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Getting the Most from a Mountaintop Writing Experience

April 6, 2012

As I write this, I have just returned from an all-day writing marathon given by Jamie Morris of Woodstream Writers. For an entire Saturday, we sat in the home of a friend of Jamie’s, listened while she gave us prompts, and then wrote to those prompts.

For me, magic happens when I write to other peoples’ prompts–in particular, Jamie’s prompts. They unlock things in my writing, and take me places I’d never considered going before. I’ve often considered kidnapping her and forcing her to feed me prompts until my manuscript is done, but my wife might object, and those pesky legal problems would really cut down on possible venues for book signings. Other peoples’ basic human rights can be such a drag sometimes.

But writing events–such as workshops, conferences, critique groups, and other get-togethers–are an important part of the writing experience. If you’re blessed, and they can somehow help you take your work to a level you don’t normally reach, so much the better. Those mountaintop experiences can recharge you, increase your confidence, and restore your passion for the writing process. The creative mojo floating around such an event can be as addictive as chocolate, potato chips, or your favorite shirt–the one you do laundry so you can wear again.

The problem with a mountaintop experience is the same thing that makes it special–you can’t go there every day. Work, kids, spouses, and the demands of everyday life require you to trek down the mountain to the drudgery you left to get there.

Here are some tips for making the best of a mountaintop experience:

  • Plan one. Climbing a mountain requires planning, and sometimes budgeting of time and money. Maybe you don’t have the required cash on hand this week, but if you take your lunch and brew your coffee at home, you can maybe find a way. Check around with other writers to find out if your intended writing experience is high-quality, though. Don’t go to one that other writers reject.
  • When you go, really go. The first ground rule of our writing experience was to turn the cell phone off. What’s the point of going, if you aren’t there? If you’re lucky, you’ll get an experience in which leader gets after you for cleaning the inbox on your smart phone when you finish the prompt, as I did. If you’re spending the money and taking the time, then make it your priority. You won’t get the full benefit unless you’re really there.
  • Separate yourself from the outside stuff. Jamie usually starts by having everyone close their eyes and breath, concentrating on the breathing, for about a minute before we start. That activity creates a border between your experience and the stuff you came to get away from. If you aren’t sure if your experience contains that, then spend a minute doing it for yourself. If you drive to get there, your car is an outstanding place to create that buffer. Arrive a minute or two early, then give yourself a separator.
  • Arrive refreshed. If your writing experience is on Saturday and you usually stay out late helping pay the workers in the alcoholic beverage industry Friday nights, maybe you should skip a week. If you get up with the baby, maybe he should. Do your best to sleep well and arrive refreshed.
  • Enjoy it. This is like a writing vacation for you. It’s a chance to get away from the crap and the kids and the chores and focus exclusively on writing. It’s a wonderful gift to yourself to help you amplify your work. Have fun and take chances–and recognize the wonderful blessing you’ve been given.
  • Understand that you have to come down. Unfortunately, all the stuff that made the day special will be there when you come down the mountain. It’s how things go. But the event should have recharged you and allowed you to integrate your renewed passion in spite of real life.
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