Takeaways fom the Writer’s Digest Convention West 2013

I just attended my first writers convention, which turned out to be among the most interesting and informative experiences of my life. Never before have I received so many insights into the craft of writing. The Writer’s Digest Conference West in Los Angeles took place at the end of September. During that time, I was able to meet people I never would have otherwise, such as journalists who have been working in the writing field for ages. There was so much great information it was hard to capture it all, but here are a few points that that definitely resonated:

1) Writing, editing and marketing are totally different competencies, so bucket them, don’t batch them. In a discussion led by Ivory Madison, CEO of redroom.com writers community, writers were advised to keep those activities separate, as they engage different parts of the brain. I’ve been trying out the Red Room Method and can see a positive difference in my writing. It staves off the frustration of trying to do everything at once, and only producing one paragraph an hour. She suggested not to combine the three buckets of writing, editing and marketing. In this way, you end up not only being nice to yourself, but also more efficient as well. Writing is about your relationship with yourself. Marketing is an expression of everybody else. Take one book, make it as great as you can, and then worry about marketing. Don’t wear multiple hats at the same time.

WDCW132) Read your work aloud. You will find a great deal of errors that you might not have otherwise by reading aloud. When you do write, be authentic. Your readers want to be able to get to know you and trust you. Find great people to make your book as good as it can be. Don’t jump the gun just because you want to get it out there. Make your book easy to find and as accessible as possible.

3) Growing scope of the literary agents. Gordon Warnock, Founding Partner of Foreward Literary, has a vision of literary agents taking on a similar role as the agents of actors and songwriters. The future literary agents, he thinks, will manage the author’s entire career. The job scope would become more like an umbrella for their representation overall. This would include creative directing over the author’s website, branding, image, et al.

And above all else – write an outstanding book.

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Would You Write A Book Without an Outline?

You probably wouldn’t drive across the country without a map.

You probably wouldn’t cook Thanksgiving dinner without recipes.

Would you write a book without an outline?

The practice of outlining a book in detail takes an enormous amount of discipline. Focusing on the infrastructure of the story is a whole different ball game than writing in free form and letting things evolve as they may. My first book was a result of rambling writing sessions, often resulting in superfluous content which ended up being taken out of the story. Although it was fun to just write and see what happened, it seemed there had to be a more effective method out there, one that would result in a greater yield with less exertion. Most writers have other jobs, and when it comes to writing time, every moment is precious.

Some writing coaches suggest that creating a detailed outline is the most important part of book writing, and the part where most authors struggle. Writers may spend weeks or even months on the outline alone, to provide some frame of reference for how detailed the outline can be. Writing a book is a project, not unlike building a house. There is the foundation, there are the walls, the flooring, the roof, etc. Only when the skeleton of the house is in place can homeowners enjoy working on some of the more aesthetic features of the home – picking out colors, the yard, creating curb appeal, you name it.

A project manager friend who has been intrigued by the writing process asked how my latest book was coming along. Our casual conversation at a wedding evolved into something else when I mentioned being stuck halfway through the book. The project manager asked if she could help me in going back to the drawing board and getting serious about planning it all the way to the end. I started sending her samples of my content and images of people that remind me of my characters. She would go through what I had written so far against our burgeoning outline and provide feedback: “I don’t think the character would say that on page 73,” or “When are the characters ever going to make it to Barcelona? You said that they have been saving up their mileage points for the trip,” etc.

At first I wondered if it had been a little premature to share my work with someone else. She had questions that were not always easy to answer, such as why I chose one title over another. Each time I had to explain an aspect of the story, it helped me figure out how to convey metaphors and messages with much greater clarity. After a few short weeks of this exchange, we finalized the outline. It’s all been downhill from there. Writing to an outline hasn’t seemed restrictive at all. It’s been like driving with a navigational system in the car, so you can better focus on the traffic, the scenery and the passengers.

Compass and Bible
Writing can be a very solitary profession, but creating an outline is a great opportunity to collaborate with others, should you desire to do so. It’s a lot easier to get someone to read an outline than to read a manuscript of 120,000 words or so. If you can have the feedback given to you in a postive way by someone who can deliver it in a manner that makes you comfortable, then your writing will become that much better for having another pair of eyes review it. Having to discuss and explain your work, your ideas, and your story line can be pretty awkward in the beginning. However, writers have to do it eventually anyway, so why not start from the get go?

Writers, do you sit down and just write, or do you use a more formal approach?