What You Can Learn at a Writer’s Conference

On Saturday I attended the Michigan Writing Workshop outside of Detroit. I’m here to share my experience with you today. The event was peopled with agents and Chuck Sambuchino, author and former editor for Writer’s Digest. It was an opportunity to learn about craft and publishing and to pitch to agents.

Needless to say this was a great opportunity and step forward in anyone’s writing career. Whether you’re a beginner writer who can learn a great deal about craft from agents and speakers in the event, or a more advanced writer looking to get an agent or get published, any writer can benefit from a good writer’s conference. They didn’t just have classes on craft, from how to write a great mystery or YA story to how to revise, but they also had classes on self-publishing, what you need to know about agents, and how to build your platform. Obviously, every conference will offer different classes, but will usually provide talks on both how to improve your writing and how to get published. If you are a novice writer, focus on learning the craft of writing. What’s the point of publishing a story that isn’t ready yet? Agents only accept the best, so learn how to perfect your story first. Then worry about agents and publishers after.

Pitching is another big part of writing conferences. This is great because you get the time and attention of an agent you’re not guaranteed through anonymous email. You only have ten minutes of their time so your pitch has to be concise as well as intriguing. I talk about pitching here. It is vital you research the agents before you sign up for your pitching sessions. And agents appreciate the research. I prefaced my pitches by saying why I wanted to pitch with them specifically and explained why they would be interested in my story based on what they had said they look for in a story in their bios and online. It definitely got their interest in my story. I pitched to 4 agents and got 3 partial requests for my manuscript. One lesson about pitching that Chuck said that stuck with me was that pitching offers have no expiration date. Yes, if you wait too long, the agent will probably forget talking to you specifically, but they will definitely say no to a manuscript that isn’t ready. Get your work perfected, then query. Just make sure to mention you met them and where.

Conferences are a great opportunity, both towards getting published and as a learning opportunity. Plus it’s a chance to network with other writers. I definitely recommend going to one yourself. Read how to prepare for your first conference here. What are your experiences with conferences? Share below and happy pitching!

Julia

Follow my blog at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

Writing while Depressed

On a good day, writing is all about passion and love, loving what we’re doing and loving our stories and characters. But that all dissipates when we’re depressed. Our drive and motivation vanish, everything seems horrible and cliché, and we begin to doubt we even know what an original thought is. We lose our strength and our will to push through the beak feelings we have. So how do we face our depression?

  • Have a writing habit in place. If you’re in the habit of writing, it will be easier to write through your low periods. Even if it’s just a page a day, accomplishing this task will make you feel productive and positive. It can even be a page of crap. Words can always be edited, but not if there are no words.
  • Set realistic goals. Setting goals too high is just setting yourself up for failure. And failing to meet your goals will just make you feel worse about yourself and your abilities. But setting and making realistic goals will help you feel good and like a productive member of society. Set your goals when you wake up and evaluate how you did before you go to bed. Having a goal just might make the difference to actually finishing a task as well, so give it a shot.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. Some days you just won’t be able to push through and accomplish difficult tasks and that’s okay. You should recognize things will be difficult for you and be kind to yourself. It’s so easy to give into self-loathing, but that’s the depression talking, not reality. Forgive yourself and give yourself grace.
  • Work on easier tasks. Some things may just be difficult for you to tackle on a bad day. Allow yourself to set more complicated or onerous tasks aside for the moment and accomplish the ones you can handle that day.
  • Listen to some upbeat music. Music really does affect our moods and while we might feel like indulging in some sad tunes, try listening to something that will give you energy and motivation instead. Avoid listening to tunes that bring up painful or sad emotions.
  • Change things up. Try a change of scenery, maybe that new café you’ve been waiting to check out or a sunny spot at the park. A new location may inspire you or give you some energy.
  • Reward yourself. Give yourself a little treat for accomplishing even the smallest things. Have a piece of your favorite candy or read a few pages of your favorite book.
  • Reach out to others. We all hate asking for help, but even just sharing how we feel with someone else lessens our burden. Your friends and family love you, so allow them to support you on those awful days.
  • Take care of yourself. Show yourself love and do the little things to take care of yourself. Eat regularly, make sure you’re hydrated, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. These things will also help lift your mood so don’t ignore them.
  • Remember why you write. You write for a reason so don’t let yourself forget why on those bad days. Remember why you love it and set goals to accomplish and a game plan for when you are feeling better.
  • Take regular breaks. Schedule in times to rest between your work and follow through with them. Your mind will appreciates the breaks and you’ll be more productive in the long run. Read a book for fifteen minutes or go for a short walk. Then get back to work (even if it’s just trying to write).
  • Allow yourself a day off. Some days you just know you can’t get any work done and that’s okay. Remember to be kind to yourself. Spend the day on self-care so the next day you’ll be able to do a little more.
  • Channel your emotions. Use those powerful emotions in that tricky scene you’ve been putting off or to fuel that character to make them more realistic and relatable.

