into these forays with other writers. About writing, yes, but also about trends, and people, and methods, and humanity. And myself. Lately, I haven’t been very impressed with myself as a writer. In fact, my startling lack of creativity and drive has been kind of frightening. Even an 800 word blog post feels like a struggle. Nevermind that I have an anthology I’m supposed to be putting together in a month.

So what the actual fuck is my problem? Well…I mean I have a lot of them. But you don’t have time and nobody wants to hear the sad-sack history, but I think this particular existential crisis is coming from a hard round of lessons and the decisions I had to make because of them.

For a long time I was driven by a duel sense of purpose. But lately I’ve felt as though I’m faltering in that. Not because I don’t still love writing, or teaching, or any of the things I’m currently doing, but because I think I’ve put an unbalanced load of it all on my plate.

You see, I used to have martial arts as a balance. Something very physical, extroverted, technical to fill up the other side of my life, so that writing in its quiet, introverted, creative expanse was an equal partner. In this way my brain and body were fed, my need for social interaction balanced with my need for solitude. But now–without it in my life due to unfortunately but necessary circumstances, I’m very wobbly.

I think for too long I defined myself as both. And therein lies the problem. I have been feeling, these past months, half full. Half alive. Half of what I know I can be. I have filled the empty space with more writing obligations but it’s drained the creative parts of me. It’s made me no look forward to butt-in-the-chair time, and I am…edgy.

So the next two weeks are both filled with conferences, and book sales, and networking, and hopefully a reawakening of my creativity will be found sometime between the cocktail hours and the moderating classes. But I worry, that I will only feel more drained afterwards. And what then?

I guess it will be time to find a new balance. A new pursuit. A new purpose, to fill that other half of my soul. Breaks my heart to even consider it. This blog really doesn’t have a purpose itself. Just to let you know, I’m struggling. And as much as I love writing, I recognize that it is one piece of my soul that can’t drive my entire life, nonstop forever.

If you see me at the conference, stop and say hi. I’ll be the one juggling my existential crisis in the back of the room.


Cats, Responsibility, and Writing

What in the hell is she talking about now?

Well, I was going to go through more information on conferences and educational opportunities, and how to network, with the impending conference season upon us all…but right now, my semi-blind, seizure prone cat is sitting at my feet, having unstartled from when I came up in different pants an hour ago.

This blog is about writing. In so much as it’s about compassion. In so much as it is about responsibility.

In so much as it is about living, every day, as fully and as lovingly as we can.

Periwinkle started going blind about a year ago, as a year-old rescue kitten. We adjusted, pivoted, and managed the house to meet her needs. Because I recognize that when you agree to make an animal part of your family, then you take them in total, and you care for them as best you can until it’s their time to move on to the next adventure at a nice farm in upstate New York. Then about a month ago her seizures started. Scary ones, big ones, with hissing and violence and running in circles while she urinated all over herself. Trying to hold her steady enough that she didn’t knock her head into a wall again and bloody her nose. And then came the clean up, and calm down, and gentle hands to wash it all away. I was convinced, after the third, that she would need to have help, ending her suffering.

After relaying my plan to my children, to prepare them for this difficult decision, my daughter…my loving, quiet, introverted daughter, the oldest and my first, who never asks for much and is sensitive to wavelengths most people in the world never even feel, looked me dead in the eye and said. “You’re just giving up on her.”

And at first I was mad. I’m the only one who takes care of the pets. I was exhausted. I was doing all I could and our vet didn’t have answers. There was medicine that might not help. There were surgeries she might not live through. All we had were mights and maybes.

Then I let her words sink lower into my heart.

When exactly–in the course of my ever-jading timeline–did I decide that nothing was better than mights and maybes? That the certainty of quitting overruled the hope of trying? When did I start putting my comfort over the pain of effort that may not be rewarded? Was I just justifying her ‘quality of life’ over my own life-weary need to not bother?

And didn’t I have a responsibility to do better for her?

So we took her to the neurologist (a three hour appointment that my husband took on as I had to work that day) and was given an order to administer 2ml of shitty tasting medicine, by mouth, twice a day.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever owned a blind animal, or one who’s breed and temperament predisposes them to vocal and violent physical outbursts but if not, understand that Periwinkle’s NORMAL vet appointments require no less than four vet techs/veterinarians to come in with welding gloves and a kitty straight-jacket to administer a two second shot to her hind quarters. Nonetheless, twice a day, we (two untrained and un-welding-level-protected adults) have to hold her down, open her mouth, and force her to take this sticky, foul tasting medicine.



