Kerrie Flanagan, a member of the Northern Colorado Writers Creative Conference Team for the 2018 conference, left, gives writing advice May 4 during the two-day conference.
By Shelley Widhalm
Going to a writing conference is like taking a semester class in college, but cheaper and faster.
I attended the 13th annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference “Much Ado About Writing” May 4-5 to pitch my young adult novel and to get quick writing tips. The conference was set up classroom style at the Fort Collins Marriott with one-hour workshops taught by agents, editors and industry professionals on various aspects of writing. The topics included the elements of writing, different genres from young adult to memoir, self-editing, traditional and self-publishing, and platform-building and social media.
“Number one, write,” said Kerrie Flanagan, a member of the NCW Creative Conference Team. “Just Write. To be a writer, you must write.”
Top 10 Writing Tips
Flanagan and the team talked about the top 10 writing tips during the banquet dinner May 4 that included studying the craft, honoring the writing and killing the darlings, those bits of writing that might be pretty or interesting but do not move the plot along. The team dressed in high collars and used “thy” and “though” to add a Shakespearean flair to their tips in line with the conference theme.
I collected hundreds of writing tips from the workshops I attended on writing a memoir, writing a book proposal, worldbuilding, and writing and selling short stories and personal essays. This time, I chose topics for my future projects of writing a memoir and some personal essays; plus, I want to sell some of my short stories.
The First Day: To Pitch and Tell the Story
After pitching my novel, the first session I attended focused on “How to Write a Captivating Memoir,” presented by Kristen Moeller, a literary agent at Waterside Productions and author of three books. Moeller explained how to structure a nonfiction story and decide what to include and let go.
“Everyone has a meaningful story to tell. Not everyone has a story or voice that sells,” Moeller said.
- Writing it all out, but don’t include every single detail beginning to end in the final draft.
- Identifying the narrative arc with a beginning, middle and end with something at stake for the narrator that opens up the question of what’s next? The reader has to wonder if the narrator will be OK.
- Including fiction elements, such as scene and dialog, while also showing not telling.
- Creating a character for the self with a distinct narrative voice.
The Second Day: Prepping and Publishing
The next day of the conference, I attended four sessions, the first on “Five Steps to Publishing Success: Get Your Short Stories and Essays Published in Magazines,” presented by Windy Lynn Harris, author of “Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays.” She gave tips on strategizing publishing in magazines and sending work to the right editors in the right way.
Personal essays are the most saleable thing writers can write because of the large market, Harris said. Essays typically are something reported or a first-person account of a life event with a narrative arc and a takeaway for the reader, she said.
“If it’s well-written, you can find the right place for it,” Harris said.
- Submitting to at least five publications, starting with the largest, most desired markets.
- Realizing that getting several rejections is to be expected, but after 30 or so, go back to the piece to identify the issues.
- Making a spreadsheet of submissions that lists publication details and dates and the acceptances and rejections.
My next session was on “Writing the Nonfiction Book Proposal,” presented by Stacy Testa, a literary agent with Writers House, on the basic components of a book proposal. The proposal gives an overview of the project showing there is demand for it and a fresh idea.
“Keep it simple to the point,” Testa said. “Who will read your book? Be specific. The more potential readers, the better.”
Testa pointed to a few issues with proposals, including:
- The-need-to-see-more problem, where there is not enough material for a full book with depth and breadth of topic.
- The platform problem with too small of a following.
- The niche problem with too small of an audience.
The other sessions I attended were on “Two Kinds of Worldbuilding and Why You Need Both,” presented by literary agent Angie Hodapp with the Nelson Literary Agency, and “How Editors Decide What (and Whom) to Publish,” presented by editor Bruce Bortz, founder of Bancroft Press.
“It’s hard to sell your own product, but figure out what makes it special,” Bortz said.
I walked away from the conference motivated to return to my projects with a clearer sense of direction and an excitement for what’s next.
Note: I provide editing, writing and ghostwriting services and can help you perfect your project from a short story to a novel. I also offer consultations on writing and editing through #ShellsInkServices.