Tuesday, May 17, 2011

PennWriters Conference Overview

By Martha Reed

I loved attending the Pennwriters Conference last weekend. It was a wonderful experience, immersing myself in three days of Writers Talking About Writing All of the Time.

During the conference, I overheard two questions: 1) What in the world is going on with the publishing business? and 2) How do I get started?

Easy enough. The answer to Question #1 seems to be "Nuclear Ground Zero" or "Day One". I guess this means we get to start rebuilding the entire publishing business model, bully for us. I only hope authors keep their hands on the reins and their eyes on their contracts this time.

In honor of Jonathan Maberry's very positive and inspiration keynote speech, here's my answer for Question #2:

How Do I Get Started?

Never give up. Listen with a clear mind to every remark and distill that information for the benefit of your work. Writing isn't about ego, money, or awards, it's about story. If you stay true to the story, you will be given more stories to tell.

Be thankful when someone offers you criticism; at least they're interested enough to give a damn. Learn from everything and everyone. Don't close your mind to experience, you never know what you might need to use next, even the unpleasant bits.

Don't be afraid to ask for help or say 'I have no idea' but follow it up and track down the correct answer.

Talk to strangers. Practice courage, I promise it will get easier. Don't be afraid to ask 'Why?' You might be surprised by the answer. Challenge yourself before you challenge others.

Ignore people who say you can't do it even if this person is yourself.

Read Renee Maria Rilke Letters to a Young Poet; Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, and Stephen King's On Writing until the pages fall out and then buy yourself fresh copies.

Take a lot of notes. Work on some part of your writer's life every day. A page a day is a manuscript by the end of one year. Be honest with yourself and let that honesty show through your writing. If you can't work on your manuscript after your day job, get up an hour earlier and work on it before your day job.

Turn off the TV or better yet, junk your set. It's a complete waste of time and what's going on inside your head will be infinitely more interesting than anything you might see on the screen.

Find out what you want to say and then say it. If you get stuck on a plot point, seek out a professional and ask them about it; most pros will be delighted to share their experience and if they aren't, move on and ask the next one. Never take 'no' for an answer. A 'no' actually means 'yes' because a 'no' will block you from moving in the wrong direction and bump you toward the direction you were originally meant to follow anyway.

When you meet someone impossibly difficult, give thanks. It's a blessing and an opportunity. Someone or something made them that way and if you can figure out what that was you'll have a story.

Start NOW. Jump in recklessly with both feet and shout: Geronimo! It really doesn't matter where you start because it will all change in the editing anyway. Getting started is half the work, editing is the other half. Prepare yourself for that. Don't get rushed, let the story tell itself. You can always earn the money you need doing something else. The story will necessarily involve your life experience and you may not have had the experience the story needs yet; fear not, walk on, it will come and in the end you will be delighted. Don't be afraid to chance a mistake. Thomas Edison invented a thousand light bulbs that failed but the one that worked changed the world.

Even if you never earn a dime for all your efforts you are still better off than you would have been if you never tried. Figure out a way to tell your story and then tell it, and tell it again. Amaze your friends. Shame your mother. She'll get over it and secretly she'll be pleased when you're listed in the Library of Congress.


Joyce said...

Lovely pep talk, Martha. And good advice, too!

Ramona said...

Martha, when I shame my mother, I'm telling her it's your fault. :)

Ditto what Joyce said. Good pep talk!

Annette said...

We should all print this out and tack it up on our walls for when those dark days strike.

HOWEVER, I will not trash my TV. It keeps my hubby distracted so I can write. ;-)

Jenna said...

Excellent blog.

Martha Reed said...

Hi, Annette. You have a different and good perspective - it never occurred to me to use the TV as a distraction for others!

And it's not hard to feel peppy after last weekend, once I got my cognitive faculties back online.

Wow. What a weekend!

Gina said...

It was an exhausting weekend, and I barely did anything! The presentations were all great and the hotel managed not to close down the bathrooms for cleaning every time we had a break this year. There was even sunshine visible outside at times. To anyone with whom I didn't converse enough, I apologize for being in a miserable mood. I cocooned when I should have network. It's so very hard to be upbeat with the newbies when the only thing you feel positive about is that you're positive that everything is all f*****d up and nothing's every going to work out.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

...but... but... Martha! I like to WORK with the TV on. (tuned to the NHL, of course!)

Otherwise, I'm with you, sister. Especially that bit about a no being a gentle correction in the right department. I've said similar things for years now. (A No just means you're that much closer to finding the yes)

Patg said...

Even if you don't make a cent, just seeing your name in print is a great goal. It keeps you starry eyed for years.
Great pep talk.

heidi ruby miller said...


I love it! Actually, it would be my grandmother because when she first found out I was going to write a romance, she said, "You know what's really good? When you leave a lot to the imagination."

Unfortunately, I like to put my imagination on the page, so.... ;)

It was an awesome conference. I still have that positive energy flowing through me.


Jotter Girl said...

As Annette commented, I will not trash my babysitter....er um I mean TV. Just switch out kids for husband :)

Thanks for a great post!