That’s 60 times. 60 times I have to hold her down, against her will, pry her mouth open, let her nails tear into my inner thighs and hands and hope she doesn’t sneeze or vomit it all out again. I hold. My husband gives it to her. We placate her with treats and pets, and clean her face after. And it doesn’t get easier, and it never feels good.

But I’m not giving up on her. Because we don’t give up on the things we love. Not our pets, not our writing, not ourselves. And I try to recognize and respect that present discomfort is short term, survival and hope in thriving are the end goal.

We find a way, we exhaust all possibilities, we trudge through the painful tearing of our work and the forced sittings of writing in the parts and pieces of the story we’re trying to heal and bring to the surface. We go to therapy and we journal and we cut out toxic people who we’ve tried to appease for too long, even when it feels lonely and unsupported. We start saying no. We start aiming for yeses that matter. We sit in the pain and ply ourselves with gentleness in the aftermath. We speak kindly to ourselves. We cherish every moment, even the painful hard ones and we don’t take the easy way out.

Because the truth is, there’s not really an easy way out. Nothing in life is easy all the time. And I suppose you could quit whenever it got hard, but you’d never really get anywhere and all you’d end up with is a huge steaming pile of regret. And that’s a pretty shitty consolation prize for life.

I wasn’t built to give up. I wasn’t built to let heavy weight wear me down. Or have false friends, and gossiping narcissists and egotistical jerks make roadblocks of my own insecurities or need for love. I will do the hard work. Despite the odds, despite the voices that whisper behind my back and inside my head “wouldn’t it be easier if…”

I have a responsibility to my characters, to my stories, to my own love of writing. I have a responsibility to my peace of mind, to my health and well-being, to my balance and serving my future. Anything that gets in the way of those things, whether its claw marks, or vicious gossip, or plot holes…I’m no longer willing to accept or let them stop me anymore.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go pet my cat, and enjoy the sunshine calm where I can catch it.

Don’t give up while I’m gone.

Poetry 5-11-2023

Hey kids, I’m getting things ready to format the upcoming (and much delayed) “Beautiful Twist” Anthology. A big thank you to the contributors who’ve been so patient and understanding as I navigated through the complexities of compiling all of the different works coming in. I’ve been fortunate this year but also very busy. Preemptive release date for the anthology will be July 2023. Here’s a little smackerel of poetry.

When Last Did You Sit In Silence?

When last did you sit in silence
only the oceanic rush 
of your own breath
filling the tide pools of your lungs
drawing back out 
into the world

When last did you sit in silence 
and feel the crushing weight 
of a world decimated
in human destruction 
and did you wonder
how much better it could be
without your clumsy footfalls
your grunting breaths
 and dripping sweat
as you toil to leave behind the reckless
hurtful fire of man behind

Didn't you feel so small?

When last did you sit in silence
a speck below a billion stars
and feel the 
unbearable lightness of being
the silence a reassured shush
of our mother
reminding you that
you are just a moment
 a stardust burst
in a vastness that will
soon forget you
if it ever knew you at all

Doesn't it make you feel 
so small?

When last did you sit in silence
and feel this freedom?

Don’t forget to check out The Writing Heights Writing Conference this May (tomorrow is the LAST DAY to register for in person sessions so get on it!!) The link is here: Conference Registration.

Also, for more of my poetry or my novels, visit this site: S.E. Reichert Novelist

Crossing Genres

Good morning! Well, its been an exciting few weeks with book releases and readings, and promoting the hell out of my stuff. I’m so excited to get back to actual writing, and talking about writing. Today, in collaboration with the fine folks at The Writing Forge, I’m going to talk about crossing genres, both as an author and also within singular books.

For more check out this podcast: “Look Both Ways Before Crossing Genres

So, what does it mean to be a cross-genre writer? Well, it’s more prolific than you might think. Very rarely does an author stick to one genre alone for the entirety of their lives (I was going to say career but I’ve never actually known a ‘retired’ writer. We write up until the day we shuffle off the mortal coil as far as I know). Nora Roberts writes romance but she also crosses over into Mysteries as J.D. Robb. J.K. Rowling went from YA fantasy to Adult Fiction, Anne Rice has written everything from Vampires to DomSub, to Christianity. Hell, even James Bond’s creator, Ian Flemming wrote “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. So the better question is not should you become a cross-genre writer but when and how.

