Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Northern Colorado Writers’ Category

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.

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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.

The Social Media Side of Writing

In NCW Writers Conference, Northern Colorado Writers, Writers Conferences, Writing, Writing Tips on May 14, 2017 at 11:00 am

Going to a conference or networking event is the three-dimensional side of social media.

How? Attendees are trying to get likes, fans and friends, and they’re trying to build an audience.

I attended the Northern Colorado Writers Conference in Fort Collins earlier this month to pick up tips on writing, editing and publishing but found myself drawn to a couple of the social media and marketing sessions.

The conference, carrying the tagline “Imagination: The Alchemy of Writing,” offered 32 one-hour sessions over two days taught by agents, editors and authors on the craft and business side of writing. More than 130 writers and authors attended the conference May 5-6.

“The small size makes it a very welcoming conference, and the people that come to this conference want to see everyone succeed,” said Kerrie Flanagan, creative team member for the conference and one of the presenters on self-publishing and magazine writing.

Some of the sessions focused on elements of writing, like plotting, developing a hero character and writing sex scenes. Other sessions gave tips on the various forms of writing, such as screenplays, personal essays and flash fiction, which are really short stories.

Social Media and Marketing

I attended a session on “Social Media & Marketing: Navigating the Event Horizon,” presented by author J.C. Lynne.

Lynne recommended writers develop a platform to increase visibility and accessibility to actual, potential and future readers and to make it authentic.

“Authentic platforms take time and are about quality relationships,” Lynne said. “You’re fooling yourself if you think you won’t have to market your book, no matter if you’re traditionally, independently or self-published. … Even big publishers aren’t willing to spend money on marketing.”

A platform demonstrates a writers’ expertise, while also serving as virtual word-of-mouth to grow an audience. It can include things like a website, regular blogs and social media channels, such as GoodReads, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Putting content on the various outlets lets readers get to know and interact with the writer and keep up to date with the writer’s activities, involvements and publications.

“People don’t go to book signings anymore,” Lynne said.

More Marketing Tips

Other sessions included a guide to creating marketing materials, building an author website and the differences among e-publishing, print-on-demand and other self-publishing options.

I attended writer and editor Jessica Strawser’s session on “How to Be a Writer Editors Love,” where I picked up additional tips on marketing and social media.

“Editors today are looking for the total package: good, talented writers informed about the market,” said Strawser, Writer Digest Magazine editorial director.

Editors look for writers with platforms and who are consistent and prolific in their work, Strawser said.

“Editors like to work with writers who are savvy about the industry,” she said.

Strawser recommended writers build their platforms through websites, social media channels and local networks to build a larger base and collect more followers. A local network can be expanded by sending emails to acquaintances or people met through networking events and by asking them out to coffee.

“It will happen organically,” Strawser said.

The Alchemy of the NCW Writers Conference

In Northern Colorado Writers, Writing, Writing Conferences on May 8, 2017 at 6:32 pm

Going to a writers conference like the one put on annually by the Northern Colorado Writers takes a bit of alchemy.

Start with the golden booklet given to the 130 attendees of the conference, called “Imagination: The Alchemy of Writing,” and get out the test tubes for the two-day conference that was May 5-6 at the Fort Collins Marriott.

Flip to the schedule to the 32 sessions, each lasting one hour, on various writing techniques with titles like “Plotting with Your Pants Down: How to Effectively Outline Your Novel” and “The Loaded Exchange: Writing Tension-Packed Dialog.”

Other sessions mixed in the marketing and publishing side of writing, as well as providing advice for writing in different genres, such as mystery writing, screenwriting and writing personal essays. There also was a roundtable critique session with about 10 different agents and editors and a pitch session with agents to pitch your novel or nonfiction project.

“It was a great lineup of presenters, agents and editors,” said Kerrie Flanagan, creative team member for the conference and one of the presenters on self-publishing and magazine writing. “It’s important for writers to connect with other writers and professionals in the industry, because writing is such a lonely endeavor. It’s nice to connect with others who are passionate about it. It provides inspiration, motivation and community resources.”

