One thing that can be a struggle for many of us--writers, artists or not--is making connections, building community and forcing ourselves to be social. Despite the unpredictable weather, Wakefield's Festival by the Lake on Saturday, June 10, 2023 provided a wonderfully casual way to do just that and connect the good old-fashioned way: face to face.
In my capacity as director of The Room to Write, I like to think of the festival as a big party that presents a wonderful opportunity to introduce our nonprofit to the public, answer questions, and a great way to find out what the community needs from our organization in terms of programming and support for writers of all ages and all levels.
This year we were fortunate to have four local authors as guests in our tent available to talk to, purchase books from and to have books signed. Each author sees book events as more than just an opportunity to sell books. It's a chance to be social, to connect with their audience and to meet author creative people looking for community.
Local author essayist and TRtW's Coordinator for Senior & Veterans Programming Linda Malcom joined us to start the day at 10am with her collection of essays, Cornfields to Codfish. To learn more about Linda and her book click here or watch her interview as part of our Journey of a Story series here.
Local writer Lisa Varchol Perron stopped by next at 11am with her nonfiction picture book, Patterns Everywhere, and her very sweet board book about unconditional and enduring nature of a mother's love, My Love for You. To learn more about Lisa and her books click here or watch her interview as part of a collaborative project with WCAT Studios here.
Next up, the wonderful Monica Acker came by with her picture book Brave Like Mom. She received a visit from a family who appreciated the beautiful message in her book. If you would like to learn more about Monica and her book, click here or watch her interview where she talks about the inspiration for her book as well as the process of bringing it to publication.
At 1pm Christine Ricci-McNamee was happy to talk about her children's picture books, Logan and the Lost Luggage and Louella and the Librarian. If you would like to follow Christine on Instagram click here or learn more about her writing journey by watching her interview here.
Last, but certainly not least, David Watts Jr joined us as representative of Boston Pen People. He was under our tent when the rain started to pour and the thunder roared and yet people still found their way to our table to talk to him about all things pens--fountain, dip and otherwise.
Big shout out to Tom Furrier at Cambridge Typewriter who made sure our typewriters were up to snuff and had all the ink they needed to be sure the steady stream of kids who stopped by would leave with their words printed onto their paper of choice. It's always so much fun to see how much fun writing can be for the youngest among us.
The Room to Write will be on hiatus for the summer months, except for our Writers and Illustrators Meet & Greet in July, but we look forward to seeing you on a more consistent basis in the fall.
Like so many of us, I wear several hats. One of the hats I wear is Founder and Director of the non-profit: The Room to Write. In that capacity, I write blog entries for The Room to Write's website blog. Sometimes my two hats: non-profit director and creative writer, have commonalities. This is one of those instances where a blog post I wrote for TRtW also works really well as an author blog post. So, here is my posting in its entirety:
There's something about spring and, in particular, the month of May that makes everybody buzz about seeking new ways to grow, not only in the garden but in their spiritual life, family life, professional life, and--hopefully--their creative life.
Sometimes our creative lives take a back seat to all the other lives we maintain.
If you're hoping to grow in your creative life, a wonderful and free resource is available to you thanks to a collaboration and sponsorship from Wakefield Community Access Television (WCAT) studios titled The Journey of a Story interview series.
No matter what genre you write in and regardless of the age your target audience is, some things remain constant in writing, and we have uncovered some really helpful insights that can save you a lot of time and frustration when it comes to the publication process.
In The Room to Write's interview series, The Journey of a Story, we focus on the writing and publication process rather than the content of each book. We're not at all interested in an author's pedigree, but we are very curious about the obstacles in each author's journey that they had to overcome in order to persevere all the way to publication. We love to learn about time-and-sanity-saving hacks!
We're not so much interested in plot twists as we are curious how a writer battled writer's block, formatted a query letter, found an agent, and the nitty gritty details of the revision process. The Journey of a Story series is a high-quality series on a low budget because--let's face it--most writers are not making a living from their creative writing projects and publications. By day they are teachers, doctors, financial advisors, therapists, and successful entrepreneurs. Other writers have only found the time to write after they retired from their full-time jobs.
