In an attempt to be true to my own words about seeking out new friends in the writing community, Jei and I recently attended the League of Utah Writer’s Fall Conference. While obligations sadly cut our original desire to go both days, we were still able to attend all of Friday. Myself, Jei and my Lit Sister made our way to the local college and found that the place was booming with attendees roaming the student center that had been chosen to host the 72 classes. (You heard me, 72!)
While my Lit Sister went to other classes, Jei and I attended a set of 6 different classes throughout the day. (There were also social areas which we used when a class was too full for us to attend, which did happen!) From notes on handling online interaction to understanding how to collaborate in our writing more efficiently, we both got a lot out of our classes. Because I cannot possibly include all of the notes I managed to take I wanted to highlight a handful of things that stuck out to me.
J.H. Moncrieff spoke on how to improve your online karma. With her background in journalism, marketing and publishing she had a lot to offer. Some of the most profound items have actually changed my way of handling my online media and those who interact with me in a virtual way. The first was what inspired my latest SSQ where I spoke about choosing your words wisely. Doing so in both a personal and professional area way is incredibly important. The other item that made me think was her principle of 80/20. 80% of your posts online should be advertising for other writers, items that would interest you or readers and safe but relevant topics that reflect your brand. Only 20% of your posts should be dedicated to advertising your book, putting your media out there or anything else that could be seen as ‘marketing’.
Peggy Eddleman was up next speaking about overcoming the things that stop you from writing. Sadly due to her breakneck speed speaking, lack of desire to answer any questions or interact with the students and the obsession with speeding through her presentation so fast that I couldn’t get half a note down, I was unable to get as much I could have out of it. The only thing that I really did take away from it was the importance of taking care of yourself physically, emotionally and mentally so that your writing does not suffer from your ill health.
Blake Casselman came in after Peggy and woke up the room with his great class on how to Improve your logline. What really stuck with me is how he dismissed the idea that high concept was an idea of in space or out there thinking. Instead, the true high concept is creating stories that are relatable to the audience. He spoke on the importance of brevity in your logline and using a combination of genre, setting, a hook, emotion, and action to get your point across. While it was daunting to think that anyone could get all of that into the limited two sentence line he was asking us to create, he walked the whole class through it and helped us understand through constructive criticism.
Michael Jensen, one of the two authors who wrote the novel Woven came in to talk about writing collaborations. Of course, both Jei and I were thrilled to have an author who had already co-written a published book teaching the class. His lessons were very helpful and a lot of things that I am hoping to share in detail after Jei and I take a stab at trying them. The best though I can say is the way he broke down the types of co-author styles, how to avoid pitfalls and how to help one another when the going gets tough. The biggest thing I took away from this was the fact that Jei and I were doing a lot better at collaborating than I originally thought. It was an uplifting and awesome class.
McKelle George was another great presenter who tackled the idea of not being original but instead being authentic. I loved the way that she explained that characters should have layers of emotion. When we experience things they are not simply one simple emotion of mad or sad they layer on top of one another and create the complexity of human reaction. But one of the most profound things that she said was paraphrasing a former quote. She asked the class “What if a voice came from the sky and told you, with certainty, that your book would never be published? Would you still write it?” After taking a beat to see the reaction she went on to say. “If you said no, you are telling your story for the wrong reason.” That just struck me to the core and has made me revise my perspective on the stories I have condemned because of their potential for publishing instead of their heart.
Last but not least I attended a panel of Robin Glassey, Lauri Schoenfeld, J.H. Moncrieff, Lisa Mangum and Peggy Eddleman talking about character motivation. Peggy brought up a great lesson she learned from one of my favorite authors Tracy Hickman. He had spoken about how there are 8 characters that can drive the car of the story. Four in the front seat and four in the back. The four in the front are protagonist, antagonist, guardian and contagonist. The four in the back are logic, emotion, sidekick and cynic. All of these characters have influence and their roles must exist somehow to drive a story forward. The two other great lessons and ideas I took away from the panel was an item Robin Glassey put forward about Character Bible’s and keeping track of your character’s traits in a separate format. The last was J.H. Moncrieff’s statement that if you create real people with depth they will write their own story.
All of the classes were amazing and I made a few friends along with some connections. I can say I will go again and that the information I gleaned from the few classes I was able to attend will last me a lifetime and help me improve my writing and interaction with other writers. So, if you are in utah or nearby, I highly recommend taking the trip down next year.