Do you remember why you wanted to become a writer?
Lisa Scottoline, the awesome, informative, and funny keynote speaker at the conference, revealed her reason. As a pregnant trial attorney and soon-to-be divorcee, she wanted to stay home with her baby. Taking an extraordinary gamble, Scottoline left her firm and began to write legal thrillers in hopes of making a living as a writer. Surviving on loans and multiple credit cards, she continued to write despite numerous rejections until she finally sold one of her stories. Since then, she has written dozens of legal thrillers as well as some nonfiction books. She also co-authors books with her daughter.
One of her rejections came from an agent who said to her, “I don’t have time to talk to you.” Years later after her many successes, she was at a conference when that agent approached her. Scottoline’s response was, “I don’t have time to talk to you,” as she turned her back on him and walked away.
That response received lots of laughter and applause from the conference attendees.
Scottoline said, “Success now doesn’t prevent me from feeling inadequate as a writer.” That statement was a frequent comment from several of the presenters even after experiencing success as writers. Many writers lack confidence in their own talent.
She states that what prevents her writer’s block is a mortgage. She writes every day and some days are better than others.
Her advice includes the following:
- Write drunk. Edit sober.
- Live your life and use it for your stories.
- Be willing to say ‘No’ to someone who takes you away from your writing.
- Write your story regardless of genre; let someone else decide the category in which it belongs.
On Saturday, I attended “Banishing Doubt: What I Wish Someone Had Told Me about Being an Author” presented by Hank Phillippi Ryan. She said writers can’t get rid of their doubts. Several statements she made resonated with me.
- You must power through. If you don’t hit a wall, you’re not working hard enough.
- Set a goal that is doable. That success will give you confidence to repeat that goal.
- Tell yourself that you’re not a bad writer. You just had a bad day.
- Be careful of the internet. It sucks your time from writing.
I enjoyed the next session, Danny Gregory’s “Shut Your Monkey! How to Control Your Inner Critic and Get More Writing Done,” which was presented in an informative and humorous manner. He said the voice in your head is very negative. That voice warns you that writing is too hard and too risky. The voice in your head doesn’t like new things. Worry and fear belong to that voice. Tell yourself, “It’s not my voice.”
Gregory said the medulla in the brain is ready to control us and inject fear into us. It warns you, “Don’t eat that. Don’t wander beyond a certain point.” This keeps us alive and out of danger. Creative people are most susceptible to this fear. Gregory said to draw a monkey face to represent that fear. Then ignore that monkey when he wants you to procrastinate.
Try journaling to move negative dialogue with your monkey out of you head. List your successes and stop focusing on failures. Thomas Edison said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Windy Lynn Harris presented, “Crafting a Strong Short Story.” Harris said that a short story is about one person with a goal. A writer starts with an idea, gives her character a goal, and finds a conflict strong enough to drive the story. The pace is different from longer stories. Because stories are only 1,000 to 8,000 words in length, every word must count.
After taking time for lunch and to rest my overwhelmed brain, I attended the last session on Saturday, “Writing from the Senses and Creating Believable Fiction” by Lauren B. Davis. The writer’s job is not to tell, but to create emotions in the reader.
Davis said that emotions are expressed in five ways:
- Sensual reactions in our bodies (fast heartbeat, stomach churns)
- Sensual response outside our bodies (wind whipping through character’s hair)
- Experience of emotion coming as a vivid burst of awakening (mind’s image of a dog attack)
- Flashes of the future (imagining your child’s success)
- Sensual selectivity (If you’re in a good mood, you see things one way. If you’re in a bad mood, you’ll see things differently.)
On Sunday, Jane K. Cleland presented “The Art of Distraction: Using Red Herrings to Create Suspense.” Cleland has a short story published in the September/October 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She mentioned that the magazine conducts a contest with a $1,000 prize if your story is published.
“Writers use red herrings to paint the innocent with powers of guilt,” she said. “The red herring also will allow guilt to go free.”
An example of a red herring is when we see the caretaker in the far-off cabin appears to be the killer on the loose. Also, a doctor is believed to be trustworthy except in your story, he is the killer.
“I Hear Voices: The Art of Craft of Distinctive Voice” by Heather Webb was the last session I attended. She said that the voice in a story isn’t necessarily the narrators’. An author’s rhythm is from word choice and word order comes from a writer’s beliefs.
Webb’s suggestions on how to find your voice include the following:
- Have confidence in yourself.
- Try free writing.
- Know your audience.
- Use mindful reading to discover what moves you.
- Speak differently to different people.
My experience at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference 2017 was everything I expected. Meeting professional and other amateur writers was exciting and fun. Many of us shared stories of our struggles and successes in writing. I look forward to attending another conference in the future.