For the *Write* Reasons

23 Sep

Yesterday the kids and I dilly-dallied our way back to Montana after spending three weeks in Blackfoot, Idaho, where B has been living and working since July and where we will soon be moving. Yeah, I know I haven’t mentioned that before now; probably because it has been a real struggle for me to A.) be, essentially, a single parent for the last two months, and B.) come to terms with leaving Missoula once again.  I love Missoula. But there it is. That’s not what this post is about, however, so I’ll save further musings on that subject for later.

The last weekend of our vacay we actually spent in Salt Lake City, where B and the kids had some quality time with Gma, Gpa, and Great Gma, while I attended the League of Utah Writers’ annual conference, known, unfortunately, as ‘Roundup.’ Can I get a yeehaw? Despite the cheesiness of its name, however, this was an excellent conference with a really good variety of workshops, speakers, panels and opportunities to meet other writers. If you write, or aspire to write, and you’ve never been to a writing conference, I highly recommend the experience. I came away feeling recommitted to my craft, encouraged, inspired, and most importantly, not so alone.

So, a quick rundown of the classes, speakers, etc. Of course, I didn’t get to attend every class, but I left more than satisfied with all those that I did attend.

The conference opened Friday night with a meet -and- greet dinner, and a performance by Cherie Call, who talked about writing from a songwriter’s perspective. She was great. A true story teller and a gifted musician as well.

I knew absolutely no one there; the LUW chapter that I was in for almost a year when we lived in Cedar City had no members attending. So I scanned the banquet room for anyone else who looked like they might be alone. I spotted a table with one only one lady sitting at it, no jackets or purses saving other seats, so I asked if I could join her. She said yes, and after introductions, we kind of hit it off. We don’t write the same sort of stuff at all, but she had an openness and  unaffected humility about her that made her easy to talk to and easy to like. And, after learning a bit more about her, I’d have to say she’s probably one of the most courageous women I’ve ever met. Her name is Diony George, and you can check out her first book here.

Saturday morning: workshops. I started off with James Dashner’s “My Writing Process.” The Dashner Dude got a little sidetracked and ended up filling the entire 50 min class with what was meant to be his introduction, a short bio of himself and the story of how he got where he is today (a NY Times Bestselling Author), but the tangents and departures actually contained some pretty valuable information. I can read all about his particular writing process on his blog, anyway. And so can you, by the way. Just click on his name above, then go to the Q&A’s in the right sidebar.

After Dashner’s class I headed off to my appointment with an editor from Desert Book, whose national market imprint, Shadow Mountain Publishing, I would really like to work with someday. These fifteen- minute, arranged meeting with editors or literary agents are common happenings at writers’ conferences, but this was the first time I had ever engaged in one. Did it go well? I think so, but I also think it’s too soon to say. Did he take my pages? Yes. Did he ask for a follow-up email? Yes. Did I receive an email letting me know my pages were being reviewed? Yes. I have confidence in my talent and in the story that I pitched, but really, in the publishing industry, all those yeses could end up meaning anything from ‘we’d like to see the rest of the manuscript,’ to ‘we like your style but this project’s not for us, got anything else?’, to another rejection letter to add to my growing collection (and I’m not being self-deprecating; every writer has this collection). Only time will tell.

Anyway… after my one-on-one, I sneaked in late to a jam-packed panel discussion with several agents and editors including Katie Grimm, Blair Hewes, Cory Maxwell of Deseret Book, and author John Gilstrap. Sidenote: I have a bit of a talent for finding a seat when the house is full. Other people who’d been standing in the back for a while gave me the stink-eye. But it’s a gift. What can I say? Anyhow, a few blips I  frantically scribbled down from the wisdom if the panelists (not word for word):

Cory Maxwell- Willingness to speak publicly, make appearances, blog, twitter, etc. is crucial for national market authors.

Katie Grimm- All published books were acquired at least two years ago, so what is on the shelf now does not necessarily reflect upcoming market trends. To truly follow the market you must track acquisitions as they happen.

– Half our clients come to us through the straight query process, the other half through referrals. Always mention in the query letter if you know the agent, heard them speak, know one of their clients, etc.

As another random side note, Katie Grimm looks so much like Reese Witherspoon in A Far Off Place that I kept expecting to turn and see Ethan Embry sitting beside me.

