Creative Writing 101,  Inspiration,  Motivation,  Writing World

Get Yer Writer’s Fuel: Conference Highlights

Have you ever been to writing conference and came back all pumped up to write? Hopefully, if you’ve been to a conference, you have! And that’s exactly how I felt after this year’s Third Annual Creative Writer’s Conference of Middle Tennessee!

After the first conference, I came back to writing all pumped up and ready to keep writing after what I saw as several hard failures – aka, several times of falling hard on my butt. After last year’s conference, I was in the middle of feeling good about myself (ha,ha), so I came back feeling like the world was my oyster, and I was a shiny special pearl. 😛

This year, after not feeling so good about myself (#writerlife), I came back with a renewed hope that all the hard work really is worth it, and now I’m super excited again, enough to get me through my next couple of projects, or at least this next one. And sometimes, that’s all you need. ^_^

First up, Fiction Writer Linda Busby-Parker, one of the mentors for MTSU’s Non-Degree Writing Program, MTSU Write, formerly The Loft, opened the floor touching on reasons why we write and choose to publish what we write. She said there are three main reasons we choose to write:
1) We enjoy getting in someone else’s head/Going back in time – trying on someone else’s shoes, if you will.
2) We want to entertain (the category I most fall into, though I also fall into category #1)
3) We want to explore certain themes (things like literary fiction, poetry, and Hunger Games probably fall most into this category)

I think it’s important to be aware of why we’re writing. If there is a theme we’re exploring, we need to make sure that’s coming across. It’s not always going to happen by accident (though sometimes it does! Which is always fun.) Personally, I would love to make people think twice before they turn their lights off at night, but I’ll totally take an instance or two of them looking over their shoulder. 😉

Next up, fiction writer Jennie Fields walked us through an awesome “Breaking Through Writer’s Block” topic and this thing she called “Good Writer’s Hygiene.” ^_^ Here are the highlights:

I could seriously do a whole post on the quotes she put up!

Good Writing Hygiene
-Have a getting ready to write routine
Same Time, Same Place – somewhere you’re comfortable and happy – daily or several times a week (like M-F, MWF, Tuesdays and Thursdays, whatever)
Norman Mailer said: “If you tell yourself you’re going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material.”

-Remember you DO have time to write, even if it’s just 15 minutes, that’s enough to stay in the game – Find it.
(And I want to note, if you don’t want to write or you don’t feel like it, it’s okay to take a break – we need them, just stop saying it’s because you don’t have time, because that is not true. Midnight is coming for all us whether we’ve done something with our day or not.)

Jennie recommended the following books that are filled with writing exercises for fiction writers of all kinds:
What If by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter
Now Write by Sherry Ellis
Fast Fiction by Roberta Allen

Then she walked us through one of her favorite writing exercises. It’s called mix and match. You write down 3 Occupations and 3 Random Actions. Then take the 3rd Occupation and the 2nd action (3-2 or 3b as she liked to call it), and write for five minutes. I had a short story about a water boy taking dance lessons. ^_^ She says writing exercises are great, because sometimes the best way to break through writer’s block is to write. “Even when it’s hard, even if you feel blocked, the best thing you can do is keep writing.”

Other suggestions: rewrite what you wrote the day before, do exercises with your existing work by changing the tense, point of view character, flipping from 1st to third and vice versa, and if all else fails, write about not being able to write. 🙂

Then she closed with one last book recommendation, this one on writing blocks and fears by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (which someone in the audience said is awesome.)

Next up, poet TJ Jarrett shared her story as a computer engineer/award winning poet and how she got back to writing again. I loved when she talked about going ahead and mixing two things that seemingly don’t go together, because in the greater scheme of things – it does.

