Wednesday, April 9, 2014

5 insights from best-selling authors - by Jami Gold

After nearly two years of sticking with only online writing conferences, I broke down and attended my fourth in-person conference this past weekend, where I presented my “Twitter for Introverts” workshop. I’m happy to say my class went well and I survived my pre-conference panic attack.
In fact, I had a great time at the Desert Dreams Writing Conference, which always exceeds my expectations. Desert Dreams is considered a “regional” conference, with bigger names and more workshops and events. Lucky for me, it’s local.
However, not all of us are so lucky to have easy access to quality writing conferences, so I wanted to share my top takeaways from the conference. I hope you find these ideas as insightful or inspiring as I do. *smile*

#1: Rejections Are Not a “Sign”

Christie Craig, New York Times bestselling author, was the Keynote Speaker for the Desert Dreams conference. Her speech was so inspiring I don’t want to spoil the punch line, but let’s just say that it had to do with the avalanche of rejections she’s received over her writing life.
Sometimes we might look at X number of rejections and take it as a sign. Maybe we’re not meant to be a writer. Maybe we can’t cut it. Maybe we should give up.
She persevered through countless (and I do mean countless—she brought a big box-load of proof) rejections. Not giving up is how she reached where she is today.
If rejections come with a message, it’s simply “not now.” With determination, we can later turn that “not now” into a “yes.”

#2: Be a Storyteller First

Christie also shared why she didn’t give up. Partly it was stubbornness, but a bigger part was knowing that she could tell stories. If we can tell stories, we’ll succeed if we keep at it, because writing can be learned.
Even in the worst-case scenario, where we’re receiving rejections because we’re not yet “good enough,” we can study writing craft and change our fate.
As Mary Buckham pointed out in a workshop, that “changing fate through our choices” perspective powers most commercial and genre fiction. We can absorb that mindset for our own future too.
Christie is a dyslexic high-school dropout. She didn’t have writing skills when she started. But she could tell stories, and that’s what really matters. Everything else can be learned.
By studying, we can change our fate. How cool is that?

#3: Make Settings Earn Their Word Count

USA Today bestselling author Mary Buckham was the featured presenter. She gave an intensive workshop on “Active Settings for All Fiction Genres.”
We often try to minimize our setting descriptions because they’re dry and boring. (She entered the living room and passed the couch to sit on the chair. *yawn*) Mary’s workshop shared techniques for making our setting descriptions work harder.
When we use deep point of view, our descriptions can show characterization, emotion, foreshadowing, backstory, etc. (Her mother’s living room beckoned, as it always did. The comfortably worn-in tweed couch whispered its memories of cushion forts and awkward teenage groping. She headed to the chair instead, just in case her mom hadn’t cleaned the sofa’s fabric since that drinking-night debacle with her brother Billy.)
If our setting descriptions are doing double or triple duty (establishing setting and backstory and characterization, or whatever combination works for the scene), we can use as many words as we need. Mary’s going to join us for a guest post soon (Yay!), but until then, we can learn from her Writing Active Setting book, where she shares tons of examples on how to empower our settings.

#4: Every Character Trait Can Be Good and Bad

Mary presented a second workshop as well: Down and Dirty Ways to Create Stronger Characters. She started by having everyone complete an Enneagram type quiz.
Surprisingly, I turned out to have nearly equal strengths in several traits: perfectionist and achiever (which I think means that I accomplish things despite my perfectionism *whew*), analyzer, nurturer, leader, and peacemaker. Apparently I’m an overachiever in Enneagram quizzes too. *smile*
Her point was for us to learn more about ourselves so we can ensure that we’re not just creating clones of ourselves for our characters. She then shared several techniques for developing unique characters.
One technique was to think of how our characters’ positive traits could be negative, like we discussed last year (where I covered Enneagram Types too). Specifically, she recommended thinking of ways every positive trait has a cost.
For example, if a character is a nurturer, what potential “costs” might that character pay for their trait? Maybe they forget to take care of themselves. Or maybe they’re a busybody who tries to force people to take their advice.
Mary suggested that we ask friends and family to help us brainstorm these “at what cost?” opposite traits. Especially if we just give them a list of traits (without knowing the character at all), we might gain new insights into our character by seeing their list of potential opposite traits.

#5: The “Duh” Insight: Writers Are Awesome

Finally, every author I met was fantastic. Several multi-published, bestselling authors let me pick their brains and shared great advice (including Christie, Mary, Calista Fox, Erin Quinn, Morgan Kearns, and Jennifer Ashley).
The lesson I took away was that no matter our situation, we can connect with other writers and grow our knowledge and our circle of friends. These bestsellers didn’t hoard their expertise. Instead they shared their insights with someone who has a blue streak in her hair. *grin*
I experienced embarrassment (Ack! Spotlight on the introvert!) and thankfulness when many authors stopped me to say how much my blog, beat sheets, and workshops have helped them. (Aww, warm fuzzies.) And I met a great group of women among the attendees (Lisa, Mary, Andrea, Carol, Christine, and a bonus dinner with Ann) and reconnected with a friend from the last Desert Dreams (Rose!).
In short, although the workshops and keynote were wonderful, what really makes conferences special are the people. The interactions with those willing to connect with us often stay in our memory far longer than any one workshop tip or speech insight, especially when we see authors take the time to help each other.
It’s those same connections that make online interactions with writers so special too. Thank you to all of you who read my blog, share your insights and advice, or reach out to me on social media. You. Are. Awesome. *smile*
Which of these was your favorite insight (or the one you want to hear more about)? Have you ever wondered if you should see rejections as a “sign”? Do you agree that storytelling comes first because writing craft can be learned? Do you struggle to make setting descriptions interesting or to create unique characters? If you’ve been to a writing conference, what’s been your favorite part?

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