Thursday, July 23, 2009

The next level

As I go through revisions for Hound and ponder new projects, both short and long, I've been thinking a lot about workshops, critique groups, networking, conferences and feedback.

As writers who are going through the process of discovering our own skills, strengths and weakness, there's only so much we can do for each other before we hit a wall. Yes, we know what all the blogs of agents and publishers talk about. And we know that there are some consistences and some glaring contradictions between them. We know that there are things we aren't supposed to do when we write - then we see those same no-nos in most of the books we buy from and Barnes & Noble. You know them, the bestsellers who got away with breaking all the rules. And did it before they were bestsellers because it was their first published book (complete with all the rule breaking) that made them successful.

In short, until we aspiring novelists have an agent and are published many times over, we don't really know what the hell we're talking about. We're making educated guesses based on informed research and tidbits we sheen off those who have the experience we lack. Myself included, of course. And I'm not discrediting beta readers - who are essential to the process of writing - or the blog sphere as a whole - which is a wonderful networking and learning tool.

I'm talking about the next level. The expensive level: conferences, workshops with agents, university programs taught by established authors and run by boards of people with years of experience in the industry, or working with freelance editors.

I learned a great deal from the editor I hired, despite my frustrations about the process. She pointed out things a critique group of five failed to notice. And I got what I needed - someone to fully devote their time to my manuscript. When we swap with other betas its a mutual favor and you never really know what you'll get back.

Let's be honest.

Who out there hasn't done a swap, put hours into critiquing the others person's manuscript, only to get a handful of comments back from the other person in return? Or that you committed to reading without taking the time to first get a handle on the other person style/taste to make sure it matched your own? Or that your writing isn't in the same place - are you both working on the same draft of your project? Is this your fifth manuscript and the other person's first? Is the other person actually ready to hear feedback (from someone besides non-writer friends and family), or are they just going to tell you they aren't going to consider your advice until they see if the rest of the group agrees 100% with your suggestions?

Getting off that tangent and to the point:

After hearing the great success people have had with workshops and writing intensives with experienced people in the industry, I'm going to take the plunge and the dent in my finances.

Donald Maass will be in Seattle this November to host an interactive workshop. For $339, I'll get to rub shoulders with a very well established agent who represents my genre. After talking with the project coordinator, I feel confident that I'll get a lot out of the workshop - two days long, eight hours each day - including some feedback on my writing from someone with an experienced opinion.

I'm also going to an informational meeting for a workshop program at the University of Washington. After checking out the two teachers, I've decided taking a class taught by a romance author just isn't for me, and will take the session with author James Thayer (though his most recent novel has romanace elements, but he appears to lean toward thrillers) if I like what I hear at the meeting. The board of people who oversee the program is pretty impressive, and include Donald Maass. Also, there will be guest speakers throughout the session. The session runs two nights a week from January 11th to April 19th.

Aside from networking with professionals, this is also going to be a chance for me to meet other writers in person. As great as the blog world is, finding a group to meet in person with is superior (in my humble opinion). Discussions and interactions are different and more in depth when your face to face with people. I really miss the writing groups I've had in the past.

Next summer, I'll be attending local conferences.

I know that I'm lucky I can swing the finances to do these type of things, and I'm by no means judging the people who can't. I just think there's enough proof out there (again, from the information we see on the interwebs and hearing about results directly from people who attended this stuff, experienced and inexperienced alike) that if you can make use of these things, you need to do so. So I'm going to. And I'll be happy to share everything I can with the rest of you, for everyone who can and cannot go for themselves.

And then you can take everything I say with a grain of salt and a dash of my own inexperience.

If you have any experiences from workshops, classes or conferences that you'd like to share, feel free to post in the comments!


scott g.f. bailey said...

I completely agree that industry professionals give the kind of pointed, concise commentary you can't get in the blogs. If you can afford workshops and conferences, you should certainly go.

It's funny, I was just thinking about this very thing, and how the brief conversations I've had with my agent have been more useful to me than the thousands of pages of interweb advice I've read. Best bit of advice from him (boiled down): Beginning writers don't focus enough on characters. "Who?" and "Why?" are the same question. Answer them right away.

You're in Seattle? We should meet!

The Screaming Guppy said...

I forgot you're in Seattle too! (I'm actually out in Issaquah, but close enough.) Lady Glam mentioned that, saying that we should all get together and party if she's ever up this way.

I'll shoot you an email. Perhaps we can do that whole cliche writerly coffee shop thing. ;) We certainly won't have any trouble finding a coffee shop in Starbucks central.

Danyelle said...

Hope your conference goes well for you. :D

Anonymous said...

That's wonderful you're taking the next step to the more expensive but well worth approaches! =D I know I wish I could do that, but being in El Paso nothing great hardly comes my way since I've gotten serious about writing.

In the near future I plan to get back in school to finish my degree but also plan to take some creative writing courses. I do hope all these new endeavors pay off for you! =D

Eric said...

I wish I had the funds you have, because I have thought about things like this. Perhaps someday. To borrow a saying from Elana, Le Sigh (who of course borrowed it from our good friend Peppy).

Btw, I am giving you an award in my next post. Just thought you should know ;)

ElanaJ said...

I think conferences are fantastic. It's a good way to expand your circle, learn new things, and become more informed about the publishing industry. For anyone who can, I recommend going. I've only been to a handful of local ones, and they were awesome. Gotta start somewhere.

Jim Harrington said...

Excellent post. Good luck at the conferences. I'm sure you'll learn a lot.

Jenna Alexander said...

I can't wait to hear how it goes. I have my eye on two local groups. One is a chapter of RWA and the other is a literary group.

I don't think I fit in at either place but I'm anxious to see how face to face intereaction differs from on-line when it comes to writing topics.

So far 100% of my writing experience has been with others online. Crit groups, forums, blogs, etc...

That can be quite cold and impersonal at times.

Maybe I'll find another newbie at one of these meetings huddled in the corner.


M. Dunham said...

I love the writing conference I attended. Meeting so many other enthusiastic writers, it's amazing. The energy is worth it, trust me.