I just got back from a fabulous week at the Write by the Lake writers retreat in Madison, Wisconsin. If you’re searching for conferences to attend next year, I highly recommend this program. I’ve gone the last three years. They offer a dozen different course options that provide intense study into a specific genre or practice for the week. Courses are for all levels from introductory to those with a full manuscript looking for a masterclass.
This year, I swayed from my usual path of nonfiction and opted for the course on picture book writing.
Here’s what I learned:
My instructor, Georgia Beaverson, had us do a writing prompt on the first day. We had to write down our first memory. The second day we rewrote that memory from another person’s point of view. She then made us edit our wordcount down by HALF (oh, the agony).
She said we could also try reworking the piece into different tenses, illustrating that a story can be told in many different ways, by different people, and sometimes reworking it can lead to great discoveries.
I’ve been working on my memoir for the last several years, and I’ve reworked some of my essays to be performed for adult storytelling. (I highly recommend taking a storytelling class if you have one in your area. I took one two years ago and it was wonderful!) What I learned by doing so was that moving around and utilizing the space I could tell in, I imagined new ways of describing the action or character emotions in my writing. Performing the scene helped me write a stronger scene.
In the picture book writing class, I adapted one of my essays to be told as a children’s picture book. The audience was entirely different, since I’d previously written and performed for adults. In this instance, I played up sounds, using onomatopoeia, stronger verbs, and I limited description where illustrations could play a role.
Using the same plotline, I now had three different ways of telling/performing the story.
Ohmygawd! Justin Timberlake was right all along!
The more you write, the better writer you become, and practicing different kinds of writing tools, genres, and craft elements are key. I was amazed at how each exercise in storytelling, whether on paper or a stage, shaped me as a writer. It was fun, challenging for sure, but rewarding across the board.
Sometimes when we’re stuck, we aren’t sure how to gain that forward momentum again. Whether or not you choose to pursue a different genre or space for your story, trying out different exercises can offer up different questions to make you think, explore, and get that creative blood pumping again.
Things You Can Try:
- Work with a critique group that has multiple genres – How will their feedback strengthen your writing? (Ex. Will listening to poetry help you improve your word choice and descriptions? Will the romance author help you write funnier characters or scenes?)
- Adapt your story into different formats (written, spoken, illustrated) – You may discover something new, or gain confidence in an area you previously felt uncomfortable in.
- Just play – Are you stuck on a scene? Is the writing starting to bore even you? Move around, make yourself do the actions! Try drawing it, what’s the action you want to portray? You don’t have to show this to anyone else, but practicing in new ways can help get you past writer’s block.
- Change the POV.
- Change the tense of the story.
- Change the audience you’re writing for.
- Read different genres. Listen to people tell stories. Note what draws you in.
How can you rewrite and/or adapt your stories
to learn something new about them?
Got an example?
Share your favorite way to practice writing.
This 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? 😉
Last weekend I attended UW-Madison’s writers conference, the Writers Institute. The conference is in its 25th year and has definitely grown. It’s two and a half days long and they have so many classes, the first two days go from 8am – 8pm!
My brain is now leaking.
Honestly, I love attending writers conferences because they are so energizing. It’s the best feeling in the world to connect with your peers, learn about your craft, mingle with people who “get it,” and return home ready and raring to write!
Plus, this year I won 3rd place in the First Page Contest for nonfiction. *does Peanuts character happy dance* It’s been a long writing journey the past 4 years, and now I feel like I’m writing what I’m supposed to when I’m supposed to be writing it. So overjoyed.
I’d have been even more productive had I not forgotten where the parking ramp I parked in was and spent 45 minutes walking around downtown Madison in heels for a wind-about, nighttime stroll. Oh well, I was sitting most of the day, so the exercise was probably good. *grins sheepishly*
Here are my favorite takeaways from the conference.
1. From Opening Keynote, Nathan Bransford:
Rule #10: Keep writing.
Cultivate your failure. Be afraid of “If I don’t publish my book…” Use that to set deadlines, talk with other writers, be heard, find success stories, and write what you love.
