10 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD GO TO A WRITER’S CONFERENCE…EVEN IF YOU AREN’T A WRITER

malice-signings_11_-_webI’m throwing energy bars, running shoes, “author clothes,” sample books, and 3-oz. travel containers of shampoo, sun block, and mouth wash into a rolling suitcase. I really don’t have the time for this trip…and it won’t do my budget any good. “This is nonsense!” I tell myself. “I should be staying home and writing.” But I’ll drag myself out of bed tomorrow morning at 3 a.m. in order to get to the airport for my crack-of-dawn flight. And I’ll stay in a strange city for 5 days in spite of all of the arguments against making this trip.

Why?

Because there are a ton of really great reasons why writer’s conferences are worth the time, expense, and inevitable travel annoyances. Let me share ten of them with you…

1)      No matter how many writer’s conferences I attend, I always learn something new that will help me write better or further my publishing career. Plus! Conferences are about the only way to meet literary agents, face-to-face, and pitch your book. (Eeeek!)

2)      Attending a large, well-managed writer’s conference energizes me and my muse. We NEED this time away from our comfort zone to recharge our creativity. I know I’ll return home eager to plunge back into my WIP.

3)      The writing community is a shockingly small world. Even if 2,000 people attend your chosen conference, you’ll run into familiar faces and friends you met previous years. This social aspect is healthy and comforting when in a strange city. And besides, now you have a face to put to those emails you’ve been receiving from folks who love to read and write your kind of story.

4)      Most conference attendees—whether writers, readers, literary agents, or publisher’s acquiring editors—are friendly people. They come expecting to talk to others and share their knowledge. Now—how refreshing (and valuable) is that!

5)      If you’re taking writing classes and/or actively writing and submitting your stories for publication, you are justified in using travel expenses and conference fees as business-related expenses when you do your taxes. You don’t even need to have sold your work, yet. You are preparing for a new career.

6)      Writer’s conferences usually take place in large, interesting cities. If you’ve ever wanted to visit the city where this year’s conference is being held, this is a wonderful chance. At least some of your expenses will be offset at tax time, and conference organizers often arrange for fun side-trips—like ghost tours, history lectures, or group walking tours.

7)      If you’re an avid reader of a particular genre, but not actually writing, you may get a chance to meet some of your fave authors. Many conferences aren’t just for authors. They’re for anyone who appreciates their kind of story—whether it’s mysteries, romances, thrillers, children’s literature, or…whatever.

8)      If you’re a novice writer, you’ll get to chat with others interested in what you’re working on while you encourage other writers. And these conversations around the banquet table, in panel sessions, or in the bar will help you learn the ins and outs of the publishing biz.

9)       Publishing is an ever-changing business. By attending conferences where the pros share their insight, authors have a better chance of keeping up with changes that could affect their careers. And readers get to enjoy being insiders!

10)   Conferences are just plain fun! They offer stimulating conversation, time spent with other people who share your interest in writing and reading, plus—auctions, raffles, games, and (sometimes) Dessert Parties that are a chocoholic’s paradise.dreamstimesmall_575330041

So next time you read in Writer’s Digest about a writer’s conference, or hear that a friend is attending one—give it serious thought. It may be just what you need to jump-start your writing, or introduce you to a new author you’d love to read. And if you’re attending Bouchercon: The World Mystery Conference, September 15-19 in New Orleans, stop me and say “Hey!” because I’ll be there, too. If I can just get this darn suitcase closed!

 

Alicia Street

Alicia Street is a USA TODAY bestselling author and Daphne Award-winner often writing in collaboration with her husband, Roy, as well as on solo projects. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. A compulsive reader of every genre, she also loves watching old black-and-white movies and inventing new recipes for soups.
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Weeding Your (Word) Garden (aka De-Cluttering Your Writing)

GardenEvery gardener knows that flowers and vegetables won’t thrive if you let weeds take over your garden plot. The same is true of writing. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, a short story or hefty book-length project, prose that’s littered with unnecessary verbiage loses its impact.

How do we know what to keep and what to toss out? A good gardener learns the difference between a baby plant they started from seed and an insidious intruder. Before the weeds threaten the desirable plants a good gardener will yank those suckers out of there, allowing vegetables and flowers the nourishment and light they need to survive.

Here are a few tips for weeding your literary garden:

1)      Trim back adjective lists. (The tall, slim, vivacious woman with bright red hair and matching lipstick walked up to him.) Leave one or, at most, two adjectives. Make them the most vivid and specific. Readers only retain one or two details per sentence.

2)      Avoid unnecessary adverbs. Best-selling horror author Stephen King advises cutting all adverbs, but sometimes these colorful words do add to a scene, if judiciously used.

3)      However, be particularly aware of the dreaded -ly form in dialogue tags. (…he said hopelessly; …she commented sulkily.) Instead of tacking on an adverb to label the speaker’s emotion, keep the emphasis on the spoken words, or the character’s actions.

4)      “Would” is often an overused word that clutters good prose. Some writers string together paragraphs full of “woulds”. Search on it and, if you find this particularly persistent weed, substitute the root verb form, which is often more direct and powerful. Instead of “he would often attend the opera,” write: “he often attended the opera.”