The Jerry Eckert Scholarship

I went to the conference with a student I mentor about writing, Abii Franke, a 10th grader at a Northern Colorado high school. We attended for free as winners of the Jerry Eckert Scholarship. I submitted a 500-word essay, “The Writing Lives of Two Starfish,” about meeting with Abii once a week through the Thompson School District 3E Learning program, Explore, Engage, Expand, a customized approach to education that matches students with mentors in their subjects of interest.

The late Jerry Eckert, author and a longtime NCW member, supported volunteerism and had a love for writing, so my volunteer work seemed like a fit.

“The essay is very tight, and it’s something Jerry Eckert and his family care about, which is mentoring,” said April Moore, director of NCW, who recognized Abii and me during the banquet dinner on May 5. “It brings tears to my eyes, knowing how much Jerry would appreciate it.”

I encouraged Abii to get business cards made, and she did, stating that she’s a writer and artist, and she handed those out to the presenters and other writers. She pitched her young adult novel to an agent and got a request for a partial, which involves sending part of the manuscript with “NCW Conference” in the email subject line for special attention to separate it out from the email slush pile. I got two requests for partials and talked to another agent during dinner, and she said I could send her my work, too.

“It’s been a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed learning all the nuances in writing,” Abii said. “All the presentations were really good, because each of the presenters had their own unique take on writing. I think I can use some of the tips that the presenters shared to improve my writing even more.”

Here are a few writing and publishing tips and quotes from the conference that a writing alchemist might find golden:

  • “If you’re a writer, you are in business. You will have to market your book and yourself. There’s no way around it,” author J.C. Lynne, “Social Media & Marketing: Navigating the Event Horizon.”
  • Writers should expect to have failures—failed novels, projects and efforts—in the path toward publication. “That’s why I’m here. I get to be a failed novelist and successful at the same time,” author Chuck Wendig, keynote speaker during the banquet.
  • “Write ‘The End’ on your draft even if you’re not there … or at a certain word count. And then let your work breathe,” literary manager Whitney Davis, “Reworking Your Rewrites: Demystifying the Editing Process.”
  • In a first draft, write for story. Don’t worry. Don’t stop to polish, and don’t hold back. Edit later, revising first for plot and character and then polishing the language at the line level. “Almost everything that comes into my box has potential,” literary agent Jennifer March Soloway, “Preparing Your YA Novel for Submission: Polishing Your Opening Pages.”
  • Editors today are looking for the total package: good, talented writers who are informed about the market, have a platform and are consistent and prolific in their writing. They need to: know the market, follow the guidelines, and be timely, author and magazine editor Jessica Strawser, “How to be a Writer Editors Love.”

Here are some of the things attendees said about the conference. The conference helped them get connected and pick up writing tidbits:

  • “It’s always similar information, but there’s always going to be details from the presenters that aren’t at other conferences. This one I find they’re pretty engaging with their audience, and I like that it’s smaller ,” Ochoa Cisneros, poet, Loveland.
  • “The thing I wanted most was to connect with other writers and get some advice of where to go in my writing journey. … I found what I was looking for: community and direction,” Alicia Aringdale, urban fantasy writer, Loveland.
  • “I came looking for inspiration and practical tools to use for my writing. And I found both of those things. Now, I have a direction and the inspiration to keep going,” Renate Hancock, poet and short story writer, Buena Vista.
  • “I really got a good sense of how the process works of finding an agent, and I got a lot of inspiration. I just have gotten an amazing chance to talk to people who feel the same way I do and have the same problems I do in writing. It’s very affirming.”Jocelyn Bolster, contemporary young adult writer, Pinewood Springs.
  • “They kept it pretty small, but that was one of the things that jumped out to me, a lot of familiar faces and reputable names,” Paul Dail, horror writer, Cedar City, Utah.

As a final thought, author Carrie Visintainer said in the closing remarks, “Ignite Your Creativity, “Inspiration is out there knocking on doors, and you can choose to answer it or not.”

This blog also appeared at http://www.shellsinkservices.com/the-alchemy-of-the-ncw-writers-conference/.