Authors Visiting in Iowa

I was thrilled to see that Anne Lamott would be a speaker for the Des Moines Public Library AVID program this year. Her book, ‘Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life’, has been an essential in my writing reference library. Whenever I need a little motivation, I pull it out. I have had some success with shorter pieces but novel length fiction has eluded me. I have to admit, I find the whole experience intimidating. I crank out 1100 words each month for my article in Women’s Edition without fear but even thinking about writing anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 words can make me freeze. So I try not to think about it. That is what ‘Bird by Bird’, is all about. Anne’s brother had to write a book report about the birds in the area.  He didn’t say anything to anyone until the weekend before it was due and then he confessed to his father that he didn’t know how to do it.  His father told him to focus on writing about one bird at a time and that is what he did.

I have been struggling with my current project for way too long and I know I have to get going or it will never happen. So far, I have a rough outline of the major plot points and I have written a couple of scenes in the beginning. What stopped me was that after I started writing, I started seeing the holes in my plot that really weren’t there while I was developing it. Well, they were there but I just couldn’t see them until I actually started writing. Instead of concentrating on that single scene, I shifted my vision to the whole story again and my internal editor clicked on to make my writing life difficult again. Even with holes, I know it’s nothing that I can’t fix but it was enough to make me question my ability again. I am not giving up. In fact I have scheduled a long weekend with the intention of spending time specifically working on my novel. I felt a little better when one of my critique partners admitted that she had the same experience with her current work in progress. The fact that she has eight books out already, made me feel better. If she still struggles, it isn’t just me. The big difference is that because she has written so many books already she knows that by pushing forward she will get it done.  As I sit down to write, I will focus on one scene at a time until I reach the end.

If you’ve had the urge to write and need some inspiration, I would suggest picking up a copy of Anne’s book.  Don’t ask to borrow mine though, I managed to get that original book autographed. It now sits in a special spot on my bookshelf – until the next time I need a little motivation.

Writing Retreats

This is a picture of one of my writer friend’s house. It’s in a small town in Iowa and it has been in her family for a hundred years.  My friend
has been kind enough to invite me and several other writer friends to stay for writer’s retreats and also a couple of workshops in the past. The house is beautiful. The back porch was used by a local dairy shooting a commercial for the company’s 100thanniversary.

The house is situated on a corner lot and the front porch sits at an angle. You can’t miss it as you drive into town.  There are four bedrooms up with a huge bathroom and a claw foot tub.  One of the bedrooms is across the hall from another porch above the front door. When the weather is hot, you can open the bedroom door and the door to the porch to catch a nice breeze.  As you walk down the front stairway, yes there are two, you pass a stained glass window and step into the front foyer. A hat tree greets you with lots of vintage hats hanging there.  To the left is the front parlor and if you follow the hallway past that parlor it takes you to the dining room and the back parlor with an office/bedroom and half bath off of that.  The kitchen is a wide galley with an area big enough for a round table and a couple of chairs that sits between two doors that lead to the butler pantries. One has been updated to hold the washer and dryer now but the other has built in glass front cupboards that hold several sets of dishes.

The house is large enough that we could each find our own space to write during the day but we all eventually got together for coffee or tea.  We made it an event by choosing our favorite cup and saucer from our friend’s collection.

When it was time to stretch our legs we’d take a walk and discover the town. This house is only one of many old Victorians. The streets are made of pavers and there are a lot of churches. The grocery store is smaller than we were used to and it was a surprise to find out that the town is dry.  To buy alcohol you have to go to a convenience store outside of the city limits.

Our time there was magical and some have attributed it to the house. I do agree that the setting was inspiring but I also think as a whole we created an artistic energy that is hard to reproduce on our own. Some times as I struggle with my own writing, I dust off those memories and picture myself curled up in the front parlor with my notepad and pen as someone suggests a writing prompt and then I’m off writing again.

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