Category Archives: Writing

How to Attend a Writers Conference; Part I: Choosing a Conference

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All over our country (indeed, all over the world) writers, agents, editors, and publishers come together periodically to share information, encourage one another, make connections, and discover the next literary star. If you write (or if you dream of writing), conferences can be an important aspect of your professional development.

brown wooden triangular tables and gray rolling chairs inside room

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Why to go to a writers conference:

  • To learn the craft
  • To see presentations by authors you admire
  • To hear about trends in publishing
  • To pitch your work to an agent or editor
  • To network with other writers

The first conference I ever attended was put on by American Christian Writers near my home.  It was an excellent opportunity for a beginning writer to quickly learn important information about the writing life. Over the decades I’ve gone to small local conferences and writers workshops as well as large national ones, such as the Mount Hermon Christian writers conference; Desert Nights, Rising Stars writers conference at Arizona State University; and the legendary Maui Writers Conference (now defunct). As many as I’ve attended, I’ve always learned something new, or been reminded of things I’d forgotten, or come away with new ideas and excitement about writing.

How to choose a writers conference

An online search for writers conferences will turn up thousands of results. The Poets and Writers website maintains a comprehensive database of conferences.

Each conference offers one or more kinds of events: workshops, book signings, critique sessions, publisher roundtables, dinners, keynote speakers, agent panels, pitch opportunities, freelancing seminars, and/or more.

Determine what you want to get out of the conference, and then chose one that matches your needs. For example, if your dream is to write essays for periodicals, don’t go to SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).

Here are some other important factors to consider:

  • Cost. A small, local, one-day conference might cost as little as $50 for three workshops. A large, national, multiple-day conference will cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Generally, the bigger the conference, the greater the price. Add to that the cost of travel, meals (sometimes included), and lodging, and you’re talking major expenditure. Only you can decide whether it’s worth the investment.
  • Location. A nearby conference can reduce or eliminate the costs of travel and/or lodging. But the conference that features the author, agent, or editor you’d like to work with might be several states away. Maybe you have a friend in that city who’s been inviting you to come for a visit. Maybe it’s in a spot you’ve always wanted to vacation in.
  • Lodging. If you go to a local conference, you have the option of commuting from your own home. If you want to go farther away and can stay with friends, find a way to express your gratitude, whether it’s bringing a gift, taking them out to dinner, or staying an extra day and babysitting their kids so they can have some alone time together. If you must go to a hotel, remember that you are not usually required to stay at the hotel where the conference is; sometimes an alternative is a lot less expensive, but maybe not as convenient. When I went to Maui, I could have had free transportation between the airport and the host hotel; instead, I rented a car and stayed at a nice but less extravagant hotel and saved almost $200. But I also had a Mustang convertible to go to restaurants, stores, the beach, and other places I wanted to see while I was on the island.

Maui

  • Presenters. Are you familiar with the authors who are giving talks? Do you admire their work? If agents will be there, do you know the authors they represent? Are they looking for manuscripts like yours? Will editors of your dream publications attend?
  • Classes and workshops. Some conferences offer all-day (or multi-day) tracks in specific genres, so you might be able to sign up for several workshops in the fiction track or the poetry track or the biography track and so on, some with “homework” assignments to be completed during class time or breaks. Be sure they’re offering what you want to learn about. Other conferences offer one-hour classes on many writing topics, such as freelancer bookkeeping, common grammar mistakes, futuristic world building, writing love scenes, or how to conduct an interview. Make sure there are at least as many offerings that interest you as there are sessions, so you don’t have big blocks of time with nothing to do.

Coming Saturday: How to Attend a Writers Conference; Part II: Before, During, and After.

In the Meme Time: Meaningful Writing

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Dear Writer Friends, I have a favor to ask…

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If you have gotten worthwhile writing advice from ARHtistic License, would you please nominate me for a best writing blog award? I try to include at least one helpful writing article each month, and I would like to attract some new readers. Thanks!

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Guest Post: Focusing Your Novel with a Journalist’s Trick by Andrea Lundgren

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Guest Post: Focusing Your Novel with a Journalist’s Trick by Andrea Lundgren

Thank you to Andrea Lundgren and A Writer’s Path for this excellent article on writing the novel.

Okay, perhaps it’s more of a tool than a trick, but journalists have been using the “Who-What-Where-When-Why-and-How” format on hard news pieces for well over a century (to judge by the sort of articles they write, where each of these items are addressed), and I’ve found the six questions are equally useful when writing a novel.

Because, like journalists, we’re writing a story about something that happened…it’s just that it happened in our imagination. The standard six questions can be used when brainstorming your next story, focusing your editing, or trying to come up with a blurb (which is rather like a very short news article about your novel, without the ending disclosed).

