Summary of the Sumptuous Summer Writing Retreat with Writers League of Texas

The month flew by and so did the class I took for the Writers League of Texas Summer Writing Retreat. “Layering: A Structured Approach to Revision” with Chaitali Sen was at various time challenging, enlightening, vexing, and interesting. I’m still processing it and will need to review some of the things I missed. And then put them into practice. There were also other events, like an hour-long lunch hour meet and greet, two of them had Q & A’s with authors and a Thursday night meet and greet with classmates. All in all it was a gratifying experience. I wonder how much cooler it would have been if it were held in person instead of all on Zoom.

Had I known about this opportunity when I began writing my memoir three years ago, I would have taken the memoir class. But since I didn’t, I need to learn about it. One way is reading craft books like Ann Karr’s The Art of Memoir, which I have coming to my branch library soon. There are probalby plenty of other books and articles, too, but I may just dig into the WLT’s YouTube archives for past presentations as well.

Another is to find comps, or comparable books to mine. Aside from Heft on Wheels: A Field Guide to Doing a 180 by Mike Magnussen (read my review here), I’m not familiar with any. One that was recommended was Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Although obviously about that pedestrian sport (see what I did there with my word choice?), I’m eager to read it because he’s a celebrated author I’ve never heard of or read. I have a lot to learn.

As for my actual book, the bad news is that both the teacher and WLT director suggested I ditch my format and go with a more traditional memoir style. The good news is that this opens up the possibilities of me building the story around some main events, both on and off the bicycle, rather than being confined to a chapter per month. If I’m honest, some of the chapters were a little thin, and others are a bit heavy. It also liberates me from being so much wedded to Strava charts and rides as well as the blog posts, because it’s way too long with those things in there.

Revision is writing. It’s where the rubber really hits the road. But also, it can be an emotionally taxing process. Especially with memoir, because the author is the subject. Because it’s so close to home, I really do need to find others to read it. At the same time, Chaiti said don’t worry about that for now, work on the revision, one layer at a time. I got hung up on outlining, which is a foreign concept to me as a panster, not a planner type of writer. Still, one of the retreatants in the fiction class, a very nice gentleman and hombre from Laredo who’s already been published, offered to look at it. Once it’s not too embarrassing, I’ll share some of it with him.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to meet everyone in the other two classes. But the last night was pretty cool, because each class got to have three readers. There was also a Write-Away option, where you basically just logged on to Zoom then wrote for an hour or two, then chatted about it at the end. I did one of those and it was surprisingly useful. That group also got to choose three readers. I can tell you there are some very talented writers in Texas, and some of their work was very moving, exciting, or mesmerizing to hear. It hasn’t occurred to me to read my own work aloud, but I should to see how it sounds. Maybe someday when it’s published it can become an audio book, read by yours truly, or perhaps a Hollywood star.

As for other writers, there are a number working on memoirs, and perhaps they’ll follow up with me or I them. One of them suggested we get together and talk about our projects. Later today I’m meeting the fellow memoirist at a coffee shop. Neither of us drink coffee, but he says they have a cool patio. He’s an English teacher, but claims to be an amateur like me. Hopefully we’ll each learn something. And speaking of writers, I’ve been reading more than my allotted 30 minutes a day. Sure it’s mostly murder mysteries, which seem effortless but I’m sure are not. I hope to graduate to other books like above soon, though. And by that I mean no disrespect to Walter Mosley (who I met; read that post here), David Baldacci, John Grisham or Lee Pace.

Writing and bicycling have some similarities, to my mind. They’re both ultimately solitary exercises (sorry for the pun), but they’re also a team sport. No bike gets ridden without some help, and no book gets published solo either. (Even a self-published book is done by someone else, like a cover designer, a proofreader, the marketing people behind the website, and so on.) The point is that the SWR and the League will be gifts to myself that keep on giving. And for that I’m grateful to everyone involved.

Still, I gotta revise the damn book by myself. Maybe I’ll find a critique partner or group, and eventually agent, editor and publisher. I am pretty sure I’ll have to self-publish — but Chaiti did say she found stories I mentioned compelling, so who knows? Sometimes I think that means shelving this blog for a spell (again with my word magic, amirite?) We shall see. In the end, I blame Owen Egerton, founder and host of One Page Salon and Michael Noll, former program director of WLT who once told me I shouldn’t give up on being published.

Hopefully, I have miles to go before I sleep. Til’ next time, have you read any great bicycle memoirs you’d recommend to A Dude?

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