It felt great to no longer be a newbie at this July’s Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) Conference, and I’ve boiled this amazing experience into a list of writing conference highlights. My novel may still be undergoing revisions, but my writing path has never been more clear. Even with the support of critique partners and blogger friends, writing can often be an isolating endeavor. The biggest favor I have done for myself is to attend this four-day event and connect with writers at all stages in the process. Too often, I compare my progress to others and forget the uniqueness of each writer’s process and evolution.
See that pool? I could only gaze upon it. My friend and I stayed at the Marriott for free due to all the travel points my hubby earns, but we didn’t have a chance to enjoy much downtime. Still, it was nice to be able to save money compared to the 2013 conference. Cost can often be a deterrent to attending a writing conference, but it shouldn’t be. No matter if you’re seeking traditional, hybrid, or self-publication, attending a conference will put you at the forefront of publishing knowledge.
#1 : PUBLISHING FACTS AND FICTION: Without a doubt, this session offered by Beth Jusino impressed me the most. An awkward pause ensued when she asked how many of us were published, as if the room thought she might be asking a trick question. O how the times they are a changin’, but five main ways exist for publication. I hope you’ll join me for my post two weeks from now when I cover this topic in depth.
#2: SUCCESS STORIES: The conference opened with a panel of authors sharing their PNWA success stories. Some like Janet Fisher’s story of her great-great grandmother A Place of Her Own underwent substantive revisions. Others like Andie Newton sent the requested materials in for The Unlikely Nazi Spy before the end of the conference. A common thread emerged in taking the chance to pitch an unlikely agent.
#3 PLATFORM IMPORTANCE: The story is more important for fiction writers seeking representation than having a huge promotional platform in place, but any existing community that can be tapped into will prove helpful. However, for nonfiction authors, platform becomes absolutely essential. All writers are well-served to pursue speaking engagements and other opportunities to establish their reputation and expertise.
#4 OVERACHIEVING AUTHORS: James Rollins gave the keynote speech. He’s a veterinarian turned bestselling author who just signed a $15-million deal. His propensity toward suspense showed itself when he used to hide a ventriloquist dummy around the house to scare his little brother. He said he writes five pages a day or the equivalent of two books a year. Nobody asked how edits are handled, but I am curious.
#5 DEVELOPMENTAL EDITING (It’s not cheating!!!): Fees can run anywhere from $700-$2,800 depending on the editor’s experience and advice sought on a book’s ability to sale. Such an edit can save writers a ton of valuable time. Sadly, not enough self-published authors realize how much their lack of polish shows. For manuscripts submitted to literary agencies, competition is so fierce that only the most polished pages can stand out from the slush-pile. After three years and three drafts of Lost Girl Road, I am close to seeking the assistance I need to make my book shine.
#6 AGENTS DON’T EAT THEIR YOUNG: I made only slight revisions to last year’s pitch for Lost Girl Road and the experience was just as harrowing and exciting. So much has been said about the demise of traditional publishing, but it’s alive and well. Most agents work hard to find great books they can bring to a wider audience. Agents work for authors, not against them. Some will be great, many good, and some bad. That’s life.
#7 COMPARABLE TITLES : The agent forum once again stressed the importance of knowing comparable book titles already on the market. No matter the publishing path an aspiring author seeks, the art of writing books essentially becomes a business. The right audience must be found, and it must be clear how a given book is different and better (especially for prescriptive fiction).
#8 WRITING CRAFT VS. STORY CRAFT: Too many times, I’ve beaten myself up over this issue. There really is no way around the 10,000 hours it takes to become an expert at something. Even with a ton of experience in writing workshops, teaching writing, and crafting short stories and essays, I am new to novel writing. Simply put, it takes longer to learn how to write a plausible, engaging story than it does to construct solid sentences. My background has made me an excellent editor, but my novel-writing efforts are in process.
