Writing Conference Takeaways
I recently attended a great writing conference in Washington, DC and swore I’d go straight home and compile all the information for Write Despite and post it ASAP.
That was in April.
But hey, I’ve finally done it.
At the Conversations and Connections: Practical Advice on Writing conference, I took pages of notes, and I highly recommend you do this too if you attend a conference yourself. I can’t believe what great little gems were included in my notebook and in the handouts from the sessions, all of which I would have forgotten about if I hadn’t re-read them, and then re-keyed them for all of you. So thank you. And you’re welcome.
From the panel Cross Genre: Tricks Fiction Can Steal from Nonfiction (And Vice-Versa)
This was a panel discussion with writers Roy Kesey, Tom Bligh, Kathleen Wheaton, and Eric Boyd. I took down some cool, inspiring quotes. Sorry I didn’t also take down who said them.
- “Use truth in your story, and something will happen.”
- “Pretend you’re in a bar, and write like you’re talking to the person next to you.”
- “Believe that you’re writing the news of the world. Whatever you’re writing is universally shared. Believe it, and your writing will be richer.”
- “You can’t spell authority without ‘author.’ The reader must believe what’s happening. Do your best; let life do the rest.”
From Publishing: The Editor’s Panel
Editors included Rae Bryant, TJ Eckleberg Review, Sarah Boyle, The Fourth River and Pank, Mark Drew, Gettsyburg Review, Nate Brown, American Short Fiction, and J.W. Wang, Juked and Potomac Review
The panel was asked to tell us a bit about the nuts and bolts of submissions.
Brown: American Short Fiction gets about 8,500 submissions a year, 250 a month. Three editors decide on the stories, and all must agree on what they choose to publish.
Boyle: Pank reads July 1 to September 1 and in December. If a story gets two likes from our student editors, it goes to the genre editors, and they decide.
Drew: At Gettysburg Review, two editors make all the decisions, but interns pass them along first.
Wang: Initial readers look at stories, but I choose all of them, and therefore the editorial focus is very tight and distinctive.
What exactly are you looking for?
Drew: Openings are important, but the writing must be sustained. Language is the most important thing. It can’t be clichéd, and no grammatical errors. Interesting characters and compelling motivation are also big factors.
Brown: The sentence matters most. String enough good ones together, and the story will be published. I can’t care more about the piece than the writer does.
Wang: Voice. Must be confident and assured, so I can trust it to take me somewhere.
All agreed they want authority of narrative.
What if things in a story put you off, say an unlikable character or upsetting event?
Wang: Like it or not, every story is political.
Brown: The higher the moral stake, the better the writer must be.
Boyle: I won’t publish certain stories, such as those that contain violence against women, animals, or children. But it’s selectivity, not censorship.
From Scene-by-Scene: Writing the Irresistible Story
Panel discussion with writers Laura Ellen Scott, Jen Michalski, Lauren Foss Goodman, and Catherine Belle
The most important person to have in a scene is the reader. Bring them there. You want them to experience it, not just read about it, by:
- Using their physical senses
- Giving them a position, a point of view
- Giving them some attitude
- Not telling them everything; leaving something out, and leaving it up to them, so they have to make an investment
Quick notes on scene building:
Consider the large structure and the relationship of the scenes within it. Use the “Scene plus Sequel” pattern, which is:
- Each scene includes a goal, conflict, and disaster.
- Each sequel includes reaction, dilemma, and decision.
The job of a scene is to:
- Advance the story
- Show conflict
- Introduce or develop a character
- Create suspense
- Create atmosphere
- Provide information
- Develop theme
A scene should start with action. Use it to differentiate your characters. They should each move and speak differently.
If you’ve set a scene somewhere unusual, really describe what it’s like. But if you’re at McDonald’s, leave out lots of description, because it’s unnecessary.
A character wants something to happen. Your job is to never allow this to happen until the end. The story is the struggle to get there.
Go paragraph by paragraph through your work and ask, What work is this paragraph doing for the story? If nothing, toss it. If something, refine it or maybe move it, based on the task it’s completing.
- Write and write a shitty first draft, then go back and craft it into something. Get organized by using index cards. Not only do they force you to be succinct, but you can color code them by theme, time, and character. Use them for a “reverse outline” (where you start from something instead of nothing). Then turn them around and shuffle them up to mix up the plot.
- Use a word processing program like Scrivener. This solves organization problems. It gives you a binder, chapters, bulletin board of notecards, pictures that inspire your work, an archive for your research, tutorials, a note taking tool, etc., all for $40. Or you can try WriteWay Pro, WriteItNow, or yWriter5 (which is free!).
- Try flow charts: Draw the structure to re-see your work off the screen and think about it differently. Use Google drawings, or mind mapping apps like Scapple and Scrivener.
- Use a spreadsheet to create a scene list, or a “God’s eye view” of a story. Color code it.
- Get project management apps like Workflowy and Trello.
- Or use content curation apps like Pinterest, Scoop It!, Flipboard, etc., and social bookmarking apps.
- Google Apps Suite is cloud-based and free, and lets you work from anywhere.
- Try the snowflake method for designing a novel.
- Stuck? Bored? Come up with new ways of seeing your story: Print it. Draw it out. Change the font. Read it out loud. Record it. Carry it around and touch it. And don’t forget to share it when you’re ready.