August Five to Try Begins…with Words and Music

Thankfully, I’m blogging my August Five to Try activities before September has come along, so already I feel like I’m improving at this little creative exercise I have assigned myself.

As I write this, I’m embarking on a little mini-vacation, away from writing deadlines and away from to do lists (a feat that in itself is hard to believe) and best of all, with peace of mind that my doggie who suffers serious separation anxiety is most likely completely oblivious of our disappearance since his true favorite person, his big brother Brandon, is watching over him and the house for a few days. I hope he even misses us at all…

But we have bigger fish to fry…metaphorically speaking, that is, since I’m vegetarian and Larry doesn’t like seafood. We have more Five to Try activities to enjoy, and these I will be blogging about soon, so stay tuned for that. For now, let me catch you up on the first half of the month and two very different activities – one which opened my mind and ears to the kinds of venues available for concerts to enjoy, even when I don’t really know the acts that well, and the other, which opened my heart to the possibilities within my career.

 Five to Try for August #1 – The 2011 UNF Writer’s Conference

Let’s preface this first one by noting that this heading could read the 2011 Marshall Fuddrucker Writer’s Conference. The significance here is not WHO served as host but that I attended my first ever writer’s conference, WHEREVER. Earlier in the month, the University of North Florida’s continuing education program hosted hundreds of us on campus for this three-day affair (August 5-7, to be exact). (Nice campus, by the way). Here was the view from the little building where all of our programs were held.

I attended only the first day which focused on a series of three workshop tracks with the remaining two days designed to offer critique workshops for writers to bring their work before a small group of fellow writers and moderators who would then discuss the good and bad points of the work. This concept completely scared the hell out of me, and I was thankful that I didn’t have anything to present. I heard back from one other writer who attended, and she indicated her group was fairly brutal. So glad that I didn’t partake in this added “bonus” of the conference…there are enough battle scars on the self-esteem collected over the years. I’m simply not at a point for group evaluation of my work yet. I hope to get to that comfort level someday but it certainly isn’t now.

I began writing my first book earlier this year only to quit after less than 30 pages, because I didn’t give it the time and energy it deserved, and I don’t think I completely knew what I was writing – was it fiction? Was it autobiographical? Could I make it fiction based on semi-autobiographical info? Possibly. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I just stopped. So my investment in this conference was to light a fire under my butt and get charged up again and educated in the process, and that I did.

Anyone else out there in a creative role may relate to this: I find myself spending all of my time and energy on others’ creative projects, understandably to keep the roof over my head. However, by the time any free time comes along, the last thing I feel like doing is writing for myself, yet I know that this is where I need to focus my efforts in the long run. I struggle day to day with that battle of taking on and completing new client assignments to make a living yet leaving some time to begin building my own independent writing products, whether it’s a new book or series of books or a platform of another kind. So my hope by attending a conference such as this was to introduce myself not only to greater knowledge about the publishing and e-publishing industries, and that I did…in just a matter of a eight hours. I also went to remind myself of what I could be doing and what I hoped to be doing long-term in my career.

The conference offered specific tracks for doling out information, as I imagine most of them do, with two focused primarily on fiction (with one of these which seemed to concentrate more on elements of writing and the other on specific genres) and the third track was more focused on non-fiction and the business behind publishing – every workshop I took fell into this category which is why in the course of one day of workshops, I saw just two rooms – the main ballroom for the opening and closing sessions as well as lunch and one training room, for which I kept trying out new seats from each class to the next for a slight change of scenery.

Some of the topics I learned about included how to create better query letters for publishers when pitching books; a closer look at bookseller marketing events with a Barnes & Noble representative (and yes, I kept my undying love for and their stock completely on the DL here); the art of building a platform as a writer; and a guide to e-publishing (truly the most eye-opening of all of my classes). Throughout the course of the day, I gained a greater understanding about the writer-agent-wholesaler-publisher relationships, as well as pitch books and the e-book industry. For me, meeting up with people who had already become published authors and learning about (and in some cases from) writers who shared their own personal journeys and mistakes they made along the way was not only helpful from a practical standpoint, but inspiring. I left feeling like I was about to explode with information, creativity and determination. I’ve already decided that I’m attending a full day of workshops at another three or four-day writer’s conference later this fall a little closer to home, in Winter Park. Of course, by that point, I am counting on the fact that I will already be deep into that first writing project.

