Networking for Writers

It’s always great to gather with other writers and talk about the craft you love. Recently, I had the privilege of presenting a Fiction Writing Workshop to Florida Sisters in Crime. If you live in Northern Florida, consider joining this dynamic group. We met at a library and their community room was filled with over 50 attendees, all eager to take notes.

We covered fiction writing essentials in the morning and business aspects in the afternoon. In between, people met each other and mingled. That’s the best part of conferences, too. You never know who you’ll discover sitting next to you in a seminar or at the bar. You’ll make new writer friends, greet old acquaintances, and learn the industry buzz. Everything I’ve learned about the business of being a professional writer, I have gained from other authors.
This past weekend, I attended a meeting over on Florida’s west coast. The Southwest Florida Romance Writers meets regularly in Estero, located between Naples and Fort Myers. Whoever wants to meet for lunch first gathers in the Bistro downstairs at the Miromar Design Center. The meeting with a speaker begins at 1:00 on the third floor. Member Michael Joy shared some tips he’d learned during a residency in a Master of Fine Arts program. I enjoyed his teaching technique as much as the tools he mentioned on creating realistic dialogue.
Writers are very generous in sharing what we know. Attending local meetings, reading online blogs, going to conferences, and entering writing contests offer a tremendous amount of valuable information and feedback. In Florida, we have branch chapters of RWA, MWA, and Sisters in Crime. This year the Ninc national conference in October will be held here, too. It’s New Rules, New Tools: Writers in Charge, an essential and dynamic topic. And in case you didn’t already know, Sleuthfest will be moving to Orlando next March so you can bring your families along.
Don’t know what all these abbreviations mean? Then jump on the bandwagon and find out. There’s nothing more gratifying than schmoozing with fellow authors and sharing industry news. Join as many different writers organizations as you can afford and attend meetings. Get to know authors in other genres and exchange ideas. Let’s mingle!
If you live in SE Florida, there’s still time to sign up for the remaining classes at the Author’s Academy. All workshops are held at Murder on the Beach Bookstore, 273 NE 2nd Avenue, Delray Beach, FL. Instructors are multi-published authors. Call 561-279-7790 or email for reservations. $25 per person per class.
Saturday, September 10, 10am – Noon
How To Get Published. Learn what it takes to get your work published.
Instructor: Joanna Campbell Slan, author of Photo Snap Shot.

Saturday, September 24, 10am – Noon

Finding an Agent. Query Letters, Synopses, and the Pitch!
Instructor: Nancy J. Cohen, author of the Bad Hair Day mysteries.

And More Local Author Events:

Tuesday, October 11, 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
, Sun, Sand & Suspense Panel, “Three Dangerous Dames,” Nancy Cohen, Elaine Viets, and Deborah Sharp; Broward County Main Library, 100 S. Andrews Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301, 954-357-7444

Saturday, October 29, 2:00 – 3:30pm,
Florida Romance Writers Panel Discussion and Signing, Delray Beach Public Library, 100 West Atlantic Avenue, Delray Beach, FL 33444

So you wanna write a book

By Joe Moore

It seems like every time I meet someone and they learn that I’m a writer, they always comment that they had often thought of writing a book, too. Sometimes I think the prospect of being a published author may be the number one goal or dream of everyone who has ever been excited by a good novel. It’s natural to think, “I could do that.” And in reality, they can. But most don’t or won’t. Why? Because the dream far exceeds the labor. Like most specialized occupations, the average would-be author will remain in the dreaming stage. Few proceed to the next step: actually sitting down and writing a publishable, contemporary work of fiction.

But for those that really want to take the next step, here are a few tips on getting that novel “inside us all” onto the page.

First, become an avid reader with the eyes of a writer. Read as many novels as you can get your hands on. But try to read from a writer’s viewpoint. Read for technique and style and voice. Keep asking questions like: Why did the author use that particular verb? Why is the writer using short, choppy sentences or long, thick description. Cross genre lines. The genre you wind up writing might not be the one you first imagined. Reading other’s work also can be inspiring. It is a source of ideas and helps to get the creative juices flowing.

Next, know the marketplace and write for it. The end product must be sellable. This goes back to being familiar with your chosen genre. You may love westerns, for instance, but they can be way down the sells chart and not a good choice for a debut author. Having said that, any story in any genre can be a hit if it’s built on strong characters. Always remember that your characters make your story, not the plot.

A third tip is to be true to yourself. Don’t try to push against what you feel in your heart and soul when it comes to your story. This may sound like the opposite of the previous tip, but that one deals with the business side of writing, this one the emotion. Beyond understanding the market, realize that if your heart is not in the words, the reader will know it. You can’t hide your lack of love for your writing.

Another tip is to have proper training. Being a devoted reader is only a portion of the task. I’ve had the opportunity (or drudgery) of reading many first-time writer’s work. It’s astounding how many people simply don’t know how to write. I’m not talking about style or content. Forget coming up with a cool plot or unique cast of characters. I’m talking about constructing a sentence with proper use of grammar and punctuation.