5)      Don’t be afraid to use the strategic incomplete sentence. Writers who insist on every sentence following the Subject/Verb/Direct Object pattern often end up creating a stilted, forced style. This is particularly true of dialogue. Real people don’t all talk like college professors, using perfect grammar.

6)      Even a word like “the” can become clutter. (Cluttered: He picked up the hammer, the nails, then the stack of boards and loaded them into the truck. Better: He picked up hammer, nails, and a stack of boards then loaded them into the truck.)

7)      Dig out your “pet” words. We all have them. If you think you might be relying too heavily on one or more words, particularly the sort of word that stands out for the reader, use your word processor to search for it throughout the manuscript. You may be shocked to see how many characters use that same word or phrase in their dialogue, or how frequently you use it as your catch-all word for description. (Frequent weeds: big, large, got/get, just, went, going to…, about to…, etc.)

When I’m editing another writer’s work, one of the first things I do is de-clutter it. Think of it as putting your manuscript on a diet. A slimmed-down manuscript reads with more power, better pacing, and will more likely appeal to a literary agent or publisher. It’s just plain better writing—and that’s something we should all aim for.

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If you’d like to learn more tricks for perfecting your writing, you might want to check out The Extreme Novelist, my book based on the courses I teach in Washington, DC at The Writer’s Center, and for The Smithsonian Associates educational programs. Short story writers and memoirists will also find loads of information to them. You can order the book through any bookstore, or find it quickly here:  https://www.amazon.com/Extreme-Novelist-No-Time-Write-Drafting-ebook/dp/B00WA5FCVK/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1473169296&sr=8-1#nav-subnav

Alicia Street

Alicia Street is a USA TODAY bestselling author and Daphne Award-winner often writing in collaboration with her husband, Roy, as well as on solo projects. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. A compulsive reader of every genre, she also loves watching old black-and-white movies and inventing new recipes for soups.
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Authors: Hold Onto Your Readers…with Brisk Pacing

hand-281995_640I’m sure you’ve “been there…done that.” You’re reading a novel that seemed interesting, but somewhere around the middle it began to drag. When a short story, novella, or novel slows down and then sputters to a halt—readers lose interest and often fail to continue reading. Literary agents and acquiring editors for publishing firms are even more likely to put a story aside and send a canned rejection, without ever seeing the wonderful writing that follows. But intensifying the pace of a scene, or an entire story, is often an easy thing to do if you know how.

Regardless of the genre in which you’re writing, it’s first helpful to break down the chore of creating an effective pace for your story into three steps: Planning (before you start to write), Writing, and Revising. Here is a summary of some of the best tips I know, which I shared with my students at The Writer’s Center in the Washington, DC area this past Saturday. Some tips may initially seem unrelated to the structure and pace of a story—but they all have an effect on how the reader views the progress of the story. You probably won’t use all of them, but I hope you’ll find at least a few that will help you pick up the pace in your stories, and hold your readers’ interest to The End.

The Planning Stage:

1)      Before starting to write, determine the genre, sub-genre, mood and style of your story. In short, know what you’re writing. It’s not just a story.

2)      Give yourself a target word length, or at least a range. (For a novel, 80,000 words is a safe range in today’s publishing world.)

3)      If you are a “plotter,” review your plot outline (synopsis) for key climax scenes. If you are a “pantser,” remember that you will need to include these dramatic high moments throughout your story. Don’t just save all the drama for a big splashy scene near the end.

4)      Determine your launch pad. Where should the story start? (An active, visual scene at a moment that establishes the central conflict is always a good choice.)

5)      Choose “movers & shakers” for characters. (i.e., those who are most involved, not mere onlookers or an inactive narrator)

While Writing:

  •   Avoid repetition like the plague. (Words, phrases, incidents, dialogue…must be varied.) Do a “Find” to search for overused words and phrases. Cut and tighten your prose.
  • Move the plot toward resolution in virtually every scene. Throw out scenes that fail to build toward the final climax scenes.
  • Dual-purpose your scenes whenever you can. If you are writing a scene for the purpose of character development, or to show setting detail, allow your characters to continue interacting throughout. Never stop the action to deliver information.
  • Minimize or simplify dialogue tags. (Use “said,” action, or speech-style to identify speakers if possible, rather than relying on colorful tags like ‘he pontificated’, ‘she wailed miserably’, ‘Gerald muttered worriedly’.)
  • Make the most of emotion. Readers are more forgiving of a slowly developing plot if emotion and tension constantly tug at the characters…and therefore, at the reader.
  • Add a ticking clock. (How many minutes before the train crashes, the bomb goes off, or the business deal becomes irreversible?)
  • Let the characters fail—then try, try, try again.
  • Plant surprises, secrets, and unexpected twists. You’ll never bore your readers.
  • Hold back information…but not too long.

