Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing Conferences’ Category

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.

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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.

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/.

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.

Tips for Writing Conferences

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Conferences, Writing Processes on March 23, 2014 at 11:00 am

When you invest your money into a writer’s conference, you want to get a good ROI, or return on investment.

Conferences offer ideas for improving your writing, inspiration and motivation to do that writing, tips on the publishing world and opportunities to meet with agents, editors and writers.

To get that ROI, there are a few things you can do to prepare. I will be taking my own advice (by reviewing what I’ve learned from writing magazines and books) to the Northern Colorado Writer’s Conference March 28-29.

The conference offers workshops on elements of writing, author panels, agent and critique roundtables, and social events that bring together published and aspiring writers, editors and agents. While there, I hope to learn something new about the writing process and gain new perspectives on what makes for good writing

Here is some of the advice I’ve gathered about making the most of attending a 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 a three-sentence pitch of your project with the title, hook and basic premise. Have a one-page explanation of you and your project, along with the first few pages to hand over if interest is expressed. If it is, ask when and how you should submit your proposal or sample chapters.
• Approach editors and agents in the right way, such as in a social setting or following a workshop, not when they are engaged in another conversation, in the restroom or eating. Ask them if they want to be solicited and, if so, 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. Follow up with emails, but no more than two if there is no response.
• Follow up when you receive any kind of positive feedback from agents, writers and others two weeks after the conference.
• Take photos and post them. Tweet, blog, Facebook and engage in other types of social media.

(See Zoey’s blog on Dog Conferences for Dogs Only at zoeyspaw.wordpress.com.)