If you’re still in school, make sure you give your writing classes as much attention as possible. After all, they teach you the tools of your trade. If you’re out of school or later in life, consider taking some adult courses in basic English and perhaps in creative writing. They won’t teach you how to write a bestseller but can help you get your thoughts down on paper properly. Consider it a refresher course. Some colleges and universities offer degrees in writing. This is by no means a requirement to writing a novel, but it’s always a direction to go if you feel the need. And don’t forget attending writer’s workshops, conferences and joining a local critique group. Workshops are usually taught by pros; conferences have lectures and topic panels dedicated to strengthening your skills; and critique groups offer a new, fresh set of eyes to help improve your work.

Finally, once you’ve finished the first pass through your manuscript, the real work begins: rewriting, editing, polishing, and finishing. There’s nothing that will turn off an agent or editor quicker than an unpolished manuscript. There are tons of books available out there on how to self-edit your work. And getting others to take a look at it will help to reveal possible problems you missed. Edit, revise, edit, revise, repeat.

There’s a saying that everyone has at least one book inside them. But writing a book is hard. It takes firm commitment and dedication. Let your story out, but do it by following these logical steps. Skipping one of them usually results in frustration, disappointment and a half-finished manuscript collecting dust in the bottom of a drawer.

So what about you guys? Is this how you managed to finish your first book? Were you able to skip a step and jump right to a publishing contract and advance check? Any other tips to pass along to first-time authors?

THE PHOENIX APOSTLES, coming June 2011
"Bold, taut, and masterfully told." — James Rollins

Are Writing Classes Worth It?

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I have to thank Jacqueline Winspear whose post on Naked Authors inspired this post. She was writing about the exponential increase in writing classes and MFA programs and exploring the question of whether creative writing can actually be taught. I want to tackle the thorny issue that accompanies this – what do creative writing classes really teach you and (hmmm…) are they worth doing at all?

My own experience has been decidedly mixed and I have to confess I’ve taken more painting classes than I have creative writing classes so it’s not like I’ve had a wealth of experience (though I do hope my novels are better than my paintings!).

I took a hilarious course in Australia on how to write a romance but soon realized that unless you LOVE Harlequin romances then it’s bloody difficult to write them (no matter how easy it looks to many people!). This class took a lighthearted approach to the genre and all its requirements and foibles, so I actually felt like I did learn something…though not, I’m afraid, how to write well.

In California, I took a class on how to write a novel well before I even attempted Consequences of Sin…now I’m not going to name any names in this blog but my experience in that class was less than inspiring. The teacher found it almost impossible to teach how to actually write a novel and the class had the unfortunately all too common cluster of writers: the bloody awful ones; the arrogant ones who wrote the most boring crap imaginable; the ones who were only there to rip other people’s work to shreds; and the genuine sensitive souls who spent most of the time utterly disheartened by the class. I hope you can tell I was in the last category:)

In this class we each had to present a piece about a novel we had read and most people did bugger all for this (though I did a rather nifty plot chart for Jane Eyre and that helped me far more than the class ever did!); we then critiqued one person’s work for the rest of the time. When it came to my turn the range of feedback was so bizarre as to be completely unusable (from “this is so exquisite I had no comments to make” to “have you ever been in jail? Because I have…” to “This is juvenile, adolescent trash (or was it puerile, I’ve blocked it from memory)”. My teacher was less interested in providing a critique than explaining that there were similarities with her own work (I guess she wanted to make sure I didn’t sue)… After this class I swore off taking another…but then I did a week intensive course only to find it was just as frustrating. By then, I was well and truly turned off writing classes!

I’m not saying that many classes are not genuinely worthwhile or that creative writing isn’t something than can (at least to some extent) be taught – although that is certainly fodder for a whole other blog post! Here’s my take on writing classes:

  • At their best they can help provide the impetus and validation needed for some writers to move forward with their WIP – at their worst they can destroy, demotivate and crush a writer.
  • While some teachers are naturally gifted at helping nurture their students and provide genuine insights into the process of formulating a piece of creative work, many teachers are looking only to boost their own egos, grind their own axes or sell their own work (yes, I’ve had to buy a teacher’s book…)
  • Writing classes seem to work best when focused on the specifics of form: like short story writing, article writing or memoir writing. I think insights into a particular genre or form can be helpful.

A successful writing class for me would have emphasized perseverance, editing, rewriting and more editing as key tools of the trade.

To be honest, I found the most valuable writing techniques I learned were not in a class but arose out of practice – writing a novel myself, editing it, rewriting it, editing further…then doing it all over again (and again). I don’t think any class can ever teach the skills you really need in this respect, because they have to come from within and have to include a determination to write no matter what and a determination to write the very best you can while constantly honing your craft.

So what have your experiences been with writing classes? Worth every penny or not worth a dime (or somewhere in between:))?

Coming up Sunday, June 14, our guest blogger will be New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry. And watch for future Sunday guest blogs from Robert Liparulo, Paul Kemprecos, Linda Fairstein, Julie Kramer, Grant Blackwood, and more.