3 Lessons for Writers

A few weeks ago, I attended (and presented at) the 2014 Pennwriters Annual Conference. First of all, it was great to be back in Lancaster, PA. I really missed Isaac’s pretzel roll sandwiches, and I snuck away long enough to have one.

But more importantly, networking with authors, editors, and agents helped me to better understand writing. For the aspiring writers out there, I thought I’d share some of what I learned:

Trends in Publishing

At the Pennwriters Conference, I was able to sign up for chats with literary agents, and I ended up sitting down for four ten-minute one-on-one sessions with four different agents. In addition, the agents sat for a Q&A session with authors during a panel session. Besides helping me see what goes into a compelling pitch, these sessions were helpful in teaching me about the publishing industry. For instance, traditional publishing seems to work in cycles–with agents and editors accepting current trends and shying away from other topics (though those topics are likely to resurface again in a few years). I also learned that it’s important to be able to “package” a concept in a way that is concise and easy to understand.

A Good Book is a Good Book

With that said, even the agents emphasized that it’s important to write what is inside you. If you write for current trends, by the time you’re ready to publish, the word will have moved away from those trends. For instance, vampires were popular about a decade before Twilight. They fell out of favor until Twilight resurrected them again, and now they are falling out of favor once more. But in a decade or so, when the world has had a chance to recover, they will be back. The bottom line is: a compelling read is a compelling read, regardless of what’s “in” at any given time. Agents kept repeating that: write what you’re passionate about. It reinforced something I’ve learned as a writer: write something you’re passionate about, and readers will follow. Readers can tell if an author is not genuine, or trying to be someone else, or just writing to get published. Write from the soul.

Never Stop Learning

Attending workshops presented by all levels of authors and publishers, I realized that writers should never stop learning. A few years ago, one of my teacher friends told me that all writers have a “thing.” Once a reader cracks “that thing,” all the author’s stories start to sound the same. This teacher friend told me that once she figures out an author’s “thing,” she stops reading that author. Many bestselling authors follow a similar formula for all of their books. While this obviously works for them, I wonder if it ever gets stale. For me, one of the joys of writing is constantly pushing myself and learning new things about my writing and my characters. Attending various workshops reminded me of different techniques and perspectives and motivated me to take a fresh look at my own writing.

I had a great time presenting. Naturally an introvert, when I step in front of a crowd and talk about something I’m passionate about, I blossom. One of the most rewarding moments was when a writer I had taught last summer in an online workshop introduced herself in person right before my presentation started. She thanked me for what I’d taught her during the online workshop and let me know that she has a book coming out soon. Knowing that in a small way, I helped her develop the skills she needed to finish that book and make it the best it could be put a smile on my face.

Teaching about writing is the perfect blend of my day job (teaching) and my passion (writing). Pennwriters asked me to teach another class this June (starting on June 9). For anyone interested, here is how to sign up:

Camera Angle Matters: Using Point of View and Indirect Characterization to Develop Your Writing

In this class, participants will examine how point of view can help shape a reader’s reaction to scenes and characters. They will examine techniques in indirect characterization and incorporate the techniques into their own writing. Participants can use a work in progress or create new characters and scenes for this workshop. All participants will receive a free one-chapter critique at the end of the class.

Week 1: POV
Week 2: Indirect Characterization using your main character and first person POV
Week 3: Indirect Characterization using other characters and third person POV
Week 4: Putting it all together: Using POV and Indirect Characterization to make your scenes work harder

To enroll:

  1. Go to www.pennwriters.org
  2. click on the “Learn” tab
  3. scroll to the bottom of the page and click on Details and registration are here.
  4. The Buy Now button is at the bottom of the page.