UPDATE: Here's the pic I promised. I had to shop a big flash-glare off the asa kraiya image (I should have known that would happen), genius here also forgot to take off the phones (I know, I know--"Not period!") and I kinda wish I'd pulled the same expression as Chevenga, but I was too happy.
Photo by Lori Twining
Most of the Muskoka Novel Marathon, which took place this past weekend and Monday, was kind of schizophrenic for me, because I was there in two roles.
First, I share leadership duties with my dear friend Paula Boon, so I had to be there for set-up and breakdown, and during the marathon, which ran from precisely 8 p.m. Friday to 8 p.m. Monday EDT, part of my attention was on keeping things running smoothly, of necessity. I was constantly answering emails and skypes from remote writers, taking questions, solving problems, helping plan the next thing, etc.
Second, I also always participate as a writer, and this time I put extra pressure on myself by deciding to compete. We have judges, and you may submit your manuscript to vie for Best Novel title, either adult or YA/juvenile. Part of the adult prize is an inside track to a publishing pro, this year an agent. I have never competed before because I felt I should let unpublished writers have the chance. But so many of the others this year are published, I decided what the heck. And, while admittedly I am a co-convenor, the convenors are arms-length from the judges… Paula and I don’t even have a hand in picking them, as that’s done by our judge liaison, Lorraine Alles.
So—the marathon itself was an unprecedented success. The energy was higher and the writers were more productive than ever before. (Collectively we wrote more than 815,000 words. To put that in perspective: PA is about 1.2 million words long, ak 400,000). Our other purpose is to raise funds for literacy training for adults, and that was the most satisfying part this year. Before Paula and I took over in 2010, the marathon never raised more than $6,000 per year, and more typical years were $3,000-$4,000.
For our first year, she and I just decided to keep everything as it was, since we were just learning. Which was just as well, when we faced challenges like finding out on the Wednesday before that we might be kicked out of our venue because they’d changed their policy not to allow 24/7 use. (Me on the phone: “It’s a novel marathon. Ma-ra-thon... spell that for you?” Luckily Paula’s husband has connections, and that’s how it was solved.)
Last year we decided to kick it up a notch by revamping our website, setting a $10,000 goal and a number of other things. It all paid off with a healthy increase to $8,600.
This year, we added online donation and remote writing, which meant more writers and hence more fundraising. We also filled up instantly. I suggested to Paula that we up the goal to $15,000. Being a more prudent person than I, she felt we should wait until we made $10,000 before upping it, and I went along.
Seeing preliminary results the week before, I estimated we’d raise $11,000. That turned out to be too conservative. By Sunday it looked like it would be $13,000… but that was not adding in some last-minute money. By yesterday we were at about $14,500, before counting the donation jars. Now we’re calculating that when it all comes in, it will indeed be $15,000. That’s not much less than double last year. When we tell people, their jaws drop. The last high-five Paula and I did was deeply satisfying.
On the writing side, however, I didn’t feel so good. I was inspired going in, but as soon as I started I felt a kind of fog between me and the work. It was like going back ten years. I wrote hating every word I wrote, and when I read back I felt the malaise was showing in the work, which made me hate it on the reread. I felt I’d completely lost my writing chops. This slowed me down terribly, while all around me the prolificity mavens were running up instant page counts of 10 and 20 and 30 in what seemed like minutes. (The most rabid one, Pat Flewwelling, who will win "Most Prolific" for the fourth year in a row, produced 312 pages, or about 78,000 words, in the three days. She was barely capable of walking last night; fortunately someone else was driving her home to Montreal.)
I think the problem was that I had decided to submit. All my old issues with competition and insecurities kicked in. I should have had a nice chat with my spirit guides. Alas, I did not.
So it was schizophrenic: gloriously successful on the organizational side and miserable on the writing side. Of course I gravitated toward that which was happy, and so probably created, or tolerated, more organizational interruptions than I would have otherwise, which slowed me down even more. With just 40 pages when some others were up around 150, and not 40 wonderful pages in my opinion either, I felt tainted with fail.
On Sunday night, when I’d been intending to really produce, I ended up instead in a lengthy Google doc discussion about my book covers with Christine and Shirley, who took up the patron offer and read the work in progress on docs along with capriox, Shel and Melissa. (Thanks all for joining me.) The discussion with Christine in particular was excellent, both making me feel better and more confident about the covers, and providing some good suggestions to improve them, which I will use. Thanks again, Christine!
But through all this, I didn’t write a word of Artira. I decided late in the conversation that I would not submit to the competition after all. I didn’t have enough and it wasn’t good enough. I felt like even more of a loser, but it seemed like the best way to cut my losses.
Then Shirley suggested that I write some of Artira’s good memories of Chevenga. I quote us both in the next bit of chat:
[10:26:58 AM] Karen Wehrstein: Good in what sense?
[10:27:03 AM] Karen Wehrstein: Impressive, I've got lots of
[10:27:10 AM] Karen Wehrstein: You mean when he is loving towards her?
[10:27:18 AM] Shirley Meier: no where she feels happy to be with him
--> this is where inspiration hit <--
[10:27:28 AM] Karen Wehrstein: Just one
[10:27:30 AM] Karen Wehrstein: That's all it needs
[10:27:34 AM] Shirley Meier: yes
[10:27:40 AM] Karen Wehrstein: That one time he and I were together that was so perfect (notice, I’m her)
[10:27:44 AM] Karen Wehrstein: They are alone, and out in nature
[10:27:51 AM] Karen Wehrstein: And there is a harmony between them - that she always wants back
Thanks for the line that sparked it, Shirley!
At this point I was in tears, imagining the scene. I have a brother with whom I did not get along, with whom I have always yearned for harmony and love. (Fortunately we now do the harmony part at least by jamming.)
Any idea that makes you cry is gold, of course. I realized that if I could write the scene in which this happens well enough, I should submit.
I also knew that I was practicing what I had preached earlier. Before the marathon started, one of the writers sent a Facebook message to everyone asking what words of wisdom they had about overcoming writer’s block. I wrote a medium-length message about it, enough that when I looked at the quotes she brought, a good many were mine, maybe a quarter. My own favourite is: “Write a story that is greater than your fear.” A fine preach... how well was I practicing it? But after I had that inspiration, what I felt about Artira’s story was definitely greater than my fear.
I should add that there were a couple of other writers to whom I confessed my malaise who supported me in submitting. Laura Litchfield, one of the remote writers with whom I was skyping a lot, was pretty much insistent. Paula reminded me of a couple of incidents at previous marathons: first, she herself was very hesitant to submit her first year, but talked herself into it, and won. Second, another writer, Amy Stuart, submitted with only a few chapters and an outline, and also won.
I am still not sure whether it was good enough to really be what I would want to submit—I struggled over it through the fog, as with the entire rest of the piece, then did a bunch of revisions, as with the entire rest of the piece—but I wrote that scene to its end (it's short) and, since I had only a few chapters, added an outline. And submitted. How I do in the judging I will not find out until September.
I know that I feel much much better now than I would have if I had not submitted.
So all in all, if you average it all out, my Muskoka Novel Marathon was wonderful. As it usually is for everyone. One other joy: I have lost 53 lbs. on the diet now, enough to make me look very different. I got so many compliments, so many writers saying “You look fantastic!” that my body-image ego was dancing even as my writing ego was cowering. On Monday, I decided I would wear my demarchic shirt—the one made for me 25 years ago by my dear friend Louise Hypher—because I can. A couple of people took pics of me in it holding a print of the asa kraiya cover, on which Chevenga is, of course, wearing the same shirt.