This weekend marked the return of one of my favorite annual events… and of course I don’t mean the loss of an hour of sleep. One look at the bags under my eyes and you would know that’s not something I yearn for. Nope, Saturday was Northwest Arkansas Writers’ Annual Writers Workshop. I anticipate this event for a number of reasons:
- It’s yet another chance to hang out with my friends.
- I get to network with writers and other professionals in the industry.
- Information is always presented in a fun and low key way.
- It’s the only conference I know of that’s completely free to attend.
This year was no exception. I sat with my two partners in crime (one of whom was actually mistaken for my sister, which is hilarious because she’s a blonde with blue eyes and I’m brunette and brown) and we met some really nice people. We also heard some great information, the highlights of which I’m going to pass along to you here.
There’s a group of five women in the NWA Writers Group who call themselves The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen. Unfortunately one of them, Claire Croxton, was sick and couldn’t attend (however we’ve been promised a blog post from her regarding getting book reviews). The other four put on an excellent presentation.
Pamela Foster began the day discussing sense of place. Frequent readers of my blog might recognize Pam’s ability to set a mood—she’s guest posted for me before. Her ability to construct a scene is second to none. She defines a sense of place as nothing more—and nothing less—than the world you create for your characters and all the methods through which they experience it. It is not and cannot be separate from point of view and internalization, because it is through point of view and internalization that the character shows the reader the world.
She then introduced another “sister,” Ruth Burkett Weeks. Ruth discussed document formatting. It’s a standard assumption in the industry that if a writer is sloppy with formatting, she’ll be sloppy with writing, so she spent a few minutes covering industry standards. Then she pulled out the big guns—Ruth is all about the bling. There’s no point in writing if you’re going to be boring. She likes words that sizzle and pop. She gave us a long list of lazy words to avoid and examples of ways to avoid their usage and strengthen those passages. She ended her presentation with a word of advice about the glitz—a little will make your work shimmer; a lot will make it bruise. Avoid purple prose.
That brought Jan Morrill to the podium. You might recognize Jan from a recent guest post she did here utilizing a strategy she actually discussed at length at the conference. Jan discussed ways to get to know your characters and make them memorable. She covered interviewing them, having them describe artwork in their voice, writing a scene over from a different character’s point of view, and writing a letter from one character to another. Jan gave us examples of the strategies she used from her published book and her work in progress and then gave us time to work on our own character interview. Many people learned new things about their characters.
Jan introduced Linda Apple, who is referred to as the Mama of the group. Linda covered reasons why writers don’t write and offered solutions to their problems. She really nailed them all, too—editing as you go, having no ideas, feeling drained, spending time on other writing activities, sabotaging yourself, managing your time ineffectively… And like a true mama, she had excellent advice for conquering all of the issues. She left us with a poignant thought: There’s only one guarantee in writing… if you don’t write anything, you’ll never be published.
If you get a chance to hear the Sisters speak, I highly recommend it. I just took a six week course they taught at the Fayetteville Public Library, and they did a phenomenal job. You won’t be disappointed.
After lunch, one of the founding members of NWA Writers took her turn offering some advice. Velda Brotherton talked to us about promotion efforts. Contrary to what many writers think/wish/hope, promotion doesn’t start after the contract is signed or the book is published. In fact, you may not get the contract if you haven’t started connecting with readers long before your book is even written. The first thing an agent or editor will do is Google you, and if your name doesn’t pop up, your novel won’t get picked up. Velda strongly recommended having a presence on Facebook, Google+, and Pinterest, in addition to a webpage and a blog. Her research shows that Google+ may overtake Facebook in the not too distant future, because Google+ allows you to choose who views your content where Facebook decides for you. Above all else, she stressed that a social media presence is about connecting with readers, not about hawking your books. We’re here to make friends and help people, not scare them away by being nuisances.
The afternoon ended with the other co-founder, Dusty Richards, giving us a writing tutorial. It was twice as nice because he used many examples from his own books. He covered everything from the importance of writing short stories as well as novels to how sequels must stand on their own as well as in their place in their series. Dusty is an expert storyteller, and he engaged the audience from the first piece of advice to bidding us farewell. He already has the room reserved for next year’s conference (March 8, 2014) and I know I’ll be attending. I hope I’ll see some of you there. Like I said, it’s a great day to hang out with your friends, network with people in the industry, and learn valuable information. Mark your calendars now so you don’t forget!