  • Who. This may seem obvious, but a lot of times, authors need to clarify whose story they are telling. Is it the young lad who’s just learning to swing a sword? The hardened veteran? The king? The spy for the other side? The woman who’s hiding her identity so she can fight alongside her countrymen? If you use first person narration, it should be very obvious who the story belongs to, but when you’re using third person omniscient or third person close, with many different character points-of-view, this will become critical and a bit more of a puzzle for you, the author, to solve. The novel can’t belong to everyone or the reader will get confused, so you have to latch onto a “Who.”

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Now, you might have a story that features multiple characters as the “Who,” like The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, but picking out a Who, even if it’s only on a scene-by-scene basis, will help ensure you don’t head-hop. And you might try writing a “group story” from one character’s POV just to see how it feels. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from Edmund’s POV would be a deep, heart-felt story of redemption while the same plot from Lucy’s POV would highlight the agony of losing Aslan. (And you wouldn’t have to shut the other characters out of your tale; you’d just focus on one or the other as the main character of the story.)

  • What. This is the sentence or two that is the heart of the story (and should probably appear, in some form or another, in your book’s description/blurb). In the case of The Lord of the Rings,  it’s the journey to destroy the ring of power despite the evil forces that lurk in every corner of the realm. In The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, it’s about discovering a world where it’s always winter, never Christmas…or perhaps the struggle against the temptation of being a king when it means betraying your family and friends.

The “What” can be the hardest question for an author to answer because, for us, the story is made up of so many scenes. It’s about the bath at Frodo’s house, the betrayal of Gandalf, the chase by the ring wraiths…and we can get bogged down in the details until we can’t see the big picture of what 0ur novel is about. But, if we don’t answer the “What” question, our story can spiral into a long, wandering tale without any focus, and writing a blurb can be well nigh impossible (save for something vague about “A tale of friends as they walk through the joys and sorrows of Middle Earth).

To continue reading this article, click here.

Monday Morning Wisdom #189

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Monday Morning Wisdom #189

But to be perfectly frank, this childish idea that the author of a novel has some special insight into the characters in the novel…it’s ridiculous. That novel was composed of scratches on a page, dear. The characters inhabiting it have no life outside of those scratches. What happened to them? They all ceased to exist the moment the novel ended. ~Peter Van Houten in The Fault in our Stars by John Green.

Review of Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham

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Review of Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham

I actually read this book twenty years ago—and remembered nothing from it. But it was full of my underlining and border notes in my handwriting, so I definitely read it.

The late Jack Bickham wrote 75 novels (two of which were made into films) and six books on the craft of fiction. He understands how to write a story.

Yet, as I was rereading this book over the course of more than a year, I found myself resisting much of what Bickham expounds. For example, Bickham says every scene must end with a disaster. I rejected that idea, because many of my scenes don’t and I couldn’t picture what would have to happen to follow that convention.

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Then I read Children of Blood and Bone. Every scene in Children of Blood and Bone ends with a crisis. (Except maybe one.) And I couldn’t put CoB&B down. The pacing was so fast. The problems were so compelling.

So I began to take Scene and Structure more seriously.

Some of the terms in S&S I’d seen before, but I thought they meant something different. For example, I thought a scene goal was the author’s goal for the scene. It’s actually the viewpoint character’s goal for the scene. I suppose I would have known that if I’d majored in creative writing in college instead of music education.

Here are some points I learned from Scene and Structure:

  • Moment by moment, transactions occur in your scene that involve this progression: stimulus, internalization, response. A cause and effect relationship exists between the stimulus and the response. The response should make sense as a reaction to the stimulus. If the response would confuse the reader, an explanation is necessary; this occurs while the character processes the stimulus during the internalization phase.
  • At the beginning of the story, the main character must state a goal. The reader unconsciously forms a story question: i.e. will the character achieve his goal?
  • At the beginning of each scene, the viewpoint character states a short-term goal related to the story goal, and the reader again formulates a scene question about its attainment. The next element of the scene is conflict. In order to keep the reader engaged, the scene must end with a disaster.
  • Each scene disaster is followed by sequel (sometimes with a connecting transition) in which the character processes what’s just happened. Sequel consists of emotion, thought, decision (creation of the next scene’s goal), and action, which launches the next scene.

Scene and Structure covers much more related to writing the novel, including suggestions on how to create a master plot for your book, and an appendix of excerpts of published novels illustrating some of the concepts introduced in S&S.

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This was not an easy book to read. I often had to read sections over and over to understand them. I don’t know if my confusion was the fault of the author or of my own limited intelligence. However, I will be reading this book again, and filtering my manuscript-in-progress through all the bullet points listed. I would recommend Scene and Structure for authors who are not satisfied with their own work but don’t know what’s wrong with it: you may have structural deficiencies.

Creative Juice #123

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Creative Juice #123

Twelve articles to help creatives take their artistic endeavors to the next level. Soak up some inspiration!