Being a software engineer and a poet, she pointed out how some people look at that and say that they don’t go together. However, being a software engineer helps her in her writing. It reminded of me of the day I realized all of my hobbies actually help me write. The computer skills, the sewing, the piano – they all layer together somehow, making me the writer that I am. And I love how she encouraged everyone to embrace all the other things about themselves. Who knew that disassembling a computer could help me with my writing. ^_^

She talked further about not being afraid to read other things for fear that they will influence us or because we think they’re better than us and it’s intimidating. The best thing we can do is consume it anyway, take those things in and let them bring out the creativity and passion we have in ourselves. My favorite thing she said is this, “You shouldn’t beat yourself up if you can’t write every night — you don’t do your best work in a race — focus on doing your best work.”

She ended with talking about her experience with a critique group, and while it can be a great thing, she said, sometimes we put too much stock in someone else’s opinion – we can’t aim to people please – “when it feels true, keep going with it.”

Next was my favorite session of the day! Writer, Editor, and Indie Publisher, Jessica Chesak, gave us this AWESOME handout about things to looks for when we’re self-editing, starting with asking ourselves how we can write this better – stronger, more impactful, more emotional, more efficient. I could also go on and on about this!

One of the things she highlighted is adverbs, but it was the way she explained this that stuck out. Often times when we use an adverb, we don’t even need it. We’ll write something like, “I hate you,” she said angrily. When that could be written like this: “I hate you.” Because in this case, the dialogue speaks for itself. Other times, we’ll use an adverb to point something out like, “She walked slowly to the fridge.” When it would be stronger if we said this: “She crept up to the fridge.”

Honestly, she is the first person who’s been able to explain this whole adverb thing to me. I’m scared of people, but I thanked her afterwards, because that’s how awesome she is. Plus, she was super tall like a model. She really felt like a celebrity. Lol!

Another thing she said that stood out in particular was the page on Participial Phrases. For those of you who may not know, a participle phrase is when you say something like, “Watching the taxi cab pull away, he pulled out his phone and called his wife.” We run the danger of doing this when we’re trying not to start every sentence with “he/she/I” – by starting it with an “-ing verb” – but there are MANY ways to start a sentence. Let’s not be lazy, yes? ^_^ The problems you run into with this sometimes is that you’ll have people doing two actions at once that they can’t do at once, like “Walking to the mailbox, he carried the mail back into the house.” Like you can’t walk to the mailbox AND carry mail back into your house at the same time!

Between this and the keynote, the host gave us an important reminder about writing: We’re never going to get to the point where it’s easy — we just have to keep going.

Last we had the amazing Keynote by Fiction Writer Adam Ross. The most exciting thing he said was when he told us Stephen King reviewed his Debut Novel in some fancy newspaper thing. I almost died. But anyway, here are some of the notes I took:

To write a book, we have to be willing to sacrifice our most important commodity: time. We’re writers because we have something to say, and we need to spend the time in order to say it. “The war for success happens on the page. And that is the only thing you can control.”  Writing a novel is like discovering a statue in a cavern – the statue is already there – the story already has a specific DNA – our job is to decode it. TRUST YOURSELF.

Something I really needed to hear was this: We can’t fix the problem until we get it on the page – as in, We can’t fix crap until it’s written. Because it’s only when the novel is finished that we can see the imbalances. We can’t fix it in our head, in theory, or even in outline, because sometimes things change as the story evolves. FINISHING IS HARD! And we can’t always write things super fast. Some stories take a long, long time to form. Likewise, we should revise as many times as we need until the story feels solid. There is no way to tell on paper if a novel is going to be great or not. The only way to write a great novel is to be resilient – “waiting out revision after revision and holding on to the end – to the finish line.”

What I liked best about him is that he said EXACTLY what I didn’t even know I needed to hear. I’m always pushing myself to finish things as quick as possible, and I’m realizing now that I’ve been shooting myself in the foot by giving myself such a narrow timeline in which to finish my work. I draft fast and that’s probably to my benefit as I have a tendency to freak out and trash stuff. But it’s the things that come after the first draft that are the most important. And this is where I feel like I’m making the most mistakes. In all the rushing I do, I’m not revising nearly enough. I’ve probably been needing a to a few more rounds on everything I’ve ever written, except maybe one thing.

Anyway, the coordinator said that attending a writing conference can be like eating pasta before a marathon – it’s fuel! And I definitely left feeling more hopeful and energized!


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