Shelley Widhalm

Archive for May, 2018|Monthly archive page

The Long Climb (to Publishing Success)

In NCW Writers Conference, Northern Colorado Writers, Writing, Writing Advice on May 27, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Writing and trying to get published can be like climbing a sheer ice cliff.

That’s the takeaway I got from Fort Collins, Colo., author Jim Davidson’s closing speech May 5 during the 13th annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference “Much Ado About Writing” at the Fort Collins Marriott.

Davidson told the back story of his memoir, “The Ledge: An Inspirational Story of Friendship and Survival,” published in 2011, which he co-authored with investigative journalist Kevin Vaughan. He wanted to encourage the more than 100 writers who attended the two-day conference to persevere in order to reach their goals of writing and publication.

“By challenging yourself, you’ll find a better version of you,” Davidson said.

At the Ledge

“The Ledge” tells Davidson’s story of surviving being trapped 80 feet inside a glacial crevasse. In 1992, Davidson and his best friend, Mike Price, stood atop Washington’s Mount Rainier at the end of their climb when a cave-in dropped them onto a narrow frozen shelf of crumbling ice and snow in a pitch-black ice wall.

Price died in the tragedy, and Davidson had to fight to escape, coming up with an immediate tactical plan and using his few tools to slowly climb out to sunlight.

Davidson didn’t give up climbing despite the setback. He is a high-altitude climber and expedition leader for more than 35 years who scaled mountains worldwide, including Mount Everest and peaks on five continents. He survived earthquakes and avalanches on Mount Everest in 2015 and helped conduct multiple rescues of climbers. Previously, he worked as an environmental geologist and science writer with 40 publication credits.

“When things go wrong, how will you respond?” Davidson asked the other writers at the conference.

Finding Resilience

Davidson defined resilience as bouncing back from challenges and learning from mishaps. Normal reactions can include fear, doubt, dread, inaction, insecurity, anxiety and exhaustion when change occurs but may not be what is wanted or desired, he said.

“Plain old-fashioned perseverance … is a slow grinding process,” Davidson said. “It’s tiring, and you may have doubts.”

Davidson said personal resilience occurs through accepting that change occurs and doing something about it. It’s embracing the challenges, persevering through uncertainties, redefining the self and coming up with new techniques.

Davidson’s book from the accident in 1992 to publication took 19 years. He met Vaughn, a writer for the former “Rocky Mountain News,” at the Northern Colorado Writers Conference in 2007, and Vaughn wanted to do a news series about him, which later became a book project.

Davidson provided an outline of his writing experiences: from 1992 to 1995, he’d journaled and did some early writing. From 1996 to 2002, he made no progress. From 2003 to 2007, he spoke about his experiences. And from 2008 to 2011, he worked with Vaughan on the book.

Becoming Stronger

Davidson learned how to take a horrible life event and turn it around. He became stronger and instead of PTSD, he experience PTG, or post-traumatic growth.

“It doesn’t make the trauma go away,” Davidson said, adding that he still struggles with the “mess and the meaning.”

Davidson forged a new reality out of what had happened to him and distilled it down into a few lessons.

“Try to help somebody else learn from your experience,” Davidson said.

I definitely did learn from Davidson’s experience, walking away from his speech motivated to climb to my publication goal, no matter what it takes. I’d hate to give up now. I, too, have had my almost 19 years.

I wrote my first novel in 2000 and have since written a few. I’ve written a hundred short stories. I’ve had a few publications but not the big climb of traditional publishing. I’m still working on that goal keeping resilience and perseverance in mind.

 

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Conferences Offer Writing Crash Course

In NCW Writers Conference, Writing Advice, Writing Conferences on May 20, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Kerrie Flanagan, a member of the Northern Colorado Writers Creative Conference Team for the 2018 conference, left, gives writing advice May 4 during the two-day event.

Going to a writing conference is like taking a semester class in college, but cheaper and faster.

I attended the 13th annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference “Much Ado About Writing” May 4-5 to pitch my young adult novel and to get quick writing tips. The conference was set up classroom style at the Fort Collins Marriott with one-hour workshops taught by agents, editors and industry professionals on various aspects of writing. The topics included the elements of writing, different genres from young adult to memoir, self-editing, traditional and self-publishing, and platform-building and social media.

