Choosing The Best Writer’s Events

Conference? Retreat? Residency? Summer Class? Online Instruction? Choices, choices…

It’s January. The calendar has turned over a new year. Fresh opportunities await. But it also means it’s time to plan.

In spite of the decline in book shops, and the squeeze on publishers, I feel lucky to live in a day and age when there are many available events for writers. I’d likely jaunt from one to another, as each has its own assets and possibilities, if time and money weren’t concerns.

Unfortunately, the constraints of both mean I must choose only one. (I’m still working my day job, which means four o’clock am finds me crawling from my warm bed to shiver over my keyboard and coffee mug.)

Renee with Brenda Novak at RWA2018 in Denver, Colorado

But once a year, I take time to hone my craft, polish my skills, and meet other writers and industry professionals. These meetings help me put things into perspective, get clarity on projects, and feel less alone in the author-filled sea. Sometimes they even produce unexpected opportunities.

“All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

Renee at Noepe Literary Center in Martha’s Vineyard

Whether at a university, exotic locale, or mountaintop retreat, I treasure these moments which allow my manuscripts to receive my laser-sharp focus for an extended period of time, instead of the quick bursts it otherwise gets on a daily basis.

Author Renee Johnson during University of Iowa’s Novel Intensive Study.

The University of Iowa is world renowned for its tough love style of whipping its writers into shape. But that can quickly forge relationships, and push the boundaries of the work-shopped story into new directions.

Iowa’s campus is dotted with literary encouragement.

“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” –E. L. Doctorow

WNBA Charlotte, NC Chapter with Min Jin Lee seated in center and Renee standing directly behind.

For me, it’s as important to build relationships with other writers and readers as it is to construct the novel. I don’t have writers in my family, although, my grandmother loved to write poetry, and my relatives could always be counted on for–spinning a yarn–their version of a tall tale.

The Write Life recently published a list of 37 retreats to consider in 2019. Some are in foreign places, but they do issue the reminder that while traveling afar to be inspired by new sites, sounds, and tastes can be an investment in your writing career, it isn’t necessary.

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” –W. Somerset Maugham

I find that travel does inspire me to write something new, often from a perspective I’d not previously considered. This is fantastic if stuck in a writing rut, but for those novels already in existence–those half-finished, finished but unedited, or outlined for a series–the closed attic door with me throwing the lock behind it might be the best idea.

Often, it’s best to breathe a little fresh air, inhale sunshine, and watch the sun cast shadows from its various positions in the sky as day turns to night.

Sunrise at Virginia cabin

So, I’m posing this question to you, dear readers. Where do you go for inspiration? For clarity? For time and space to hone your craft–whether writing, quilting, painting, arts, etc.?

Renee Johnson is the author of Behind The MaskHerald AngelsAcquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a romantic-comedy, and a historical novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and two very spoiled German shepherds named Hansel and Gretel.

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  1. You live a rich life, Renee. I don’t know how you find the time and energy to do everything you do with writing, promoting, AND working….ugh. I can’t say that I have any one place or method of enticing the muse. In other words, I’m terribly undisciplined. But I find inspiration in random places. The shower, in bed, the top of a mountain, or on a long, dusty, gravel road getting to the top of a mountain. My muse is selfish and visits only in solitude.

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