Facts, Truths And Focus: Retreats And Workshops Are What You Make Them

Let me tell you a simple truth. Retreats and workshops are tools. They are things which are able to sharpen the talent and gifts that you have. Being a writer does not make you a wizard, dear one. This is gift is one that you must work at, and work to be successful. Good writing doesn’t just occur. It doesn’t just happen–it is worked at. One of the reasons such resources exist are to encourage those whom write the confidence to write better! There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve you talent. There is nothing wrong with believing  you do something well, only to desire to that thing better! Writing, truly pursuing this–will require an investment; the primary investment is time. Always time. Let me give this formula:  Facts + Truths = Focus.  The fact is simple:  you are a writer.  The truth is, you could write better–there is a way to do what you do better. With those things compiled will only yield focus! It is this simple formula which will prepare you for the challenges posed by and through any workshop or retreat. Don’t push away from this process, dear Oracle. If you want to write, be a better writer even, you must write.

Writing In Community-Why Retreats Are (Not) Needed–The Cons

Writing retreats, if not taking seriously, are vacations! You are basically wasting people’s time otherwise! If you don’t write at home, in your dedicated writing space, what makes writing in place where you have to pay to be at will be any different? Let me tell you why you should think twice before you into a writing workshop:

  1. Time. Writing is labor and time-intensive. It just is! If you can’t figure out how to write when you need to at home, why would you want to divert from your daily routine in order to write? These spaces are reserved for people whom want to write, and need the space to do so! Consider the value of your time, and everyone else’s before you attend.

2. Scheduling. Most writing retreats operate on and in certain time constraints. You have to be there at a certain time, to leave at a certain time, and while you’re there? The expectation is that you fully participate in your chosen or assigned workshop. If you aren’t there to learn or participate fully in your craft, why waste time and money?

3. Focus. One of the reason (even if it is the most basic) why you shouldn’t go on a writing retreat is it will require you to focus. It will require you be steadfast in the same resolve that got you there in the first place! You decided to invest in your talent by way of a retreat. One of those ways you pay it forward from that investment is focus. This 5-letter world will enable you to accomplish all you planned to do in this particular arena! Without it, nothing can be done! Be mindful that even though retreats can be restful (and should be!), you came there on and for a mission. Use your time wisely, and invest where you want to best reap maximum benefit.

If you desire to write, to be a writer, you are going to have to get comfortable writing! Whether alone, in groups, or if no one else will read it. Nothing can be read if you don’t write it first. If you won’t write at home, save you money, honey. A retreat is not what is needed–redirection is.

Retreat Or…Retreat?

 I am both a fan and suspicious of writing retreats. I believe in the right context these types of investments are invaluable. As a writer, you must understand that is only one component of your hobby or career. The mechanics and development of your skills as a writer are totally dependent on your willingness to take them both seriously. This can be something as simple as learning a word a day to build your vocabulary, or following your favorite writing/writer-focused podcast (shameless plug for THE WRITERS’ BLOCK on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify! Check for the red and black logo!). But,  the cool think about retreats are they provide a way to build your writing community as well! These groups and collectives can be your secret weapons to keep you motivated to write! The best thing about workshops is how they can be so specific! There is a retreat or a workshop for any and every part of writing! For every genre, every struggle, every hang-up, and every resource! There is a retreat! Don’t discount the importance of your writing community! Being a writer does not make you omniscient to all things writing related–or impervious to criticism! The reason I am and can be suspicious of writing retreats is because they can be money grabs, and or totally unhelpful! If you spend your hard earned money on something that will help you, there is an expectation that you will get a desired outcome! There are some facilitators of these workshops or retreats whom have no idea how to facilitate them! Or prepared to answer any questions! Cardinal rule of searching out workshops and retreats is to do your research on the facilitator! Email them and ask questions! You are a writer as well as a consumer! Don’t be caught in a space where you have invested time, energy and money and come out worse for wear. Be careful, my oracles. Be wise. Be careful. Invest wisely in the development of your craft and career. The responsibility of the development of your craft is up to you.

The Base, The Roux, The Legend

WIP: Work In Progress

When you think about this concept of building a myth for a world, or specifically for a WIP, you have to be able to manipulate the information you have to get you to where you need to go. I know this seems a little a little heady or ‘out there’. But what I need you to know is you control the world you create.

The tension, the people, the towns, the time–you control all of it! With me being an amateur chef, and I like to think of cooking and writing as a type of alchemy. So, let me give you some practical encouragement which will help you in all that you will do.

The Base. A base is something that you cannot make anything with out. Think of this as the dry ingredients for a cake, or a gravy. These are things that are immutable about your story. Think of these things are your character’s identities, eye color, height and weight, even their birthdays! The base of your myth are the things which will not change.

The Roux. A roux is more specific. You cannot add, neither should you add, a roux to everything! This of a roux as a specific genre or specific to a genre. How you would write a horror story isn’t the same way you would write a mystery or a romance. A roux gives flavor to a dish! So in using this idea in your writing, a roux for a horror writer could include more specificity. More detail. This is where you can begin to examine how you want your characters to interact with the world, and how they interact with it.

Example:

Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyer have both written about vampires (base–the immutable thing.)

