Aug 16, 2008

Talking About Writing Versus Doing It

By Christine Thackeray

The last time I was supposed to blog I totally blanked out. I just forgot even with my nifty reminder because I was attending the Willamette Writers Conference. It was my second Writer's Conference ever. I attended the LDStorymakers this summer which was fabulous. I gobbled up every word about the ANWA conference. It sounded wonderful. And perhaps it was my angst at being stuck here in the far Northwest, away from the Arizona heart of ANWA that made me leap at the opportunity of attending another Conference.

Liz Adair responded to my last minute plea for someone else that might be interested in going because I didn't know a single soul that would be attending, but this year did not work for her. WWC is one of the largest writers conferences in the Northwest. Hundreds were in attendence and the speakers included both NY agents, editors from many of the major publishing houses and experts in film. We even had the vice president of MGM speak to us. I met a handful of women from Idaho that had driven over to come.

I learned so many things. Here are some of the Workshops I attended-

Confessions of An Eavesdropper-
Sometimes when we write, it is hard to make our characters not all sound the same. A good exercise is to listen to other's conversations and write them down so you can analyze different speech patterns. One thing this woman observed is that when people are very emotional they either speak very few words OR wax into trite phrases because their brain sort of shuts down. (I have to confess, I've started keeping a little notebook and it is fun to do. A teenager walking out of IKEA the other day said, "Wow, that place is like a furniture Disneyland.")

Four Beats and Other Dialogue Tips-
Cindy W. wrote Buffalo Girls and has worked on hundreds of scripts for TV movies. She taught us that with the short attention span of readers a good rule of thumb is to only have four beats or less of dialogue before breaking it up with some sort of action or interjection. Beats mean natural pauses like, "You may not be superwoman (1) but I'm superman. (2) I can handle anything this world throws at me- (3) anything. (4)" Of course if you have a court scene or a character that is extremely verbose, that wouldn't apply, but if you want your book to keep up pacing, it is a guideline. Still, remember that rules are made to be broken.

The Psychology of Writing-
This was perhaps the best class for me. Witchey talked about the dreaded "SECOND BOOK SYNDROME." Often after people have published their first book, they struggle with producing their second because the first was written for the fun of it, without expectation or a deadline. If they get a contract for their second, the pressure of being under a contract and having to produce as opposed to just wanting to can squash what little creativity you have. (I met two women who had published their first books, were under contract for a second, missed their deadline and lost their book deal.) How sad is that?

He gave some good suggestions for developing routines that lift and strenghten the creative part of your brain including doing fifteen minutes of new creation every day (not on you work in progress, somethinig totally fresh.) He also encouraged reading with a writer's eyes and pulling in resources that make you think outside your world. He used trivia cards and writer's exercises.

He also said there comes a point where you have to look at your writing like a business and start recording your hours with fingers on the keyboard working on your story (not blogging or answering email or thinking about what you are going to write without actually writing.) He said that a lot of writers, once they begin to get into support groups and conferences, spend too much time doing things other than actually writing. Although these support activities are important, he suggests allotting yourself half an hour a day to do them and then focus on really getting things out.

There were so many other things I came away with and maybe I'll share that next time but the thing I learned most is that the majority of the presenters were not actively writing. They had gotten so caught up in coaching writing and doing workshops that they weren't in the thick of it as much anymore. I realized that if I really want to accomplish my personal goals for writing I need to actually write.

Although I'm going to miss my children terribly, I'm grateful in a way that school starts in two weeks so that I can get back to focused writing. My poor character has been trapped in a rotten neighborhood with everyone conspiring to get rid of her for way too long.


  1. Great post, Christine! I agree with the statement that if you want to meet your writing goals you need to focus on your writing. I, too, find myself spending so much time reading and replying to everyone's posts, I don't get my own goals accomplished.

    Go rescue your poor character before she gets done in!!!

  2. As much as I love reading all the emails and blogs posted by lovely ANWA sisters--and others--it does sometimes take so much time there's nothing left to write or edit on my own. You're so right. Maybe the answer is to work faster, or smarter, or simply take a break.


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