I wanted to recap on a couple writing events I participated in earlier this year, but they were both small enough that they didn’t quite merit a full length post. So rather than taking the time to expound meaningfully on each one and really dig into it, I’ve decided to be lazy and crowbar them together! (Plus this is my last full week before we take off for our three-month-long roadtrip through the Lower 48. Oy, so much to dooooo.)
Earlier this year, I helped to organize an author panel and workshop in Fairbanks Alaska, riding on the coattails of the statewide librarian’s conference taking place that same week. The panel featured Carole Estby Dagg, author of The Year We Were Famous and Sweet Home Alaska, and local authors Cindy Aillaud, Lynn Lovegreen, Jen Funk Weber, and Marie Osburn Reid.
The turnout was pretty small, so we all managed to wedge in around a few large conference tables, and it was all very snug and casual. The panel was more of a round robin, with the authors- or anyone else present with writing or publishing experience- sharing tips and advice.
Here I’ve picked out the best advice for you! (Ain’t I sweet?) Common core, at least in Alaskan school districts, has upped the need for informational stories for children, so there is a high demand for fic-informational (also known as faction). National SCBWI conferences are awesome, and check out savvyauthors.com for even more networking opportunities. SCBWI itself is very helpful for non-agented writers, but agents can get a much better deal than an unrepped writer can. Take your time, and write what you love.
Following the panel, I ate too much candy and then Carole Estby Dagg presented about the stages of writing, from selecting an audience through writing and editing, and on to publication and marketing. She approached the topic through the lens of her own work as a writer of historical fiction.
While I love a gal who plugs research so heavily (because research! I love it!), I think the most relevant thing that I pulled out of her presentation was the Shrunken Manuscript technique.
Shrink your manuscript to the tiniest print you can read. Cut out all the open spaces: paragraphs, section breaks, everything, until it’s crammed onto as few pages as possible. Then get three highlighters. Everything with high emotion, highlight in red (or whatever). Everything with high conflict, highlight in blue. Every major plot point, highlight in green. Then lay your whole manuscript out. No matter how much you love them, any spots without color need to be either cut out or amped up.
Just a few days after the SCBWI stuff, I attended an AWG meeting. It was actually one of the meetings I usually skip- a chance to read some of your own work and get feedback. But I had a short story competition coming up and I wanted a test audience for the piece I was planning to submit. So why not?
I’d never done a critique group thing like this before, so I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect. I managed to position myself in the seating circle so that I went dead last, which afforded me the perfect opportunity to chicken out, or for the meeting to run out of time, or all kinds of exciting possibilities.
None of which materialized.
I took my turn in the hotseat and read a short story I’d been prepping for a writing competition. Historically, I have always been a terrible reader when it comes to my own works. I stumble on words, read too fast, too quiet. I get nervous. But I knew this going in, so I had read it through several times out loud. I find it’s harder to suck at reading when you memorize the piece instead. 😛 So the reading didn’t go as terribly as I’d been anticipating.
After I finished my reading, I whipped out my notebook. The others in the group had lots of excellent questions and suggestions that really helped me zero in on what was working in the story, and what could use a bit more tweaking. It was great to get some alternative perspectives on the piece, since I’d so thoroughly exhausted my own. But on top of that, they were all very encouraging, and meaningful encouragement is sometimes hard to come by in this line of work.
In the end, though, the critique must have done something right, because the piece took first place in the competition, leading to many a happy squeal. So maybe consider trying a live critique some time, even if you never have before.
Until next time, happy