Monday, April 28, 2014

The wonderful, weird world of writing conferences

I just got back from a wonderful weekend at the LDStorymakers conference.

The more I attend conferences like this, the more convinced I am that writing conferences are critical for writers (and not just aspiring ones).

Here are some reasons why:
  • Craft. I learn so much about how to improve my writing (see below).
  • Motivation and encouragement. I come away motivated to work harder--but also encouraged that it is possible to reach my goals. I also learn that there is no one right way to be a writer.
  • Expanding circle of friends.I loved seeing old friends and making new ones (and this coming from a dyed-in-the wool introvert). I think it's critical to have writing friends--people who understand both the highs and lows of writing. Other friends and family can sympathize, but they can't empathize
  • Mentors. At writing conferences, I always meet writers who are more advanced in their careers than I am who offer me terrific advice--but I'm also in the position now of offering advice to writers who are newer to the process than I am. This year I had a chance to present on how to give feedback in critique groups, and I loved it.

Some specific things I learned from Storymakers

Of course, I could probably write pages about things that I learned, but I want to stick with a few specific ideas that stood out to me.
  •  Emotional pacing is just as critical to a successful novel as plot pacing. Emotional pacing looks much like a roller-coaster: lots of ups and downs to provide variety and keep us engaged in the main characters. (From the inimitable Kristen Chandler).
  • For historical novels, primary sources can be invaluable to getting into the head of your point of view character. Matthew Kirby described his fascinating research process behind Ice Fall, reading Norse Eddas to get a sense for the values and perspectives of the culture.
  • Voice is not the same thing as style: voice is your particular worldview as an author (something that transcends a particular book or genre); style is just a vehicle for voice. (From Lisa Mangum).
  • Strong YA heroines aren't just a reflection of their physical strength--in fact, many of them draw strength (and dimensionality) from their flaws. (Sara Larson).
  • Authors aren't always right--even authors whose books you love. But you can still learn from people you disagree with. Orson Scott Card gave a very *ahem* interesting key-note address. While I didn't agree with much of what he said about the anti-religious culture in higher ed and the anti-intellectual culture in some areas of the LDS church, I did wholeheartedly agree with his conclusion: that it's more important to be a good person than to be a good writer, and that your life and your writing will be better if your priorities are aligned. (To see some hilarious audience reactions to his speech, check out the twitter feed for #storymakers14 from Friday night (4/25)).

If you went to Storymakers--what did you love about it/learn from it? What other writing conferences have you been to--and what did you learn from them?



  1. Ohhhh… I'm sad I missed Matthew Kirby's class! I attended one of his SCBWI classes once and LOVED him. And you were at Storymakers! Does that mean you're a Utahn? Very cool! It looked like a ton of fun.

    1. Yup! But I'm from the southern end of the state. We had to drive farther than some of the people coming in from Idaho. :)

      I can't speak for everyone, but I really loved the conference. I would go again. ;)