Shelley Widhalm

NCW Conference (after the fact)

In Rejection, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Conferences on April 6, 2014 at 11:00 am

The Northern Colorado Writers Conference March 28-29 crammed years of other people’s experiences into two days that, for me, burst into a kaleidoscope of emotions.

Held at the Fort Collins Hilton, the venue was fancy with colorful carpets, lots of brass, a Starbucks and many other details I can’t remember (though as a writer, that’s exactly what I’m supposed to do).

I didn’t know which sessions to pick from the three to four offered every couple of hours, particularly with the first set Friday morning: the discussion on character development presented by Victoria Hanley or the one on dialogue by Teresa Funke. But I knew I needed more help on creating beat sheets, or structuring story, from Sandi Ault. I tend to plunge into my writing even if I have an initial idea, requiring several revisions to get the arc to fit plot and character.

Very studiously, I took notes on everything I hadn’t learned about writing, such as the importance of cutting “that” and sentences beginning with “as” and what to expect when writing for literary versus commercial magazines. I got encouragement when writers talked about their own experiences with writing and their circuitous paths to getting published, such as Chuck Sambuchino, editor for Writer’s Digest Books, who got rejected for an article idea that, through several steps and chance meetings, ended in his publishing his humor book, “How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack.”

But all of this was background to why I really was there. I was determined to get an agent, sell my book and catapult my writing career in about 30 seconds. I attended one of the agent roundtables, bringing my perfected first page from my YA novel, “The Money Finder.”

I ignored the inner voice that tells you stuff you don’t want to hear when it said, “Your book is not ready. You’ve edited it twice. Cool it.”

My perfect first page wasn’t: Too much back story, and Grace, my POV character, complained about her neglectful parents in a way that was telling, not showing.

What I had needed to do was start with scene. Not weather, or sunshine. Not a dream, or just waking up.

Despite my mistakes, I continued to believe I would be selected for a one-on-one agent session the next day, because my book was great. After dinner, conference director Kerrie Flanagan called the names of a dozen people, excluding mine.

Uh-oh.

A big, dramatic pity session ensued, and I thought about why I had to add another rejection to my pile of personal, professional, life and writing rejections.

This poutiness lasted a day, because I had a choice: give up writing or get back up and write. Yep, the conference made me realize that whether or not I get published, I have to write. It’s in me. It’s who I am.

It’s my dream, and my story.

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  1. Sounds like you got a lot out of the conference! They’re great. So much to learn. Keep your chin up about the novel. Rejections are just opportunities to make your writing better. 🙂

    • Thanks, Gwen. Rejections do make you a better writer, especially if you realize they are part of the process. I had to tell myself that is the case, though rejection isn’t exactly fun.

  2. Thanks for your honesty, Shelley. It’s one your many strengths. Great post, and I love your last two paragraphs. I’m the same. Even if I never publish a novel, I must continue writing. It’s who I am.

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