Photo by Wallace Chuck on

Writing in multiple genres can be done in one of two ways. By switching genres completely by novel or story, or by incorporating multiple genres into one project. Let’s start with the first.

So, let’s say you’ve been churning out kids books for the last ten years and you’re ready to jump into something new. You’re an established name in the genre, with a following (let’s dream big while we’re dreaming). Yay for you! But how do you go about the transition seamlessly?

First, know the genre you’re getting into. Mysteries don’t follow the same plot points or tropes as kids books (wait, do they?) Read as many mysteries as you can, gain a good understanding of typical tropes and character types for your new genre. Discover what you like and what you don’t, what works, and what doesn’t. This way, you’ll be ready to write a mystery that will appeal to the die-hard fans of the genre and hopefully make your work more acceptable.

Second, if you’re established in one genre and are jumping the creek into another, you may want to try a pen name. When people know you for a certain story/genre type, they’re going to follow you. But maybe they don’t want to read your new blood spatter fest to their 8 year old. So, establish a new name for your new genre. (J.D. Robb, A.N. Roquelaure, etc.)

However…if you are a sci-fi writer and you’re dabbling in fantasy, this is a smaller jump and you can probably keep your name. Those followers you have will probably be more lenient and accepting of your next adventure, and if you can take an established base on a new adventure all the better.

What would be the benefit of writing in multiple genres in this way? I’m so glad you asked. Here’s a bullet list.

  • Its a great way as an author to diversify your writing, get your work into different venues, and expand your base of readers
  • It can help beat boredom of following the same tropes/patterns over and over
  • It will help grow your skills as a writer. Romance writers know dialogue and relationships, Fantasy writers know word building, Horror writers know suspense. All of these skills can be honed and developed to the betterment of all your writing.
  • It makes you hard to pin down and undefinable. Frankly, I don’t like being put in a box. Yeah I write romance, I also write speculative fiction, suspense, sci-fi, and erotica. I dabble in poetry, and sink into human interest non-fiction. Don’t you put your labels on me.
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Now Let’s talk about utilizing multiple genres in a single novel/story/project.

Its slippery slope. Genre fans are genre fans for a reason. They like the predictability. They like knowing where the story is going and that it will end in a certain way. Mixing up loved tropes, taking side quests, and tripping the hero on his journey might lose you some fans. And genre fans are a huge base. I’ve even turned off a couple of readers because some of my romances were not ‘sweet’ enough. They were a little too dark for the genre. And that’s a risk I took by telling a grittier story in a genre that likes to stay flowery.

BUT the benefits to writing this way, are that you can incorporate elements of storytelling that best suit your characters and the story itself. I wrote a science fiction novel set on the rings of Saturn with time/space wormholes, and a heavy nod to literary poets. It had elements of religion, and romanticism, and social commentary, all in the midst of blaster fire and moonglass blade fights. It was one of my favorite stories to write and one of my best recieved and I think that’s because sometimes a story is just too big to fit in one genre.

Sometimes your story, is more like life. A daring, romantic, mysterious, fantasy western set in modern day suspense-filled and poetic semi-reality. And its interesting and unpredictable in spaces, and comforting and ties up well in others. And that’s why knowing the elements of each genre is important and can boost your plot line into something quite magical.

Crossing genres is, all in all, a great way to improve your writing and your reach. Knowing your audience, and understanding the different and distinct elements of your genres will help you do it in a successful and enjoyable way. I hope that you all give it a chance and let me know how your forays go.


Huzzah! I can’t believe the date is finally here, ya’ll!

Raising Elle gets released next Tuesday (May 2nd) and I’ll be signing books, answering questions and doing a short reading at OLD FIREHOUSE BOOKS in Fort Collins, CO at 6pm that night. Parking is a little tricky in Old Town so plan accordingly (that’s more a reminder for myself than for any of you. Introverts with anxiety like to know about parking ahead of time). Raising Elle is the first book in my new series, and if I might say, it’s probably the darker of the three, but the characters are beautiful and their story is heart-full.

Here’s a little blurb:

Elle Sullivan comes back to her hometown, Sweet Valley, Wyoming, bruised to hell and hiding a big secret.

Determined to start her life over, she embarks on a journey to take back her power and help her family save their small horse ranch. But running into her old high school sweetheart, Blake O’Connor, reminds her that no road to success is easy. Raising Elle is a journey through hardships and forgiveness, and all the ways love heals even the deepest wounds.