#9 LISTEN TO YOUR INNER-EDITOR: Given what I have realized about my tendencies to flail without proper planning, I was impressed by all of the advice given by Jason Black, a self-described genre-agnostic book doctor. He pointed out if I am hesitating in the direction my story has taken, it’s because I should stop silencing my inner-editor and listen to her instead. My first book has taught me I am a planner, not a pantser. Next time around, I will do more plotting in advance. Plus, editing sentences as one writes can result in stronger prose. This goes against how I’ve taught the writing process to others, but I’m finding what works for me.
#10 KNOWING YOURSELF: It might seem like cliched advice, but Robert Dugoni’s closing speech, “Today I Write,” gave the audience the homework of listing the five things that define them. After all, he pointed out we do not write this or that genre. Writers create characters who are not you, but of you. For too long, I’ve been trying to write like the person I was fifteen years ago. I’m somebody different now, and my writing needs to reflect that. Each day I write brings me closer.
My list can’t even begin to cover all of the great sessions I attended, the writers I met, or just how much taking part in the conference puts my goals into greater perspective. Just last week my career coach reminded me that when the student is ready, the teacher arrives.
Feel free to take a look at last year’s list of info tidbits as well. Visit the PNWA website for more writing conference highlights as well. Drum roll please… next year’s feature speaker will be Andre Dubus III.
What realizations have you had regarding your creative process?
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The picture of Robert Dugoni is for promotional purposes only and complies with fair use guidelines.
Hi Jeri, Glad to hear you enjoyed the conference. I’ve always thought about going to one just so I can meet other writers and share experiences. Like you said, “writing can often be an isolating endeavor.”
Thanks for sharing your isnights, Jeri – i am looking forward to your post in 2 weeks about ways of publication. I enjoy every point of your post but you got me thinking – what exactly is “developmental editing”? Maybe a more detailed post on that would be useful 🙂
Risking to hijack the topic a bit away from this particular conference, i am curious – is there a way to decide what type of editing and/or editors someone needs? Different types of editing? Maybe the same author needs different types of editing services for the same book but at different stages?
I would love to see here a series of posts about how to choose an editor and how to decide what type of editing one needs…
And to answer your question – i found out that little steps every day help, as lon as i don;t force it. Yes, i try to write every day but if i am stressed out or overwhelmed by something else, often i stare at the computer without being able to write anything worth reading… so i don’t any more 🙂
Diana, that’s a great question. I give a brief overview of different types of editing on my services page, but I will email you couple of links later today that discuss levels of editing in detail. When it comes to deciding what type of editing can best help a writer so many factors are involved so I’ll email you some links on that front as well. For instance, when I write fiction I most struggle with the developmental aspect of making my plot engaging and coherent. On the other hand, I am less apt to seek a proofreader or line editor because that is my specialty. However, a second set of professional eyes will catch things the writer never will. It’s hard to distance one’s self from your own work 😉 I totally relate to that feeling of just staring at the computer and keep trying to break myself of that as well.
Looking forward to further installments!
i have heard this is a great conference and hope to attend next year! Your round up convinced me it has some great things to offer.
Cynthia, even though PNWA is the only conference I’ve been to so far, it has not disappointed. I hope next year will also offer two agent pitch sessions rather than just one like the year before. I also entered the literary competition and received great feedback on my short story.
That is quite interesting and informative, thanks for sharing…I would look forward to more highlights. ‘Creating characters out of you’ while we are evolving everyday, really focuses the light on how writers mange to create so many endearing personalities! Listening to your inner editor also is very communicative, I do listen to this self advice most of the time but it slows down the actual writing.
Great tips Jeri and I’m glad you had fun. I have to say tips eight, nine and ten had real resonance for me, particularly “knowing yourself”. When I first started blogging someone asked me if I was interested in writing a book and I said, I’m not a writer. I didn’t see blogging as a writing activity anymore than Facebook or LinkedIn were writing activities.