Anyway… Lunch. Keynote speaker, the amazingly successful, confident, and surprisingly personable John Gilstrap. Somehow I ended up at his table and had a pretty good conversation with him about his writing process before he got up to give his speech. I cannot emphasize how much I enjoyed John Gilstrap’s address. He’s one of those speakers who uses no notes, no cards, and stays focused, never loses his train of thought, but at the same time seems so natural and so confident that you’re almost convinced he’s improvising the whole thing. Until he hits the point. Until he drives it home. And then you realize how extremely well-planned and calculated the performance was, and you never forget it.  Some scribbled notes (again, paraphrased):

-If you pursue your passion, success will come, but it is a fool’s errand to define success up front; to define what will make you happy and what won’t.

-Don’t let anyone talk you out of believing in your passion. Never allow yourself to be talked out of who you are.

-Why is it that we live in a time when great human achievements are all around us, human achievements that were born in the minds of those who dream, yet when we meet someone with creativity and imagination we call them a dreamer, as though that’s a bad thing? Why do we tell our children they will need to get a ‘real job’ when our world is literally built on dreams?

-Don’t point out the negative. Don’t point to the failures. People who point to the negative are making excuses for their own failures.

After lunch I went to a less motivating, more technical, but still useful class on self-editing taught by Heather Moore, then on to John Gilstrap’s ‘Broken Bones, Ballistics, and Backdrafts: Technical Stuff Writers Should Get Right. While I absolutely appreciated Mr. Gilstrap’s level of expertise, and this workshop was helpful for a couple of fight scenes I’m working on, both Diony and I had to leave the class halfway through in order to keep our lunches down. Gory with a capital G. I won’t even go into my notes, which, suffice it to say, include the phrases ‘flesh wound,’ ‘compressed brain tissue,’ and ‘open bleeders.’


We moved on to what turned out to be my fave class of the day: ‘How to Write a Killer Query Letter’ with Elana Johnson (I cannot wait to read her first book– it sounds so good!). Now, I think I write a pretty mean query letter myself, but I loved that Elana broke down the letter into four very simple but very necessary parts, and I love that she said, out loud, in front of people, what so many writers will not say: If you do not have the courage to query, then you know somewhere deep inside that either you or your manuscript are not ready for the world of publication. Writers may write in their own little corner until they die, but you’ll never be an author unless you have the guts to put your work out there to be loved or hated, accepted or rejected. And rejected. And rejected again. You must query. Anyway, the four steps she uses are awesome, but I’m not sure what the protocol is for revealing them here or not… I know she has written an e-book on the same subject, so I think I’d better check with her before reprinting her methods. But her class was informative and fun.

The conference wrapped up with dinner Saturday night and keynote speaker Anita Stansfield. I have to admit that I was not that thrilled when I heard that the concluding speaker of the conference would be Anita Stansfield. I am not a big romance reader so I just thought that I would probably not hear anything that would be of use to me. I don’t know why I thought this, given that I’m not a big thriller reader either and yet I learned more from John Gilstrap than possibly any other presenter at the conference, but I did. And I was wrong.  Ms. Stansfield was nothing like I expected her to be, and her message is still, four days later, at the forefront of my thoughts. Notes:

-Why do you write? If you write because you love it, because it honors something inside of you, it means something to you, then you will always love it and it will always give you joy. If you write because you want to make money or be recognized, then know that if you are not happy before you are a published author, you will not be happy after.

-“I was no better a writer the day after I was published than I was the day before.”

-Write for the right reasons. Don’t compare yourself to others. With patience and kindness and love, help your loved ones understand why this is important to you.

-“I set a goal that my children would never resent my writing, but that they would always respect my writing.” (This is exactly how I feel!!)

-Decide where you will draw the line. How much will you commit? “There’s no way that anyone outside my direct circle of family and friends could ever understand the price.”

-Many talented people never succeed because of the lack of hard work.

-When you write, write from the heart. Writing is emotional. Don’t hold back. But also write with the possibility in mind of making a difference in the world.

And that was it. The conference ended and I kept thinking, so why do I write? The answer is because, as Ms. Stansfield put it, writing honors something inside me. I love to write. And I hope to be able to call myself an author one day.

What is your dream?

Love, AM


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