So, where was I?
Oh, yeah. On a rant about an experience I had at the Central Coast Writers Conference in San Luis Obispo (see part I).
But that’s not what this report is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about the conference workshops, the cool industry people that were there, the awesome attendees, and the friendships that were formed.
So I almost deleted my previous post, since folk are likely more interested in the conference itself and not my own personal experience of it.
But then I thought about those people who’ve never been to a writers conference and have no idea what to expect. People similar to me. I attended my first one a year ago – this very conference, in fact.
People who might be unprepared for how vulnerable they’ll feel about their writing, how sensitive they’ll be to criticism – no matter how gently it’s given – when it’s delivered in person and face-to-face.
Those dashed hopes, the fear that our writing isn’t good enough, is a part of every conference.
And so is this part:
The part where a professional compliments you, or gives you encouragement, one-on-one, with a smile and a reassuring pat on the back.
Nathan Bransford did that for me. I spoke with him at lunch about my concerns with my novel written in present tense. He smiled and shook his head, then gave me this bit of uplifting advice:
He told me it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether it’s first person or third, whether it’s past tense or present. What matters is the story. What matters is the voice. That’s all. Tell the story and tell it well.
Even though I’ve read this on his blog, expressed in many different ways, I was still surprised by the rush of relief upon hearing his words. I smiled and nodded, and glowing, thanked him and left him to finish his lunch in peace.
So that’s my experience at the conference from a personal perspective.
The rest of the story?
There were some great workshops. Those on writing covered poetry, short stories, mystery, travel, nonfiction, children and young adult. There were a few on getting published as well.
One that I attended was called Poetry: The Heart of the Story and the Story of the Heart. It was taught by Kevin Clark, a poetry and literature professor at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo. It was a wonderful examination on how to weave words that evoke thought and emotion, something that’s important for any storyteller, whether they write poetry or prose.
Another was Writing for Young Readers: Deep Stories in Small Words, given by Kathleen Duey. We ended up discussing MG and YA as well as children’s stories, and she offered advice based on her experiences as a writer of all three. Kathleen has the coolest website, too. This was a great workshop.
But my favorite of the weekend was given by Nathan Bransford. He is the most positive and upbeat guy, one who smiles and laughs – a lot. His workshop was called Getting Published: Let’s Play Query Mad Lib, and it was quite a hoot. He gave us his basic formula for a successful query letter, then divided us up into groups of 8-10. Our task: Write him a winning query – humor encouraged.
The results of this were hilarious. My group chose ‘historical sci-fi’ as the genre of the novel, with a hero named ‘Caesar Lightyear’ whose goal was to recover the Mayan calendar and save the world from the evil Brutus. It was ridiculous.
There were a number of silly queries with ludicrous plots and over-the-top heroes. The winning entry was a vampire story! Cracked me up (since that’s what I write!). Who says vampires are dead?!
One of the best things about a conference is meeting folk that are passionate about writing – on both sides of the publishing fence. I ran into a couple writers I’d met last year, and made the acquaintance of a few more. One of these was Anne Allen (hi Anne!) who told me that I’m on the right track to getting published by blogging and going to conferences. You can read her take on the conference here.
So overall, it was a great conference, and its moments of downs were vastly outnumbered by the ups. The only other thing I can say is…
Go to writers conferences, get a taste of the real world. Put them in your budget and at the top of your to-do list. Think of it as an investment in your writing career – the payoff can be well-worth the expense.