Reflection on a Writing Seminar

I’ve been so busy with camping and cleaning and family visits, I’ve been neglecting my writing. But even though I haven’t been working, I HAVE been thinking. I signed up for a 4-week workshop on writing synopses and query letters. I also found 2 discussion panels at the local library. The one I really wanted to go to is about historical fiction but I realized that it’s when I’m in Phoenix at the end of the month for the alumni concert. I’m really dissapointed about missing that one as I could have signed up for a workshop on the same topic (instead of the synopses/query letter one). In the end I still think the synopses/Q.L. workshop will be of more immediate use – after all, I’d like to get started trying to publish my existing novel before I start on my next one! And honestly, if there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s research.

So, on Tuesday night I attended the other library-sponsored discussion. It was about (gasp) writing romance novels. Now, as many of you know, I am the last person who would EVER write a romance novel. The very idea is so laughable! But I figured that writing is writing and since all of them write “historical” romances, I found some useful cross-over genre information in addition to general writing.

There were three authors who formed the panel and, while one of them was annoying and I will dismiss her entirely from my reflection, the other two were quite insightful.  The librarian had some pre-established questions for them, then she asked them to make a closing statement and then the audience could ask questions. There was some basic discussion of writing, but below are the discussion points that I found especially valuable.

One question involved the writing process. Interestingly, both authors described opposite systems. One wrote from beginning to end with only a vague idea of where the story was going. The other had a more specific plan and then she wrote scenes as they came to her. Once she had some scenes done, she put them in what called an “accordion file flow chart”. This really struck me as it is similar to the way I write but it addresses one major logistic issue I noticed. I wrote cut scenes as they came to me (often as dreams) and I put them in one Word document. Then I highlighted the beginning and end of the scene. As I wrote, I tried to go back and fill in between scenes, writing the transition content that seemed appropriate and adjusting existing scenes as needed if the story evolved in a different direction or needed some additional detail somewhere. This worked in theory, but I had a hard time finding where scenes needed to go after a while. The idea of printing the scenes out as I write them and then making a physical organizing structure is appealing, although wasteful, as I think it would be easier to find where things go. I will certainly keep this in mind when I start on another manuscript.

Another question involved having a “quota” – basically how did the authors force themselves to write. One had a page number quota per day but the other said that she just made sure she wrote something every day. What I liked about that answer was that she described how she kept her laptop plugged in by her bed and every morning, before she got up, she would write. That way she knew that she’d accomplished something every day, even if her day got away form her. She clearly doesn’t have little kids! Also, she said that she writes every night before going to bed, but that she avoids writing that is overly thoughtful – like dialogue or actual scenes. She focuses on writing descriptions or connective material that isn’t as mentally demanding. I liked this idea for two reasons. First. I like the thought of book-ending the day with writing, especially right now when post-children’s-bedtime is the only free time I really have. But if I do anything too mentally active right before bed I get terrible insomnia – I just can’t stop my brain from continuing to work. Working on the computer also contributes to sleeplessness. But, writing a description or scene setting would be perfect because it’s short and can be written out by hand and also, it will let me sleep with the scene in mind and this might let me create deliberate dreams in which I solve plot issues (this often happened as I wrote the last book).

The unfortunate part of the discussion was the reminder that writers rarely make a living by writing. It makes me sad as I can’t hold out the hope that I’m going to magically be part of the 5% or less of writers who are solvent at their craft. I’m still going to try it, but one must be reasonable. The writer who’s ideas I related to the most (Celeste Bradley) said that she actually makes a good living, but that she does it by tailoring her writing and story concepts to the market. I don’t have any particular issues with this but I am certainly NOT going to start writing porn just to make money. I read one of her books this weekend and damn, she writes porn. I must admit that it made me consider her advice a little differently…

The major benefit of attending this seminar was not the craft advice, it was simply spending time around writers. It was super motivating and it made me want to work. Not that I ran right home and did a bunch of work or anything. Stupid children. And even stupider art commissions. And dinner. And vacuuming. I continue to ruminate, though. I need to head back to the coffee shop this week, I think. It feels frivolous, but I got so much more work done the couple of times I did that than at any other time in the last few months! And I have my 4-week workshop to look forward to! But if I’m going to seriously start working on my synopsis and query letter, I probably need to finish the re-write on the actual novel so I have a product for someone to query!

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Filed under Reflection, Workshops, Writing Craft

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