Semi-coherent Reflections on Rainforest

Last week I attended the second session of Rainforest Writers Village Retreat in Lake Quinault, Washington. Going in, I was kind of worried.

A lot of that has to do with a recent flare of imposter syndrome. I’ve been struggling a lot to get this story out at all, let alone at the speed I would prefer. I was nervous everyone would already know each other and no one would talk to me and I would sit quietly in my introvert corner staring blankly at a screen unable to write more than a thousand or two words the whole time. I was worried I’d disappoint myself.

Happily, that’s not at all what happened.

As with Viable Paradise, I came away from this week with the feeling that I’ve found another branch of my tribe. Even when I awkwardly introverted, people were consistently welcoming, supportive, and wonderful. I went in nervous and left sad to part, empowered to go forward, and hopeful for the future. The best possible outcome.

And as for the time there, well. There is something very focusing about communal writing, and there is something about writing communities that almost promises music.

Afternoon Invasion of the Lodge

Afternoon Invasion of the Lodge

Much ukulele. Very singing. Such Jonathan Coulton. Many antimaths. Wow.

Much ukulele. Very singing. Such Jonathan Coulton. Many antimaths. Wow.

Photo credit to Andrew, who took some truly incredible photos over the course of the retreat. I also feel compelled to say that Rainforest is held in an absolutely gorgeous location, which was more relevant than I’d anticipated. This (just about the only photo in this post not taken by Andrew) was the view from the sitting room attached to the room I stayed in:

Lake View

In the days leading up to Rainforest, my worries drove me to outline next few chapters pretty extensively. By Friday night, I’d written so much that I ran out of outline. Saturday morning I hiked through the forest over waterfalls until I had enough to move forward again, and I actually got through all the chapters I’d wanted to write there.

In the course of the retreat, there were some excellent talks, but Fran Wilde’s about the care and keeping of deadlines was exactly the one I needed to hear. I really like deadlines and find them motivating, but when I’m overwhelmed, missing deadlines then becomes THE WORST THING. Because what I consider one of my strengths becomes the thing that is causing me to let people down in a cascading way. And I hate that.

My father has always been fond of saying that the first rule of holes is to stop digging. I’m working on it. Removing myself (literally and electronically — there was pretty much no connection of any kind functioning there) from dealing with other aspects of life at Rainforest helped me get a grip on one of my biggest stressors right now: the belief that I can write this book at all, and that it matters.

That probably sounds ridiculous — both that particular fear and that it’s been stressing me out to such a degree. In all seriousness, I love this story so much, but I feel like I’ve been slogging through this book on and off forever. It is gnawing at my brain. I’ve written and edited whole other novels in the time I haven’t finished this monster. It’s been the deadline I have pushed and pushed and pushed until I’ve driven myself crazy with my failure to actually finish the damn thing, because it feels like as long as I can’t finish this, this story that matters to me so much, I can’t finish, or do, anything.

And, come to think of it, I think maybe this is part of the reason I’ve been so anxious about writing this story. A major part of my protagonist’s character arc is coinciding perfectly with my life right now. Not in the fun way. Writing it is both cathartic and excruciating, but at least at Rainforest I made some serious headway.

So, um, yes. My fear about utter word count fail? Unfounded. Over four days, I wrote about 25,000 words. And they aren’t crap words, either. We had a bit of a competition going, and in the end I actually got first pick of prizes for writing the most of anyone in our session (though I’m reasonably convinced the Marks let me win).

First Choice

My prize — don't think I'm going to forget, Patrick =).

My prize — don’t think I’m going to forget, Patrick =).

I read the prologue of this novel aloud  a first for me  and got some very positive feedback, though I’m not terribly shocked to learn I need to speak more slowly.

I’m getting the next section organized now. I’ll keep pushing through. And best of all, I’m back at a mental place where that prospect excites me.


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