So I already did a post about what happened on the Wxr cruise, in that I really feel like I found my writing tribe. That is wonderful and amazing, but beside that, I also learned a ton of writing skills as well as learning a few new lessons about myself.
The first lecture of the cruise was from Brandon Sanderson on Characterization. It was a more fleshed out version of something he’s spoken on, on the podcast before. It came in handy already as a diagnostic tool for a character people were having a hard time connecting with. It gave me a solid way to look at why people might not like said character, and thus, how to fix it.
He also said something during the Q&A session at the end that really struck me as well. Something like: “As you get better at writing you will try harder things, and as a result, you’ll think you’re a worse writer than you are.” I had been struggling with this rather hard for the past two years, while working on the Huntsman. I remember how easy writing used to be, where I would sit down and pump out words, and yet I had to fight for every inch on the Huntsman. But since hearing the above, I was able to put my head down on the Huntsman and get to ‘The End’ on my rough draft.
Some of the lectures were interesting, but not immediately relevant. More of a ‘file away for later’, like Mary Robinette’s ‘How to Read Outloud’, and Dongwon’s three part lecture on ‘Surviving the Books Business’. There were others that I incorporated into my writing asap like Tempest’s talk on inclusively in writing, Piper’s ‘Writing Romantic Elements’, and Sandra’s “Setting up your Life for Writing”, which went wonderfully into the mentality around writing and how to protect your writing time.
The one lecture that caught me most by surprise was Amal’s lecture on writing poetry. I have never been a fan of poetry. I just never got it, and the people who do are so passionate about it, it’s almost a turn-off. However, the way Amal explained the difference between poetry and prose as the way singing is different from talking really clicked with me. And when she had us try writing some poetry with that distinction, it just …worked. And from what others got up and read in front of the class, it seemed to have worked for a lot of people. It certainly gave me a new appreciation for poetry, and so the exercise she gave us for using poetry to get past ‘stuck spots’ is certainly something I can see myself using.
I also got something very important impromptu critique group that I got into by chance. It was my first time critiquing (and being critiqued) in person, but I was riding high on the safety of the whole Wxr space and so it went really well. Apparently the narrator problem I’d had in the Law of the Prince Charming, that I thought had been fixed was, in fact, still a problem.
And since I was stuck on a boat for several more days with little else to do, I decided I was going to go head down on this problem and figure out how to fix it. Long story short, I realized the problem was with tense and I experimented with switching the prose from past to present. After much reluctance and knashing of teeth on my part (because I hate reading present tense in books), I realized that I was much happier with the way it sounded in general, and got enough feedback saying it did feel better than I am currently in the process of rewriting the book.
But, I think, the most important thing I learned on the cruise happened at dinner on Friday night. I was in a bit of a depressed state because this was right after I had figure out that present tense for my novel sounded better, but before I reached acceptance of the idea, and was ready to leave the table when Mary Robinette came to join us. I stayed because, well, she’s a highly intelligent writer and I like the sound of her voice. At one point she started talking about how she finds the guest speakers for the cruise, and how she has to tell them that they can’t give the 101 or 201 versions of their talks because the Writing Excuses listeners have such a high level of theory already. She says she has to inform her speakers to think of it like they are giving a lecture to their peers, who just happen to be still early in their careers.
It was the first time I thought of connecting myself to published authors with the word peer. I mean I know I’ve gained a lot of skill over the past four or five years, but it wasn’t until that moment it really dawned on me that the only thing standing between me and publication could be that I haven’t found an agent. Not that I’m at the end of my learning by any stretch, but it was certainly a context shift. And, on top of that, I had access to all the other amazing people of the same level who were on the cruise with me.
During the final party, Mary Robinette did warn us that after everything we had learned on the cruise, that writing might be difficult for a while. But I found a new groove since the cruise. The newfound confidence in myself and my skills carried me through a lot of things I had been having difficulty with before the cruise. And that’s how I know this retreat was so successful, because I met so many amazing, wonderful people, and because it inspired me to write better. Totally have to go back again next year.