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“Find Your Teeth and Bite”: 2016 Conference Highlights

Welcome to highlights from the Fourth Annual Fall Creative Writing Conference, sponsored by MTSU Write.

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This year, the conference, held the second Saturday of September, was under new management and we got BAGS!! And a mug. Very exciting. 😊 In addition to that, I got to take home the gorgeous bouquet of sunflowers and other gorgeous foliage on my table!

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But that wasn’t the only thing that changed this year. Previously, poetry, non-fiction, and fiction sessions were all lumped together in the same room – one after the other. I liked this because it was nice to get a little bit of everything. However, this year they did longer breakout sessions instead.

All in all, for people good at making decisions, the new format is very beneficial and gives us the chance to dive in deeper to a topic we care about. But…I did miss the poetry exercises.

Our choices for the morning session were: Dramatic Monologue and Persona of Poems, Secrets of the Heart: A Deeper Look at Character, and Living a Proactive Literary Life.

The choice should have been simple. I’m not a poet, though I do write poems!! 😀 And I’m already proactive. 😛 Not to mention, this is the first time I was actually working on something. At all the previous conferences I’ve been to, I had always just finished something and was either in limbo or in the very early stages of trying to write something new.

Still, I stood there like a lump for several seconds before deciding on the Character panel lead by Kim Teter – teacher, writer of historical literary fiction, and former graduate of the MTSU Write Program.

This ended up being very good. She talked about the four facets of character – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Or body, heart, mind, and soul. Then delved really deep into the different things that influence and shape our characters and how we reveal who they are in our stories through narrative, action, dialogue, and dress.

Through the writing exercises, I discovered that I wasn’t 100% settled on what my character (from “The Puppet Box”) wanted out of life and what motivated her actions. The good news is that I figured it out in that session. The bad news is that she doesn’t want anything. She has no overreaching goals. She’s just going through some stuff and changing and starting to realize that she doesn’t have to live her life by anyone else’s standards but her own. What comes with that is a complete breakdown in structure.

And…I think that’s good. And I kind of have to be okay with it anyway, because, I can’t force a giant goal on the girl, she’s lazy. And…we don’t force stuff anymore, right? Right. 🙂

After the morning session, we moved on to lunch with a fabulous & delicious Make-Your-Own-Sandwich bar, and there was a most awesome centerpiece on the table. To be different, I decided to sit with some college students. Can I just say that there is a big difference between a 20 year old and a 30 year old? Much bigger difference than there is between 30 and 40. But it was interesting conversation.

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When lunch was over, we had a Keynote by Alice Randall (a woman keynote speaker finally!), a professor, songwriter, screenwriter, producer, and writer of Literary Fiction. First, she gave some simple advice to any songwriters in the room, advice passed down from the late Harlan Howard. The question: “What do you need for a good country song.” And he replied, “Three cords and the truth.” 🙂

Then she moved on to the heart of her talk. She spoke on a number of interwoven topics, but the central theme was “Find your teeth and bite. Find your teeth, your inside, your wisdom, and bite into a subject of significance – Reveal what would otherwise remain unknown.” We don’t have to write non-fiction to reveal the truth in ourselves. She said you can do it in outer space, the past, the present, in Middle Earth. Everywhere. (And don’t make me tell you where Middle Earth is, people!)

After this, and after Alice walked around to a few people, including me, and asked us what we were working on, it was time for the second round of breakout sessions. Choices: Shifting Points of View: The Optical Illusions of Writing (the one I kind of wish I went to), Finding Your Literary Voice, and The How-To’s of Traditional Publishing – the one I ended up going to, led by the director of the MTSU Write program and previous director of the conference, Karen Alea Ford, freelancer and writer of short fiction and short non-fiction.

I didn’t give it as much thought as I should have, but the good thing is that I got a really good idea in this panel for how to approach querying the next time I talk myself into it. And that alone is worth missing out on the Point of View session…I hope. I actually have an idea, too, that is a great big mess because of a multiple point of view problem, but I’ll figure out or it just won’t get done. (Hear that, story – fix yoself!)

Most of this was stuff was I already know – elevator pitches, twitter pitches, #MSWL, QueryTracker, the structure of a query. But it was very interesting, so I enjoyed it quite a bit. Plus, I felt encouraged to actually make use of the MSWL website. And encouragement goes a long way. Plus, Karen is great.

Previous Conference Posts
Fail Better Next Time
UTOPYA Con 2014 – Take Me To Your Reader
That Time I Talked To A Gnat
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