Tuesday, August 25, 2015

5 reasons to attend a conference (even if your manuscript isn’t pitch ready)

In the long list of decisions a writer will face, the question of attending a writer’s conference will inevitably surface. And it is an important one to consider. Conferences can be expensive, but they are worth the investment in your career.

When I first started writing, I was told that novice writers should complete their manuscript (to make sure they have the stamina to finish) before investing in conferences. Because of that advice, as well as being reluctant to attend a conference alone, I kept putting it off. But recently I’ve learned that, if you wait, you miss out on so many things that can help you to reach the finish line.

Here’s my list of 5 reasons to attend a conference (even if your manuscript isn’t pitch ready).

The Shop Talk 

You get to talk about writing – and nothing else – all day, with people who get it. All other life obligations are put aside for those few days while you focus on what you love. While our non-writer friends and family members try to understand and encourage us, no one “gets it” like other writers. No one else understands the joy of putting words on the page or the frustration when the right words just won’t come.

Gaining a Community

Hanging out with like-minded people lends itself to building friendships not otherwise possible. You are likely to start new lifetime friendships with people who push you to keep going, commiserate with you at times, and believe in you, especially when you’re having a hard time believing in yourself. These friends are priceless to our writing.

Although few will admit it, the voyeur in all of us wants to get a peek behind the curtain and see how other writers do it. With your writer friends, you don’t even have to ask permission to peek, they will open the door and invite you inside.

You will talk with writers who are one step ahead of where you’re at, five steps ahead, ten steps (how many steps there are) and learn from them. You may even find your writing mentor or critique partner at a conference.


While similar to gaining a community of writer friends, this is directed more to the other side of the table – the editors, agents, and publishers. You will meet industry professionals who are there to share their experiences and expertise. Even if you don’t have a manuscript ready to pitch, many of these individuals are very willing to talk over ideas with you and give you advice to improve (and finish) your work.

Introduce yourself, shake hands with someone you bump into while waiting for the elevator because you never know how your paths will cross down the line. The agent you sit next to at lunch may end up being the agent who signs you.


Conferences are full of learning opportunities. Even classes in tracks other than the one you’re following can offer nuggets that will help you improve your craft. And improving craft is one of the biggest reasons to invest in a conference. 


Attending a conference can be the perfect opportunity to relax, catch up on some reading, and reflect on why you spend so much of yourself on this thing called writing. Breaks in the conference schedule are the perfect time to go for a walk (or a run, if you’re one of those crazy people,) take time to release some stress and absorb some peace; renew your mind and refresh your spirit or grab some of your new friends and go dancing or sing karaoke. 

I was reluctant to attend my first conference alone. Thankfully, I had a friend assure me that I wouldn’t be alone, but would be sharing the experience with all the new writer friends I would meet. My friend was right.

Heather Eslick, a freelance writer and aspiring novelist, lives in Savannah, Georgia, with her husband, David, and three of their four boys still in the nest, who supply much of the fodder that goes into her writing.  You can find Heather on Facebook at www.facebook.com/heathereslick and follow her blog at www.heathermeslick.wordpress.com

Article photos from the Southeastern Writers Workshop 2014 & 2015. By My Write Platform

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

ABC’s for creating a Story From Scratch

What if there was a simple formula with which to turn that collection of words and sentences churning around just beneath the surface into a compelling story?  Here is my formula that beginners, or perhaps even seasoned writers, might try out to achieve breakthroughs on one of those frustrating writer's-blocked days.

This ABC Story From Scratch recipe might be able to help get energy moving on an existing story that is not quite moving at the right pace.  Perhaps this could also be of use for a story where there may be a better direction or there is a need for more depth.   The aim is to reach that satisfying level of memorable story telling that the writer wishes to create and readers like to read.  

Just for fun, let’s see what might be achieved from using the following ingredients and steps for writing a Story From Scratch:

A = Attitude  

A settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, and in American culture it may represent individuality and confidence or rebelliousness.

B = Behavior  

Behavior is expressed by how attitudes (from author through main character, foe, friend, lover, culture, nations, etc.) are played out in the story.

C = Consequences  

The result of bringing together Attitude and Behavior.

A+B=C combines Attitude with Behavior to reveal Consequences when life intervenes to beat it all into some sort of solution — though often it may be a sticky one that is not quite ready for consumption.  So, for those who recognize that the story needs more to finish it well, let’s take things a bit further.

