3 Can’t Miss Tips from Weekend With Your Novel

pencil-878695_1920This past weekend I headed to Madison, WI for the university’s continuing studies program, Weekend With Your Novel.

If you’ve never attended one of the Madison writing programs, I highly recommend them. Their spring conference is great for writers of all stages and offers tracks on structure, revision, marketing, and publishing. In addition, agent pitches and panels abound.

If you’re up for more of a retreat that’s been called a “spa for writers” check out their Write by the Lake weeklong summer class. It was crucial to me and the plotting of my book this summer.

This was my first attendance at Weekend With Your Novel, a one and a half day workshop weekend devoted to the writing process. It largely consisted of honing in your craft and offering longer classes to dissect examples and ask questions of the instructor. It provided even more clarity to my book structure and characters. I loved it.

Here are a few of my favorite takeaways.

3 Can’t Miss Tips from Weekend With Your Novel

1. Aim High

I was most excited for a class on publishing excerpts of your work while writing your book, which was taught by UW-Madison professor and author Christopher Chambers. His first piece of advice was “aim high.”

If you are writing to pursue publication, then make publication goals for yourself. Where do you want to see your work? Of course you should be realistic, but dream big. The worst that can happen is they don’t publish you, but you’ll never know unless you try.

2. Redefine Failure

Simply put, failure is “something that happens, and it’s good for you,” said lunch keynote, Kathy Steffen.

Sharing one of the most frustrating failures I can imagine, Kathy talked about an online app project she’d written over 100,000 words for, only to have the app fizzle out. Imagine spending that much time and energy on something and then find out it wasn’t going to work. Ugh!

But Kathy also said you should give yourself a thousand second chances. Quit and come back the next day if you need to.

3. Get a Solid Structure

Where Write by the Lake helped me figure out my ending and timeline, Christine DeSmet‘s class on structure helped me figure out how I would plan the overall layout and what I needed to fill in gaps.

One of her tips: Keep your logline and central question at the forefront. Each scene should have them included. If it helps, have them typed at the beginning of each chapter. (You can always take them out later when submitting.) 

Another tip? If you need help creating tension or figuring out what the next scene is, make a list. What are the details you want in the scene? Making a list of what stories you want in the chapter, details you want to include, or elements of danger or trouble that will occur will help trigger your brainstorming and boost tension.


Those were my favorite tips from the weekend. What are your most helpful tips for staying motivated and improving your writing? 

Any NaNo folks out there having fun,
or in need of a pep talk? 😉


10 responses

  1. These are some great tips! I think the secret with aim high is to make sure you enjoy the along-the-way bit either way – that’s the mistake I’ve made before, when I’ve aimed high but forgot to focus on how to get there 😉 I guess that’s where the second tip comes in – it’s all part of the journey whether it worked out how you hoped/expected or not!

    1. I just read another great article today about not having expectations. That doesn’t mean don’t have goals and dreams, everyone should have those! But we shouldn’t go into things with the expectation that we’ll automatically be published, or get the part, or seal the deal, etc. Then it becomes more about doing our best work to earn it, and not expecting anything just because. The successes that do come will be even sweeter because you know you worked hard for them.

  2. Interesting! Good for you for going!

    1. It was so helpful to build upon my structure, and to hang out with writers on all spectrums of the writing process. Very rejuvenating.

  3. Those are truely helpful tips! Especially the one about not being defeated by failure. When you write, chances are that you will write a lot of scenes which won’t work out but that’s not failure, it simply means you’re getting closer to the one scene which does work. I am in the middle of this process with my own novel at the moment and honestly sometimes I’m freaking out but other times I actually see progress and it makes me believe in my idea. Thanks for sharing1

    1. One of my all time favorite pieces of writing advice came from my writer buddy, Gene Lempp, who told me to remember that “I may not be moving as fast as I like, but to recognize that I’m still moving forward.” That has been a crucial reminder for me. And I started journaling about it – what I’d learned that week, progress I was making, steps I was taking – because then I could literally look back and see that yes, I was making progress all along. So don’t forget that along your own journey!

  4. I think I just really, really wanted to cross the finish line. I’d written several manuscripts over the years, but this was the first time I knew I’d be published, one way or another. Glad you’re finding your own motivation! Happy Thanksgiving to you and the hubster.

    1. Aww thanks Mister! Happy thanksgiving to you and the Queen lady!

  5. I have heard of Write by the Lake. And perhaps it was from you Jess. Any time we infuse ourselves with new craft points and goals, it spurs us on to continue writing that story. It helps to reignite that fire that drove us to write the book to begin with. So glad your retreat went well. Keep writing so we can read this thing, will ya? 🙂

    1. I’m working on it! LOL

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