Okay, I know what you’re wondering. Have I begun writing yet? Truth? No. But guess who has a date with her journal this afternoon on a S. Pinellas beach to begin fleshing out the various story ideas which came to mind while I was attending the conference? The time is here. The locale is right. I think mentally I’m in the right frame of mind to get real about the writing that I know is inside of me that I haven’t even begun to excavate. September is a month that will bring with it some changes, and changes that could free up a little of my time. I finally understand and accept what it is that I should be doing with that time. So I guess I got my ROI from the conference…

Does this sound familiar to you? Whether it’s writing or some other activity that you’ve put off long enough – is there something you need to be doing but you’ve kept postponing, maybe because it was easier not to go there but in fact it is where you should have been all along.

Get traveling.  I’ll start if you start.

Let’s hold each other accountable.

Five to Try for August #2 – Concerts at Carrollwood Cultural Center

Granted, this next Five to Try activity was by no means life-changing, but I will say this: it has opened my mind to give venues a shot which I might otherwise have dismissed. Everyone who follows me here on this blog knows that I’m quite familiar with the Carrollwood Cultural Center. I took a 6-week painting course earlier this year which I blogged about and loved, and I’m a regular visitor to the place monthly as a member of Women in Networking Tampa Bay (their Carrollwood chapter hosts its meetings there at its nearby studio). But I had never seen a production or concert at the venue before.

I’d certainly heard plenty of rehearsals during my painting class days. Can’t begin to tell you how many times those of us were in the classroom painting quietly and began to hum along to “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” as the group just outside our door practiced for their Broadway tribute show. But an actual concert? Surely, this venue which on the surface reminded me more of a really nice high school or college theater stage production setup would not have the acoustics to support live music.

Man, was I wrong.

Larry and I made plans to meet up with friends at the Center for its folk music festival “A Blessing and a Curse.”

Now before you start having visions of A Mighty Wind or old PBS Peter, Paul and Mary or Kingston Trio live shows where the average age in the audience is 70, let me point out a few things: the headliner act for this evening was Have Gun, Will Travel, a group of young men gaining greater attention and speed on college campus stations and which recently scored a feather in their caps when the PBS show “Roadtrip Nation” plucked the festival title song (a rousing, toe-tapping number) out of obscurity and started using as its main theme. (And now I hear that Chevrolet will begin to use it for their commercials, too…good going, guys!)

Have Gun, Will Travel were joined onstage by Rebekah Pulley and Ronny Elliott, who each took to the stage for 30-minute sets before them. All three acts reunited at the end for an inspired rendition of The Band’s “The Wait.” (Click here for a sample.) They were also available for meet and greets after the concert, too, an opportunity you could only enjoy in a quaint, intimate setting in a venue such as the cultural center.

I won’t bore you with opinions of the artists themselves, because this is after all a blog about trying new things, not hey-Chris-vent-about-your-favorite-and-least-favorite-musical-acts. I will tell you that I went to that concert to see Rebekah Pulley, and I left a bigger fan of Have Gun, Will Travel (and am already intent on buying their two albums!)

But the venue… wow, looks can be deceiving. What I saw from the walkway as we approached the seating were what appeared to be nice office guest chairs that you might see lined up along the wall in a waiting room. Instead, what I discovered was an extremely comfortable, cushiony spot to rest, even for those big-butted among us (and on behalf of all of us, I personally say thank you) And this was a good thing, too, because the concert lasted not one, not two but nearly THREE hours! These three acts held nothing back from putting on a great show.

The acoustics? Again, I had low expectations, as it appeared to be just a cut-out seating area between two hallways of arts classes. But I underestimated the shape of the space and the sound system. I was really impressed with how good the acoustics were and in such an intimate setting. For most of us to be that close to the artists, we would expect to go to an Ybor City bar or nightclub and then, all of the background elements, clinking bottles and chattering to go along with it might take away from the clarity. But in this setting, the sound was crystal clear…pure…and that totally supported a more quiet artist like Pulley and gave a storyteller like Elliott, a great environment to work with – almost as if he had invited a small group of his friends to tell them about this woman he once knew or vent about Fabian and Frankie Avalon (And don’t get the man started about Dick Clark…)

If you haven’t gone to the Carrollwood Cultural Center before for a production or a concert, because like me, you doubted the venue for being able to pull it off – wipe away those preconceived notions and give it a shot. I really did go in with an open mind – it didn’t hurt that my concert ticket cost just $12 (as a non-member, too!) For twelve dollars, I was thoroughly entertained, very impressed with not only the artists but the venue itself and can’t wait for the next great concert opportunity to come along so I can check it out for myself.

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