Sunday, July 27, 2008

Time for a writing and publishing tune-up?

Summer is a traditional season for academic authors to write, because of the relatively uninterrupted stretches of time that are supposedly available. What usually happens, however, is that summer school crops up (such a tempting extra paycheck, for engaging work), book research travel turns into a mini-ordeal (all that effort just to arrive at the Biblioteca de Catalunya in Barcelona and learn that the collection you want to examine has a restriction on it from the family, and nobody informed you of this before you spent $5,000 and traveled 3511 nautical miles -- 4040 of the regular kind -- to get there), and motivation often flies out the window because it's summer and summer is Just That Way. August slams up before you know it, and the book still isn't done.

If you find yourself needing a mental recharge to get going (after all, it's only July 27 -- there's still time!), you might try something I enjoyed: one of's many publishing workshops, in-person in New York. It is ridiculously easy to get from Washington to New York these days; I prefer to stroll across the Key Bridge and hop the Vamoose Bus, but there are other cheap, comfortable choices such as the Bolt Bus and the Chinatown Bus. This ain't the scary old Greyhound -- today's sleek motorcoaches have internet, restrooms, and they're comfortable enough to snooze on. They cost about 1/5 as much as the train, and if you factor in travel time to and from Union Station, they take you to the same places almost as fast. Vamoose put me at Madison Square Garden, just five blocks from the seminar building over near Park Avenue and 31st.

I have taken several mediabistro classes in the past, but mostly in DC, and one online. Not to be a snob about it, but the New York ones are so much better. My course was taught by Joy Peskin, a senior editor at Penguin with a successful career. Networking with her alone was worth the tuition for a four-hour class (what's the value of meeting and chatting with an editor in person?), but when I saw the caliber of my fellow writers, I fell in love with the idea of visiting New York once in a while for an energy transfusion. There was another employee from Penguin in the group, plus a fashion designer with a sterling resume, an editor for a higher education publication, a renowned Sherlock Holmes expert, and so many more. Although mediabistro can seem to have a youngish and greenish online image, the age range was all over the place, and most of us were experienced writers in mid-career. Total out of pocket (bus fare, course fee, and what I spent on lunch, coffee, and crab dumplings for dinner): $175.

I enjoyed the four hours to New York and back reading manuscripts from Booklab authors and studying Italian, so travel time wasn't wasted, and it flew by. I left at 7 a.m. and was home before midnight, recharged, refreshed, and ready to face my own summer manuscripts again.

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