A few days ago, Melanie Jacobson posted a link to my post about getting THE GAME PLAN published on the LDStorymakers facebook page because of the influence the conference had on it. As I thought about it, I realized that really I'd only mentioned the conference in a few sentences, when in fact it had a huge impact on how things played out--in a lot of ways. I wanted to write more about it and also discuss ways writers who don't have the opportunity to go to conferences can get the same things.
1. Bootcamp with my instructor Becca Wilhite. Becca was one of my choices for a reason. Her novel, MY RIDICULOUS ROMANTIC OBSESSIONS could be THE GAME PLAN'S sister. Becca caught some really important things, like the tense. When I first wrote TGP, I had kind of done it on a whim, and one of those whims was to write it in third-person, present tense, just for kicks and giggles. To stretch my writing muscles. Becca pointed out that while it was cool in some places, in others it just clunked. Hard. Plus I got to discuss those pages for almost an hour with her and five other writers, include a young male writer who gave me some fantastic pointers on my male POV for the story.
Without a conference: Three words - good critique partners. Not too many (you know, spoiling the stew as the saying goes). Get people who know your genre, and people who don't. Between them, they'll ask all the right questions. And get people you trust. That's so important.
2. Classes. A big one I want to talk about is the self-editing master class that Annette Lyon taught. The grammar stuff that she went over wasn't that new to me, since as an editor myself, I study grammar often. But she had some excellent revision tips - including one that I now use on every single manuscript I'm writing. She said to go through, scene by scene, and 1) identify what the scene is about in ONE sentence. If you can't do it in ONE sentence, too much is going on. And 2) identify the conflict. This one is the kicker. After I got home, and went through TGP with this in mind, I realized that the conflict in every single scene was pretty much the same thing. BORRRring. It led to me adding a whole new subplot, more conflict, and a whole lot of awesome. The other classes that were super memorable was the romance class I took with Krista Jensen and the pitching class by Lisa Mangum. (Thanks to that one I ended up with a pitch that rocked my socks off.)
Without a conference: Know your craft. Ask other writers for book recommendations. Read blog posts. Go to online workshops. I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that I used to think studying too much about writing would ruin the, uh, I don't know, purity? of it. I was wrong, wrong, wrong. (For example, discovering how plotting and pacing using Save the Cat is for a whole other blog post. TGP was the first novel I revised using the Save the Cat beats and...look where it is now. ;) )
3. Pitching opportunities. This one is self-explanatory. I don't think it was an accident that I got to pitch to Ms. Gordon at Covenant. It was great to make that connection and see her excitement for the project. It helped me in a lot of ways that go beyond the fact that Covenant ended up choosing my novel for publication.
Without a conference: There are tons of online opportunities to get *face time* with editors and agents; take advantage of them. (One that comes to mind is WriteOnCon, a great, free online conference with LOTS of benefits.) But, kids, querying. To be honest, I believe TGP would have been accepted, even if I'd gone through the submission process the regular old way. Just do your research and find the best place, then go after it.
4. Networking. And I don't just mean for the connections it may provide, I mean mostly for the knowledge you'll gain. Specifically, I remember after a panel on publishing and getting agents, I was able to chat with Melanie for a few minutes about what I wanted for TGP. I still remember her advice that if I wanted something, to not rest until that's what I got. Melanie had been in the exact place that I was, and she was writing for the company I wanted to write for. I know I would have mucked everything up if we hadn't had that one, fairly short, conversation.
Without a conference: Ditch that lonely writer persona and find people who can help you. It's hard to navigate the sometimes confusing world of writing without people who can give sound advice. You'd get there, eventually, but you'd probably make a lot of mistakes that you don't need to make. There are lots of good writing groups and Facebook groups for this stuff. Check them out.
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I've been writing since I was old enough to grasp a crayon--my grandma even has an early copy of a "book" I made her. I have a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Wyoming and will (hopefully) soon be starting a graduate program in English. When I'm not breaking up impromptu UFC fights in the living room or losing miserably to my boys at Uno, I'm ... well, writing or editing, of course! I'm married to my best friend, and we have three rambunctious but simply amazing little boys.