Writing for Charity Conference

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!


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!

Don’t Fear the Feedback

Just change the word reaper to feedback and let that play as a soundtrack for you mind. Don’t Fear the Feedback—the fourth installment of the How to Edit Your Novel series.


closetYou may get your feedback face to face or you may get it in an email, but the most important thing when receiving feedback is to receive it with dignity and grace. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. Whoever is telling you what they think is wrong with your story took the time to read the thing. Even if you think they are 100% wrong (unlikely) they deserve your thanks for making the effort.

So at the very least, I want you to memorize this phrase: Thank you for your feedback. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

Your first reaction may be to explain why you wrote it the way you did. Don’t. You may feel like you need to defend your work. Don’t. You may even be inclined to tell them why they don’t know what they’re talking about. Definitely don’t.

Continue reading

How to Write a Novel – Pt 7: The End is the Beginning

My drink of choice is Raspberry Coke.

Did you get it all out?  Have you finished that first draft?  Toast yourself with your drink of choice and let’s say it together: Cheers!  Put that first draft away, at least for a few days, but I’d say a week and give it a chance to rest.  In the meantime, do whatever.  Go on vacation, play video games, read books, revisit your social life, etc.

Okay, now that you’ve enjoyed yourself and patted yourself on the back repeatedly for getting it done, here comes the hard truth: your first draft is only the beginning.

One of the first lessons of being a writer is learning that your work is never finished.  Even when it’s published there will be things you wished you changed.  At some point you have to let it go and be finished.  But now is the time to make sure what you let go is the best you can make it.

The reason you put the novel away for a few days is for the chance to let it get cold.  When you’ve had a few days away from your baby and the crystal clear vision of your story has dimmed a little, you’re more likely to see what you’ve done with actual clarity.

I plan to get into the details in an upcoming polishing the novel series in early October.  This month will be mostly occupied by my vacation in:

Hawaii beach

That’s right, I’m heading out next week.  I know, I know, it’s a rough life, but somebody has to live it.  On the docket is snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, boogie boarding/surfing, and whatever else me, the BFF and our friends can cram in.  I intend to blog from there whenever possible.  We usually pack it in tight and I’ll only have my portable keyboard and phone, but I promise to share delightful pictures of fantastic Hawaiian wonders and maybe sum up with scribbles and videos after we’ve returned home.

I’m going to try working on my novel while I’m there, though I suspect most of the work will be done on plane rides and not on the beach.

We’re going to the Big Island and Kauai, so if you’ve been to either two, recommendations are welcomed below.

And of course I’d love to hear what you thought of the How to Write a Novel series overall.  Anything you would like to see more of in future series?  Any topics you’d like covered in the future?  Let me know below.

I Won a First Chapter Critique!

So I stumbled onto the blog of Aimee L. Salter a while back via Twitter and in addition to finding very helpful writing advice, I also discovered she holds a contest called the First 500 Critiques.  If you’re brave enough, you submit the first 500 words of your novel for Aimee and anyone who reads her blog to critique.

I took a chance and tried to be as helpful as I could to my fellow brave submitters and by chance won the comment lottery for a first chapter critique.  This is something Aimee does for free out of the goodness of her heart.  (I have a feeling karma will be bringing her fantastic returns).

I found her advice on my first 500 to be very helpful, if not reinforcing what I was hearing about it.  I think it aided me in gathering the courage to make some major changes–changes I believe are for the better.

The whole situation reminded me of something I think some of us writers tend to forget, and that’s community.  Networking is so much more important than we give it credit for.  We have to think beyond the direct path to publishing and somehow realize there’s this whole community of writers now easily accessible thanks to technology with a wealth of advice and information.  I’ve learned so many things from fellow writers I may not have discovered on my own.  I’ve learned how to utilize social media tools, editing techniques, query letter advice, story mechanics advice–the list goes on and on.

I think a lot of us have that personality that wants to keep these things private, but when you shut yourself off to the community you’re closing yourself off to one of the best support groups you could possibly have.

And something else I’ve learned is there’s room for everyone in this business.  Just think about it.  Sure, there are the Harry Potter books and the Hunger Games and the Twlights but once a reader has devoured them, that’s it.  They want more and we’re potentially there to give it to them.  I truly believe we all have good stories in us, it’s just the translation part–the getting it from our head to paper in desirable form–that holds us back.  But there’s room for all of our stories, once we get them right on paper.

Anyway, I just wanted to share my elation and both encourage you to check out Aimee’s blog and find your own way to contribute to the community.  Remember, the energy you send out does return to you.  Make sure it’s positive helpful energy.

If you want to do the first 500, you’ll likely have to wait until next year as it has passed for this season.  But polish your work in the meantime and search her articles for advice on how to do that.  I believe she also offers her services for critiquing your work.

And what about you?  Have you found contributing to the community to be helpful in your writing journey?  What new discoveries have you made interacting with other writers?  Let us know in the comments below.

Why Get an Agent? (BKSP notes)

Do we really need to bother with an agent?  I mean, we can upload our manuscripts to Amazon right now and have it on the Kindle almost immediately.  What do we really need agents for?

I suppose that depends on what we want to accomplish with our careers.  If you only want to get your memoirs out to the few members of your family and friends who want it, then you probably don’t need an agent.  But if you want to get your book to the right audience to possibly earn a living off of this hobby and passion, then it’s time to embrace the idea of an agent.

Agents are always thinking of the business side of it.  They know the value of a book and they know how to create value for a book.  They’re well-versed in promotion and have spent years in the publishing industry.  They have contacts and they know which companies are reputable and which are not.  They know how to do international promoting, which for a writer may end up being the work of a bachelor’s degree.  An agent can help you see the strengths and weaknesses of your book.  Here’s the way I see it.  Just because you can use Photoshop doesn’t make you a graphic designer.  Same goes for publishing.

Just your friendly neighborhood agent man.

Also, contracts are always written favoring the one who wrote it.  You can lose a lot of rights to your work if you’re inexperienced with contracts (which is likely most of us).  The agent wants you to get the best deal possible because that gets them the best deal possible.  They want success for you because that means success for them.

Agents were also asked what they thought would be an ideal client.  They said know how to promote yourself and your book.  Network with other bloggers.  The marketing side of it can be a lot more work than the writing side of it.  Know how to use social tools to help better market yourself and your book.  And be professional at all times.  Don’t put info out there that’s detrimental to your publishing.  Publishers Google you too.

Respond well to feedback.  Listen and apply what you’ve learned.  Now does that mean you bow down to everything your agent says?  Not necessarily.  They know something isn’t working and they’ve offered a suggestion on how to change it.  You may not like the suggestion, but that doesn’t mean ignoring it will fix the problem.  Ask questions so you can understand why it was something that didn’t work so you can change or strengthen it in a way you feel good about.  You may come up with a better idea for change than they originally suggested and then you’ll both be happy because the problem is fixed.  And lastly, the ideal client has mutual trust.  They know their craft.  Don’t pester them about how much promotion your book is getting, or comment rudely on another client’s website because they happened to be focused on them for a little while.  I think it still comes down to two words: be professional.