Use these tips to help you get through those low days. Above all be kind to yourself and remember that these days will pass and get better. What are your tips for writing while depressed? Share below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and my Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

How to Get Your Foreshadowing Right

Foreshadowing can be a tricky thing to master in your story, but it can add depth and subtlety to your work. When it works, it’s like a magic trick. The payoff is satisfying and we don’t know how we didn’t see it coming. When it’s not done right, the reader feels disappointed and cheated. So let’s look at some tips for foreshadowing.

  • You need the set up. You have to plant clues all through the beginning that prepare your reader for the payoff. They have to anticipate the ending, even just subconsciously. You don’t want to give the ending away, just show it is a possibility so that when it happens, the reader says “why didn’t I see that coming?” If you don’t plant clues, the ending will seem out of nowhere and unrealistic, leading to reader disappointment. Especially if things seem to be going another way. For instance, if you show two characters growing closer together, but then suddenly have them get together with other characters they’ve shown no previous connection with, readers are going to feel cheated by the switch.
  • Foreshadowing is for significant events, not the little everyday things. Don’t overdo your foreshadowing.
  • Don’t plant the clues without the payoff. According to Chekov’s rule, if you introduce a gun into the story, that gun must go off later. Otherwise readers will feel cheated and disappointed you didn’t develop that thread. There must be consequences.
  • Plan backwards. Foreshadow big events by going back and deciding when and where to plant your clues. Sometimes this is easier to do backwards from the event.
  • Plant your clues early on. The more important the event, the more important it is you plant your clues early on.
  • Payoff every hint. Don’t foreshadow things that aren’t significant. But every plant must have its payoff or the reader will feel the story is unresolved. They will feel there’s a thread untied, so tie them all off.
  • Consider foreshadowing big reveals in your characters’ backstories. Don’t mislead your readers or surprise them when you finally reveal backstory. Don’t contradict the truth or lead your readers to believe something you’ll later reveal to be untrue.
  • Foreshadowing can be created by manipulating the mood, setting the tone for the scene. But don’t set the scene with a specific tone if nothing happens or to just add tension.
  • Use rewriting as a way to finesse your foreshadowing. Whether it’s adding clues or rewriting them since the ending changed, always do a pass through your revisions to get your foreshadowing right.

How do you get foreshadowing correct? Share your answer below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and my Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

Looking at the Inciting Incident

The inciting incident is one of the most important scenes in your novel. It’s the first major plot point and leads to all other plot points and conflict that make the story. Without this incident, there would be no story. The inciting incident is the event that changes everything for your protagonist and propels them into their new world. So let’s look at what the inciting incident is.

  • The inciting incident occurs to the protagonist of the story.
  • Your inciting incident must be tied to succeeding events and your climax.
  • Without the inciting incident, the story would never happen.
  • The inciting incident isn’t the same as the hook. The hook is what starts your novel and hooks your reader into the story. The inciting incident comes after.
  • The inciting incident can be positive or negative for the protagonist. It usually creates a problem for the protagonist to solve, creating the conflict for the story.
  • Connect your inciting incident with your protagonist’s story goal.
  • The inciting incident isn’t just life changes, but leads to the rest of the story. It’s all connected.
  • Make it compelling. It’s not the hook, but it should pull readers into your story.
  • The inciting incident occurs sometimes in the first act. Twelve percent in if you follow the Hero’s Journey structure. If you think the inciting incident comes after the first act, you need to restructure your story and start it closer to the inciting incident so that it occurs in the first act.

The inciting incident is an important part of early story structure. It’s also a crucial part to your story since everything is derived from this event. Make sure it’s intriguing and well connected to the rest of your story.

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

How to Find Meaningful Content

So part of our job as writers is to do more than just write. We need to build our platforms and social media presence as well. And, like me, many of us host blogs. But if you’re anything like me, it can be short of torture sometimes trying to find subjects to write about. So my friend asked me on Facebook to write about how I find meaningful content to write about every week (at least I hope it’s meaningful content), so here’s my response.

Social media. I spend a part of my free time reading up and researching different writing topics. Everything from outlining a novel or a series to characterization to editing. There’s so much to read and learn and I never want to stop learning craft. On Twitter I follow Writer’s Digest and K.M. Weiland who hosts “Helping Writers Become Authors.” Weiland has great material on a wide range of topics. Writer’s Digest does as well and also retweets other author’s articles. Another great thing about following them is they regularly update with agents looking for clients.