Here’s a fancy graphic:

It would mean the world if you could make it and help me celebrate. If you can’t, however, please know that the book is available for purchase via 5 Prince Publishing and Amazon. Thank you all for your support and I hope that I get to see you next week.

Poetry 4-20-23

Today I’m going in for a root canal, after a rough week both personally and professionally. So…while I’m ‘enjoying’ all of my experiences, please enjoy this.

Let it seep beneath your clothes, let it draw out memories, a needle to the dark blood, and wash you clean again. Let it remind you that you are still here. A breath at a time. Through all the pain, the rough days, the personal and professional losses and gains. You’re still here.

So this isn’t a poem for the broken hearted
it is not for those who were left behind
or ghosted
or dumped
or abused
or disregarded

This is a poem for those who watched
as another soul walked away
or preferred their silence to truth
or was released from another person’s life
faced pain at their hands
or were simply ignored
into nothingness…

You are the warriors of time
you, who have felt the sting
of heartbreak 
and disappointments
revealed as new skin 
while hope lay, a the shed skeleton
in the dirt

you are the carriers of grief
and the bodies made of scars
and you have lived through
every burning cut
and every lonely night

This is not for the soul they thought 
they broke,
this is for the you that survived

I will not preach from some high tower
that you are stronger for it
that you are braver because of it
that you are a better person
a heart bigger, with cracks to let the light in

But I will tell you what I know

You survived.

You packed up your heart and your mind
and you moved on
You accepted their silence
you treated your wounds and closed the door
you started paying attention to yourself 
when they no longer did

and that carries weight
self determination
and the ability to move past
the fickle and soft-seated lies,
of a love always perched to flee 
the very second things got hard

Your feet remain grounded
and you endured

You heart is a seasoned warrior
and it may never let another in

but it doesn’t need to...

It might not even have the space

because in their absence
beyond the echoes of their abuse
the pain of their mistreatment,
you’ve filled your heart,
with the unfaltering love
of yourself

they can’t ever move back in

there isn’t room any more.

Going Back to School: How Writers Benefit from Classes, Conferences, and Trainings

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There are plenty of ways to keep your skills sharp as a writer. Last week, I covered the conference season and this post will be similar in that I’m going to give you some online resources for improving your writing skill, developing a business or marketing plan, and helping to boost your creativity. Just like conferences, a writer can easily blow their budget by trying to train themselves into success. My goal is to offer you a spectrum of options with the caveat that classes can show you how to write better, give you pointers on the business side of things and offer marketing advice, inspire new ideas, and improve your editing. About the only thing they can’t do is write your book for you.

The Long Haul:

MFA/MA Programs: These programs (Master of Fine Arts and Master of Arts) are advanced, graduate degrees that can help to help your overall exposure to the big picture of writing (MA tends to focus more on Literature and less on writing, MFA can be broken down into Creative Writing, Journalism, Linguistics, etc). In these programs you will learn pretty much everything, from plot and structure, to dialogue and character development, to grammar and editing. It will take two years at least, and the cost averages out to about $38,000, not counting room and board. You’ll read an enormous amount of material. You’ll probably complete a novel or collection as part of your thesis. Not a horrible way to go, but studies are showing that the cost of MFA programs are often not paid back in employment afterwards so–carefully think through that one.

Online Writing Courses:

A number of reputable online courses and classes are now offered through various writing groups, professional/successful authors, and university departments. The courses are less intensive than a MFA and can often be done at your convenience. They cost a lot less (some are even free) and you can often pick and chose the ones that will benefit you the most. Here’s a small list courtesy of

  1. Wesleyan University Creative Writing Specialization
  2. Gotham Writers Online Writing Classes
  3. Reedsy Learning Courses
  4. Udemy Creative Writing Courses
  5. edX Creative Writing Courses
  6. FutureLearn Creative Arts and Media Writing Courses
  7. OpenLearn Creative Writing
  8. SkillShare Online Creative Writing Classes
  9. Emory Continuing Education Creative Writing
  10. Universal Class
  11. Online Writing Courses
  12. Masterclass Creative Writing Classes

Conferences, Seminars, Retreats

Feel free to refer back to my other post:

I’m going to offer this plug one more time, because I truly believe in this conference and because it’s completely hybrid, you can attend from anywhere in the world, participate, and get the benefits without the travel costs, having to get dressed up, or use a public restroom–winner, winner, chicken dinner. Register for this one:

WHWA Writing Conference

For this area of your continuing education I’ll ask that you explore seminars (mini conferences, or a series of five or more classes on one topic, like Novel Writing) and retreats in your area. I’m sure there are beautiful, far-flung retreats in tropical islands that are also available, but with travel restrictions, lack of funds, and a busy life outside of writing, those may not always be attainable, so do a little research closer to home. Some of my favorite retreats and seminars have been offered through Writing Heights Writers Association at a very fair cost and are conveniently located. It also helps my sense of altruism to know I’m giving my money into a local organization that turns around and helps other writers in my area.

