So I’ve been to Milford twice (2007, 2010), I’ve sold a few stories both by myself and with a partner, I belong to a professional writing critique group that contains people who have published multiple novels (some best selling), and I’m married to a professional novelist, so I must be set, right? I should be churning out story after story, novel after novel, and letting my experience with critique groups hone every noun, sharpen every verb, right? Right? Please let it be right.
I’ve found that between my day job and my family life, I don’t have the time to write the way I used to. I think great characters and plot lines while exercising (something has to disguise the pain), but I scribble them down in my “to do” notebook before petting the cats and rushing to (a very excellent) dinner. I’d love to go to Milford again, but that would mean, you know, finishing something. Anything.
So what to do? My solution is to hold one-day Write-a-Thons. I invite my writer friends over to my house and we spend the day sitting together in a large room, writing. OK, by “the day” I usually mean from around eleven or twelve to around six in the evening. I’ve tried longer, but six or so hours seems optimal. I’m also lucky enough to have a “shed” in my back garden that I’ve remodeled, so it has lights, electricity, and room for two full-sized dining room tables (each sits six-eight). Our back garden itself is fairly nice, too, and at least half the year we don’t have rain (I’m in California), so sometimes we write outside. The space works out well.
Where should you hold one if you aren’t blessed with California weather and your own giant clubhouse? Think about the area near where you live. Is there a library nearby, with a quiet space that is (or can be) private? Is there a pub or restaurant that’s slow on Sunday afternoons, that has an area that can hold you? There’s an old Mickey Rooney movie that contains the lines, “Let’s put on a show!” followed by “I have a barn!” Conspire with the writer friends you were going to invite anyway. What do they know about? Do they have giant parlors?
I mentioned a library and a pub, which brings me to the topic of food. Libraries tend to not want food (especially not liquids) near their books, and pubs want you to have lots of food and drink, provided you pay them for it. After doing many Write-a-Thons, I tend to hold them from noon to six in the evening, which means that the people coming have a chance to have a meal before and after, if they don’t want to eat during. Since my Write-a-Thons are in a giant dining room, I encourage my guests to bring snacks and drinks to share. They tend to bring fresh fruit (California, remember?), nice breads and cheese, other nice finger foods. At my house we have a supply of drinks of various sorts, so I haven’t lured anyone to a garret to starve.
What about socializing? When I first started doing this I invited pretty much all of my local writer friends, about twenty or so. I was trying the idea out, and so were they. The clubhouse is across the garden from the main house, so I encouraged people who wanted to catch up with friends to do so in the living room (parlor?). When people first arrive, there is a quick moment for catching up, but then the writing commences again in earnest. Based on feedback from friends, I’ve narrowed the list down to those who want to come and just write, with a little bit of snacking and a little bit of socializing. Others have suggested I have a dinner afterwards, for those who don’t or can’t write for six hours at a table, but who want to meet with other writers and socialize, so I’m trying that out with the next one. I’ve found that holding these Write-a-Thons roughly once a month raises my word count dramatically. Other writers who have come agree (and come back to the next one). It’s a great way to get work done, and prepare for the next Milford. Because I very much want to be ready to go again. Don’t you?
Karen Brenchley has had science fiction, steampunk, and fantasy stories appear in various anthologies both alone and with her husband, Chaz Brenchley. She founded the SF in SF reading series with Terry Bisson, and edited her husband’s Lambda Award-winning collection “Bitter Waters”. She designs analytics tools for large, unstructured data sets, is a defunct black belt in aikido, and lives in Sunnyvale with her husband, two squabbling cats, and a long-suffering turtle. See more at her website http://www.karenbrenchley.com