As time has passed I have found myself more curious about the writer’s world. Your posts, A.K.’s and Jon’s and many more have given me some insight into what writing is all about and I would say the defining ingredient for most writers is self awareness. Identifying yourself as a writer has got to be one of the most important steps towards actualization. There is such a high level of self-doubt out there that I imagine one of the greatest assets you get from a writer’s conference is the confirmation that you belong there and of course the tools required to keep going. Thanks for sharing.
Debra, the sense of community provided by the conference always provides a great boost in my attitude for at least a few months or more. Eventually, I’d like to attend two conferences a year, but that’s a ways off yet. There are so many ways to be a writer that much is for sure. I’m choosing my path carefully and know it will pay off in the end. I just have to be patient (which isn’t one of my best virtues…) 😉
I’m so happy that you had such a great time and from the tips above, you certainly had a lot of take-aways! The last, of course, is (to me) the MOST important and I love your take on it…that you are a changed person from 15 years ago and your writing should reflect that. I find that profound in so many ways. I had a conversation not long ago with a person who commented that writers seemed to be older today! LOL I told her, that there are few if any writers who are prodigies… they simply haven’t lived long enough:)
Terrific summary Jeri. Looking forward to your post on #1, the publishing facts and fiction. #9 also resonates with me. Maybe because my inner critic is sometimes so darn loud! hahaha
Jeri – reading your highlights of PNWA 2014 inspires me to attend a writing conference in my own region soon. Looking forward to your next post expanding upon #1, definitely felt your pain in #10. I’m still doing quite a bit of business writing but hoping to break into fiction; hard to shut off the structure and formality of writing for business when writing a fictional piece. Note to self: you’re no longer ‘just’ a business writer!
Kate, thanks so much for stopping by. Number ten has by far been the most difficult hurdle on my path toward writing creatively again. I have so many stories and ideas, but all of that is often eclipsed by all the years I devoted to more academic writing, not to mention teaching English robbed my brain of much energy for creativity. The process of re-wiring my brain for writing fiction again has been quite the process, plus I am still deciding if writing novels will be my forte since creative nonfiction like memoir and travel writing holds a strong pull for me as well.
I always like reading your blogs. Now I am in the writing business, I will need to start attending these conferences. They seem to be very enjoyable and educational. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
It sounds like a great conference. Because of other activity in my life, it is unlikely I will be able to attend a writer’s conference this year. I wish I could. I find them inspiring and educational. Like you, I wonder about the editing process for authors who say they write so many pages or words a day. And it is always good to learn more about your own process.
Great list. #6 made me laugh, and #7 made me wince (since I’m not good at comparing books to other books to say mine is like such-and-such). I’m looking forward to your post about #1!
Excellent tips here! #7 about comparing titles really intrigued me – I never thought a lot about this. Happy to have found this post!
So much amazingness here, Jeri.
“Sadly, not enough self-published authors realize how much their lack of polish shows”
That sentence stood out & also, scared me!
E X E L L E N T. Post. xx
Great summary, Jeri. Thanks. Between you and Laura I almost feel like I was there.
Interesting bit about how fiction writers don’t need a platform as much as non-fiction. I’d always heard they did.
Jagoda, it surprised me a bit this year as well to hear so many agents on the panel and elsewhere downplay the role of platform for fiction writers. Last year, it was really emphasized how important platform was for all writers and quite a few writers at the conference last year commented on all the questions they got form agents about their number of followers and email list. In this day and age, it’s hard to deny all writers need a platform but the key is not to devote so much time to blog posts and social media. I often spend too much time with those matters when I should be working on my creative works. It’s hard to find the right balance, not to mention blogging has been great for networking and making editing contacts. I even enjoy the technical side of website stuff…
Great to know that you enjoyed the Conference and even better to read that, (quoting you) Your “writing path has never been more clear”…
I also enjoyed reading those tips you provide us, in particular #3 and #10.