Facebook is good for following other authors who may share different articles or blog posts from various sources. I am also a part of a few writing groups on Facebook. This gives me another source for articles as well as author friends to follow. One group I am in is purely educational and I learn a lot from it. I suggest joining writing groups and see which ones work for you.

My primary source is Pinterest. I love that you can search for specific topics and also that when you click on a pin, you are shown related pins. I’ve found many great topics to write on from browsing Pinterest as well as different points of view. This allows me to see which tips are consistent. Pinterest is great for brainstorming topics as well as researching them to write articles. I definitely find some great stuff on Pinterest.

Well that’s my methods for finding meaningful content. Keep your eyes open on social media and you’ll find lots of ideas you can use. What’s your preferred method? Share below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration and find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

How to Outline and Plan for a Series

A lot of books nowadays are part of a series. And we love to revisit our favorite characters and story worlds again. But there’s so much to keep track of and weave together to tell our series in the best way we can. So how do we manage this? By outlining and planning for our series.

Even if you’re a punster (one who flies by the seat of his pants when writing), you’ll still benefit from knowing the major plot points you will hit and the ending of your series. It gives you something to write towards and keeps all the subplots straight in your head. This goes double for series, which are way more complicated than standalone novels. So some planning and outlining is crucial to our success. This doesn’t have to be super detailed down to each scene for each book, but major plot beats should be mapped out to make sure you have enough story for each book. You do not want your book to be crammed full of filler and a stretched-thin plot. Every scene should move the story forward, not just take up space.

So how do we outline for a series? By looking at the overall arc for each book and the overall story put together. The series will have a story goal or story problem to be solved by the end. For example, in the Lord of the Rings it’s destroying the one ring. So you know it will be figured out by the climax of the final book of your series. You also know you’ll have a dark moment in the middle of the series where things may seem impossible for the protagonist to solve. Pay attention to your series story arc as well as for each book. Plot out each major plot points for each book as well as the highs and lows for the series. Get the overall picture for your series arc.

Plot out your character arcs for each major character as well. Who has a positive character arc and who has a negative one? Where does each main character end up in each book as well as at the end of the series? How do the character arcs interact with each other and the major plot beats?

Keep track of your subplots and weave them all together. Some subplots will be resolved as individual books end while others will run throughout your series. But they should all be resolved in the end. Make sure enough subplots are being resolved in each book to keep your readers satisfied and enough run through the whole series to tie all the books together. Thematic threads should be found in each book.

Planning ahead can make sure your series is as complex and well developed as possible. How do you outline for your series? Share below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration and find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

Holiday Update

Well, federal holidays count and there’s good reason to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, so I thought I’d do a general update today.

With the start of the new year just behind us, I am conscious of my writing habits and goals. I am not a resolutions type of gal, but I do want to make some changes to my writing life and be more productive this 2017. If you’re looking for a good list of things to do without doing resolutions, check out this list here.

I do have some wonderful news. I am now a published author! Two of my stories were featured in the anthology, Tales from Our Write Side. This anthology features everything from stories in the vein of Lewis Carroll to dark tales of fantasy to a screenplay. It offers something for every type of reader and I recommend checking it out, especially my two stories. 🙂

As far as my WiP goes, it is at the editor’s for round two. He’s about halfway through edits and I eagerly await him finishing. I did some major revising after round one and have been told he’s pleased with how much the manuscript has grown since he’s last seen it. That doesn’t mean no more changes, it definitely still needs more work. I’d be shocked if it didn’t, but it’s good to know it’s nearing its final draft. I am attending a writer’s conference in March and will be pitching my WiP to four agents. I have started writing my blurb, but still have to perfect it as well as begin my synopsis. I will also need to do more research on each agent I will meet before I go. I’ve done some preliminary research to choose which ones I will pitch to, but I will do more. I will also demonstrate that I have done this research when I meet these agents. It’s important to do. And I will update you all on the conference once it happens.

In the meantime I am trying to work on the sequel to my WiP. I say trying because it hasn’t been flowing for me when I sit down to write my first draft. I do have some chapters done, but I think I need to revisit the planning, brainstorming, and outlining part. I did some of this, but I realize now it wasn’t enough. I just need to find the mental place to sit down and do so. My goal is to get it done sometime this month. It’s good to give myself working deadlines. That way I don’t panic, but I don’t procrastinate too much either.

I have a couple ideas for short stories I want to write for different anthologies that are forthcoming. And those are my projects that I’m working on now. I find short stories are harder to write than longer pieces, so send positive energies my way that I’ll finish them. What are you working on? What are your goals for 2017? Share below and happy writing!

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.