“Number one, write,” said Kerrie Flanagan, a member of the NCW Creative Conference Team. “Just Write. To be a writer, you must write.”

Top 10 Writing Tips

Flanagan and the team talked about the top 10 writing tips during the banquet dinner May 4 that included studying the craft, honoring the writing and killing the darlings, those bits of writing that might be pretty or interesting but do not move the plot along. The team dressed in high collars and used “thy” and “though” to add a Shakespearean flair to their tips in line with the conference theme.

I collected hundreds of writing tips from the workshops I attended on writing a memoir, writing a book proposal, worldbuilding, and writing and selling short stories and personal essays. This time, I chose topics for my future projects of writing a memoir and some personal essays; plus, I want to sell some of my short stories.

The First Day: To Pitch and Tell the Story

After pitching my novel, the first session I attended focused on “How to Write a Captivating Memoir,” presented by Kristen Moeller, a literary agent at Waterside Productions and author of three books. Moeller explained how to structure a nonfiction story and decide what to include and let go.

“Everyone has a meaningful story to tell. Not everyone has a story or voice that sells,” Moeller said.

Moeller advised:

  • Writing it all out, but don’t include every single detail beginning to end in the final draft.
  • Identifying the narrative arc with a beginning, middle and end with something at stake for the narrator that opens up the question of what’s next? The reader has to wonder if the narrator will be OK.
  • Including fiction elements, such as scene and dialog, while also showing not telling.
  • Creating a character for the self with a distinct narrative voice.

The Second Day: Prepping and Publishing

The next day of the conference, I attended four sessions, the first on “Five Steps to Publishing Success: Get Your Short Stories and Essays Published in Magazines,” presented by Windy Lynn Harris, author of “Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays.” She gave tips on strategizing publishing in magazines and sending work to the right editors in the right way.

Personal essays are the most saleable thing writers can write because of the large market, Harris said. Essays typically are something reported or a first-person account of a life event with a narrative arc and a takeaway for the reader, she said.

“If it’s well-written, you can find the right place for it,” Harris said.

Harris advised:

  • Submitting to at least five publications, starting with the largest, most desired markets.
  • Realizing that getting several rejections is to be expected, but after 30 or so, go back to the piece to identify the issues.
  • Making a spreadsheet of submissions that lists publication details and dates and the acceptances and rejections.

More Sessions

My next session was on “Writing the Nonfiction Book Proposal,” presented by Stacy Testa, a literary agent with Writers House, on the basic components of a book proposal. The proposal gives an overview of the project showing there is demand for it and a fresh idea.

“Keep it simple to the point,” Testa said. “Who will read your book? Be specific. The more potential readers, the better.”

Testa pointed to a few issues with proposals, including:

  • The-need-to-see-more problem, where there is not enough material for a full book with depth and breadth of topic.
  • The platform problem with too small of a following.
  • The niche problem with too small of an audience.

The other sessions I attended were on “Two Kinds of Worldbuilding and Why You Need Both,” presented by literary agent Angie Hodapp with the Nelson Literary Agency, and “How Editors Decide What (and Whom) to Publish,” presented by editor Bruce Bortz, founder of Bancroft Press.

“It’s hard to sell your own product, but figure out what makes it special,” Bortz said.

I walked away from the conference motivated to return to my projects with a clearer sense of direction and an excitement for what’s next.

Peter Heller and His Stuffed Dog (at the NCW Conference)

In Northern Colorado Writers, Writing Advice, Writing Conferences on May 13, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Denver, Colo., author Peter Heller signs copies of his books May 4 during the Northern Colorado Writers Conference in Fort Collins.

When best-selling author Peter Heller put his stuffed dog on the podium at a recent writing conference, I knew I was in for a good tale.

“I’m in my home territory,” Heller of Denver, Colo., said about the more than 120 writers in the audience.

Heller, author of “The Dog Stars,” published in 2012, was the keynote speaker during the banquet dinner May 4 at the 13th annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference “Much Ado About Writing.” The conference brought together writers with agents, editors and industry professionals for two days of writing and publishing advice May 4-5 at the Fort Collins Marriott.

“I did everything I could to be a great writer,” said Heller, longtime contributor to National Public Radio, a contributing editor at Outside Magazine and National Geographic Adventure, and author of six books.