Thanks for sharing, best wishes, Jeri,
The Pacific Northwest Writers Conference sounds awesome and I’m so glad you were able to attend and get the experience and your writing path is now clear. I would love to be able to attend an event like this some time too, now that I’m finally starting to see myself as a “writer.” I think it would be very interesting and enlightening to meet other writers at all different levels, because like you said, writing really can be isolating.
Susan, there are some great opportunities for writing conferences in your area. I have looked into a few of them and will share some of my findings with your shortly.
That would be awesome. As you know, it’s has been so crazy busy. This is something I have sourly neglected, along with a bunch o other stuff. :/
This was absolutely awesome post, Jeri. I took it all in like a sponge. No promises on how much I retain…but that’s Mike brain problem, not your wonderful post. So, how many people raised their hands in the room? A couple parts really stood out for me personally: “Sadly, not enough self-published authors realize how much their lack of polish shows” and “Plus, editing sentences as one writes can result in stronger prose.” I’ve been doing more of the latter lately. Btw…I’m literally looking at your Sensory Chart that I continue to use!! Best writing gift EVER 🙂
Sounds like it was a worthwhile conference to attend with great seminars. Damn,I would have been in that pool every day!
One day I might try to write a book. Maybe.
Awww shucks, thanks for the shoutout,Jeri! I’m glad that you found the Publishing Facts and Fictions seminar helpful–we had a particularly rockin’ group, and I’m looking forward to seeing your post and what you took away from it.
And also, AMEN to your comment about dev editing. It’s a step that too many writers are skipping these days, but having an impartial, professional perspective on a work can really help a writer see what’s working structurally, and what still needs work. Writing may be a solitary endeavor, but publishing (regardless of publishing path) is best done in community.
Beth, thanks for stopping by. Your session was REALLY good and I downloaded your marketing book right after the conference. I’m definitely convinced of the value editors bring to any piece of work. It always stumps me how I can put my eagle eyes on somebody else’s draft, but then freeze when it comes to ironing out the kinks in my own. So yes, thank goodness for the impartial eye an outsider can offer 🙂
Jeri, it sounds like you are finally coming into your own. Self-discovery is great and can bring you closer to your goals.
I’m looking forward to the posts you promised. 🙂
I have found that when I write, I need to have things planned out, I need silence, and I need to focus on the task at hand.
There were several points that resonated with me. First and foremost I have learned that I am a non-fiction writer. For years I was told to write what I like to read. That just sent me spinning my wheels with something I have no talent for. Perhaps one day I will also attend a writers conference. It sounds like you had a great time. Looking forward to reading more about it.
They sure packed a lot into that conference. I would loved to have been there.
I certainly look forward to reading more of your experiences in the coming weeks. Even though you are new to novel writing, I think your overall experience will aid you greatly.
I have wondered about writers conferences and I appreciate your description and I would like to attend one. It sounds like a really valuable experience. I’m glad to learn that I did a couple of things right when I wrote my book – researching titles and using the services of a compatible and capable editor.
Beth, it’s great that you’ve mentioned researching titles. I should probably do a post on that one of these days. Thanks for the idea.
What a great list of pertinent information. You had me from word one. I would love to attend such a conference of writers but I don’t think I am ready yet. Listening and learning from you and what you write is invaluable and I appreciate your passion very much.
Tim, I bet here are even conferences specifically for travel bloggers, though you would fit right in at any writing conference. Do you think you will ever turn your travel posts into a book?
Sounds like a really interesting conference. I’ll check the PRWA site. Do you know if any sessions were recorded and archived?
Ken, as far as I know the sessions weren’t recorded. PNWA does make it possible for its members to call into monthly webinars, but I’ve yet to give that a try.
So glad you enjoyed the conference, Jeri. My mom recently wrote a book and attended a writer’s conference and got quite a bit out of it…too bad that you weren’t able to partake in any pool festivities though!!