So, tune into 30 (currently) different interviews of authors who write everything from adult romance to children's picture books, poems to plays, kids non-fiction to adult essays. It's quite an eclectic group and they share generously from their experiences. The one commonality? They are all from New England, with the vast majority reside in Massachusetts.
So sit back, tuck it, top off and learn how real writers write and how they eventually publish!
Although we should instinctively know that when we build anything there will be work involved, we still sometimes expect (hope?) that the work won't be hard or even that we won't know that we're working at all.
A conference is one of those events that presents itself as something fun and simple, but that actually can be quite exhausting because usually a conference is part of an attempt on our part to build something: knowledge, a supportive network, a bridge to a place where we'd like to live or at least visit more often. Here I am at the NESCBWI Spring Conference and I have to say I'm pretty tired, but not so tired that I'm not sitting here and writing this. That's a win! I'm writing--something, anything: this:)
The tricky thing about things like conferences is that I need to remember they are like Thanksgiving: there is a lot of great stuff, you're going to see lots of people, you're going to eat lots of food (not all healthy), and you might need a nap at odd intervals. The smart people take naps. I am not a smart conference attendee. I did not nap. There's just too much going on and there are just too many amazing and creative people all in one spot to take a break from.
Which brings me to what I have found to be one of the most important, but often the most challenging, aspects of a conference: meeting new people and reconnecting with people I haven't seen in a long time--especially since this is the first in-person conference since before the pandemic. Building creative community is probably one of the things I enjoy most. I love learning about others and then finding a way to connect them with someone else. Rinse and repeat. It takes effort and sometimes my brain cells and memory don't cooperate, but that's what laughter is for. Laughter is the Modge Podge I brush generously over the top of everything to smooth things out. Or make things worse, but usually better . . . I think:)
So, get out there. Sign up. Pack your bag. Put that name tag on and shove yourself into awkward situations and then, when it gets really awkward, get over it and move on and laugh a little along the way.
Eventually you'll start to build a community and find yourself beyond your expiration date writing a semi-incoherent and possibly rambling blog entry on a random bench in a hotel hallway.
As part of The Room to Write's Senior and Veterans programming, we have writing days that are more casual and unstructured. We call those writing days: Gather & Write. It's a way to make time for writing during the week that is less structured. An instructor shows up and offers a writing prompt or two, or whatever, to the group--something to get the wheels turning and the pen writing.
Being the only "poet" in the group has propelled me to utilize the time I am at the writing prompt helm to offer up something poetic. Not everybody in the group that gathers is necessarily interested in writing poetry--per se--but, really, poems are simply words that sometimes appear in a flowing sundress, sometimes in a polo shirt, and other times squeezed into a tuxedo and bowtie.
For Valentine's Day, I decided to give the group a glimpse of a well-dressed poem. What form stood out to me as appropriate for the special day? The Sonnet, of course. When you think Sonnet, you often think Shakespeare. That might make you nervous, but it shouldn't. Shakespeare was in love with words. That's it. Sometimes passion can cause a person to get carried away, and so that is all that was--a man who got carried away with words. He was truly in love with words and so am I.
Now, do I sit at home crafting sonnets all day or even once a week?
I am more of a free-verse poet, but I do enjoy a challenge every now and then. Think of a sonnet as a word puzzle. Puzzles aren't always meant to be easy. They are meant to get your mind churning and working until: voila! You have solved it--or you come close to solving it. There is a satisfaction in that. Sonnets can be wonderful exercise for our brains!
I printed out some background, information and examples of the sonnet using a very helpful website, which you can access at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/sonnet
Keeping with the clothing theme, I told participants to think of a sonnet as a Corsette. Sonnets are a very tight poetic format. There are rules--strict ones. The sonnet forces you in place. It can be painful, but we persevered.
You know what? Some participants actually enjoyed it. Others scoffed and at least one or two outright refused to conform to the format, which is perfectly fine. Still many surprised themselves with what they produced.
I was one of them. Having been the person to force this poetic form upon the group, I was stumped when it came to sitting and writing until I simply decided to write about having to write a sonnet itself and the difficulty it posed for me.