2. From UW-Madison Creative Writing Program Coordinator, Ron Kuka:
Go through your pages like a camera. What does the reader see?
This may easily have been the best class on deep edits I’ve ever attended. Sharing examples of one page of work during four rounds of edits was so fascinating and he really nailed the points about giving our readers both a wide and close-up view of the story through all the senses.
3. From Author and Journalist, Roy Hoffman:
There is powerful emotion in home.
Roy’s class on Writing About Place was one of the most talked about sessions at the conference. He focused on adding details when writing about place to inspire memories and feelings in our work. I had a chance to chit chat with the Kentucky gentleman one morning, and he is so kind and supportive of writers. A great teacher.
4. From Debut Author, Dale Kushner:
Things around us beg to be experiences. Learn to relax and play to overcome block.
Second keynote speaker of the conference, Dale is a fabulously intuitive and spiritual writer. She recognizes that to be creative, we mustn’t lose our sense of wonder in the world. A poet and now novelist, Dale believes in learning from your writing and embracing the emotions that go along with that. Each revision we do teaches us more about our writing.
5. From New Yorker Cartoonist, Ken Krimstein:
Accept that you have no idea how good your work is. You never know what will sell, just do it, and do it, and do it.
Step into your artist’s pants.
One of Ken’s rules is to “knock dignity off its pedestal.” When it comes to writing comedy, you have to be willing to rework the rejections. Never try to explain a joke. If you have to explain it, it isn’t working. Write the draft and then color it in.
6. From Wisconsin Author and Keynote, Michael Perry:
Don’t overlook the exotic in your own backyard.
In both his keynote address and author panel at the conference, Michael Perry talked about the strength in writing what you know. He left his hometown in Wisconsin to work as a cowboy on the ranches of Wyoming, and he intended to write a book about that. As providence would have it, that book would never see print, but what would become his first book was the story about the people in his hometown, New Aubern, WI.
I had the pleasure of meeting Michael at a book reading last year, and I interviewed him on my blog as well. You can check that out here if you like. He is a delight to hear speak and a very humble man. 🙂
7. From Former Writer’s Digest Publisher and Author Resource Extraordinaire, Jane Friedman:
Seduce the agent into requesting your work. Make them feel special and say why you think your book is a good fit for them.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jane in one the conference’s new “Fireside Chats,” a small group Q & A session and got her view on trends in the publishing industry.
*Note to self: Check out wattpad. Have you all heard about this? It’s popular among young writers (teens-early 20’s) and allows you to post portions of your work at a time and readers can comment on the work and wait to read the next installments. Jane says it’s a more positive environment than Goodreads right now. And I LOOOOOVE Goodreads, but there are some mean folks out there leaving reviews without ever having read the books they’re reviewing. What do you guys know about this?
I also attended Jane’s class on writing queries and it was PACKED! She kept the class simple and said to lead with your strengths in your query letter in order to wow the agent.
8. From Creative Writing Educator and Public Speaker, Sue Roupp:
One word will unstick you.
First off, Sue has the greatest laugh ever. It’s big and bold and it fills the room with her excitement for storytelling. Sue taught a class on memoir writing and emphasized that you are the hero of your own story. Through you, the reader learns that it’s ok to fail, to learn, and to gain knowledge.
That’s what inspired me this past weekend.
Who or what inspired you this week?
Hello Everyone! I’m currently bumming around Seoul, South Korea right now! Annyeonghasimnikka! That means Hello/Good Morning in Korea. If all goes well, I hope to share some photos from the trip later in the week, but for today, we’re doing a little blast from the past with my blogging archives. Believe it or not (cause I’m leaning towards not), I’m almost to my 200th post! Here are a few I like that many of you may not have seen. You can click the blue links for the full post. So glad I have the Life List Club to hold me more accountable than I had been with my goals. Yikes!
From the post I Write Like I Eat Potatoes, With Cheese originally posted January 24, 2011
Writers beware. If you’re going to start changing your diet to see how it impacts your life, don’t begin that process the weekend of your niece’s 2nd birthday.