D = Delight  

The delight of seeing something not seen before is the gift a great story has to share.  Delight enlightens the story through its characters and/or the reader as a result of them having gone through that often agonizing mix up of attitudes and behaviors, then sifting through the consequences to come to a greater level of realization.  Delight could come from a pivotal decision that enlivens the story from the resulting increased awareness.  Or it may be some other surprising event or unexpected action that, in the end, produces the sought-after savory blend. 


Perhaps there could be even greater benefit found by the story being experienced and told from a more visceral level?  If so, then further emotional excavation may be in order.  When the author digs deeper, characters are likely to follow with a much more powerfully believable emotional portrayal that also touches and satisfies readers.

Born in Oklahoma, Diane Douglas lives in South Carolina where she enjoys Southern writing and cooking.  She received a BA in Political Science with a minor in English from the University of North Texas.  As an Officer in the Navy Reserves, Diane created an innovative publication and received a Navy Achievement Medal.  While a Training Director for the Child Welfare League of America, she created training materials and conducted strategic planning sessions for US & Canadian agencies.  

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

ReBlog: What Good Sales People Know About Personal Branding That Everyone Should

The words "brand" or "branding" bring images grocery store shelves or maybe memories of a trip to the mall pop to mind first,  not writing, not your work. But writers have to be sales people to sell their work and themselves to clients and readers.  A strong personal brand helps to grab people's attention and keep it all on you. 

Joanne Tombrakos is an author and expert on building one's digital profile and personal branding. She recently published these tips for personal branding on the Huffington Post's "The Blog."

"Personal Branding is not a new concept.

"We used to call it building a good reputation and being clear on the direction you wanted your career to go. Then the age of digital dawned, and personal branding was taken to a whole new level. It's no longer just about the real life version of you. It's also about the digital version of you.

"Good salespeople have always been masters at this.

"The best ones have adapted their strategies to these new tools. Unfortunately there are not that many really good salespeople out there. I see too many using the new tools to automate instead of personalize and applying pushy tactics -- the kind that have always given sales a bad rap -- to technology that if used properly can enhance their image."

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Crafting the Good Question: 4 Keys to Preparing for an Interview

The cornerstone of good writing is research and the most common prompt to research is a question. Who, what, where, when and how were Lesson 1 in my high school journalism class.  “This story is about So-and-So who wants what?” is how I learned to focus a screenplay in college four years later.  A writer can’t be afraid to ask questions, but you can’t just jump in with the first question that pops into your head either.


Articles come in many forms and with many purposes.  Before you begin writing out your questions, know what kind of article you're writing.  The information you need for a travel article differs greatly from the information in a profile.  A how-to will not require the depth of feature article.  It is important to know what information you'll need before you draft your list of questions.


Once you know what to ask, carefully word your questions.  Never ask a yes or no question.  Instead of asking “Do you like your job?” try “Tell me some of the aspects of your job you like.” The first question gives you one word.  The second can spark a paragraph. 

In the same vein, try to avoid one-word answer questions, such as “When did you start working for this company?” An alternative can be “How did you come to work for this company?”  Dates don't add much to the word count.  Again, shoot for the paragraph.


Have multiple versions of questions on sensitive subjects.  In comedy, you can run the same joke three times.  After that it isn't funny.  The same holds for interviewing - you can visit a issue three times before you turn your subject off. 

Say you have to interview two rival businessmen who have teamed up for huge event.  You know they don't like each other and are at odds over many business issue, but this event, if successful, will give both of their businesses a big boost.

Ask “What effect did your rivalry have on the planning of the event?”  and you'd get a firm denial and an alienated subject. Have several versions of hot-topic questions to pose at different times during the interview.  “What sort of obstacles did you have to overcome in the initial organization?”  “How did you coordinate all the different officials and their staffs?” “How do you imagine the planning of future events of this scope?”  


Finally, try to make your questions fit into the conversation.  Be prepared to scribble notes for follow up questions while your subject is answering the present one.  Or better yet anticipate what kind of follow up questions your subject’s answers may spark. How? As author Paul Auster said, “The truth of the story lies in the details.” Know your subject: his job, family, etc.  

Sometimes my questions take a rewrite or two to get them the way I want them, but the pay off comes when during the interview my subject blurts “Oh! That’s a good question!” 

Amy Munnell is has been a freelance writer and editor for over 25 years with her work appearing in various publications including the Chocolate for a Woman's Soul series, Saying Goodbye, From the Heart, Points North, ByLine, Athens Magazine and Georgia Magazine. Find Amy on Twitter: @amunnell