Retreats tend to fall into two categories, those with classes/seminars and free-write time, and those with simply free-writing time, punctuated with social hours. You may wonder how effective three or four days, stuck in a lodge, with nothing but time spent writing can be as beneficial as say, a whole weekend of conference classes. Well, young writer, let me elaborate.

Classes, conferences and seminars are excellent resources for enhancing your writing and helping you learn technique as well as opening up your mind to the business side of things–just like I mentioned above. And, just like I mentioned above, they can’t write a book for you. Only you and time can do that. As a mother of two busy kids, with a couple of side gigs, and a whole household to run–I don’t always have time to write. Somedays I’m lucky to get 20 minutes in. So to have four days, uninterrupted by children, husbands, dogs, laundry, volunteering, teaching, or grocery shopping, cleaning, and yard work, just focused on my writing is priceless. I’ve finished novels in that time. I’ve written four months of blog posts and edited entire series. I’ve barreled through plot holes that I thought I could never find solutions to.

The truth is, when there’s nothing else to pull your procrastination strings, you can get some shit done. PLUS, its immensely helpful to be surrounded by other writers while they’re “in the zone”. There is an inexplicable energy that catches you up when you’re surrounded by other souls and brains focused on their art and passion. Plus there’s usually some socializing/decompression hours at the end of the day to give yourself respite.

Okay–that seemed like a lot of info and I don’t want to bore you to tears. Check out some of the ideas above this week for taking yourself back to school. When we invest in our writing, it becomes less the pipe dream, and more of an attainable goal. Good luck out there, writers. Keep me posted on your progress or if you’ve found some great retreats, classes, and resources yourself!

A Word (or Several) About Writing Conferences

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I’m not going to lie, I’ve been a busy bee of late, and I’ve got plenty on my plate to make me feel justified when I rehash an old blog, especially if it still fits with what I’d like to talk about.

This, being April and the start of the Writing Conference Season (I’m not sure if that should be a capitalized title, but it seems like an event so…I’m going with it) I thought it would useful to budding writers out there to go over some conference basics as well as some advice that has really helped me get the most out of them. This also being a totally new era, I’ve added some modifications to reflect our new Zoom/Teams lifestyles (not NEARLY as cool as a Rock n’ Roll lifestyle).

So, let’s get into the meaty goodness of writer’s conferences and why you should strive to attend at least one a year.

How do you choose which one to attend? 
•	Firstly, most conferences, at least since last year, have had to switch to some type of online format or perhaps online-in person hybrid to make accommodations for safety during the pandemic. So, the good news is, you may not have to shell out so much for travel expenses as they can be taken from the comfort of your home. Bad news is that you’ll still be at home and all the challenges that can go along with it. I’ll touch more on that later on. 

•	If you are anything like me, you’re wealthy in creativity but strapped for cash. One of the biggest deciding factors, for me, is the cost of the conference, along with which classes, speakers, and agents will be there. Getting to pitch to an agent, or multiple agents for publishers specific to your genre is a boon. Classes that are not just interesting but will help expand your craft are also good factors to consider.
•	Some conferences are genre specific and if you are a comfort-hugging archetype who doesn’t flirt around outside your style and subject matter, then definitely consider something specifically geared to your genre. The Romance Writers of America used to host in fun and far-off lands like…San Diego and…New York City…*le sigh* Genre specific conferences are awesome if you’re looking to polish skills or start out in a new genre that you don’t normally write in. Don’t be afraid to flirt a bit (outside of your genre, that is *wink)
•	If you’re stuck deciding between two, look at the courses offered, the speakers presenting, and if they are offering pitch sessions, especially agents suited to your work. Pick the one that gives you the most opportunity for growth and stretches your creative and ambitious goals.
How do I get the most out of my conference?
•	Here’s what I’ve learned. Plan ahead but be flexible. 