Give it a try! Who knows--you may just find yourself despising it and then enjoying it:)
Here is the sonnet I produced that day using the ABABCDCDEFEFGG rhyme scheme:
The Sonnet Structure
Thinking outside the box can be so hard
especially when the box is not square
but instead a stretching, boundless vast yard
where we normally wander anywhere.
And so, I sit and struggle with this form
a torment brought upon by my own hand.
My mind is like a literary storm.
My thoughts forced into sonnet cannot stand.
Sonnet poetry, why do you exist,
forcing me to count like a little kid?
Out from under your thumb I turn and twist.
I didn't think I'd like this, but--I did.
A glutton for puzzles and punishment,
for literary suffering--I'm meant!
I'm sure you've heard of the term, "I've got a frog in my throat." 99 times out of 100--the person is not referring to an actual reptile that has hopped down their windpipe unbeknownst, though last summer frogs were beyond reasonable numbers in my backyard. (See July's blog posting: Wild Kingdom or Unexpected Sanctuary for more on the frogs.) The vast majority of "frogs" in throats are actually emotion or nerves. Emotion can make it difficult to get words out.
Emotion is like a cloud floating above us, unnoticed while we buzz about our daily routines, until they gather and rain. Just as clouds can shed water, emotion can become too much to ignore. The frog in my throat presented more like a frog in my pen. I couldn't get words out on paper--aside from the necessary words for correspondence and work-related writing.
When my mother passed away at the beginning of last year my work-in-progress, which is a middle grade novel that focuses on a secret garden, got dropped suddenly from my list of "things to do." For some, grief and creativity work well together. For me, grief is a head space hog. It saunters in, plunks down with elbows boldly claiming what I understood to be a shared armrest. Shoes kick off, cell phone conversation blares--smelly and loud all at once. Grief is the most obnoxious and inconsiderate airplane seat mate imaginable. There will be no relaxing, no focusing, no enjoyment on a flight alongside grief.
Creativity evaporated. I had been really enjoying my work-in-progress, Secret Lives of Leaves, up until my attention was no longer my own and grief took hold of all my senses, sucked out my reserves of energy--insisted on getting my full attention. Clearing my mind became impossible. Time passed. A whole year. Then, a couple weeks ago--I sat down to write the next chapter of that novel. One great thing about middle grade is that it allows for shorter chapters. So, I talked myself into writing a paragraph, then two--then, might as well finish the page . . . as I rounded the corner to the next page, I developed a scene in my head and had to follow it at least until page two. The result was a 6-page chapter.
It felt so good to get a little further on a fun project that had so long lay dormant, just as I had been getting to the good part: the secret garden! One year later, I find myself at the other end of the emotional spectrum. The juxtapositions of life border on comedy--satire, really.
One year after my mother's passing, I am distracted again by emotion. A frog in my pen. But, this time it is excited emotion as I await word from my brother that his first baby has been born. He and his wife are at the hospital, setting out on a journey that will change life as they've known it forever.
Want some more irony?
That chapter I finally wrote after so long is titled, "The Journey." Good luck on your journey as it twists, turns, stops and starts.
I just did something for myself. Well--not counting the KitKat bar I just asked my second born for. She obliged willingly taking it out of her sibling's bag. I shouldn't have accepted or condoned or whatever crime it was to allow my second born to take a chocolate from one of the other born's bag for my own craving--but it's Friday, so I did.
Anyway, that was not what I did for myself. What I just did was participate in a poetry workshop. On Zoom, which I'm a bit sick of . . . but it was free, and I needed something. Like the KitKat, but for my creative spirit. I needed somebody to feed me creatively and force me to produce something creative. The workshop was sponsored by International Women's Writing Guild (IWWG) and facilitated by Warrior Poet Kai Coggin. She'll be offering a poetry intensive workshop if you are looking to get creative. Find out about that here.
Here is the poem the workshop helped me produce. It's a draft--as everything is:)
She sat there
in our ordinary kitchen.
My cup of tea, still hot,
perfectly sweet and splash of milk.
Ordinary black. Stringless bag. Sinking. Steeping.
She sat there
knowing she wouldn't stay.
She couldn't --
-- wear out her welcome
-- be taken for granted.
Sitting there--as if always.
In our kitchen
every ordinary, sleepy Saturday.