The Weekend Begins
I was supposed to start out early on my three hour drive home, but instead, I slept in, and was lured to stay when my boyfriend offered to cook breakfast. Inventory: egg and cheese sandwhich on toast, hashbrowns, milk, and blueberry flavored coffee. Ok, pack up the car in -11 degree temperature, clear snow off of windshield, check. I was doing really well so far. I only stopped once on the drive to use the restroom, and I wasn’t planning to buy a thing. But the lonely man behind the counter stared me down in his bowling shirt and disheveled facial hair. Inventory: gatorade and cheez its – -damn! Saturday night I successfully finished writing a 10 stanza long rhyming birthday poem of all things Sonja to be read for her party.
The Party Day
The family oohed and aahed before we began to eat. Inventory: Brown sugar french toast, apple cinnamon squash, eggs, bacon, cheesy potatoes, mixed fruit, and broccoli and cauliflower salad. Oh, Lord, so many tasties! I made sure to take extra broccoli, and ok, I also took extra potatoes, but I wasn’t planning to write directly afterwards. I was planning to watch my two year old niece unwrap presents in a quick half hour and then cheer on the Packers during the game. Oh the game!!! Inventory: tortilla chips with chili cheese dip and black bean and corn salsa. No judgement, I needed to replenish myself, the Packers needed all of our cheering help, and salsa as you know helps the vocal chords immensely. On a side note, since some of you have gotten to hear about my father, I’ll have you know he did a rather spastic touchdown victory dance that was something of a combination between churning butter and the hokey pokey.
From the post Dear God, Writing is Hard. Love, Writer originally posted February 4, 2011
Don’t you wish writing was as easy as talking to God? No matter where you are, it will find you. Blessed is she who writes, for she shall inherit a publisher. Do not covet thy neighbor’s writing. Do unto other’s writing as you would have them do unto yours.
It would be great if good writing was as simple as talking to God, or writing your priest a letter, but it takes a lot more hard work, and often it won’t receive as kind and accommodating a letter in reply. But good writing, like religion, can speak to your soul.
From the post Silent Protests Against My Mother originally posted March 14, 2011
Ever wonder why your parents made some of the decisions they did? No, you cannot take the turtle into bed with you! No, you may not watch Pink Floyd’s The Wall with your brother! No, you may not eat double stuff oreos, and I don’t care if Liz’s mom lets her!
My mom is a great mom. She writes in perfect cursive penmanship, has impeccable spelling, pays attention to detail, writes long letters and mails them with real stamps and envelopes and everything. She likes to sing, read mystery books, bake a variety of coffee cakes, and spy out the windows.
But I have one bone to pick with my mother. Throughout my childhood, on countless trips to the grocery store, she would never let me get double stuff oreos! This woman who rarely enforced rules about vegetables, or clean plate clubs, who married a baker, son of a woman who enforced dessert before dinner, wouldn’t let me eat double stuff oreos! Hell, I had coca cola in my sippy cups!!! (That may be why I stopped growing in eighth grade.)
This anti-oreo rule never made sense to me. I was a child who liked milk. I had contests with my father over who could drink their milk the fastest at dinner. I don’t know if you’re aware, but milk and oreos are like made for each other, best friends forever, kindred spirits from the galactic orbs of destined to be together soulmates! I bet if you eat an oreo without milk, your heart shrinks a little.
From the post Do You Have a Favorite Book? originally posted May 18, 2011
Another magical book club meeting. Two months Another magical book club meeting. Two months ago, I joined up with a coworker of mine and attended her book club. At the end of that meeting, hoping to insight me to return, they asked me what my favorite book was, and I said The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
Now why on earth would a book about cells and science and medical advancements appeal to a girl who only walked through the science building on campus during winter when it was the shortest route to the English building? It’s because the author, Rebecca Skloot, spent a decade researching the subject and uncovering the family that belonged to Henrietta Lacks.
Do you ever look back on your old posts and laugh that you’re still struggling with eating too many potato chips? No…just me…
Ok then, do you ever look back on your old posts and think “Damn, I may stubborn, but I’m also good!”
Feel free to share an old link from your past blogs in the comments! I’d love time travel with you!