It’s been over a week since I returned from DC and I am finally feeling somewhat normal again! I think the mark of a successful conference is when you come home completely exhausted and brain dead. So now that my brain is functioning again, I thought I’d share my experiences.
This year, there weren’t a large amount of workshops that called to me, but the ones that did were exactly what I needed. The ones I enjoyed the most:
The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass. A friend and I once called Donald Maass the “uberagent” or the Nora Roberts of agents…and when you see the man give a workshop, you know that’s true. I’ve attended a one hour session of his workshop before, but this one was two hours and by the end of those two hours, he had helped me figure out two of the three biggest problems I was having in my manuscript. One of the things he teaches that I love is the Hero versus Ordinary man concept — that every character is either a hero or an ordinary person. And he challenges you to find a way, within 5 pages of this character’s introduction into the story, to show a quality of the other side. If the character is a hero (such as someone in the military, or say a stay at home mother with twelve adopted children) you have to find a way to make them seem human, more relatable. And if the character is a normal, every-day person, you have to find a way to make them heroic. It can be a matter of a strong love they feel for someone, a selfless act, or anything up to saving someone’s life. The object is to add a layer of complexity and make them relatable.
And I realized as I was sitting in this workshop, that Donald Maass does this himself. He comes into that room full of writers who see him as a “hero” — he’s in the position of authority as a speaker– and within a matter of minutes, he tells a story that makes him human, makes him relatable. I’ve seen him do this twice, and it is very effective. I highly recommend his workshops if you ever get a chance.
The second one that made an impact on me was Jennifer Crusie’s workshop. She talked about turning points in a novel, how to structure it, prop it up and where to make the big turns in your novel that turn directions. Turning points are when you take the story or character as you know them to be and send it or them in a new direction. Turning points don’t mean the character’s goal changes, it just means how she or he achieves that goal changes. I loved her explanations of these – it definitely made me look at this is a more constructed way.
Another workshop I attended was Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s workshop and she said a phrase that I took to heart and have committed to memory. “Give yourself permission to put garbage on the page.” The hardest element of a book for me to write is the first draft. I have my outline usually, I know the big events and sometimes the small ones, but I can become stuck in the idea of writing the wrong thing if I focus too much on this first draft. Her words were very freeing because it reminded me that a first draft is just that — it’s like the pencil sketch you draw (with big eraser in hand) before committing it to paint or oils. The sketch is probably messy, lines that don’t need to be there or need to be moved, but ultimately that first draft is the concept, the idea and the heart of the picture. It doesn’t need to be perfect because it’s not going to be what people see last. But this goes into how I try to build a novel with layers, and that I plan to talk about next week (thanks for the suggestion, Lavada!)
Of course and then there’s the workshop with Allison Brennan, Gaelen Foley, Gina Showalter, and Holly Jacobs that got interrupted by a fire alarm. That was fun.
I attended others as well and something I’ve found with conferences is that when I attend workshops, I end up getting exactly what I need from them. I don’t spend a lot of time deciding what to attend — I just go to the one that jumps off the page. And by the end of this year’s conference, I had the elements I needed infused into my brain.
The People (oh yeah, and the lobby bar)
I was honored and lucky enough to have dinner on Wednesday night with an author whose work I adore — Karen Rose. Seriously, this woman’s work rocks. I can’t think of a better way to say it. And she was wonderful company, and I enjoyed getting to know her immensely. That opportunity arose because I was there having dinner with a mutual friend and Karen joined us. These opportunities are part of what makes conference so amazing…it’s something you don’t get the opportunity to do every day.
I also had lunch with an author who means a lot to me, Gaelen Foley. She’s been so supportive in my career and such a wonderful mentor in so many ways, it was amazing to actually sit down and get to know her.
On the flipside of that, in Donald Maass’s workshop, I sat next to a woman named Renee who was, in her own words, “a writing baby.” She was just starting in her process and it was exciting to see her learn from the workshop, to answer questions she had and just get to know a new friend.
Oh yes, and how can I discuss the people without talking about the lobby bar? The lobby or bar area of the conference hotel is usually inundated with women throughout the conference, at all hours of the day and night. I teased a friend of mine that every time I went down to the bar, she was there. Of course, that meant that I was also there… so it became a running joke between us. But I loved just hanging out there whenever I could — it was fun to see people, to chat with friends and design clients, and just enjoy the buzz in the air. And if I can figure out how to plug in the memory card from my phone into my computer I will share pictures.
Then there’s the plane ride home…that’s a long story, but suffice it to say, you never know who you’ll end up sitting next to. 🙂
Anyway, that’s just a snippet of the conference for me. I came home tired, but happy to have gone. And I can’t wait for next year in Nashville and the new friends and people I’ll meet.