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There should be a joke that starts like this: “An introvert went to a writing conference…” Heck, maybe there is. Today, I think I am the joke.  I feel like I need about two weeks cloistered in a silence observing monastery somewhere.

However – although I feel like I’ve been boiled for hours and forced through a colander afterward, the PNWA conference was a lovely experience and I am so glad I went. As I sit down to write this post I hardly know where to begin – there is too much to hope to share all of it with any coherence.

It seemed that all energy was focused on pitching, at least through ’til Sunday night. Writers met – in the hallways, at lunch, waiting in lines for one thing or another – and jockeyed for the opportunity to pitch each other their stories. Agents looked a bit like deer in hunting season, wide eyed and vaguely alarmed, hoping to meet a marvelous author and get an awesome pitch, and at the same time fearful of being trapped in a corner by a rabid writer with a three page written pitch and the burning zeal to deliver every detail of a 300,000 word fiction novel.

As it turned out, agents and editors are very human after all (who knew?) and were, I think, as nervous and overwhelmed by the whole event as the writers. Some of them were chock full of intelligence, grace, and generosity, with just a few who were, well – never mind. I didn’t meet anybody who might have been a tiny bit egocentric. Not at all.

What did I learn? I don’t know yet. There are bits and pieces of wisdom bobbing around in my head, none of it coalesced just yet, but I would guess the most important things are the ones at the top, the ones that have already moved me to action.

From Bob Mayer – Have a Plan. After listening to Bob, the very first night I opened up my calendar and put some dates on it for goals. The manuscript should be done by this date, revised by this date, queried by this date. I want my book to be published within three years. That sort of thing. Of course, by the end of the conference I had completely revised my goals and added a few new ones, but the lesson remains the same.

From Andrea Hurst, agent extraordinaire – The first sentence and the first page of your novel might be all you get to impress an agent. Does it stand out from the crowd? I actually stopped several hours into my drive home yesterday to revise my first sentence, and am still pondering the first page. Also from Andrea – the reminder that your book should be connected to your blog, and your blog should be drawing people to your book. I have some ideas about this that excite me, although there is a fair bit of work attached.

From my writing friends – one agent might be totally blase about your pitch, the next excited. It’s a subjective business. You need to find the right person.

From editor Paul Dimas and agent Rita Rozenkrantz – I may have a non-fiction book in me. I am inspired enough to do some research, to investigate this niche, to see whether the need I think is there truly exists.

Other random things – have fun. Follow your imagination, but pay attention to the market. The world is changing. We need stories, and will continue to need them whether in book or electronic formats. There is money to be made in the non-fiction market.

Well, I have work to do: material to send out to agents; real life tasks put on hold for the last few days while I focused completely on writing. And, I have writing to do. That doesn’t ever stop, no matter what.

Last summer I took what was a big step for me – I attended a one day writer’s conference – “Write on the River” – in Wenatchee, Washington. It was inspirational and educational and fun. I learned some things that improved the manuscript I was working on exponentially.

But it was only one day, and I wanted more. So this year, I decided to really invest in myself as a writer. I signed up for the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Conference in Seattle. In about an hour, I will be heading out of town on a whole new adventure.

I’ll be sharing a hotel room with a friend I met on Twitter – Johanna Harness – a social media whirlwind responsible for creating the #amwriting tag on Twitter, and an up and coming writer of YA and MG fiction. We haven’t met in person, but talk daily online, and have read and critiqued for each other. We also have plans to meet with some other online folks, most notably Levi Montgomery – check out his novellas, available in eformat. This man can write!

The schedule looks packed – between keynotes, workshops, lunches and dinners, and agent pitches (yes, I will be pitching to two agents) – but I’ll try to find some time to share a little of what I’m learning here.

As always, anxiety and writerly neurosis loom at the edges of my psyche but I am determined to fend them off. A great adventure awaits – writers to meet, skills to learn, fun to be had. This is no time for self doubt or insecurity.

Hey – if nothing else – it’s a few days away from the job in a nice hotel. I can live with that.

I have news.

After multiple rewrites and bone deep revisions, I have finally finished Swimming North.

I sense a little skepticism from some of you, and I can’t say I’m surprised. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve announced, “I’m done!” with great jubilation, only to realize that the true story had escaped me yet again.

David still looks at me askance when I say I am done. He tells me he will believe when I actually submit it to an agent. I suppose I can’t blame him – we have been at this landmark before. In fact, at times the writing of this book has resembled a Groundhog Day Adventure, with me tearing at my hair and lamenting over the need for yet one more rewrite.

Swimming North has tested my commitment more than any other writing project or task I have set for myself.  For one thing, there has been the grief – the loss of the friends who inspired it in the first place. But there is more. Always, since the beginning of our journey together, this novel has refused to fit neatly into any clear genre, has morphed and twisted from one shape into another, escaping my best attempts to find its natural form.

As I read through it now ghosts linger between the lines – eliminated scenes, beloved phrases, characters who lived through the course of several drafts only to find themselves excised before the end.

It should not surprise me, I suppose. As MC Escher said, “Are you really sure that a floor can’t be a ceiling?” This is the essence of Swimming North – the idea that every life, every story can be seen from another perspective, that reality is not Single but Many, and perhaps is limited only by our ability to perceive.

Even now, when I know it is done, I can think of several other ways to tell this tale that I have not yet tried. But enough is enough. As my main character Vivian knows – too many realities can make you insane.

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