Writing As Sanctuary

I know it’s been a while, but now that I made it through November, I’m back to sharing my panel notes. For World Fantasy Con, some of the panels turned more into suggested reading lists, but for now, I’m going to go through the other panels, in the order I experienced them.

I attended “Writing As Sanctuary” at World Fantasy Con. I went into this panel expecting to hear stories of authors using their writing as either escapism or as a tool to process stressors in their lives. Escapism either as a distraction from real-world issues, OR as a way to create a new world, with those issues fixed.

The actual discussion was a lot more nuanced, but less focused.

The panelists were Jacob Baugher, JD Blackrose, JL Gribble, and K. Ceres Knight, moderated by Anna La Voie.

The discussion started off exploring the motivations behind people’s writing and the reoccurring themes they explored, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Most wrote for themselves — but with the intent of publication — seeking that external validation. Only a few used their writing to explore alternative choices — either personally or historically.

Themes They Found In Their Writing

Some writers write themes explicitly into their work. Others only recognize it when they begin editing. And sometimes? You only recognize your themes when the same issues keep coming up, novel after novel. Here were some of the themes the panelists found in their writing – intentionally or not.

  • Non-dystopian post-apocalypse
  • The Holocaust
  • Mother-daughter relationships
  • Cyberpunk — in order to have control over their world

Which is better: To Be Writing or To Have Written?

It’s a reality for many of us writers — the process itself can be agony. I found it inspiring to hear how much of a struggle even published writers still find it. And how many also resort to procrasti-cleaning!

  • Some, like Baugher, were shocked to learn people could enjoy writing. He forces words out and is working on trying to change his own mindset.
  • Sometimes, real-world tragedies strike too close to home and you can’t write. Blackrose spoke of knowing when to push through, and when to step back. Then, when it’s time to return to the keyboard, she aims for just 500 words to regain her momentum.
  • Writing a novel is intimidating and that can make it hard to start. But 30,000 sounds a lot more doable. You can approach writing like Blackrose. She just wrote 30,000 words four times, and she had a novel.
  • Gribble uses gamification to get her words in. She wrote her 3rd novel, just using 5-minute sprints. Her best writing day was also the day she washed all of the windows.
  • Many of us, like Knight, love writing — when inspired. But most of her writing is deadline based.
Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.
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Do you find sanctuary in a private journal?

Some writers swear by them. I know many writers who collect journals by the trunkful. But, advice doesn’t always sync up with reality so I was curious how these writers would answer. How useful are they in practice?

  • Some, like Gribble, find them a waste of words. Why journal when you could be writing paying work?
  • Some use it for free writing when the words just won’t flow.
    Baugher uses this process about once a week as a sort of 10-minute warm-up for his novel writing — his is mostly profanity.
  • Blackrose doesn’t journal per se, but she blogs…
  • Major life events can make journaling helpful. Knight only found herself journaling when she going through her divorce.
  • Some use it to manage stress. La Voie only journals sporadically but she finds it helps with her anxiety.

Knight and I agree: no writing is ever a waste. You’re always learning, always practicing.

What works for someone else, won’t necessarily work for you. Journal only if you’re actually getting something out of it.

Do you have your own writing sanctuary?

Now, me? I have a desk in a library alcove off my family room. But ever since I got a laptop, I find myself on my couch for most of my writing, with the occasional restaurant-based write-in. Not that I haven’t snuck words in at work or on my smartphone. There’s a reason I use GoogleDocs — it can auto-sync, you can use it offline, and it’s available for free on all my devices. I might not be the Google fangirl I was before they dropped 8 of the products I’d adopted… but some habits die hard.

But, I always find it fascinating to learn where other writers work.

  • Some, like Knight, can write anywhere that’s relatively quiet.
  • Some, like Gribble have home offices. But?
    • She NEVER uses it to write in.
    • She spends most of her time in Starbucks, on her couch, or the counter in her kitchen.
    • Gribble WILL, however, edit her writing in that perfect home office.
  • Some, like Blackrose, will write anywhere — even at her day job when things are slow.
  • Some libraries, like Blackrose’s, have writing centers you can use
    • On Sundays, she has permission to use the Writer-In-Resident’s office — it makes her feel like a ‘real’ writer!
  • And some have home offices they actually write in!
    • Baugher came home from a convention and found his wife had turned their 2nd bedroom into an office for him.

Do you use writing as an escape from life?

This question could have gone in so many directions, but somehow we got back to procrasti-cleaning again. As a procrasti-cleaner myself, I was happy to be in such good company. 

  • You can use laundry to avoid writing like Blackrose
  • You can use writing sprints as breaks from chores like Gribble
  • Or!
  • You can leave the house to go write, so you can avoid laundry altogether, like Knight.

How much do you reread before you restart your writing?

