Thursday, May 1, 2014

Attending a writers conference is something I’d always wanted to do, so when my mom offered to contribute for my birthday this year, I decided it was a sign. I had no more excuses. I packed away those jitters and booked it.

I chose the three-day Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs because it was close geographically and had a great faculty lineup. Of course, I was a wee bit nervous when I arrived (the prospect of socializing with 400 people will do that to a girl who works alone in her basement). But by Sunday afternoon, I was buzzing with adrenaline: I had met a ton of interesting, talented writers. I had mingled with agents and pitched an editor. And I had listened to phenomenal speakers on a wide range of topics. 

Of course, I took some notes. A whole notebook full, in fact. There was so much to learn and absorb, and a million words of inspiration floating around, ready to be plucked out of the air. Here are some tidbits:

Go to the heat. Good advice from story developer Trai Cartwright, who says that it's important to write what you're passionate about at the moment. You can always go back to the other scenes once you've simmered down.  

"Care less," said Chuck Wendig, who blogs here. The idea is to avoid getting hung up on one manuscript or one vision of success. Write in your natural voice and be less concerned with what others are doing, what the industry is doing, etc. Write for yourself first and foremost.  

Learn the rules, and then go break them. But only if you’re doing it purposefully.  In other words, there is actually some latitude in those famous writing don'ts. But you need to have a really good reason for starting your book with the MC waking up and you need to execute it exceptionally well. 

In YA, contemporary is hot right now, as is Sci-Fi and books with strong boy voices. There was a lot of discussion about diversity in literature, exploring the writer's responsibility, and how we as readers can use our purchasing power to let the industry know what we want. Read Jim C. Hines' recent blog post on this topic here.

For those who are deep in draft mode, below are some words of wisdom from various conference presenters about the writing process itself:
  • Evoke emotion. Immerse the reader. 
  • A reader should feel like your character(s) had a life before the book and will have one after. 
  • Exposition should convey a lot of voice.
  • Give the right information in the right dose at the right time (i.e., when the reader needs it). 
  • Summaries should mostly be avoided, but are occasionally necessary. Try to feather the information in little by little rather than all at once. 
  • In the first pages, put in less setting and more character reaction
There you have it-- a little taste of my first conference experience. I can guarantee it won’t be my last. What about you? Has anyone attended a conference lately? What did you learn?


Kristan said...

Love love love getting to experience the conference vicariously through your recap! Thank you. :)

Totally agree with Trai Cartwright about following your writerly energy, and Chuck Wendig about writing for yourself most of all.

Interesting that the two "hot" trends right now are such polar opposites: contemporary and scifi, hehe. But I do love them both. (That said, I haven't yet read a YA scifi that speaks to my scifi upbringing, like Star Trek or BSG.)

And maybe my favorite bit of wisdom from this entire post? "A reader should feel like your character(s) had a life before the book and will have one after." Yes!

Unknown said...

Fascinating. I love conferences, there is just so much to learn and do and I'm glad you enjoyed yours.

I used to write stories and although they weren't the best they were quite fun. I wish someone had given me Trai Cartwright's advice. I think that would've helped me stay committed and interested.

Thanks for sharing your experiences :)


Ingrid Palmer said...

Yes, Trai Cartwright is amazing! I attended three of her workshops, and they were all brilliant.

P.E. Mari-- it's not too late! Keep writing :)

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