Blue, Blue Heaven

If you’re a spec fic writer, you’ve probably heard of Blue Heaven, a novel writing workshop/retreat that’s been running for 10 years now.  I’d never been to Blue Heaven, but was familiar with the format. What I appreciated at this particular point in my career is that, unlike Wellspring last year, this one wasn’t solely a workshop anymore, but more of a writing retreat. After the last month (really, the last year) I’ve had related to the business side of publishing, getting away from the daily grind of life and getting back to what this whole thing is about – the writing – was invaluable for me.

Being a writer often feels like a very lonely business. Everything you go through, it feels like you’re going through it alone, and that No One Ever in The History of The World has ever had your sales numbers, or your contract problems, or your fears and challenges. It turns out, of course, that no writer is a special snowflake. We’ve all been through various permutations of these challenges, and it was refreshing to get honest discussion related to business, craft and careers that you just can’t get anywhere else, outside of maybe a small group discussion at a con.

I was carrying so much anxiety with me before Blue Heaven that I actually chose to drive down, even knowing it was a 12 hour drive from Ohio to the east coast. I left right after work the Friday before the workshop, drove almost five hours to Lewisburg, West Virginia, spent the night at a Sarah-Conner-hiding-out-from-the-Terminator type motel, and then drove the last 5-6 hours on Saturday.

All that zen travel time gave me the opportunity to relax and destress and start to focus again on my current project.

I love the ocean and living on the coast more than anything, so sharing a house with a bunch of other writers that was right on the beach was pretty remarkable, for me. The fact that so many people lived on what is basically a sand bar was a little disconcerting, but it was a nice place to visit.

I wrote like a mad person last week, clunking through 4-5000 words a day, with a last big push on Thursday when I stayed up until 1am just so I could hit 9000 words for the day. Peer pressure is a grand thing. There’s something about sitting in a big room with writers who are generally all, you know, *writing* to jumpstart your own writing output.

sandy beach

We had a couple great days of weather, and I collected far too many shells off the beach. I also discovered the first day, when I tried to jog on the beach, that the sand on the shores of the east coast is not at all the same as that on the west coast – it’s less dense and hard packed, and made jogging a slog. So I had to go back up to the road and jog there instead. No great loss, but funny. Sometimes you have these grand images in your head about how things will go, but geology and geography have other ideas.

As with so many things in life.

One of the great learning lessons about my last year of experience in the publishing biz is that it really started to put things in perspective, for me. When I start to snark about covers, or copyediting, or even small contractual things, they all felt very small, almost frivolous. Sure, these things are still important to me, but compared to the shanking emotion of the possible bankruptcy of your publisher and complete loss of thousands in outstanding payments, well… a couple typos in a book just fail to inspire the same furious feeling.

Writing so much fiction in such a short time reminded me what I love so much about writing it: you get to create something from nothing. You take this scenes and images and people directly from your head, and you put them down on paper. You get to share them. It’s the closest thing we have to sharing our thoughts with others in a tangible way; something less impermanent or prone to distortion than speech, and hopefully more difficult to dismantle than a monument (after all, writing has multiple copies and formats. Monuments can be eliminated with a single  act of destruction).

I could spend the rest of my life at the beach, just writing.

I drove home on Saturday, sneaking quickly out of the house at 6:30 a.m. because I am a sorry emotional sap about goodbyes, and got home at 6:30 p.m. that night, to a house full of dogs and curry in the slow cooker, and a garden of lilacs and blooming red bud and magnolia trees.

It’s not a bad life, here. There’s hope. There’s good things.

If I learned nothing else from the kindness and humor of the other writers I spent time with last week, it’s that as long as you keep writing, you can get through just about anything.

Blue Heaven, for me, was trying to go forward by going back to the beginning, to what this nutty biz is all about.

The excellent company helped. Excellent company + liquor was even better.

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