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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.


Picture of empty hotel swimming pool.


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.


Picture of writers conference name badge.


#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).



Picture of author Robert Dugoni


#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?



Permission must be granted by JeriWB to use the first two images in this post.


The picture of Robert Dugoni is for promotional purposes only and complies with fair use guidelines.

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