Conferences don’t just start the minute you pin that snazzy name badge on your seldom-used dress clothes (or, via online conferences, log in with only dress clothes on your upper half). They start the year before, during writing when you self-reflect on the issues you have with your WIP, your style, your grammar, or even the steps you want to take next. If you have trouble with dialogue but are a whiz at plotting out the perfect story arc, then use your conference to build up your weak points. Even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Which leads me to my next point:
•	Sit it on at least one session that is outside of your genre, comfort zone, or even interest. 

Look, conferences can be amazing experiences but if you’ve been through sixteen hours of various takes on the query letter or trying to perfect your memoir pitches, you’re not growing as much as you could be. Why do athletes cross train? Why does an engineering major still have to take social science classes? Because learning about the realm outside yourself will make you better in all aspects of your work. Try a sci-fi world-building class or screenwriting. I guarantee, you will get something new out of it that will help your project and your craft.
•	Push your limits. 

Talk to people you wouldn’t normally, share your story, your success, and your pitfalls. This is an awesome opportunity (I’m talking to you little introvert) to commiserate, vent, and rejoice in the craft you love so much. Pitch your novel, article, or story. Talk to the larger-than-life keynote speaker (here’s a hint: every single one of them I’ve had the pleasure to meet has been the kindest, most down-to-Earth and supportive writer). Come away feeling like the weekend/day was an experience that has changed you in some fundamental way.
How do I not get overwhelmed?
•	For goddess’ sake, take a break in the midst of it all. I’m the worst at this. I’m a classic victim of; “I paid the money and I’m going to hit every single class. I will volunteer, pitch, hit up the speakers at the dinner table, and stuff every bit of information into my head until explodes!” Then by day two, nothing makes sense in my mind, words are blurry, I’m not sure what my name is, and I’m crying into a self-made mashed-potato tower, while wearing Underoos on my head that clearly are not my own. 

Take the breaks between sessions or even forgo a session and find a quiet corner or go for a walk outside. You need it to recharge, allow time to absorb the information and be refreshed for the next round. This is especially true for online conferences! Take the computer to different rooms (if they’re still quiet) or outside if available, take walks in between sessions, take eye and body breaks (look far off for a spell, or ‘rest’ your eyes away from the screen, get up and stretch as often as available). Its’ almost like interval training—the space between, the recovery is what sets you up for the next round, so take it.
•	If you are pitching to an agent or editor, polish the shit out of that thing beforehand. Take your pitch to your critique group, your friends, random people on the street before the conference and learn how to deliver it with confidence and clarity. Know your story, your characters, and your plot, inside and out. That first page should sing the sweetest siren’s song anyone has ever heart and lure the tepid agent from the afternoon lunch lull into something exciting they want to read more of. The more you practice your pitch, the more it will feel like a conversation with a good friend instead of an interview.
•	If you are pitching, don’t be intimidated by the agent or editor. Remember they are people. They are there, specifically, to talk to you. To hear your story. To find the next big thing. Most of them are also just like you…they may even be wearing Underoos and like mashed potatoes. The point is, it’s okay to be nervous, but don’t go in assuming they relish the idea of shooting you down. Be polite and always thank them for their time and any advice they have to give.
•	Sleep before. Sleep after. Eat nutritious food, take walks outside whenever you can, and watch the caffeine and the booze. Free coffee stations are like crack for me (or conversely at home for online conferences—having my own espresso machine) and cash bars are a tempting mistress at the end of a long, people-filled day. But you’ll have things to do the next day and Underoos will stay safely tucked in if you can avoid that third cocktail. 
To conclude, I’d like to share one of the best lessons I’ve learned from conferences.

For every conference I attend, I add a layer to the writer in me. That is to say, through the people I meet, the classes I take, and the lectures I attend, I learn more about the craft. How, and when, and why, and what and all the technical attributes that come along with the delicate balance of creativity and grammatical science. But more than just the sum of these limitless parts, I learn a greater whole.

The whole that is me as a writer. 

And in doing so, I’ve learned how to enjoy myself more at these kinds of functions by listening to my body, my brain, and my growing years of experience. 

Back in the day, I would be hand-cramping from the steady stream of notes at each session. I would be tumbling from one to the next, chugging down coffee between in hopes to keep my energy up so I wouldn’t miss a thing. I would strategically place myself at the agent’s table who I wanted to garner the literary affections of. I would, in essence, be the adult version of my grade-school brown-nosing self. 