During Revisions:

  • Search out any word usage that interrupts the flow of reading.
  • Look for overly detailed setting descriptions that stop the story’s progress.
  • Notice any scenes that are too similar, and cut them.
  • Delete empty scenes—the trip across town, a chat over tea that reveals nothing new.
  • Clean out clutter words/phrases (going to, starting to, thought about, to-be forms, would, etc.)
  • Remove your travelogues! Reserve for your holiday newsletter.
  • Does your plot move forward in a cause & effect pattern? It should.
  • Is what happens logical/believable, given the fictional world you’ve created?
  • Make sure your characters recognize the cost for failing or succeeding.

First-aid for Submissions (Because pacing may be the reason for rejections):

If an agent or publisher likes some elements of your story but ultimately rejects it, the reason might be a weak opening or dismal pacing. Try giving your manuscript a fresh eye. Ask yourself:

  • Do you deliver a hook that can’t be ignored on the first pages?
  • Does the story begin with an active, vivid scene?
  • Have you moved all backstory from the opening to the middle of the story?
  • How far into the book is the Central Conflict revealed? Can you move it up to the first chapter? The first two pages? To page 1? Is the conflict important enough to carry the whole story?
  • ake things worse for your characters, and/or make those challenging events happen at closer intervals.

Whatever form of fiction you are writing, constantly look for ways to keep the pacing brisk. This is what makes readers keep turning pages.

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If you’re curious as to how this works…here are two of my novels that, hopefully, will give you a sense of brisk pacing, even though they are historical fiction, which is generally thought of as a more leisurely paced type of novel. Above all…enjoy your writing time! Kathryn

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The Gentleman Poet https://www.amazon.com/Gentleman-Poet-Danger-Shakespeares-Tempest-ebook/dp/B003V1WTWM/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472495073&sr=1-1&keywords=the+gentleman+poet#nav-subnav

The Wild Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria’s Daughters https://www.amazon.com/dp/B007679UQA/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1#nav-subnav

Alicia Street

Alicia Street is a USA TODAY bestselling author and Daphne Award-winner often writing in collaboration with her husband, Roy, as well as on solo projects. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. A compulsive reader of every genre, she also loves watching old black-and-white movies and inventing new recipes for soups.
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Germinating Seeds for Stories or…Spinach?

This week I’m writing all about getting seeds to germinate. Plot seeds (as in a story) or veggie seeds. They really aren’t very different.

Hatching a new story requires a writer to search through their mental file cabinet of ideas. Once you decide upon the type of story you want to tell, you need to prepare the soil—so to speak. This might mean clearing your desk of distracting paperwork or craft projects. Ignore your email inbox and phone messages, until you get your day’s writing done. While plants need the proper lighting and right amount of water and fertilizer—the writer’s brain and body require a healthy diet, sufficient hydration, exercise, and a comfortable working environment. We also need to dedicate sufficient time to grow our story into something worthwhile.

In the garden world, I have the more trouble encouraging my spinach seed to sprout than any other veggie seed. All the pros tell me that it can take weeks for those little pellets to sprout. Although you might be able to hurry them along with either a good soak for 24 hours or a cold-treatment in the fridge. It seems they are so temperature sensitive that, when the soil is over 75-degrees, they’ll refuse to germinate at all. Spinach loves cool weather. And on top of that, even in the best of conditions, only about 30% are likely to ever sprout. Stubborn little babies, aren’t they?

Why bother with planting spinach at all? Maybe it’s for reasons similar to why I spend so many hours writing stories. Just as I love spinach for all of its marvelous benefits to my health, I love producing fiction because it’s healthy for my brain. Writing a novel encourages me to exercise my imagination and fully engage creatively. And I’m convinced that, like growing vegetables, we write better depending upon the seasons.

I tend to write more fluidly and with greater energy in the spring and the fall. The air feels fresher where I live in the Washington, DC area during those seasons. I seem to breathe easier, think clearer. Spinach, too, grows most happily (once you get it started, that is) in both the early spring and the late fall. In fact, some varieties will winter over so that you have lovely fresh greens without any fuss at all, as soon as the snow melts. If you forget to do a fall planting you can even sprinkle seeds over the frozen ground. As soon as it thaws in spring, I’m told, seeds will sprout for a carefree crop. It’s apparently only when you’re trying to force the little darlings to sprout in less than optimum conditions that they won’t send up shoots.CoverFinalSM-TheExtremeNovelist

That’s one thing that’s magical about writing, which we talk a lot about in the classes I teach at The Writer’s Center in Washington, DC (and in The Extreme Novelist). If we scatter story seeds then let them develop organically in our mind before starting to write…and then take the time to draft a working synopsis. If we then give these ideas the attention they need by writing daily and not letting the craziness of everyday life crowd out our writing time–that’s how we  grow as writers and begin to produce quality, publishable  fiction.

Write daily, my friends. Write with focus. Nurture yourself as a writer, just as a good gardener tends her garden. You’ll harvest an amazing crop.

Alicia Street

Alicia Street is a USA TODAY bestselling author and Daphne Award-winner often writing in collaboration with her husband, Roy, as well as on solo projects. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. A compulsive reader of every genre, she also loves watching old black-and-white movies and inventing new recipes for soups.
 View website