Jeri, I always learn so much from your posts. I have been thinking about going back into some of my posts and self-publishing them – never thought about hiring an editor though. Something to seriously consider because I can understand where that would make a tremendous difference.
Lenie, a good editor can be helpful on so many levels. If you ever want to throw some ideas around for putting some of your blog posts into an e-book, just let me know. I’d be glad to offer any advice I can.
Jeri — I was surprised at the advice to edit as you write. It seems to contradict the previous sentence in which you state you were advised to listen to your inner editor. I’d think would be liberating to just write and not try to edit what your inner editor is telling you. I find that I tighten up when I try to edit as I write. I try to let the words flow and then go back and edit. It seems to work better for me that way.
Jeannette, I can see how that part may come across that way. I’ve written lots of pieces where I just unleash my thoughts and shape them later. However, that hasn’t worked well for me at all when trying to write an 80,000 word novel. At least now I know I’m better off doing more planning up front. We all approach the creative process differently, but I had to struggle through this first novel to find the approach that fits for my tendencies.
Hi Jeri, Did you ever tried to write the same page or chapter of your book from different perspective ? for example, one page with use of your current style which is well polished already, and then with use of your intuitive writing abilities…
Swav, I haven’t tried it with my novel, but have done such exercises in the past for short stories and essays.
I think that is the most upbeat and inspiring article I have read in a long time. I am so glad to learn that so many people care so much about the true importance of the written word, and I am so glad to discover a more intimate, honest path, which I have not found with art- too much superficiality and bored aristocrats to wade through. Thank you Jeri, I feel truly lucky that my book found you and that you have played a role in its creation x
ps- I have also got into the editing immediately as you write boat lately, even if on a waterfall of gushing ideas when I just wish my hand could write faster. Only because I realised that with every edit it lets me see another angle, I know its going to be easier and more satisfying to edit again the next day having already played around a little the day before..-did that make sense?
Gerry, yes that makes complete sense. I always feel so much better when I just put my butt in the chair and start edits. Too often I will find other things in order to avoid getting started. It really is true for me that getting started is the hardest part. I envy writers like you.
We met at this year’s PNWA conference. I like how you’ve touched base on the key lessons you’ve learned, but I hope you get a chance to blog on each of these in greater detail.
It seems like every year I have to miss Jason Black’s class because it’s during a class I’m teaching or it’s offered while I’m pitching. So I’d really like more detailed information about his class and what you learned in it.
Chelly, thanks for stopping by. I do remember meeting you at Beth’s session. More than likely, I’ll just be elaborating on the Publishing Fact and Fiction session. There’s always so much great information at writing conferences, but too many other blog post topics await 😉
Thank you for sharing your conference experience. I hadn’t realised the agony writers must go through before they publish their books. I always imagined that writers were imaginative genius’s and words must just flow when they write.
The pool looked like a piece of a puzzle and I think you have put the pieces together. Having a conference like that to go is must be such a rewarding experience. Reading your posts over the past year has given my an insight what writers go through. I really admire your ability to write and critique.
It’s always great when you learn from your efforts, even better when you can share the experiences for others to learn as well. I look forward to more posts from your conference experiences.
Well it sounds like the conference was a success and extremely valuable for you. I loved that line from your coach about when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Sometimes we have to get out of our own way in order to be creative and/or succeed. And some of these points that you took away from the conference relate to that.
When it comes to my own process, I think I’ve realized that I can’t take myself too seriously – that’s when I begin to feel out-of-sorts, disconnected and out of whack which then just overwhelms me, like I’ve been the last three days. Thanks to many of the BHB blogs I’ve been reading today and a general better sense of my purpose, I’m getting more things done today and for that I’m thankful. There’s an ebb and flow to the entire creative process – regardless of the medium. Being able to adjust accordingly is what keeps me from going seriously insane. LOL
I’m glad you enjoyed your conference as much as you did. I always liked attending things like that.
