Writing conference a necessary and enlightening indulgence     

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Last weekend, I did something I’ve never done before: I went to a creative writing conference.

It’s true — I’ve been writing for 24 years, and never allowed myself the indulgence of attending a writer’s conference. I could hear my Depression-survivor mother whispering in my ear, “It’s too much money — you don’t really need that,” which translates into “Just because you want something doesn’t mean you deserve to have it.”

It’s taken me half a century or so, but I’m gradually unraveling the “do without” mentality of my upbringing. I’ve made huge progress. Sometimes I just buy those dang pink kitchen sponges at full price, because I deserve them, dammit!

It’s all about the baby steps, people.

Attending this conference was a big step, and I knew it was in the right direction, because Enterprise icon Bob Dunning was leading one of the workshops. Ah, Dunning … every time I think of him, the “To Sir, With Love” soundtrack starts playing in my head.

Dunning was a sign: “Follow this trail.” It’s his fault that I’m on this writer’s path, after all. He is a major plot point in my life. For those of you who aren’t screenwriting geeks, a plot point spins the entire story about and shoots it off in a new direction. If not for Bob, I’d be head of the Yolo County Department of Social Services by now, making roughly three times my current “salary,” with full benefits and retirement, and hey, I’d probably be able to actually afford to retire right about now.

Hey, Bob — have I said thanks lately?

Another feature conference attraction was keynote speaker Catriona McPherson. I’ve interviewed McPherson a couple times about her latest awards for her wry, witty “Dandy Gilver” mystery novels, and she’s simply delightful and amusing. And that Scottish accent! So mesmerizing, even though I have to ask her to translate a word into English from time to time.

I attended workshops led by an amazing array of authors, each offering expertise and advice. In particular, business advice. Rather than focusing on “how to write” classes (I know how to do that), I focused on the “what to do with what you’ve written” classes (I have no clue about that), such as publishers, literary agents, contracts, copyrights, taxes.

Shut up. Those things are super-interesting.

Of all the classes I attended (each one top notch — hats off to UoP professor Scott Evans for putting this conference together!), the real takeaway gem was led by UC Davis professor/Poet Laureate Andy Jones.

No, it wasn’t about poetry. I hate to break anyone’s heart here, but I just don’t have the patience for poetry. Poetry usually leaves me fighting the urge to plunge my fingers into my eyes and slowly dig. Get to the damn point already!


Jones’ focus was “productivity,” something I supremely suck at. (We’re allowed to end sentences in prepositions now. I read it on the internets.) That may seem odd, given that I manage to produce a column every week. But that’s work, not my “real” writing: books, novels and screenplays I’ve mapped out in my head, and in some cases even started, and then abandoned after three chapters because they weren’t perfect.

“Perfectionism and How to Overcome It.” Scott Evans, please add that workshop to next year’s conference.

Jones offered all sorts of productivity tips, and gave examples of two “daily writing rituals” from highly productive authors. I liked the “ritual” concept, because it implies a practical method of accomplishing something, and accomplishing “something,” or “anything,” would be a vast improvement over what I’m accomplishing now.

Unfortunately, the lives of those authors and mine are a universe apart. For one thing, they get up at 5 a.m. every day. The only way I’m getting up at 5 a.m. is if I’ve had insomnia since 3 a.m., and lying in bed any longer is getting boring.

Also, both had “people” to do their chores. One no longer “wasted time” doing laundry — he had someone pick it up every day and return it to him all clean and pressed. I’m a weekly newspaper editor. I cannot afford “people.” I am my “people.”

Secondly, aside from their writing, neither had to go to work. I could write like a wildfire too if I had the whole day to myself!

Thirdly, both claimed to read the Bible every morning for 30 minutes. I call shenanigans. These guys are big, fat liarheads. That Bible bit is just flagrant P.R.

I scratched Bible off the list and replaced it with Facebook, because I am nothing if not honest.

All that said, was the class a waste? Oh, heck no. The heart of the matter came screaming through:

I need to take responsibility for my time and how it’s spent. And so, I started keeping a time diary this week to analyze where my time goes. It includes a few things those expert authors didn’t do: Stare into closet full of clothes and wonder why there’s nothing to wear; heave self onto elliptical and ponder the absurdity of so much effort for so little result; sip coffee and accept that it’s time to go to work — weep a little.

Keeping a time journal has been enlightening. The elephant on the monitor is clearly social media, a necessary evil, but a ravenous one as well. To stop feeding the beast, I’m shaving time from social media to create time for my “real” writing. Additionally, I’m not judging myself. All attempts shall count, even if all I manage to do is turn my laptop on and stare at it. Sadly, that is a vast improvement.

Success comes down to time, and how you spend it. Or in my case, waste it. Finally, at age 55, I need to start doing the adulting and be responsible for my time. And if I keep it up, maybe, just maybe, someday I will be able to afford “people.”

— Email Debra DeAngelo at debra@wintersexpress.com; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com

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