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Writing the Waves 2010

August 11, 2010

We have returned from the high seas, fat wads of new pages clutched in happy fists, waving high.  This year we had the added excitement of being mid-Atlantic when we heard that 17 European countries’ airports (including the ones we had plane tickets home from) were closed.  Hordes of travelers were apparently stranded in airports worldwide while the most dramatic volcano since our dear Mount Saint Helens sent a dark cloud over all of Europe.

Somehow the thought of being stuck with each other indefinitely, struck no fear in our collective heart.  Stranded with our projects and our fellow writers?  This actually sounded good to us.

This year there were twenty of us.  Seventeen writers and three non-writing friends/spouses.  Our ages ranged from early twenties to early 80s.  One flew in from Bangkok to join us.  One broke a hip five weeks before and worked like hell to rehab at high speed so she wouldn’t miss this, and she made it!  We came from all corners of North America, from Vancouver B.C. to Nova Scotia, from Oregon to Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Nashville.

We had writers in all genres.  And we were a colorful, eclectic bunch.  A couple of retired college professors, one a poet, the other writing sci fi/ fantasy, who met romantically on a slow boat from Brazil decades ago.  A couple of screenwriters who live in a rock star tour bus, traveling North America and writing full time.

Our group was fully engaged in creating novels, screenplays (comic, sci fi and thrillers), plays, biographies, memoirs, zen journeys, children’s books and how to books.  Murder mystery and true crime history.  Like Shakespeare, we had comedy, tragedy and history in equal measure.  Needless to say we found ourselves wildly entertained.

The format on our nine “At Sea” days turned out to be the perfect balance of camaraderie and quiet writing time.  I taught a writing class from 9 to noon each of the nine days which included screenwriting, playwriting, novel writing (from Laura’s book Novel Shortcuts) and Writing Non-Fiction Book Proposals (using Elizabeth Lyon’s terrific book as our text.)

The cruise line gave us their gorgeous Executive Boardroom for the duration of the two weeks, so in the afternoons people could plug in at the mahogany table and write silently from 2 to 5 pm.  We had dinner together at two adjoining tables for 10 and sat beside a different new friend each night.

Then from 8 to 10 p.m. we met again in our boardroom to read aloud and helped each other polish our work.  After which some of the younger among us would then go out dancing and drinking into the wee hours.

The top five highlights:

#1.  For me it was thrilling to hear how in the course of two short weeks, everyone’s work markedly improved.  The drama became more impactful and emotionally moving.  The humor sharper.  The language clearer and stronger.  We became better writers.

#2.  We wrote a massive amount of pages.  Our group goal was 1,000 pages.  We wrote 1,074. This is an average of 63 pages for each of our 17 writers.

#3.  I got most of the rough first draft of my new play written during the cruise.  It’s called The Seven Wonders of Chipping.

#4.  The travel.  Exploring Barcelona with my daughter Molly, 24.  Discovering the medieval mountaintop village of Eze, a one-Euro bus ride up above Nice and Monaco.  Stunning.  Ending up in Venice for four days.  All of the sight-seeing adventures however, turned out to be icing on the towering, white paper cake.

#5.  But best of all?  Having twenty new friends that will last my lifetime.

One night at our evening salon, our poet Richard, got tickled while reading one of his poems, and started laughing so much he couldn’t finish the line.  And we, trying to imagine what word could possibly come next that would paralyze him with giggles, started laughing so hard that soon the room was convulsed with laughter.  I had forgotten how much better than laughing or crying is laughing until you cry.  Runners have got nothing on these endorphins.

Something about working hard, laughing hard and playing hard has unexpected health benefits.  After eating three and four course dinners every night, eating gelato, pasta and cappuccinos daily in Italy, somehow when I got home I had lost a pound.  Has someone written a book on The Joy Diet?  This is one of my new favorite types of magic.

By the time we were scheduled to check out of our gorgeous four star hotel with balconies on the canal in Venice (Costco Travel deserves a plug for this, by the way), the airport was open and we stepped onto a plane.  Arriving home, we discovered that spring had sprung.  Lilacs and dogwoods were blooming.  And Laura’s little 8 pound Binny baby (nickname for little Robinson) had blossomed into a peachy ten pounder.

It’s good to be home.  And so good to have a play in my hot little hand that a month ago was nothing more than an idea I have been fond of and idly musing about for more than ten years.  That is a miracle of manifestation.  From nothing to something real in 20 days.  You know, it seems to me all you need to do to believe in magic is pay attention.  Magic is real.

Next year, if you can make it, the Writing the Waves Cruise will depart on Holland America’s ship The Rotterdam from Fort Lauderdale, FL on May 17, 2011 and cross the Atlantic in a 16 Night cruise with 8 At Sea writing days followed by 8 ports:  Dublin and Cork, Ireland; Liverpool, Devon and London, England; Cherbourg, France; Brussels, Belgium and Rotterdam, Netherlands.  Prices start at $1,999 ($1,499 non-writing roommate/spouses.) not including airfare.  Start planning.

See you all at the conference.  And it’s not too late to get your project in marketable shape.  Go for it.  Make it happen.  I have recent proof that you can do it.  And do it brilliantly.

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