Anne Rice’s vampires in The Vampire Chronicles cannot go in the sun, have had a King and Queen, and a spirit (Amel) that had given all these blood drinkers their power. (roux–specificity.)

Stephanie Meyer’s vampires can go in the sun if it is cloudy enough. The Cullens (her main protag’s) feed on animal blood not human and their eyes are gold. The vampires that feed on human blood have red eyes, especially as newborns (roux–specificity.)

The Legend. What I call legendary is a myth or the making of a myth which will allow for a world to be built or multiple books written using the same myth (again, imagining Rice and Meyer). When you grant yourself the freedom to create in such a way, you allow your imagination the room to revisit a character or story.

Let me blow you mind a second: Anne Rice’s vampires didn’t just become all she imagined overnight.

She had a base (the basic idea) and then made it specific to her idea (the roux), and from there she gave herself the space to create a universe. When she took a break from her vampires, choosing to write other things (as writers sometimes do), she had enough written to substantiate going back to it–without having to recreate anything!

Even with Stephanie Meyer! She liked the idea of Jacob Black in Twilight, and wrote a book specific to him–this was New Moon. She created a myth to go along side the main myth–giving her space to write or create the Twilight Saga. She also made it all work! And as of 2020, there are seven books in that series! The latest of these books being Midnight Sun.

This, dear ones, is legendary. A recipe that you can do back to, tried and true, which you have worked at–making it your own.

You control the seasoning, what works, as well as what goes in and what you can work around.

You can do it!

The Power Of Story—Part 1

Note: This is not a horror writing blog. However, if you are interested in horror writing please see Nightlight: The Black Horror Podcast. On the show with Tananarive Due (9/19/20) there is a mention of a on-line horror writing class: The Sunken Place: Racism, Survival & Black Horror. This class is taught by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes.

Story. Noun

  1. an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.
  2. an account of past events in someone’s life or in the evolution of something.

Most writing is based around this simple idea, tell the reader something they haven’t known, would like to know, or would like to entertain them. Sometimes, the things that scare us–are some of the oldest stories we ever learn.

With this autumnal mood apparent, the one thing, I will remind you of when you begin writing is the myths are powerful things, ancient things even! This is none more apparent that in the genre of horror or speculative fiction. It is the myth which gives basis and foundation for what it is you want to create. One of the things about horror writing which is both tricky and amazing is being about to master what scares you, what scares other people and how do you make that make sense. The way you do this is myth!

What people are normally afraid of is most often based in or around a story. A myth is a story! You need an idea on which to base the thing which will scare other people–with a myth being a story, it is easily relayed, repeated and built upon if necessary.

Just think about it!

Most of the troupes we find in literature are based in or off of myths. Using horror as our hook of sorts we see this clearly. From the myth of vampires, have troupes of blood drinking, needing coffins, and incineration from sunlight (remember, a troupe is a formula!). Do not dismiss the power of a myth, and what it will add to your story or WIP. You want to give your story all you have, whether it be the first or last draft.

Keep going.

Encouragement Pages-10/05/2020, As You Go Along-Part 1

Writing requires a completely different set of knowledge. Writers have the strangest walking around information! Yet, you need this type of knowledge. When writing fiction, you will need to be able to draw from this fountain of information formed and gathered through your own life travels and experiences. The strangest thing about being a writer is how you will incorporate all of those experiences–real or read–as they may manifest into flaw for your protag, a strategy for your villain, or a skill for your underdog!

Get to it! You can do it!

Happy Writing!

With Love & Ink,

JBHarris

The Flow: Make The Way Straight

I want you to take charge of your writing space. I want you to be completely cognizant of the space you create! The Flow–your access to this creative energy–is going to be dependent on how serious you are about creating it and maintaining it! One of thing to remember about maintaining such a space is that the magic you desire to create in it is up to you (again, this is a reference from King’s On Writing)!

There is a ruthlessness to writing, my Oracles! That ruthlessness is based in how tenacious you are about writing, and your success related to it! This dedicated space, deciding to dedicate a space, is YOURS! Do what you must in it and for it. If you need music to write? Get a playlist. If you write best in the morning, set an alarm. If you need to be warm to write, get that (a blanket, sheet, hoodie, etc)! You cannot let writing just happen to you our upon you! Sometimes, you must make that happen!

Be prepared to write when inspiration hits, as some say ‘when the iron is hot’. Also, be prepared to makes those irons hot.

Encouragement Pages-09/14/2020- Begging For Support

Let me give you a Pro-tip: STOP IT.

Stop begging for support from people. Stop begging for people to read your work. Stop begging people to follow your space, your platform and what dope matter of magical amazing you are creating in your mind.

Make today, the absolute last day you beg for it.

Celebrate the people that support you, who don’t question why it is you write, how your write, and what you write about.

First and foremost, you write for you first.

You are your first fan.

With Love & Ink,

JBHarris

Encouragement Pages-08/31/2020

Let me tell you a secret.

You write better than what you think you do. You can write longer than what you think you can. How do I know this? People do what they deem important.

If writing is important, you will write. Nothing will stop you.

If writing is not important, you will not write. Nothing could compel you.

Yes, you will only get better at writing, by writing. It is that development of tenacity, that desire not to quit, which will build the confidence you need to keep writing.

Keep going. You (will) write better than what you think you do.

With Love & Ink,

JBHarris