Something happened one year, while at the meet and greet “networking” event. I found myself long past my emotional and mental boundary and crossing all lines of my introvert nature, to garner the attention of at least a few more experts in the field. I was mentally exhausted, untethered and I felt like I was on emotionally shaky ground. I realized after a long day of learning and being ‘on’ that I didn’t want to be there. 

I didn’t understand my limits or that honoring them was at the core to being successful at a conference (and let’s face it, in life)

I thought I could talk it all day, learn it all day, do it all day. Nerding on a pro-level is a quintessential part of who I am. I loved hearing about other projects much more than I like talking about my own and reveled in the creativity and ingenuity of my fellow conference goers.

But…the more stories I heard, the more classes I took, the more advice I tried to apply—the less sure I became of my ability. The more tired I got, the more flustered I became, the wearier my mind, the less information I could process.

Until everything was just noise and words.

Then I learned a secret. 

You don’t have to throw yourself under a bus to catch it. 

Knowing your limits is not just useful in this particular scene. Knowing your limits is useful for all humans. And it comes with age and the ability to let go of unrealistic expectations.

During a few of my sessions, even as I listened to the speaker, I listened to myself. If I was inspired to write; I let myself write.

If the iron was hot, I struck while in the moment, abandoning the mad scribble of notes.

Did I miss a little of the presentations? Sure, but in the midst of other brilliant minds and the energy they impart, in the middle of shutting out the rest of the world, the heart and brain start to do this funny little dance and learn to play again.
Inspiration doesn’t always happen at the opportune times. You have to write when the words are ready and when the heart is open. Conferences have given my heart a doorway, an acceptance into writing what often builds up behind all my carefully constructed walls. 

In years past, I’ve forced myself to jump the hurdles of social interaction and witty conversation until late hours, when all I really wanted was to wander off to a quiet room and take a nap.

I had to make it OK for myself to listen to that want, in order to get the most out of my time at conferences. These events open pathways, but only when we’re not too busy to see them. If we are embroiled in getting the most out of every single planned moment of the time, then we may miss the real lesson. 

Creativity is like a river and if you fully submerged you’ll easily drown. You’ll miss the beauty of the ride, the view, and the sounds. 

So, know yourself, Writer. Do the things that you know work for you. Let the river of creativity, carry you, but always leave yourself plenty of breathing room to be inspired. 

And whether you live in Colorado or  Wyoming  or are somewhere else in the world, I encourage you to  check out this completely hybrid conference from the Writing Heights Writers Conference:  WHWA Conference
I wouldn't be the writer I am today without them and their well-ran, well-planned conference.

Listening to Our Characters

Good morning dear readers and writers. First, may I offer a huge thank you for all the comments and encouragement I received from the last post. Writer’s know what it is to get bogged down in the process, and no one is better at pulling you up from that dark, dusting off the weight of the little failures that cling to your shoulders, and giving you a gentle but determined shove back up on the road. So thank you for your advice and encouraging words. They mean a lot.

Between that last blog and this one, I was lucky enough to take Todd Mitchell’s workshop on Creativity. I’d been to a few of his classes but this one seemed serendipitous. I knew I needed to start writing again, a novel. A big project to immerse myself in, and I have a beautiful trio sort of dangling between first draft and not quite done currently on my computer. I love the second book, and that’s obvious by how close to done it is. The third, similarly has pulled me in and I’m enjoying working through the rough patches. But the first. Ah…the first. Kind of the keystone in a series…well…it’s a piece of shit.

And it took me a while to really figure out why during rewrites last year. The main character had somehow taken on the dreaded Susie Sunshine persona (probably because the concept of her was born many years ago.) So, I put her through a character-lift (like a facelift but for imaginary people without faces yet). She got a spanking new name and I roughed up her edges. But nothing in the story seemed to make sense and it felt like trying to force an incorrect puzzle piece into a million different holes that did not fit. What in the hell was wrong with her? I knew what she needed to do and the plot and arc of the book was solid.

But I didn’t believe she was the woman to live it. And I was stuck.

And then Todd said something about struggling with a novel for years until he finally sat down and wrote a letter to his main character and asked him “What is it you want me to know? What’s your story? What am I not seeing?”

For the average human reading this post, I’ve just solidified in your head what absolute insanity writers possess. What do you mean you ask your characters? You created them. You know them. That’s your brain.

But the brain is a tricky place, silly non-writer. It’s vast, and expansive and it has a million rooms we’ve never even found the doors to, let alone explored. And sometimes, characters and answers lay behind those doors. And the only way to access them is to stop trying to force the answer. (I’m planning a post on Alpha State writing so hanging in for that one). Answers com only when we calm the hell down, and sit quietly outside the door, letting go of our ego and our need to tell the story, and just listen to their story.