Tea and talk, dancing.
So simple until she slipped away
to another kitchen,
somebody else's unassuming moment.
I've kept a journal since I was a teenager. However, writing in a journal was like one of those on-again, off-again relationships. I can't say I ever really wrote with any reliable level of consistency over a long period of time and often, when I was younger, the entries were more centered on "what I did" than "what I thought."
But, when the pandemic started in March 2020, that changed. I started filling up a whole journal every three months, so I'd say I probably filled about six journals since then, alone.
It was as if writing in my journal was my moment to take a deep breath at a time when it was becoming increasingly difficult to breathe. Today, the third page I wrote in my journal was my attempt to figure out why writing in my journal is something I have begun looking forward to as much as my morning cup of tea. I'm transcribing my thoughts here--in this online "Diary," to encourage others to find solace and sanity in the safe confines of a journal, diary, notebook or whatever you term it. (Warning, part of the perk of journal writing is no grammar, run-on sentence, spelling mistakes exist or matter--so I'm copying it in here as it was written in all its carefree format.:)
Here's what I wrote:
Anyway, I'm enjoying the pocket of time right now when I don't have to be anywhere and the kids are watching cartoons downstairs and I'm in this chair in the living room with a cup of tea and this journal. I can't quite understand why writing in this journal is so attractive to me, why it feels like such an "escape" but I almost crave it at times. Maybe it's because I'm safe here--as cheesy as that sounds. I'm able to say what I want whether I'm right or wrong or politically incorrect. I am able to sort out my thoughts, maybe make sense of them, perhaps vent my frustrations with anyone and everyone without worry of offense or disagreement, and also I am able to let out the leash to allow my ideas and imagination to run wild. To dream on paper and quietly out loud:) Silently out loud. Without fears of contradiction or being talked sense into. It's a vision board sans images. Sans color! A vision board of black and white that leaves the imagination of the reader to fill in the vivid greens and bright blues. Time and space and freedom. There are so many means available these days that allow people to escape, to breathe a little, loosen the collar--so to speak--and here is perhaps one of the healthier, most accessible, cost efficient and convenient of them all:
Writing in this here humble Journal . . .
Thank the Lord for paper and pen :)
Sometimes weekends away are relaxing. Some are more along the lines of work. Other times they are a hybrid of the two and you come away exhausted but content. But, definitely exhausted:)
Two weekends ago I went on a "retreat" that I had no business going on because life was rather ramped up at the moment with four kids back to school and sports exploding all over the calendar in addition to those not-so-savory things a person has to do--like clean the house, do the laundry, break into the fall wardrobe while still floating the summer shorts.
Don't even get me started on the socks!
Socks. On the floor. A basket of matchless singles growing and growing. Smelly socks stuffed in shoes. Inside out socks in the middle of the stairs. Even socks OUTSIDE! Enough about the socks. On this retreat there wasn't a sock in sight. :)
There I was, on a writer's retreat to Squam Lake. What a beautiful location! So beautiful that it was a challenge to not spend the whole time walking around exploring or jumping in the lake. I was there to focus on my writing, so I soaked all the nature in from a comfortable and semi-productive distance.
What was so exhausting about that?
Well, it was a bit like a mini-conference and anybody who has ever been to a conference knows there's a lot of talking, meeting people, introducing yourself, figuring out what it is you might tell them, wondering more about them, and sharing a room with a stranger. Sure, she'll feel like a friend by the end of the weekend, but there's a process and so sharing a room can add to the lethargy. Throw in a wonderful old cabin that doesn't muffle anything and only amplifies every footstep and shift of weight. A toilet flushing? Sounds like Niagra Falls has just dumped down the walls and onto the floor.
It's all part of the charm, but also the process of allowing yourself to be uncomfortable, a little awkward, and eventually feel a bit like family when it's all said and done. It was a great experience and it felt so good to meet so many wonderful, creative, nerdy minds like myself. People who wrote, researched, animated, edited, agented, revised, read, made dolls and were all interested in each other. It's a great feeling to be surrounded by people committed to creativity!
The weather was perfect. Everything was photogenic, as you'll see below, and the whole experience helped me to grow a little bit more as a writer, a reader, and a member of the big wide creative community I love being a part of.
