Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Monday, June 15, 2009

Plugging in

I always believed I was one of those people whose emotional/mental energy recharges in solitude. It's true: quiet time alone with mountains and nature will always leave me feeling better, more ready to face whatever hard thing life decides to dump on me today.

Anne Morrow Lindburgh said once that being around other people is draining because there's nothing more exhausting than being insincere. Yeah. Most of the time social settings require at least some insincerity, especially for someone like me, lest I alarm anyone with the real Elena.

I've changed my mind, just a little, about that, though. After spending a delightful week with hundreds of other writers at the BYU Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR) Conference, and my mornings with a small and talented group of fantasy writers in my workshop there, I've decided that being around other people isn't what's draining; it's being around people who don't "get" you.

It's about connection.

Funny how most of my stories tend to be about connection and isolation. About physical islands and emotional ones. Apparently it's a hang-up of mine.

We all need to feel connected to other people. I think it's a fundamental human requirement. We need to feel there are people out there like us, who understand the way we think and feel, who won't stare when we open our mouths and say something that shows our minds don't tick quite the same way as the rest of the world.

Fantasy-writers are amazing people. I was stunned at the imagination and creativity in the room every morning. How refreshing to be around people who never look at you like you're from outer space, just because you say something bizarre. And who'd like you better if you did turn out to be from outer space after all, anyway. Everybody's sensitive and neurotic. Everyone's minds are constantly spinning. Every person has the same addiction: we can't not write, no matter how hard we try to stop. And we wouldn't want to.

I'm still on a high.

Some of my favorite things at WIFYR this year:

*The people; the connections.

*Tracy and Laura Hickman, who taught my class. The amount of work they put into this workshop still blows my mind.

*Dramatica theory, which is helping me figure out how to fix the story I put in a drawer for a year because I was stuck on my rewrites.

*A list of new books to look forward to reading someday, by members of my class. I'd be surprised if I didn't see every one of these books in print before too long.

*Lots of homework and deadlines, which pulled me out of a writing slog.

*World-building exercises, which filled up a big hole in what I knew about writing craft.

*Learning about publishing contracts and understanding the business end of books.

*Dandi Mackall's presentation on voice. Only you can write the story you need to tell, in the way you would tell it, to touch the person who needs your book.

*Tracy Hickman's banquet presentation on story as meaning. The part of reading that matters is what happens in the white spaces, the reaction of a reader to a book, the way it changes them for life. One soldier tried to present Tracy with his purple heart and brass star for bravery in battle after being inspired by a character in one of Tracy's books.

My brain is still making connections with ideas I met at the conference, and I'm still smiling to think of the people connections--with both old friends and new.

My son said to me one day last week: "Mom, you seem happier."

I guess I just needed to recharge. Who'd have guessed that would happen in a place swarming with people?


  1. I completely agree. Being around other writers feeds me in a way that nothing else does. It's just so energizing and fulfilling.

    I am wondering exactly what "dramatica theory" is, though...

  2. I feel just the same way, Elena. That week at BYU was one of the best weeks of my life. And fantasy-writers? Oh, they kick trash! The best thing to happen to me was to spend a week with you all and see that I wasn't alone in the world--that I can make a difference.

    It was so lovely to meet you, to read your story (which will also be in print, you know!!!), and to get recharged. It's been hard to go back to the "real" world after that week. The good part is, we might have to go back but we don't ever have to let go of each other. =]

  3. Wow, I haven't been very good about checking comments here.

    That's right, L.T. You'd better keep in touch or I might have to hunt you down. I love your blog, by the way.

    Matt, if you want to read in detail about Dramatica you can go to the website Tracy and Laura created for our workshop: and clicking on the "Dramatica Theory" tab at the top of the page. Dramatica is also a software program that helps you organize your writing. It's really expensive and I'm not sure if it's worth it, but I am finding the free demo really helpful for rewrites. Just not sure I'd want to pay for it. But the theory is free, of course. Let me know if the links don't work for you on the Hickman's site. I'm not sure if you have to be logged in to access them. Maybe I'll write a post about Dramatica here.


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