Rescuing Baby Turtles and Sharpening Story Structure 

So I recently attended the Out of Excuses Writing Retreat/Workshop.

It was a highly profitable experience, as regards writing experience (both in craft and socializing). It was also incredibly stressful and I had at least one or two panics when it came to socializing. I’m not entirely comfortable meeting people and I’m especially confounded by social chitchat.

It seems strange to talk about details like work when it’d be much more interesting to talk about the Iliad and whether or not Achilles actually exhibits character growth, for example. Or at least that’s what I thought at the beginning when I was at the first social function. I remember after the orientation, I felt quite sure that I didn’t talk well in loud spaces (I have a soft voice) and I really didn’t know how to explain what I write.

Occasionally throughout the cruise, I did feel a little…off, like I didn’t quite belong, as compared to everyone else. There was a sense of humor and books and literature and language, a kind of atmosphere that made me think more of my sister than me.

Feeling this did remind me that one social place I did feel I belonged in was when I was taking Classics at the University of Southern Maine. There was a group of people that I got; the way they acted and talked made sense to me.

Not to say I’m not a writer and that I didn’t feel moments of belonging. I did, for the most part. But there were a few instants of “I don’t quite fit here”.

The other truth is I didn’t feel awkward when no one was talking to me. It was interesting just to observe people and listen to them – how they talk, what they talk about, who talks the most, how they speak. I guess I finally realized how fascinating people are and how the diversity of personality I experienced on the cruise was a great inspiration for me as a writer. (Thanks everyone, you all had great personalities.)

As for the cruise ship herself…she was a very large ship. I don’t think I’d ever been on one as big as her. It was irritating that only three decks had full access from aft to fore and the food was mediocre. Usually on cruises (and this was my ninth one), I’m more impressed with the food diversity. Here, there was a lot of repeated food items.

Another aspect that disappointed me was the library. Usually I expect there to be books, lots of them. That’s a pretty staple fact about cruise ships. Heck, I went on a river cruise on the Mississippi and they had shelves of books everywhere that you could just pick up. As long as you didn’t take them. (I re-read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.)

I’m sorry! I feel like I’m being so cruel. She was a lovely ship! And there was a lot of neat stores and I thought a lot of the bars and lounges were lovely.

I did love all the little nooks around the ship, although I’ve been on other cruise ships that had quieter ones. For some reason it was hard to find anywhere that was quiet enough for me to write outside of my room. Maybe I’m just more sensitive to sound and other people being around than I used to be.

I only went to one show and it was decent. To be fair, I don’t recall a lot of amazing entertainment on cruise ships. Good, solid entertainment and this one had that. I will say Disney Cruise Lines had the best entertainment.

As for the excursions…they were fun. I only went on two since one was canceled. The first was a High Tea on Jamaica which was a lot of fun and really interesting. The food and tea was great! The second one, which wasn’t bought through Out of Writing Excuses was saving baby turtles.

On Cozumel, it’s the nesting season for sea turtles and the goal was to clean out the nests that had already hatched. This included removing the leftover eggs, pink eggs (which we were told served as a temperature indicator), any dead turtles that didn’t make, and any live ones that hadn’t been able to crawl up through the sand.

Between me, my mom, and nine others we rescued twelve+ baby turtles out of three nests. The one I helped on was at least a foot deep with three babies still inside. (Once I talk to my sister, I’ll try to post the video I took of them.)

And they were so cute! And lively. They each had slightly different coloring and patterning on their shells. There was a special way to hold them since they are still babies. Once the nests had been cleared, everyone carried a turtle to the shore and we released them into the surf. It was exciting!

The second half of that excursion featured a visit to an outdoor Mayan village to taste locally made tortillas and chocolate (with samples made for us right there). There was also some talk about how tequila was made but that wasn’t as interesting to me. Oh, and a brief history on the local population on Cozumel.

So, with that out of the way, let’s talk about the writing part.

The two sailing days (one at the beginning, one at the end) were filled lectures and activities. I didn’t partake of a lot of the social hang outs, but I attended every lecture. I didn’t originally think I would but by the end I thought: why not? I’m bound to get something out of each of them.

They contained a lot of information but most of the them inspired me to want to work on my writing. Nalo Hopkinson’s on revision really fired me up to want to, well, revise. I’ve always had trouble with cultivating the attention to revise but now I see the fun and beauty in doing it. And Dan Wells’ on story structure was an absolute blessing, since I don’t think I’d ever quite wrapped my head around story structure before.

This was also brought up at my Writing Critique Group on Labadee.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, even if I’m not sure I chose the best piece to workshop. Either way, I loved reading everyone’s stories. Also, it was just a lot of fun to discuss stories and characters with other people.

There are some things I would change for the next Workshop I go to, especially if I attend the next Out of Excuses Retreat. (Retrospectively, maybe I should have signed up there. I wasn’t clear on if they meant the next Retreat or the next cruise, but now that I’ve been home for a week, it’s silly to think they meant a cruise. What was I thinking?)

Regardless, here’s what I would try to change:

  • attend more social events or at least ones structured into my schedule
  • go up to people and start conversations; if I’ve met someone try to talk to them
  • do more research on the event I’m going to and who is going to be there
  • have backup answers to the answers I’m comfortable with sharing in case someone keeps asking me questions anyway

And because I want to end on a positive note, here’s what I gained or enjoyed at this workshop:

  • attended the final social get-together instead of melting into obscurity (I was quite proud of myself)
  • expressed my opinions and what I write to others
  • a deeper comprehension of how to structure a story
  • methods for revision
  • a broader definition of what storytelling means
  • a fuller range of what description can do
  • how there’s a different between writing ideas (which come to me easily) and writing plots

Overall, I think this Workshop has really helped my relationship to my craft.

So thank you, to all the lecturers: Delia Sherman, Daniel José Older, Nalo Hopkinson, Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson, Ellen Kushner,  as well as Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Taylor, and all the other Out of Excuses writers. Thanks everyone. And thank you Delia Sherman for putting up with my rather confused questions at our Individual Breakout on Wednesday morning.


7 thoughts on “Rescuing Baby Turtles and Sharpening Story Structure 

  1. Hi Amanda. I was on the turtle excursion as well (tall, blonde, glasses). I didn’t realize you were with Writing Excuses. Belated hello!


  2. OMG, rescuing baby turtles!! That would have been the best thing ever! How did I miss seeing that option? (Yeah, okay, it was cool to go with the writing people and see the Tulun rules – but BABY SEA TURTLES!!)

    Amanda, I’ll be honest, I can’t remember if we met or not – you were not the only one there with your mom. *lol* Anyway, I’m glad there were some good times for you. 🙂


  3. Pingback: Rude Frogs [Day 72] | The Siren's Sword

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