Tag Archives: Writer Conferences

You Can’t Teach Motivation

It’s nearly impossible to be a writer today and not have attended a writer’s conference of some sort, even if it is simply as a speaker/presenter. I would definitely say it’s impossible to be a writer and at least not be aware of them. Writer’s conferences serve a lot of purposes and are particularly good, I think, for writers just starting out. For experienced writers it’s a great time to hang around like-minded creatives and yes, be reminded of all the writing-type strategies. And as a teacher of creative writing, I’m a fan of them and will encourage all writers (of all skill levels) to make an effort to attend at least one per year…even if you are going just to hang out.

But that got me thinking about all the things covered at conferences and in creative writing programs. We can teach (and learn) things like plot, pacing, characterization, dialogue, etc. etc. And if we know about them, we can be reminded of good strategies to use those tools effectively.

But there is one thing teachers/speakers can’t teach, and that’s motivation. I don’t mean fictional character motivation—we can teach that (even if hardheaded students aren’t willing to learn!), but what I mean is writer motivation. Yes, I believe teachers can inspire and encourage and think we should work to do that (but I also think if you love what you do, that’ll come through in the teaching)…but there’s nothing I can really do (not just me, all teachers) that will make a writer give us time on Facebook, or television and write…and then write some more…and then do more writing after that. And then when they’re done writing, finish up with a little more writing.

I don’t know who said it, or I’d give the credit, but I recently read it takes 10,000 hours for someone to reach the stage of successful whatever it is they do. SO, a musician must spend 10,000 practicing in order to reach the level of professional…and so on. So many writers think they’ll slap it down on the page and then they’re done. Oh, maybe an “editing” revision to look for typos and misspelled words—but some don’t even do that!

And with the Olympics just finished (it IS finished now, right?), we’re reminded of all the hard work and HOURS that these athletes (even the ones who lost) put in just to make it there. It takes motivation to force yourself to spend that kind of time practicing. It’s the “WANT TO” of achieving success.

That’s not something that can be taught…it has to come from within.

So whatever it is you do…how bad do you want it? Do you want it bad enough to spend 10,000 hours to get there?

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Mess’em Up!

One of the things I’ve noticed over time in teaching character at Full Sail University, at Writers Conferences and at other assorted writer functions where I read and give feedback or otherwise comments on a writer’s work, is that writers are often afraid to mess with or mess up their protagonists. And while I haven’t made any sort of exhaustive study, I think this stems from writers falling in love with the characters we create.

That’s not to suggest we shouldn’t like them. I think one of those aspects of good characters that is often overlooked is that we want audiences to like our heroes or protagonists. But when you, as the author, fall too deeply in love with your own creation, you don’t want to do anything to “mess” with them.

And yet, my rallying cry to writers has always been “mess’em up!”

Readers aren’t interested in perfect or near perfect characters. They don’t want to read about characters who have perfect lives. Oh sure, there’s often some fairy tale sort of aspect involved, but even those characters—the good/interesting ones, that is—are messed up in some way.

So…it’s our job as writers to mess’em up.

This can come in assorted ways. You can mess them up emotionally—that’s always interesting. We like to watch characters like Monk, or Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man. And even though he isn’t the “hero,” Hannibal Lecter is one messed’up dude and we can’t help but be interested in the story surrounding him.

You can mess them up physically; physical handicaps or deformities—while it may not exactly be politically correct to say so—are things that draw our curiosity and interest. We want to see how a character like this overcomes his challenges…and then be thankful for our own blessings.

Regardless of what you decide to do with your protagonist, you’ve got to give them some challenges to overcome. And not just as your story. The plot of your story should present a challenge, of course, but if your character has an additional personal something they must overcome WHILE overcoming the obstacle your story has presented, we’ll be far more interested to see what they do.

Now…go mess up your characters!

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At the Arkansas Writers’ Conference

I pointed out in an earlier post that 2010 was shaping up to be an incredibly busy year, one that saw me at more conferences, conventions and book signings than in several years. The year is moving by so quickly I can’t believe it is JUNE already!

On June 4-5 I was the Featured Speaker at the Arkansas Writers Conference. Having never been to the AWC before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Oh, I’d been to Little Rock many times before, usually to watch the Hogs whip Ole Maid, but never to a writers’ conference. As I think of it, I’ve never been to a comic convention in LR either!

