Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Northern Colorado Writers’

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

0514 Blog-NCW Conference 2018-2

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.

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/.