Heller’s Back Story

Heller recalled being 11 years old and having a crush on a New York City librarian, who’d asked him, “Peter, are you looking for something to read?” At her suggestion, he took home Ernest Hemingway’s “In Our Time.”

“My heart leapt off the page,” Heller said about the descriptions of fishing and other adventures in the collection of short stories. “I adored the prose. … It goes through the skin straight to the heart.”

Heller also read the dictionary and majored in English with a minor in biology. He wanted to be a poet and a writer but delivered pizza and taught kayaking.

“When you’re young, you don’t know what you can’t do,” Heller said.

Heller entered the journalism field, writing for adventure and other magazines. He saved up enough to take off nine months for writing in a coffee shop and wrote “The Dog Stars,” but then he faced the second novel syndrome. He was advised his job was to ensure his writing did not suck, and he wrote “The Painter,” something his agent made him rewrite three times before it was published in 2014. He then had a conference call with his agent and editor, who told him he was 80 percent there but needed a prologue and epilogue, plus another scene.

“I figured out the cathartic scene all by myself,” Heller said.

Heller’s Writing Advice

Heller found that, unlike with magazine writing, he likes not knowing what happens next with his fiction writing. He follows another author’s habit of writing 500 words a day and stopping at that exact count. He instead writes 1,000 words a day, spending one to three hours on it, and also stops mid-scene leaving it open for the next day.

“You might as well as come back and start the book every day,” Heller said. “What that does is I can’t wait to get up in the morning.”

Heller had one last piece of advice about channeling, something some writers claim they can do, getting a download of material from the universe that flows through them as the medium direct into text.

“Everyone is lying,” Heller said. “It’s not helpful to say it’s magic. It’s not magic.”

Instead, writing takes practice, work and discipline and making micro decisions along the way, Heller said.

Conferences add Wow! to Writing

In NCW Writers Conference, Northern Colorado Writers, Writing Advice, Writing Conferences on May 6, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Loveland, Colo., writer Shelley Widhalm attended the Northern Colorado Writers Conference in May 2017 with Abii Franke, a student she mentors about writing.

Every industry has its conferences with fancy hotels, nice dinners and lots of networking, but for writers, there’s an added bonus.

The one, two or more days of immersion in writing offer up inspiration and motivation to get back to the craft. Often, I tell myself I’m too busy to write or can only do it after I get my work, chores and other tasks completed.

But if I pay for a conference and sign up to pitch to agents, I have a deadline for my current writing project, because writing novels involves multiple revisions (and, for me, a bit of procrastination).

Northern Colorado Writers Conference

I attended the 13th annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference “Much Ado About Writing,” on May 4-5 at the Fort Collins Marriott in Fort Collins, Colo.

Attendees could pitch their novel or nonfiction project in individual agent sessions—you only get five minutes!—and get feedback from agents and writing professionals at the critique round tables on the first page and book concept.

To prepare, I revised my novel “In the Grace of Beautiful Stars” after figuring out, with a few of my writing friends, the missing element to my then 92,000-word novel (now at 88,000 words). My beginning dragged and my protagonist’s core problem needed more tension, so I had to make lots of cuts (which I dumped in my cuts file because of my problems with letting go).

I also revised the first page and logline—a one- to two-sentence description of the project focused on the main characters and core conflict. I cleaned up the synopsis, a one- or multiple-page detailed summary of the project.

And I planned which of the eight sessions I wanted to attend on elements of writing, social media and platform building, publishing options and different genres from flash fiction to romance.

Conference Advice

Here is some of the advice I’ve gathered about making the most of attending a conference (next week, I will blog about what I got out of the conference):

  • Plan ahead on which sessions you want to attend; and don’t forget a notebook to take notes.
  • Know which genre your work fits in; don’t just say fiction or nonfiction.
  • Prep for the pitch session or agent roundtable: research to find the best fit for your work; check the agent or editor’s websites, social media and other material online to identify what kind of books and writers they represent.
  • Prepare your pitch with a logline and synopsis. If you get a request, ask when and how you should submit your proposal or sample chapters and how best to contact them.
  • If you learn that your work isn’t right for the agent or editor, don’t take it personally.
  • Plan to network, which includes bringing business cards (preferably with your photo), and don’t stay tied to your friends, because you might miss out on meeting new connections.

One Last Thing

Don’t forget to take photos and post them. Tweet, blog, Facebook and engage in other types of social media to promote your writing and the conference.