I met quite a few new folks, saw writers from my pals at BCW (Howdy Chris and Randy!), and saw several writers who often attend the writers retreats at Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Education Center in Piggott. Little Rock being in the center of the state, it was very cool learning that the writers in attendance had come from all four corners of the state.

I met with several writers who’d sent work in earlier for critique and I spoke three times: Shameless Self-Promotion, Put a Little Super in Your Hero, and Dangers of the Internet for Writers. Each of the sessions seemed to go over well with the writers in attendance. Several came up to me at the close of the conference and said nice things and it’s possible that I may receive some invites to other conferences based on the contacts I made…so that’s pretty exciting! At the Awards Banquet the final night (see group pic above), the Conference gave me an “Arkansas Traveler” Certificate. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture says “the certificate [is] presented to distinguished visitors to the state.” You can just imagined how surprised and honored I was to receive the certificate!

This coming weekend (Saturday, June 12) I will be taking part in an event at Eudora Welty Commons as writers and artists from all over the state of Mississippi gather to promote their work and promote the creative arts in Mississippi by Mississippians.

Two weeks later (Sat/Sun, June 26-27), I’ll be one of the many guests at Mississippi’s Southern Fried Comic Con in Jackson, MS. It takes place at the Cabot Lodge near Millsaps College.

A little more than a week later (Tuesday, July 6), I’ll be one of two authors reading and signing at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Memphis, TN. It’ll be the first of that sort for me (reading, then signing).

Buying Time is moving well and so I’m happy about that. I’ll be posting some reviews and quotes and such at a later date—as soon as I can kind of gather them all up. I’m still looking for a few reviewers, so if you know of a review source, let me know!

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Attending Cons, Conferences and Workshops

Today and tomorrow I will attend the Fourth Annual American Christian Writers Conference in Memphis, TN. Although I will be a GF (General Flunkie) at this year’s conference, I’ll still get to be in a creative environment and am betting I’ll be chomping at the bits to get to my keyboard. So, it seemed like the perfect time to reflect on Conferences, Conventions and workshops.

One of the things I’ve had to learn to do is tell the difference in Conferences, Conventions and Workshops. In the comic industry, just about everything professionals attend is called a “convention,” or “con” for short. For instance, the Mid-South Con is a comic/science fiction gathering in Memphis. Generally, it’s a place where fans and readers can go to meet their favorite authors and artists, have their books signed by them, chat with them, and sit in on panel discussions with them. Game designers and publishers are also often found at “cons.” Mid-South Con even has a Writer’s Conference scheduled to take place at the same time. That part of the Mid-South Con will be devoted to workshops with writers and such, although that’s a bit of a rarity in science-fiction and comic conventions. Not a rarity at these kinds of shows is usually a pretty large “dealer’s room” where fans can buy up all sorts of collectible goodies.

A Writer’s Conference is only slightly different. Generally they are geared specifically to writers, or more specifically, to wannabe writers. The guest list at a conference usually includes well known authors, editors and agents. Wannabe writers then vie for their attention to show them they’re the next greatest thing since white bread. Often, it’s the one place where writers can actually meet editors and agents face to face…that is, if they’re not hiding out. Writer conferences usually have a wide variety of sessions intended to help the fledgling writers improve their craft. They often cover such basic things as plot and character, and they also get into more developed ideas such as police procedural in fiction. I sat in on one of the latter ones which was led/taught by a policeman who also happened to be a writer. And no, I’ve never seen a session on comic storytelling or scripting. And yes, I’ve offered to lead them here and there. Most of the responses have been the organizers don’t see a “need” for that kind of session. They may be right…but I’d still like to lead one.

Workshops are geared to the very specific development of writers. Essentially, “workshops” is the writing industry’s way of saying “class,” because that’s essentially what the sessions are. And they run the gamut, too, from very short 50 minute sessions to all day sessions, to those that take place over longer periods.

A writers retreat is also a slightly different beast. These are intended to get the writer away from all the disturbances of the regular work environment and isolate them in such a way that their main focus is simply…to write! After all, that’s what writers should be doing…writing!

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