Friday, September 8, 2017

The Grown-Up Version of What I Did This Summer, or How I Rediscovered My Writing Mojo

My first novel was published a year ago, and what followed was a whirlwind of interviews, blog posts, and multiple events every week, near and far - book signings, panel presentations, school and library visits, book clubs, conferences, and workshops. I appreciated every invitation and opportunity, and it was wonderful to connect with readers of all ages, librarians, teachers, and other authors. I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone, learned new skills, and expanded my circles. At the same time, I worked on freelance social work/writing jobs and revised another novel. My agent submitted it, we got feedback from editors, I revised again, my agent submitted again, and the rejections rolled in. Spring morphed into summer, and I completely ran out of steam. I had book marketing ideas that I had no desire to implement, and worst of all, I had lost my motivation to begin a new novel. The business of writing had sapped the joy from writing, and I needed to find a way to get it back. 

Here are three ways I reconnected with the joy of writing and refocused in the midst of continuing distractions. 

1. I took a one-day workshop.

On a lavender farm! Detroit Working Writers held a flash fiction workshop at Yule Love It Lavender Farm in Leonard, MI, about an hour north of Detroit. About 20 writers toured the gardens and gathered for lunch under a flowering arbor. Author Dorene O'Brien led the writing workshop, reading selections of flash fiction and guiding us through exercises. I'd been focused on novels for so many years, it was invigorating to experiment with these super short stories.

2. I took an online writing class. 

I signed up for a ten week online writing class with author Peter Markus. I met Peter last year through Inside Out Literary Arts Project in Detroit where he's the senior writer-in-residence. He also teaches at Oakland University, but his summer class was informal and consisted of weekly writing assignments, readings, and email discussions. The pressure of publication was removed, and I gave myself permission to simply see what happened. Maybe this would lead me into a new novel, maybe not. At the very least, my writing repertoire would expand, and I'd have weekly deadlines to keep me focused. 

Lo and behold, it worked! Peter introduced me to short stories and authors that I never would have found on my own. He gave assignments, and I explored and took risks in my writing, stretching beyond my usual YA coming-of-age stories. I wrote poetry, random scenes, short stories, and even a weird and wild reimagined fairy tale that Peter suggested I submit to a literary journal. Ultimately, this was the writing that led to a breakthrough in my novel-in-progress which finally happened when I gave myself some time away. Which leads me to…

3. I took a writing retreat.

I had been talking about a writing retreat with my critique group ever since Ann Finkelstein wrote this post two years ago about her annual retreat. I finally chose a date in August, emailed my writing partners, and received an immediate YES from everyone. We stayed in a cottage in northern Michigan, and the weekend was a complete success. Here's why:

*Peer pressure 
Tracy and Susannah are teachers, and school was about to start. They both had novels well under way and very limited time to finish. Dawne was nearing completion of a new novel with the ending mapped out and in sight. These ladies were motivated to work. I was the only one floundering, trying to start a new novel. If I’d been away by myself, I'm sure I would have spent hours reading in the hammock.

We spent most of our time apart, working on our own projects in different areas of the house, inside and outside. (My daughter said, “So you’re really all up there in the same house, not talking to each other?” Yup.) Meals together were optional (if someone was on a writing roll, please keep going), but we found ourselves gathering in the kitchen at the same times, and we planned one dinner out at a restaurant. We discovered that these were helpful breaks to brainstorm about each of our stories, from titles to plot points to character goals and motivation. 

There’s something about leaving home, away from responsibilities and spending time in nature, that frees up space to think and dream and imagine and create. We took a walk every evening (and geeked out as we passed Hemingway’s Windemere cottage), but our minds were roaming too. I tend to write in my head on the road, so I chose to drive by myself to be on my own schedule. Sure enough, an hour into my drive home, the brainstorming gelled in my brain, and I solved the biggest stumbling block in the plot of my new novel! 

So, here we are at the start of a new school year and all kinds of busyness. You don’t have to escape out of town for a writing retreat - you could meet a friend for a writing date at a coffee shop or take a neighborhood walk. You don’t need to pay for a writing class - you could read a book on craft and do the recommend exercises, or attend the free monthly SCBWI-MI Shop Talks. I’m kicking off the fall season with a new commitment to balance the business and joy in my writing career. I'm glad we're on this journey together.

Kristin Bartley Lenz is a writer and social worker from metro-Detroit and co-edits the Mitten blog for SCBWI-MI. Her first young adult novel, THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO, was a Junior Library Guild Fall 2016 Selection and chosen for the 2017-2018 Great Lakes Great Books statewide literature program. Learn more at

Read another post about Writing Through a Slump by SCBWI-MI member Nick Atkins:

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Hugs and Hurrahs! We want to trumpet your success! Please send your writing/illustrating/publishing good news to Patti Richards by September 25th to be included.

Happening this weekend:

Saturday, Sept. 9, 10-12:00. SE Mitten Shop TalkDeb Gonzales presents "Building a Publishing Platform from the Ground Up."

Sunday, Sept. 10, 10-5:00. Kerrytown BookFest. 31 children's authors and illustrators signing books throughout the day at the SCBWI-MI booth #59-60, plus a panel of YA authors at 2:15.

Follow the SCBWI-MI Facebook page for the latest news about events and happenings around the state.


  1. Great ideas, Kristin. Thanks for mentioning my post.

    1. Glad to have the chance to remind people of your excellent post too!

  2. I feel refreshed just reading this. Always good to read your posts, Kristin!

  3. Thanks Kristin. This is great motivation.

  4. Love this! Thanks for the motivation, Kristin.

  5. Glad you were able to recharge your writing batteries. that writing retreat sounded fun.

  6. I love the idea of a writing retreat! How cool that you managed to get your critique group together. Thanks for your post and the motivation.

  7. Excellent post! Thanks for sharing your ideas and experiences!

  8. Great suggestions Kristin! Thanks for sharing your story here!

  9. Thanks Kristin! Very motivating, as we all get stuck in different ways at different times.

  10. Thanks, Kristin. Great insights. The writing retreat was awesome. Not only the writing, but the brainstorming and just talking about our own personal writing issues and getting feedback.

    But from your post, I see that taking break and working on something else for a little while, like you did with your class and workshop is an integral part of keeping "the flame" alive.

    I hesitate doing something that takes me away from my WIP, because I just want to get it done and other things are merely distractions. But they're not distractions. They're more like the fill-up that keeps you going and inspired.

  11. Thanks so very much, Kristin! I especially liked how you expanded beyond the children's book crowd and into some other people and areas. Great ideas on inspiration, getting centered and beyond the fray.

  12. I love your strategies, Kristin, and that while you were planful you were also open to possibility. What a great combination for success. Thank you for sharing this.

  13. Great ideas to get newly inspired. I was sorry to miss you at Kerrytown but I had family come visit Sunday afternoon.

    1. Kerrytown was a great event! Hope to see you soon, Natalie!

  14. Thanks for stopping by, everyone! I appreciate your thoughtful comments.