Sounds crazy. Absolutely, bat-shit, bonkers.

And it totally works.

I put on a meditative playlist, took some deep breaths and focused on her name. Her new name. Her newly rough edges. And I sat, with my back to her door and took some deep breaths. I closed my eyes and started typing. And I didn’t question or stop, or allow myself to think of what she was saying. I just listened to her.

Here’s what it looked like:

Hey Dani,

Hey Sarah.

So, I’ve been struggling with you.

Yeah, I know.

I want to create you

You can’t create me. I just am.

So who are you?

Wrong question

What is it you want me to know? What am I missing about you?

I’m dark.

You began so light and perfect

That’s not how the world works. Not for babies abandoned, babies with parents like mine.

What does that mean? Who are you?

I am Danika Brennen. I was left at a fire station as a baby. An orphan.

Who left you there?

A pregnant vagabond, disowned. My mom

Who was she?

An member of the High Guard,

kicked out

Are you ***’s daughter?

No, I’m Loki’s.

holy shit.

Now, I’m not going to give everything away, but that last thing she said…that was an answer I didn’t know until I let her talk to me. And it’s an answer that I can write a book from. That will help me, help her navigate through this story…to a better place. To a life she deserves. As dark as she thinks she is.

It’s crazy right? But talk to any fiction writer and I guarantee they’ve had some kind of experience with their characters talking to them, to each other, offering unwanted suggestions or criticism along the way. And yes, they’re all in our heads. But I think as humans we underestimate the expansive reach of our brains and neural capacity.

I mean what if they’re not just our consciousness, what if they’re wavelengths in a much bigger plane of existence that we’ve only just started to understand. The wavelengths and dimensions that only open to us, When we listen.

All Editing and No Writing Makes Sarah a Dull Creator

Before you get on some high horse about how editing is a part of writing, allow me to unbuckle your saddle while you’re still on it. I know that the process of being a novelist is a journey of different landscapes. The initial sunrise of bursting light (inspiration) is followed by rocky paths (writing and plotting) and raging storms (character development and killing darlings) to the darkest nights (getting stuck) and comforting moonrise (resolution the big story arcs). Then there’s editing. And it’s important, amazingly important. A piece of shit first draft only becomes a good book because of proper and often harsh rewrites.

But lately… Oh lately… I’ve been spending the majority of my time in edits for 4 different novels coming out this year.

And because it is a constant parade of fixing and rewriting, and cutting, and facing my inadequacies on the daily, editing to me feels like the endless beach scenes in The Drawing of the Three. Or slogging through an infinite desert on your way to somewhere but with no clear end in site. And though it’s repetitive you can never just let your feet (or your eyes in this case) zone out as you plod ahead. Because you’re traversing that same wondrous journey from an outside and judgmental perspective, and at least for the hundredth time and all the rocks seem to look the same, and the plot holes are huge, and there’s that lovely garden that serves no purpose so it must be felled. And when you reach the end, that moonrise? Well, it just skips forward again to the start. And you take smaller steps, sentence by sentence steps, every comma, period, flagrant and free-range POV that escaped the first dozen times. And you know this story and you’re sick of the characters and every step, every sentence feels heavier and heavier and…

You start to wonder why you’d ever want to write down another journey again.

Add to that, when you do sit down to write, you’re brain is in so much of a “Pick this shit apart and find what’s wrong with it” mode that you barely get two sentences in before you’re going back to the start of them to preemptively rewrite. The free flow of the sun coming up over the mountains looks more like a giant yellow strobe light over hills that you can no longer describe off the tip of your fingers like before.

What I’m saying is, I’ve been neck deep in editing now for months, and I’m grateful that I have so many projects coming out this year. I truly am. But if I don’t start limiting those hours of cuts and rewrites, I’m worried I’ll lose my joy in telling a story in the first place. I worry that the editor in me will take over the controls and I will be stuck in self-editing mode long enough, that I no longer am capable of telling a story. Just judging one. That I’ll be stuck in that deserted wasteland where no words are allowed out, because they don’t come out in 20th draft form.

What’s the point of this rant? I’m not sure, except that if you’re a writer, I’d love to hear how you balance out your creativity with the necessary clean up of editing. Right now, I am struggling and it’s left me frustrated, uninspired, and if I may say, more than a little disheartened. And a writer with no heart…