Pam, I do have that tendency of getting in my own way when it comes to writing fiction. It doesn’t happen as much when I’m working on a creative nonfiction piece. There’s a lot to be said for not taking one’s self too seriously and it really does help with productivity. I work on that aspect of myself a lot.
Hello; I am impressed with your memory and ability to pick out the highlights from the conference. these points are very helpful to any kind of author even bloggers like me. i need to invest in myself and attend conferences. best of luck, max
When did you take that photo of the pool? Every time we walked by, it was teeming with four-legged critters! Interesting that you’re finding editing sentences as you go works for you, because I find it does for me, too, despite the fact that I’ve heard over and over again to just get it out and then go back later.
Laura, I think the pool pic must have been Thursday morning. All the business people were clearing out and it was before all those Irish dancing girls and their families descended on the place. Yeah, I definitely prefer to edit sentences as go. I don’t mind that it makes for some longer writing sessions, but it does help when it comes to revisions. The aspect of the process that still trips me up is lack of plotting in advance. Too often I get blocked because I haven’t taken the time to plot out what will happen yet. More writers seem to like to write by the seat of their pants, but that’s just not how I roll 😉
What a great opportunity to meet such wonderful talent! You truly must be a wealth of knowledge now! And… Really? You couldn’t slip out in the middle of the night to take a quick skinny dip? (Giggles)
Wow, I can see why this was such a great experience. I agree that writing is an isolating profession and it must be so wonderful to be surrounded with like-minded people, at the same time as gaining such valuable information. Makes me want to attend a blogging conference!
Such a good list of thoughts taken away from this trip. For me, TIME is crucial. Like you said, nothing can top the 10,000 hours it takes to become an expert at something. Through speaking with only a few people about this, there’s some debate going on about whether or not the traditional publishing models are going away. I feel that it’s in the middle but as the big box chains are dying away, do you think self-publishing will become a more powerful tool? I’m not sure. Conventions and meetings like these are a great way to reignite your drive towards your craft. This post really made me wonder if there’s anything like this in my area.
Carl, publishing is definitely changing, but traditional publishing is definitely not going away. It’s adapting, but aren’t we all? Self-publishing is an intoxicating way to get published quickly, but quality can often be sacrificed. In time, that trend will even out as indies continue to rise to the challenge. No matter the publishing path a writer takes, it’s going to be a lot of work with each having its pros and cons.
Thanks for sharing this Jeri, I feel like I almost attended! I’m sorry you didn’t get to swim in the pool though, how cruel! I was curious about your two business cards, what does the ‘upmarket fiction’ one mean? It sounds really good! 🙂
Christine, those are actually the name tags we had to drape around out necks. I decided to label myself as upmarket fiction this year because it seemed maybe a bit of a stretch to label my fiction as literary at this point in time. Basically, upmarket fiction is considered quality book club fiction with a wider appeal than genre fiction. One agent I approach smiled when she saw my tag and proclaimed, “Ah, that means you can write!”
It looks like you received a lot of good information from that conference. I plan on attending a few pretty soon. I am all about learning and getting better at my craft.
Thank you for sharing your take aways from the conference! I may have to check it out next year since it’s in my backyard 🙂
Sounds like a great writing conference, Jeri. Useful advice you list.
Jeri – apologies for missing this post last week. I was glued to every word, and loved reading all aspects of what you found out. I particularly liked writing as the person/writer you are now. I think it’s fine to draw on different aspects of your life, but we can only move forward in the present. And having recently , and briefly, gone back to writing short stories, it is , indeed a very different skillset, and different process. But probably 80% or more of authors these days start out as short story writers, so you are following a well worn path. I much prefer writing a novel myself, but now have greater admiration for short story writers. Well done on going to the conference and being open to learning about yourself , your work and what you need to change to succeed. I have no doubt you will:-)
A. K., thanks for the vote of confidence. All I can do is just keep chipping away. Experience has taught me I’m a slow starter, but one damn strong finisher.