Saturday, January 11: This morning, Rosie and I are going to the Poets and Writers LIVE! event in Los Angeles, but before we do, we take a nice walk around the Toluca Lake neighborhood. Being in LA, it’s hard to believe it’s January. Back home in Virginia we’ve had below freezing temperatures and snowfall after snowfall, and here in sunny LA, it feels like a spring day.
We drive to the Poets and Writers Event, which, much to my surprise, is just around the corner from Abbott Kinney Boulevard, the main drag that my sister Stephanie and I explored when I was in Los Angeles at the beginning of my trip.
Poets & Writers magazine was started in 1970 to help writers. Editor-in-chief Kevin Larimer introduces the event, the first of many face-to-face events that Poets & Writers will sponsor around the country. The event is organized into four sessions of 1 1/4 hours each.
In session one, Larimer discusses why we want to publish: 1) for validation and 2) so people can read our work. As authors, he suggests, we should buy books and literary magazines, thus supporting the community we want to be a part of. He advises that an agent is helpful to writers when sorting through complicated publishing contracts, as he/she can give legal advice.
In session two, a number of speakers discuss how to build community in the Los Angeles area. This is the least interesting talk to me, since I don’t live in LA and can’t take advantage of the myriad opportunities. The general consensus: “Creativity flourishes in community.” Suggestions for building community include surveying the neighborhood you’re in and encourage whoever wants to participate. Align what you’re doing with your own needs as a writer, because the needs of the organizer should be met as much as the needs of participants.
Opportunities to connect abound: 1) Find an art buddy to check in with to see whether you’re writing or not; 2) Make writing dates, where you get together with another writer in the same room to write; 3) Have writing practice groups where you practice meditation and then do a “fevered writing;” 4) Join writing groups where you get feedback within a set of guidelines. This gives you a way to know how your work is “landing;” 5) Put together readings with other people; 6) Approach a publisher with a common-themed group project.
Other advice: 1) Find your own niche and 2) to inspire your own writing, get out of your element.
If you decide to form a writing workshop, try to discuss the works in a positive way: 1) What meaning did you get from that? 2) What did you notice in a piece of work? 3) Invite people to ask questions about form, content, what if? Guidelines in a writing workshop should apply to everyone. Someone should be chosen to facilitate in a smooth manner, using humor to transition. Try to be communicative and transparent. The workshop facilitator should be consistent about times and run a tight shift.
Sound advice: As a writer, the best thing you can do is to read aloud your work.
In session three, a panel of writers have an interesting discussion about writing, and answer questions from the audience. Ron Carlson, American novelist and short story writer, most recently wrote Return to Oakpine. He talks about his life as a short story writer. Poet Harryette Mullen, who wrote Sleeping with the Dictionary, shares her story about being a poet. Novelist Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, discusses his style of writing and why he loves the craft. Meghan Daum, an American author, essayist, and journalist (L.A. Times columnist) who wrote My Misspent Youth, The Quality of Life Report and Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House says she became a writer because she literally couldn’t do anything else. She had no other talents. I doubt that’s true, but it makes for some funny stories.
The panel discusses writing in different mediums: crayons, chalk, or play dough — to spark creativity. Draw pictures. Think of five things and draw one, write a caption, add five more lines. Play Sculptionary or Lego-nary. Always try to trick your mind into opening up. Just sit in a chair, stop whining, and do it.
In the final session, author Dani Shapiro reads from her book Still Write. I always love it when I hear authors speak about how, no matter how many times they’ve been published, they still feel dread and self-doubt when they sit down to write. That’s how I feel, of course, so to know that published authors feel that way gives me some small bit of encouragement.
Dani writes a blog about the creative process: Dani Shapiro. She wants her book Still Write to be a companion to fellow writers, similar to Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life or Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary. It’s about beginnings, middles, ends, and the puzzle-like pieces of writing. She challenges writers to write about the things they do that they’d be mortified by if anyone knew about them.
After one of our breaks, I come back to my seat to find a Chinese man sitting next to me, in what had been an empty seat. He hands me a card: Da Chen. His latest published novel is My Last Empress.
He asks if I’m a writer.
I hem and haw. “Yes, I’ve written a novel.”
“What is the title?” he asks.
“I don’t have a title yet.”
“Oh. Do you have a business card?”
“No, sorry, I don’t.” I fidget uncomfortably, feeling embarrassed by my lack of confidence and professionalism.
He turns away, having lost interest. I feel disheartened that I blew an opportunity to talk with someone who might be in a position to help me get my novel published. Live and learn, the hard way.
I am thrilled that Rosie heard about this event and that we signed up for it before it was sold out. It was so inspirational! During the time I started writing my novel in 2002, I used to go all the time to listen to authors give readings in bookstores, and I found them inspirational. They prodded me to finish the first draft of my book.
For the next several months, my goal is to get my novel done. To give the book a title. And to make up business cards for future encounters with other writers!
After the event, Rosie and I drive around the corner and stop in at The Brig for cocktails. The picture below was taken the week before when I was here with my sister. By the time we arrive here tonight, it’s dark.
We stand around drinking wine and chatting with other writers who attended the event. It’s all very lively and authorial. I feel a bit of a thrill by the whole thing. 🙂
There seems to be no food served at The Brig, so we walk out the front door and pick up some very decadent food at a food truck.
After everyone disperses, Rosie and I take a leisurely stroll up and down Abbott Kinney Boulevard, enjoying some nighttime window-shopping. If you want to see the daytime view, you can check out window-shopping on abbott kinney boulevard.
A fun and inspirational day all around! To learn more about Poets & Writers, check out this link: Poets & Writers.