Study the Map

We writers often invest our time in quiet pursuits, drawing inspiration from the sights and sounds around us. Birdsong, a change of wind direction and even the occasional bumps in the night–with the emotions surrounding them–can bring an unexpected flash, and even angst, until we “Go, write that down.”

  • On an envelope flap.
  • On the back of a receipt.
  • Down the margin of the morning newspaper.

And sometimes, that plot twist or new detail occurs while we’re waited at a stop sign. Or, while washing dishes, folding laundry, chopping veges or watching the grandchildren pump their legs on the swings.

Turns out, these distractions are universal among us creatives.

At my first West Virginia Writers’ conference, held annually the first weekend of June (Friday through Sunday) at Cedar Lakes Campground in Ripley, West Virginia, (you should come!) I displayed a universal freshman stance: Already carrying a backpack and newly acquired registration book bag, I held a water bottle in one hand and with the other, the vital map of the premises: Building A, Buildings B and C; the Vocational Building with Classrooms 1, 2 and 3 adjacent to the Assembly Hall. Wait. Where’s Holt Lodge? On the map, it appears to be near the red covered bridge, the one that caught my eye as I first drove in. And of course, the Cafeteria. Sleeping quarters didn’t matter near as much until well after sunset, after each day’s fun.

That first year, I was on a quest: Which of the wonderful-sounding workshops will answer all of my writing/publishing/submission questions? Ones I may not have even formulated yet.

After ten years of attending the conference as often as my schedule permits, I can still be like the freshman on Friday morning, holding the map. I blame my directional challenges. By Sunday, by the time we have the logistics all figured out, it’s time to pack.

We are all on a quest for the ultimate way in which to compose all the thoughts and observations occupying our writers’ mind. It’s more than comforting, downright revolutionary to discover we are so like-minded. That first year, before the conference, I felt as if I were becoming a writer. By sometime Saturday afternoon, I realized I already was one.

Now, to process this past weekend.

YA Wisdom: How will I take my novel for teenagers and construct a protagonist the reader can identify with? Give him a more quirky personality, and take out the stereotypical pieces.

Humor: “Two men walk into a bar. The third one ducks.” It took me a second, but when I got the joke, I was ready to incorporate more elements of surprise in my writing.

Poetry: How will I construct the most descriptive language to convey a recent, difficult phone call? Thanks to the workshop on Elements of Description, I’m more motivated to bring the words alive.

I’d have attended many more workshops had I not been giving two presentations: two on Memoir and one on Self-Publishing. Sharing my experience as a presenter with the attendees was so fulfilling, you might say it’s my new dream job.

Whenever you find yourself wondering or wandering, study the map.

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