Here’s a quick story about the development writers’ conference I attended two Novembers ago. I can’t remember the name of the breakout I was in, but I was in it for the whole three days, something like four sessions together. It’s going to sound like I’m telling it to boast about something, but I’m not. If it were that, I ‘d have told it long ago.
I liked the concept. The seminar leaders gave us real-world case studies, then asked us to write something. They gave us time to write, right there in the meeting room during our session, which was far preferable to making us do homework. We submitted our work, then we were on our own, so if we finished early, we could just leave.
I have to say the assignments were challenging. Like, super challenging. They even gave us more info than we needed, so we had to sort through it and decide what we needed, or what we were going to use. It didn’t help that I was new to this kind of writing and didn’t even know what they were asking us to write. I’ve been at this three and a half years now, and I’m still learning the jargon.
At the first session, the leaders gave us our assignments, with not a very long deadline: about 90 minutes. They reminded us they’d be right there to answer any questions but not to help directly, since they wanted to get a decent assessment of where we were as writers.
Everyone got right to work. Typing away like crazy. I looked around and didn’t see anyone just sitting there, eyes wandering, eyes closed, skimming Twitter. I thought to myself, “Don’t these people know how to write?”
There was a Starbucks in the lobby of the hotel. I went over and got a pumpkin spice latte. They taste better in Boston, I tell you.
There were photos of famous people in the lobby. I don’t know why. One of them was this excellent, very cool photo of Elvis Costello. The lobby bar, sunken into the floor in very middle of the large space and super classy-looking, was full of other conference attendees who apparently got out of their sessions early or were just not going to them. I’ve heard this has been known to happen.
I walked around outside for a little while. To a guy who’s spent most of his life in Hawaii, just stepping into the cold is pretty exciting. I didn’t even think about the assignment until forty minutes or so into the assigned time.
It was a bit of a puzzle. A letter to a donor who was on the fence about a large donation. It was to name a student activities space, only he wasn’t super interested in his family’s name on the wall. What he really cared about was setting an example for his kids, so they would know that while they were financially blessed, they had a responsibility to share their money with others in meaningful ways.
I latched onto this aspect. There was a lot more info, but all I had to do was sway this gentleman toward making the gift. I thought about his not caring about the name on the building, but his kids’ recognition of giving, as an example to them.
I started (still composing in my head) with something like, “Thousands of students every year will use this space and never know the part you played. But your children will know: they’ll know where your name would be on the building , and they’ll know why it’s not there. They’ll know their father cared more about giving than about recognition…”
I got back to the meeting room about half an hour from the deadline. Everyone was still tapping away. When I finally got started, it just came right out of me. I wrote the letter in about fifteen minutes, then spent another ten making it sound pretty. I submitted it on a jump drive, by now about half the participants still working.
The next morning, my letter was on a Powerpoint slide as the good example. The leaders had made a few changes — excellent changes, I have to say — and broke down for the group what they liked (and what they didn’t) about the letter. Then they asked aloud if the writer was okay with their sharing who did it.
I was tempted to stay silent, but what the heck? I said quietly, “It’s fine.” And they said my name and the name of the university, and people around me clapped. It was nice. It felt good to be acknowledged by other writers, especially since at the time I was the one person in my company who wrote the stuff I write, so it’s a little lonely sometimes.
I was glad I volunteered authorship of the work, because it led to some really nice conversations over the next couple of days, and I got invited into conversations, and to a few dinners, and a few weeks later, someone I met there invited me to apply for a writer position at UC Davis.
Everyone writes differently, and you can scoff if you want to, but wandering around the hotel lobby with a hot latte in my hands and thinking about the time I saw Elvis Costello in concert with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra on consecutive nights was part of the writing.
It doesn’t always work like this, but very often it does: think about something else. Do something else. At a critical moment, usually dictated by a deadline, I’m embarassed to say, I sit down and it comes out.
This is all to say that although I got right to work this morning determined to focus, it didn’t quite play out this way. I had an afternoon phone call, during which I spoke with my boss about this cancer center outline. This followed Tuesday’s Zoom meeting with the whole department during which I admitted I was embarassed by this position I’d found myself in with this project: taking so long that now I had to make it really good to justify the delay.
Everyone was understanding, reassuring, and encouraging. Including the boss.
I was a little stuck on one last piece I wanted to flesh out. Then someone sent me a draft of that West Oahu proposal I was disapointed not to work on, asking me for some suggestions. I quickly lasered in on this, very quickly making a few changes, then emailing it back.
When I switched back to the cancer center thing, it was right there. I typed away for ten minutes and it was ready to share.
It’s not great. It’s going to be savaged by the many hands who have to approve it. But it was going to be savaged anyway, in whatever condition it was in, because collaborative writing works this way. It’ll work as starting point, and that’s all they asked me to give them more than a week ago.
Anyway, it feels good to finally have submitted it.
Last night during the walk, I picked up a loco moco for a late dinner. I mentioned this. I didn’t mention that I also stopped at Kamehameha Bakery (which opens at 2 in the morning, and I was in the area) and picked up a couple of doughnuts. That was Wednesday’s breakfast.
Terrible, I know.
I didn’t really have lunch, ‘though I may have had some bread pudding as a snack. Also picked up from the stupid bakery. I hate that bakery.
When my workday ended, I just went to bed. Slept from like 7 until 10:30 in the evening. Then got up and made that gyoza I prepped Monday night. It came out great, if without a restaurant-quality photogenicness. It was fun. And I’m pleased with the effort.
I goofed off on my phone and listened to podcasts, and now it’s 4:33 a.m. and I’m about to attempt sleep after what I will call a good day.
No, I did not go for a walk. Ugh. My feet and knee are still aching from yesterday’s walk. The next time I go, I’m going to wear the old shoes and see if that makes a difference.
Sylvia and I switched between texts and work Skype to talk about her book club and a bunch of other stuff.
Crush Girl texted me to ask what I think of the J. K. Rowling stuff. I expressed what I thought was a pretty good opinion, but then in our conversation I realized I didn’t know what led to the writer’s sharing these opinions anyway, and that’s the stuff that Crush Girl was really asking about. I still don’t know — I only read one article about the stituation, so I’ll find one more Thursday and get the background.
The group text with the engineering firm ladies was interesting. We talked about ducks, mostly. Suzanne has ducks in her yard and one of them might be injured. I mostly just participated passively but it was a funny series of messages.
I reached out to Ali in Boston but didn’t hear back.
I’m feeling more at peace right now than I’ve felt in several days, perhaps a couple of weeks. It’s an unusual feeling. I’m going to ride it for as long as I can. Which, based on history, could be weeks or minutes.
I’m considering two options for Thursday, which is a state holiday in Hawaii. Will wake up in a few hours and decide then.
Which means I have a lot of time if you’re looking for connection. Reach out. I’m here for it.