5 Must-Have Tools I Acquired at a Writers Conference

John Williams Waterhouse “Pandora”

I returned from the Write on the Sound conference held at the Frances Anderson Center in Edmonds, Washington. The conference attracts around 250 to 300 writers in all stages of their careers and representing a variety of genres. Although most of the writers I met were working on their memoirs.

On Friday, participants sign up for a half-day or a full-day workshop. I signed up for the half-day Think Like a Development Editor workshop taught by Shirin Bridges. I gained insight from that workshop and much of what the instructor-editor shared with us was repeated by other instructors throughout the conference.

On Saturday we attended 4 workshops from blocks of 4 workshops (it was hard to choose in some cases). We also were invited to the keynote speaker event featuring Retired UW Professor Charles Johnson. And the conference hosted a reception or the authors teaching at the event. A private group hosted an open mic in a cafe. I didn’t attend the open mic because I had too much information to digest from the day’s events.

On Sunday, my first workshop started at 9:30 and by the last workshop at 3 p.m. I wasn’t able to concentrate. Fortunately, that was a lighthearted panel discussion on travel writing in this modern age.

Here are the 5 Tools I acquired at the conference that every writer can use for writing, revising, and editing manuscripts.

  • Delete 30% of the completed manuscript

(Yes, that’s right. Eliminate filler words, an overabundance of adjectives, adverbs, and passive phrases. Eliminate long passages of exposition or backstory. Eliminate scenes that don’t propel the story forward).

  • Map the scenes

(Write all the scenes down and what occurs in each of the scenes. This is best done with a software program like Scrivener or you can write them out in a notebook by hand. Then make a note on whether the novel requires each scene. Delete repeated scenes or scenes that are blocks of expositions).

  • Watch out for pet words and don’t overuse them

(Every author has favorite or pet words that they overuse in a manuscript. Since they the words are red flags to a reader, find other words to replace the pet words).

  • Show, don’t tell

(For me, this is not a hard and fast rule. I think it’s best to include both showing and telling in a narrative non-fiction book as well as, a novel. However, if you can show the story and not just tell it, you’re more likely to engage readers).

  • Consider the modern attention span

(While this one mostly refers to younger readers who want authors to get to the action, many authors include too much detail which slows the pace of a story. Obviously, if you write literary fiction you can include more details and meander a bit. However, if you write genre fiction or YA fiction, cut to the chase or lose your readers).

After three days of attending intensive writing workshops, I gained more tools than what I mentioned here. I hope these tips are helpful and even new in some cases. The show versus telling and the refrain from using adjectives and adverbs have been rules in the book publishing world for some time. They are still relevant today.

Also, make sure that you are not following trends. It can take up to 5 years to complete a manuscript, 2 to 3 years to find a publisher and another two years before your book hits the bookstore shelves. By that time, zombies or vampires would be passe. Always write what’s in your heart and not what you think will contribute to your bank account. Write because you enjoy the craft because writing and publishing are always hard work.

Acknowledgement to four friends who donated money to me through Go Fund Me and by private checks that paid for the registration fee, a manuscript critique, and two nights at the Best Western Harbor Inn.

Thank you to the kind folks at the Harbor Inn, the volunteers, staff, and faculty with the conference. I hope to return.

 

 

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