Life After a Writing Conference

If you ever have the chance to attend a writing conference I cannot recommend them strongly enough. I learned so much and met so many new people; the networking alone is enough to spend the money and go.

Here are a few take-aways-

1. If you can swing it, do the optional classes/sessions before the conference gets into full swing. I went to a the Pitch Perfect session with Chuck Sambuchino from Writers Digest and left feeling like I had a great bag of tricks for writing and presenting a solid, yet interesting pitch.

2. Bring business cards- I did not and wish that I had. I talked to so many great people and took their cards with the express purpose of reconnecting with them once we’d left the conference. I put all the cards in one place and was able to email people one by one and check in with them a week late. This networking will help me build a great base of writing partners, writing friends, and beta readers. And the more we stay in touch the more likely we’ll be to buy and read each others’ books. But, I didn’t have a card, so my email address is swimming around lost in notebooks or on the back of a napkin that got thrown away.

3. If you have a very personal question, please wait until after the panel or speaker is through to ask it. Personal questions are best left for one on one conversations and not so great in a ballroom full of people.

4. If an agent, editor, or otherwise expert speaker says something you didn’t understand, please ask them to clarify. Please do NOT start arguing with them in the middle of their talk.

5. Be prepared, do you homework, know what you want to get out of the conference. If you are pitching to an agent or editor be sure they represent the type of work you’re pitching. Don’t ask questions that can be easily found online or that you should know if you’re trying to break into the writing business, like the difference between an editor and editing your book for submission.

6. If you’ve got a great story to tell, by all means do- but keep it brief. When you’re sitting around at the workshops, panels, and speaking sessions everyone is very friendly. I was able to practice my pitch and get feedback with lots of different people. I was also happy to be  a sounding board to people who wanted to practice their pitches. I know, as writers, we’re all in love with our books and could probably talk forever about them, but please don’t.

Now that the conference is over I’ve got a lot of work to do. I pitched to two agents and both responded with requests to see my work. One of the agents also wants to see another story I wrote last year.

Now that I’ve received feedback and gotten the request to send an older manuscript, I’m busy with the revision process. The book I pitched needs some work in the middle and end, though I think those changes will be fairly easy to make- maybe 10- 20 hours worth of work. The other manuscript needs a complete overhaul. A lot of the scenes are salvageable but the plot is changing pretty dramatically.

Oh, and did I mention I signed up for Camp Nanowriomo with my writing group, so I’ve also committed to writing a brand new story in the month of July.

I’m hoping to be finished with rewrites, revisions, and edits and ready to submit in early September. That may be a really ambitious date, especially since I haven’t done any work on either manuscript in a week. So, instead of blogging I should be writing. Well, you know, writing writing.

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Plans Begone! No Wait, Come Back!

I’m in the middle of revising my book and it occurred to me that I finally really like the direction it’s going in now. November Nanowrimo provided a great time to get past writer’s block and just power through a draft. It helped me rebuild a daily commitment to writing and forced me to show up to the page.

Revision is a great exercise in making decisions and really thinking through what’s important in this story. With my Nanowriomo stories, I’ve had to do A LOT of thinking through after the fact, rather than planning and thinking through before and during the writing process.

I’m a planner in all areas of my life. It’s something that I get sick of every so often and try to shed. I’ll live spontaneously for a few days and then inevitably revert back to my routine. It’s comfortable, it keeps me going. Last year, when I really put some effort into building a writerly life, I took a planner’s approach. I mapped out stories on index cards. I made graphs and charts of when characters would come in and out of scenes. I was pretty proud of my story before I even sat down to write it because it was all planned out and, assuming it went as planned, it would be awesome.

As we all know, assumptions are often wrong. I’d spent so much time planning and trying to be what I thought writers were and do what I thought writers did, that I forgot to include the creativity into my creative writing. Imagine my surprise when I wrote my first novel in a month and it was nothing like my planned outline. In fact, it didn’t have solid A and B plots with interwoven themes. It had one- dimensional characters following boring paths. It was frustrating. That novel is sitting on my hard drive and will potentially never see the light of day.

In that practice, I gave up control and let the story take over. I wasn’t sure about that whole “let the muse be your guide” and “your story wants to get told” rhetoric that you often read in creativity and writing books. I wasn’t sure I had a muse or a story to be told. I only knew I liked to write. I liked to put pen to paper and create. But, lo and behold , the story did come, not as I expected and planned, but it came nonetheless.

When I did Nano again this year I also planned out my story, but I knew for certain it would change as I went through the month. When November ended, once again I had an incredibly disjointed, not totally coherent story with a few glimmers of good dialogue and character emotion. What was different for me this time was my commitment to revision, thanks in large part to my writing group who read my first draft and offered invaluable feedback. I knew what was wrong with the story, but I needed to hear someone else say it too, so I knew I was on the right track and not just being too hard on myself.

Starting tomorrow my writing group is starting our own revision Nano. We’ve committed to certain daily revision practices (days, words, hours) and daily email check-ins to prod each other along. So my statement of finishing this draft by March 30th still stands. My commitment was to revise at least one existing chapter each day. They may not stay chapters, because a lot has to get cut and reworked, but I’ll go into the old chapters and see what I can do with each one, at least one a day. So that’s my plan, and muse be damned, I’m sticking to it!