This July’s PNWA Writers’ Conference marked my third go, and while I learned six cups of coffee, three glasses of wine, a gallon of water, two Advil and a 90-minute “recovery” massage worth of stuff, the most important bit of enlightenment from it all was this: I’m still in it. What I mean by those four trite words is that for the first time, I recognized, and congratulated myself on, my commitment to writing this book. Persistence. Thick-skin building. Dedication to honing my craft. Call it whatever, but in and of itself, Year Three was a gorgeous accomplishment.
In 2012, I was a conference newbie, excited by other people’s excitement (that includes writers, speakers, agents and editors), but feeling uncertain with regard to my ability to write a really good memoir. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I still had five months to go before I would even complete the first draft, and it lived up to Anne Lamott’s expectations in every way, shape and form.
In Year Two, mild embarrassment took hold: “Yeaaah, I’m still not done, but soon, I hope!” I told myself I should have had the book completed by then, and doggone it, 2013 was the last time I’d be pitching that sucker. As always, the conference was fantastic, and then I went home and promptly developed writer’s block from all of my self-imposed conditional thinking (my writer friend Molly Greene picked up on this in an email, immediately called me, and imparted this wisdom: “Since when does how you feel have anything to do with what you need to do? Get writing.”). Tough love works; back to it, I hustled.
This year was different, starting from about February, when I really began to study mindfulness, and even practice it sometimes. Bestest thing ever, after pugs. By the time the writers’ conference rolled around, I had both supinating feet on the ground, and my head neither lived in the clouds, nor hid in my ass. I was comfortable in the knowledge that I have now written a good manuscript—it’s not really good yet, but with the right help, I can get it there. I also have the experience of “being in the biz” (sort of) long enough to more easily navigate the terrain, and am realistic with regard to what I can expect. And happily, I’m finally enjoying the writing journey. What stops a large number of book writers in their early days is pure, high-grade neuroses. But Year Three, people! I’ve waded through. I’m still in it.
Enough about me, let’s get to conference highlights. I attended a number of workshops, and this is my chance to give a shout-out to some of the presenters, and share some bits.
- The Many Ways to Be a Writer – Laurel Saville
Writers can get stuck thinking that the only path is to earn an MFA degree, get published in a few lit journals, write a book, and get on Oprah. There are other ways to practice the craft, and earn money, including work-for-hire books, specialty publications (niche topics), corporate communications, and blogging. Also, volunteering to write for non-profit organizations can be a win-win, because you gain both clips and networking opportunities with board members.
- From Slush Pile to Printed Page: Giving Your Poems, Short Stories, and Essays the Best Chance for Publication – Tanya Chernov
A former editor at the Los Angeles Review, Tanya emphasized the importance of taking a fresh approach to old topics, and building familiarity with a publication before you submit to it. You don’t need to subscribe to everything, but in 30 minutes on their site, you can usually read enough of what they’ve put up digitally to know what it’s about. Be wary of publications that charge reading fees. Finally, two good website tools for researching publications and tracking submissions are Duotrope.com and Newpages.com.
- Moment-by-Moment Character Development – Terry Persun
Consider character development in a three-level fashion. Level 1 is “the police report,” e.g., height, weight, eye color, location, clothing, etc. Level 2 is “the military report,” e.g., what are the character’s skills and talents, quirks, beliefs? Finally, Level 3 is “the psychological report,” e.g., the character’s feelings, motivations, dreams. Know your character before you start to write so you understand how they would respond in a given situation.
- Clean Up Your Manuscript Before You Submit – Cherie Tucker
The definitive grammar resource is the Gregg Reference Manual by William A. Sabin, 10th or 11th edition, Cherie says. An ellipsis is for a partial quote or a trail off, THAT’S IT! For an interruption, use a dash. There is no “alright;” it’s “all right,” TRUST HER. “Further” is deeper, “farther” is distance, “exact same” is redundant, and if you “feel badly,” it means you have Novocaine in your fingertips and can’t read Braille (“feel bad” is the correct usage).
- Takin’ It to the Street… Team – Sabrina York
In the book world, street teams are marketing volunteers, made up of fans, other authors, reviewers, etc. Set up a secret Facebook group, only invite as many people as you can effectively manage, make it fun, ask them specifically for what you want, and give them things (blurbs, tweets, etc.) they can cut and paste. Use your street team to spread out your efforts. Members can go lots of places you can’t, like libraries and bookstores in Omaha (unless you actually live in Omaha). Finally, start them out with a welcome packet that lists the benefits of being a team member, e.g., using their names in books (as character names, or in the acknowledgments), prize drawings, swag, first look at ARCs, etc.
My last words (not!): As writers, we tend to be incredibly hard on ourselves. My advice to those who are in Year One or Two (or Three, or Seven, because really, nobody is counting except you), and still working on their book manuscript, is the same advice my dad ripped off from Winston Churchill: Never, never, never give up. The Boston Tunnel Project wasn’t completed in a year or two (or three, or seven). Go to conferences, learn, write, learn, write, learn and write. And if you’re in the Northwest, or have a desire to visit, make sure to hit PNWA’s 2015 Writers’ Conference, which will celebrate the organization’s 60th anniversary. I’ll be there with bells on. Very soothing, mindfulness-inducing, zen-like bells.
Were you at PNWA 2014? What did you think? Or have you been to any other writers’ conferences recently? I’d love it if you shared your experiences in the comments.
I have loved your writing style since — I don’t know — maybe two years ago now that I discovered you through a post about your wild independent adventures. Brave, funny, self-effacing Laura. (and with a mentally ill mother, so we share that in common).