Personally, I only skip back a paragraph or two and then push on from there. I keep waiting for there to be a right answer to this. But of course, with all things writing related, it’s a matter of preference.

  • Some read just the start of the current scene, like Gribble.
  • Some, like Baugher, like to leave notes or hints for what’s going to happen in the next scene.
  • Some reread it all.
  • Some, like Blackrose, use the first 7,000 to 15,000 words as a sort of giant outline, and then fill in.
  • Some write in layers. First getting the action out and the plot, then coming back and filling in the descriptive narrative, like Knight.

Critiques That Made You Regret Sharing Your Writing

Even if writing isn’t your sanctuary, it can be scary to share your words and thoughts with the world. And sometimes, critics can be harsher than they know.

For Baugher’s first writing workshop, for his first critique ever, another writer told him, “Stop writing now — this sucks!”

One writer’s mother doesn’t do fantasy, and after they opened up and shared their novel, the response was, “how do you think of these things?”… and not in an awed sort of tone.

Gribble once had a critic complain about the orgy. One problem? Her novel contains ZERO orgies…

Knight once watched a teacher lay into a fellow classmate for half-assing the assignment. Which, not only was discouraging for the student in question, but also, I’d imagine, inhibiting the other students from trying new things.

Blackrose once wrote a Seders in Space humor piece, pulling from her own experiences. A non-Jewish friend hated it and felt it mocked the Jewish stereotypes. Her Jewish friends and family loved it.


And the two final questions from the panel? The answers were in unison.

How does marketing interfere with the sanctuary of writing?

A Lot.

and

Do you write as a sanctuary for your readers?

YES.

So, a bit more of an exploration of their lives as writers, but altogether a panel I enjoyed.


Do you use writing as a sanctuary?

Do you use books as a sanctuary? What are some of your favorites?

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Writer’s Block – Intimidated By The Blank Page

I never thought it would happen to me.

I was arrogant and short-sighted.

I thought writer’s block was censoring out bad writing (you know, like rough drafts), an inability to apply butt-to-seat, or thinking you’re going in the wrong direction but not knowing the right one.

I didn’t think the blank page could scare me until I decided it was time for me to try something new.

Now? I understand.

Searching for a story

For the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize it’s time for me to start something new.

But what? A new story in my old world? A new world? A story in the real world?

And whose story should I tell?

I’ve been rolling settings and motivations around in the back of my brain. Letting ideas flow through my head without conscious attention, enjoying the feel of the endless possibilities.

And tiptoeing around my fears.

The thoughts that intimidate me?

Hand holding a magnifying glass

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Basically all the good reporter questions:

  • Who are my characters?
  • What do they want? What’s their goal? What stands in their way?
  • When and where is this set? [Either in the real world or on a technological advancement scale.]
  • Why? Why is this my story? Why do the characters want their goal?

Behind these questions, though, is where my real fears lurk.

Maybe what I’ve already written is better than any new world. Maybe the manuscript I’m querying was just a fluke. I know that story better than this vague inkling of an idea, how could I possibly do this new story justice?

Except, of course:

Signpost

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The Only Way Out Is Through

I’d contemplated and thought about my first world for years before I wrote it.

This new story? These new characters? This new world? They’re all so durn new to me, they’re basically transparent. I don’t know them yet, how can I even imagine I could tell their tale?

But then I remember, it took me three attempts to figure out my first world, to actually get past that 20,000-word mark and get the full story out of me. Three tries before I committed and followed the story till it was long enough.

You know what happened AFTER I finished writing 131,000 words in my then-brand-new manuscript?

After I finished and looked around is when I began to realize the theme of my story–what it had been working toward the whole time. And every draft, it becomes clearer and stronger and better plotted.

The only way for me to know for sure what story is trying to come out of me is for me to write it.

So now what?

A path through a garden

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My (Writing) Path Forward

They say every writer works differently, and that sometimes a writer’s method will even change from story-to-story.

My plan right now is to try what worked for me the last couple times.

Writing Plan

  1. Pick a setting
  2. Pick a character
  3. Do a stupidly high-level outline. Something like:
    • ch 1 – inciting incident
    • ch 2 – complain to a friend
    • … ch 19- final battle!
    • ch 20 – denoument
  4. Start at a beginning (likely 2 chapters early while I explore the world and main character) and write until I get stuck
  5. Look at the outline. Either:
    • it helps
    • or
    • I need to rewrite the outline cause I’m going a different direction

When you’re starting a new project, what’s your process?

Do you just wait for a new idea to intrigue you and start writing while it’s fresh?

Or do you decide when you want to write something new and seek out that new idea?

As always, thanks for watching and feel free to subscribe (<<<<) I’ll be back again next Thursday with more writing tips and writerly musings. If there’s something you’d like me to talk about, feel free to email me at morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com. See you next week.