inspiration, process, Publications, Revision

Writing Conference 2019

TLDR: Make space for your worthy work of writing, be a great rewriter, and start writing! (and other miscellaneous take-aways from a writing conference)

This year I attended the University of New Mexico Continuing Education Writing Conference. Here are my take-aways from the conference.

Jessica Strawser, Novelist and Editor-at-Large at Writer’s Digest, gave the keynote address in which she shared 10 Writing Lessons.

Lesson 1: Check in on your story. Maybe check in where you left off, maybe check in at the start or the end or a random spot. “Tuck your story in at night.” You don’t have to force yourself to write daily, but you will write more if you make space for it.

I want to do a better job of having my stories up and ready to go at a moment’s notice. For instance, keeping a document open on my laptop and on my school computer for the brief periods of time I have, or if I wake up early and can’t fall back to sleep. Sometimes the small amount of time and energy it takes to navigate to my writing folder and open a work in progress is what keeps me from putting in writing time. I want to change that.

Lesson 2: Be able to say no to obligations. Remind yourself that regarding your writing, “I’m not foolish for wanting this.” Protect the time and space you make for writing.

Lesson 3: Focus on improving your weakness. If you can get better about what you are weakest at as a writer, you will eventually become great. A bit of insecurity (not too much) can be helpful in writing. You’re not perfect. You need to keep learning.

I think that my weaknesses are tying beginnings and endings together, shying away from daring character and setting and plot choices, and neglecting character description or environment description when it doesn’t interest me. So these are the things I want to work on.

Lesson 4: Writing a first draft is like moving into a house. You start by bringing in boxes and furniture. Come back in the revision and arrange the decor, throw out some things, set up the rooms. Do the heavy lifting in the first draft. Don’t expect it to be good. Lisa Gardner recommends writing a “down and dirty” 6 month draft of a novel. See what works and what doesn’t. She commonly throws out a third of it. That’s ok.

Don’t try to be a great writer. Try to be a great rewriter.

Lesson 5: Patience. You have to do what’s best for the story even if that means scrapping a huge amount of it.

Lesson 6: Action reveals AND FORMS character. If a character lies and gets away with it, they might lie again. They might become a liar.

Lesson 7: Expectations can crush writing. Don’t consider end goals. You don’t need or necessarily want an end goal. Take detours in the writing. Let new things happen. Expect a certain number of dead ends, but you will also occasionally find treasure.

Next up was featured Speaker, Darynda Jones, a New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author. Darynda was down-to-earth and funny.

She says that before querying, finish your novel and tighten up your first 10 pages to focus on character conflict and setting.

Be bold in your query. Use attention-grabbing lines. Jones started getting responses when she put this line in for her paranormal romance:

[Protagonist] had a great ass, a healthy appreciation for the male anatomy, and a strange job title: Grim Reaper.

Query multiple agents simultaneously. Don’t necessarily take the first offer you get.

The more you write, the harder it gets. You know more rules as you learn. Not having a clue can be liberating.

Torture your characters. Ellicit emotion.

Everything you want is on the other side of fear.

I also attended a workshop called THE STORY KNOWS by Susie Salom

There are as many ways to approach the telling of the story as there are writers to tell it. Author Susie Salom believes that stories are fully-formed creatures waiting to be heard, first and foremost by their writers.

Let the story unveil itself. Generate enormous amounts of text, but not notes on character traits and exposition. No. Instead start writing scenes and events. You will generate surprise and momentum. Be true to your characters. Let them speak and act.

Sit down and write as if you were already in the middle of it. Some of it will be trash, some will be great, some will be great after you revise it.

Don’t worry about knowing the ending. That’s limiting (and has been been a problem for me as a writer).


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