Reflections on NaNoWriMo, the Big Sur Writing Workshop, and my last week in California

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Some people say, “when it rains it pours” and my grandfather always says, “time flies whether you’re having fun or not.” While both sayings are definitely true when things are going poorly, the last few months make me think they’re also true when things are going well. So many good things have happened to me this year, and my time here has gone by faster than I could have imagined. Hence the photograph of me dancing at the beach. I hate to go too much into it. I’ve been writing enough about my self recently that you could in fairness call this blog a brag instead (joke stolen from Rachel Cohn’s VERY LEFREAK). However, I did want to sum up my experience here and some of the things that have been going on in the last month. NaNoWriMo

I blogged a lot about NaNoWriMo, but a few readers have asked me to elaborate on what the month of writing 50,000 words taught me. I still haven’t read over what I’ve written, but I think some of it is useable. Maybe. I think the month was primarily useful as a writing exercise though. I can spend years outlining and plotting a novel, so it was refreshing to start the month with some ideas but no plan. It felt so liberating to just start writing, not allow myself to delete anything, and see what happened.  It was a whole new mindset where I could throw away any writing I don’t like in the future so I was less critical of myself while writing. It not only increased my daily word count, but made the writing process more fun for me. If you are thinking about participating next year, I say just jump in and do it. Don’t be intimidated or worry about how you are going to get all those words written. You might not win, but I think you will learn something about your craft. If I can do it, you definitely can too.

The Big Sur Writing Workshop 

I decided to attend The Big Sur Writing Workshop in August, and have been eagerly awaiting the experience ever since. One of the first thing agent and workshop organizer, Andrea Brown said at the conference was that over the weekend some people would cry. Although it’s embarrassing to admit it, I was one of those people. I cried. A lot.

But that crying lead to some really interesting rewriting and re-enivisioning of my novel, especially the opening chapters. It was invaluable to learn about the industry and actually discuss my writing in depth with some of the top children’s editors and agents. I also met so many other writers that I think I will stay in touch with and work with as critique partners in the future. My main takeaway from the conference is to be more reader-focused than writer-focused. Agents, editors, and publishers aren’t thinking, “Oh that is an impressive piece of writing. I can’t believe the author accomplished something so intricate and difficult. They deserve a publishing deal.” They are are thinking, “This books seems like something children will love to read and parents will want to buy them.”

I’m still marinating on that shift in focus and other advice I received last weekend, but I already have some good ideas for revision and future projects. Overall, I would suggest this workshop for anyone who wants to create a future for themselves in the children’s book industry. Not only is it in the beautiful Big Sur, but it combines industry information with the craft of writing.

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My Last Week 

Last March, because of a lot of different factors in my life I made the seemingly crazy decision to leave my job as a grant writer and move to Big Sur to focus on writing my novel full time. At the time, I felt really excited, but also really scared and uncertain. I didn’t know if I even could write a novel, or if this is what I wanted, or what would happen. I still don’t know what is going to happen, but I now know I can write a novel and this is what I want. I feel so lucky and privileged that circumstances have worked out to let me live in such a beautiful place and have this time. I’ve spent this week visiting all my favorite hikes and spots around town, journalling, and trying to reflect on this wonderful experience. I’m not saying things have always been perfect. Sometimes it has felt really isolated and lonely. I’ve had to deal with a lot of my issues with anxiety (not helped by no paycheck and no idea what’s coming next) and I went through a kind of hard seperation with one of my best friends.But the good has outweighed the bad a hundred fold. In fact, one of the things I think I learned this year was that positivity and enthusiasm are beneficial qualities to cultivate.

In the past, I’ve worried that these qualities were fake or meant that I had to deny or feel ashamed of any of my negative feelings. Now I think it’s possible to hold both. I want to love my life and my work. I want to talk about books and movies and places I love, not offer up a tempered critique of things I didn’t enjoy. I want to keep following my dreams (I know that sounds cheesy!) not because I think I will accomplish every crazy goal I have, but because the process of following your dreams and the validation that comes along with going down those paths feels amazing. No matter what happens next, book deal, grad school, a return to nonprofit work, or something I haven’t even considered, I will always have the last eight months here. And I hope to carry some of that with me as I return to the frozen North to family, Christmas, and then who knows…

So enough about me. What life lessons or experiences do you want to carry with you from this year? Has anyone started thinking about New Years resolutions yet?

14 thoughts on “Reflections on NaNoWriMo, the Big Sur Writing Workshop, and my last week in California

  1. Your entry made me think of two quotes – If you think you can or you think you can’t you are probably right and What would you attempt to do if you knew you wouldn’t fail –

    You took a risk and the real pay back is not if the risk pays off or not but they you gave yourself permission to pursue something you love not worrying about failure. I am so proud of you.

  2. Congratulations, Alison, on all counts. I’m glad you enjoyed Big Sur, more that you got that oh, so valuable “re-visioning” thing. And maybe novel #2 out of NaNoWriMo!

    All the best in whatever you do with life next.

  3. So glad to hear your experiences were as awesome as they seemed! And I hope you made some contacts that will help you get that book deal. This year had been a crash course in feeling emotions for me so I can relate to your feelings now. I’m sure you’ll love whatever comes next though!

  4. Really amazing journey you’ve been on. It’s been such a privilege to share some of that through the blog.

    Definitely the best tip for any writer is to be reader oriented, unless you simply don’t care if you ever sell a book. Knowing who you are writing is probably the most important decision a writer makes before putting pen to paper, or in this day and age, fingers to keyboard.

    Best wishes for your next adventure — and I do hope you’ll blog about it periodically!

  5. I learned that I am much more vain/proud than I would like, and I need to nix that little habit of trying to make other people think well of me and just worry about being real, authentic, and kind. The End.

    It always feels good to start to figure things out, until you get all confused again and start over. But I guess that’s far more interesting than staying solid and sure.

    • Joyce, thanks for such a genuine response. Those are great things to remind me to strive for as well. Although if I can put my two cents in you are already doing a great job accomplishing those goals.

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