Delete. It's magic and it's a curse that's available at the touch of a finger.
No wand required.
This (here) text block had previously waxed poetic about Due Dates.
Yes, I went on about it for about the same length I will consequently go on about Dew Points, but with one important difference: I deleted the block about Due Dates.
Did I mean to? No. I had inserted an image and then something went kaflooey, as things tend to do in the tech world, and as I thought, "Maybe I should copy the text in case something goes wrong." Another thought pushed that first thought out of the way insisting, "Just keep going--fast. Do it. Press that little 'x' and only the image will disappear, not all of the text too."
So, I went with option number two and "Delete" happened. And, worse? I did not see an "Undo" for the life of me.
Come on! No "undo" to hit?
I'm not rewriting it. I'm writing this rant instead and since this is a blog and not a term paper, or a novel, I can do that.
Thank the good Lord for blogs and journals.
Now, onto Dew Points . . .
Wow--how did I go most of my life without caring or even knowing what these were?
It's not the heat, it's the humidity. No--it's the dew point! Dang that number that either means I'm going to have a refreshing breeze dance by or that I'm going to feel beads of sweat gather and drip down my back or from the inside crease of my elbow at some point. Ugh and ew!
Does that change anything? No. But today started out with a dew point in the 70s, which is nasty, and it ends somewhere in the 50s, which is Shangri-La.
After a summer that has been moist in all the worst ways and yet somehow extremely dry also in all the worst ways, I am running towards September and its promise of low dew points and long sweaters with absolute adoration in my eyes.
I have a few wonderful events coming up that will mark the transition from summer--when I let my brain go into detox and veg mode--to fall--when I fire up my pens and all things start to buzz and bubble with energy. Next weekend (not to be confused with this weekend:) I am off to a Writers' Retreat at Squam Lake. Boy, could I use anything with the word "retreat" in the title just about now. Then the following week is the Commonwealth Pen Show in Somerville, MA where I can go and luxuriate in all things pen and ink and paper. If there is a better two-weekend lineup that inspires the written word, I can't imagine it right now.
So, go. Retreat. Write. Then, pen. Write some more.
I'll put the pen show flier below for those who would like to attend and need more concrete details than my general gushing above offers.
Here's to extended deadlines and falling dew points!
I can't help but feel like a slacker. The trouble is there's still only the original 24 hours in a day and that just doesn't seem to be enough for me to get the things I need done, followed by the things I want to do done, followed by the things I should do done: you know that resting, relaxing, recovering, and rejuvenating thing we hear is necessary for a healthy and happy life.
Some writers and artists seem to create when the mood strikes them or when they feel something come over them and that used to be my method too, but with life so busy I'm going to have to come up with some other way that forces me to make more time for my personal writing projects, not just the writing I need to do for work or various other commitments, but the novels and poetry and blog posts (ahem!) I really want to be able to do.
Some writers and artists claim that the morning hours are best and I'm sure they are, but I'm not a morning person. Can I try to become one? Sure. Do I want to try to become one? No. I don't want to try, anyway. If I woke up one morning and was suddenly a morning person--sure, I'd love that. But, I don't have the energy to try to become one.
So, what's a gal to do? Well, it's almost summer. Ok--technically it's summer on the calendar and meteorologically it's summer, but according to my children's school summer is has not started yet. Yes, it's nearly July and "summer vacation" is still hours away.
What does summer have to do with anything, you may be wondering?
More time? Hopefully. But, based on historical precedent there seems to be no more time in the summer months than there are in the other nine and anything extra should be devoted to a good amount of resting and relaxing that every body needs in order to carry on for those other hectic, hurry-up-and-go months. One thing July has going for it is sunnier mornings which may be a help toward earlier mornings which may be a help toward writing in the mornings.
Throw in a good, old fashioned one-month challenge! Don't forget to include public accountability so others can see if you are holding to your commitment and have every right to heckle you if you slack off.
So, here goes. I am going to try to challenge myself to produce something creative for one month's time. I suppose I have to figure out what that is first, but I have a week to come up with something and report back.
That's just what I'll do.
Stay tuned. :)