Last Saturday I attended the Writing for Charity Conference. This is my second year attending it and I found it just as helpful this year as I did last year. It’s only a one-day conference, but lots of published authors attend. Some give advice on your manuscripts and some give forums. And since they usually have a bunch of great authors come, it’s a worthwhile event.
Some of the authors in attendance included Ally Condie (Matched), Lisa Mangum (The Hourglass Door), Tyler Whitesides (Janitors), Carol Lynch Williams (The Chosen One), and of course Shannon Hale (Austenland). At the opening of the conference, all of the authors were on stage in a sort of introductory forum where attendees could ask questions. Shannon Hale was the MC, which if you’ve ever been around her before, you know is a wise choice. She’s hilarious!
Since I purchased a bluetooth keyboard a few months ago, I took it along with my phone to take notes. There’s something wonderful about being able to get things down via typing I’m much, much faster at it. Thanks to Open Office, notes were a snap.
Okay, so the microphone was passed along a group of about 20 authors, so I’m not sure who all said what, only that Shannon was running the mic back and forth across the stage as well as making little jokes.
All of them agreed one of the most important thing aspiring writers can do is have a critique group. Whether it’s friends you trust to be honest, CPs you trust over email, or your writer’s group—GET FEEDBACK. This will help your story and writing out immensely. Many authors also agreed reading your work aloud was extremely helpful with editing, especially when it comes to dialogue. In fact, one author even went so far as to say read it aloud with someone listening because you become even more self-conscious and will catch mistakes better that way. Another author says she has her husband read it aloud to her, stating she finds hearing it in someone else’s voice helps point out the flaws.
They said make sure every scene, every moment, every sentence, every word is doing something for your reader and not just the story. The point is to create an emotional experience for the reader. One said when you edit, read your story with a particular thing in mind. For example, read for humor, to see if the humor is working or not. Or read to see how pacing is flowing. Or read for certain characters to see if their motivations line up. Etc. Etc.
But the biggest point of all: Never stop revising.
What’s the hardest thing about writing? These authors say: rejection. It never stops. You never really make it to a point where you’re not getting some kind of rejection. Whether it’s selling your next book, harsh feedback from an editor, a bad review—rejection is part of the cycle of being a serious writer. The point is to understand that and keep your goals in focus.
The best moments are when you know that the dream you’re choosing right now is the right dream. Shannon Hale, I believe, said she felt like she tried out a bunch of different possibilities and realized this was her dream. Another author said if she hadn’t made it as a writer, she’d probably be a librarian. But not the good kind, the reading-all-the-books and not-helping-the-patrons-kind. 😉
They also gave words of caution. Sometimes we writers are looking for some kind of magic formula, but there’s just not one. There’s no perfect plot device. There’s no shortcuts. It’s just going to be grueling, difficult work—but work that’s worthwhile.
Their advice on naming characters? When it comes to names, look at what you’re writing and have those names fit the book/setting. A lot said they used baby names books or websites. Once suggested a helpful resource: The Social Security popular baby names site. You can look up any year and found out what the most popular names were to give you an idea of what kinds of names you should use, especially if you’re doing historical fiction. But also if you’re writing contemporary YA, you can look up the year your character was born in and see what names were popular in that year. Fantastic!
MORE TO COME
Well, that was the first forum. There’s plenty more to come tomorrow and next week. Hopefully you’ll find some helpful tidbits among these notes. I know some of you have a difficult time getting out to conferences because of personal circumstances. I took these notes with you folks in mind. Maybe this can be a kind of vicarious attending of the conference. Enjoy!