I have gone to several writer’s conferences, including one in New York City at which we all pitched our novels to publishers. We were split into groups and met with our mentor who helped us hone our pitching style. I was in a group with 17 other women and those fantastic humans have become life-long friends. It’s amazing what 36 hours of round-the-clock tension, fear, anticipation, lack of sleep, and 90-degree city heat can do to bond people!
My manuscript was chosen by Brown Publishers for a read-through, but was rejected with a very nice letter of explanation. I’m still working on that same manuscript!
Perseverance is a very good thing!
Thanks for being out there, Laura! I appreciate you!
Laura Zera says
Josie, the ability to persevere is fed by encouragement, so thank you for being here for two years, I appreciate you, too!! Wow, a New York conference sounds like it would be quite the experience. I’m so glad you journeyed to that one and others, made friends, and most of all, are still working on your manuscript. You know *exactly* where I’m coming from. 🙂 And congrats on having it chosen for a read-through by Brown. All of these things are to be celebrated along the way.
Chris James says
Great post, Laura – your natural writing ability is right here on your blog for all of us to read and enjoy. The very best of luck with the ms. Fingers are crossed here! 🙂
Laura Zera says
It means so much to have you in my corner, Chris. Thank you! It’s been a pleasure to follow your progress, as well. xo
Molly Greene says
Hey you, sweet girl! I got a little teary that you remembered that conversation and that it meant something to you. The truth is, I have to repeat that sentence to myself as least once a week. We’re all in this together. Onward and upward! To infinity and beyond!
Laura Zera says
I got teary that you got teary; funny how that works, hey?
Remember it, heck, that phone call set me back on the path, Molly. Yes, we’re in it together, for sure. I cherish that, and being a part of your writing journey.
Molly Greene says
Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com says
Hi Laura! Good for you for going ZEN on your writing. I sort of float in and out but it is SUCH great advice. I agree that it is so wise to surround yourself with other writers who have the same goals as yours for the support and encouragement. It can be a bit lonely when we are out here by yourself so going to conferences and connecting with others is ALWAYS good. And I definitely love and agree with the advice from Laural Seville.
Laura Zera says
Thanks, Kathy. At least when you go in and out of being zen, you float. That’s better than plunging or stampeding or catapulting. 😉
Yeah, it’s soooo easy to be hard on one’s self as a writer. Most of my writing blocks tend to stem from that because then I’ll just find excuses to anything but the writing. I will be insanely productive on EVERYTHING but the novel. What a splendid way to avoid working on it… the conference definitely helped put my mind back in the right place. I’m back at revisions, but also seriously considering using a developmental editor when I finish the third draft. I know I”ll be pitching it again next year, but next summer that baby better be done. Three years is enough 🙂
Laura Zera says
Wait, did you READ my post? What if it’s not done next year, huh? That is okay, too!!! It will get done, I know it. Maybe by next year, maybe not. And plus, you’ve been doing all kinds of other great writing. p.s. regarding the writer’s block, do you want me to give your phone number to Molly? :p
Seriously, I know that it’s a fine balance between procrastination and permission, but just remember that lots of books have taken more than three years to write.
Also wanted to add that seeing you and Carmen at the conference was a total highlight, and it wouldn’t have been the same without you. I’m so glad you guys came out from Idaho for it!
Belinda Pollard says
Laura, I wrote the first page of my novel about 15 years ago. Then I did a research trip in 2005. Then my Dad had a stroke, and the novel became Unimportant for a while. Then I got serious about it again in 2011 and finished the first draft over about 9 months. It’s been in Revision Purgatory ever since. This year, I think it really might actually finally make its way into the world!
My policy is, if you can’t be a shining example, at least be an encouragement to others who can always say, “Well, at least I’m not THAT bad.” 😉 So there you go, you are a speedster compared to me.
And by the way, it was Molly Greene who said to me, “Stop playing with cover designs and write the book, Belinda.” She’s a gem. 🙂
Laura Zera says
Haaa! You crack me up. And hmmm, what will it take to get that novel OUT of Revision Purgatory?
Love that Molly had a butt kick for you, too. What would we do without her?
Jodi from Heal Now and Forever says
Oh it would have been so fun to go with you. I went to one writers conference and I don’t think I’d hit another without a finished manuscript. Maybe by next years. I think this is really going to be my year. It’s amazing how long it takes to write a book, especially when you are busy building a platform for said book! I love your fun nature and sense of humor!. I love witnessing your ride!
Laura Zera says
Yes, I remember, you went to San Francisco! I am glad you brought up the platform building, because the longer you take to write the book, the better your platform will be by the time that book is done, and that can only help. So, that’s the upside of taking a long time!
Thanks for being here, Jodi. Watching what you’re doing has been an inspiration for me. You’ve rolled out so much cool stuff in the past couple of years.
Jagoda Perich-Anderson, M.A. says
How great that you and Jeri hooked up!
This is a terrific motivational “keep on keepin’ on” post as well as informative. I did not know that “further” means deep and only “farther” means distance. The street team is a great idea too. Thanks for sharing all that.
I haven’t been to a writer’s conference in a while because I haven’t been working on my novel in a while. Other priorities have taken over but it’s there simmering on the back burner. Eventually it’ll boil over and I’ll have to get back to it and clean up the mess.
The Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland is a good one too, by the way, if you ever want a change of scene.
Laura Zera says
Oooh, thanks for reminding me about Willamette, I’ve heard that one is good. Yep, this was the second year that Jeri and I tagged up. And I will be here cheering for you when you pick up on writing your novel again!