Monthly Archives: June 2011

Build Your Own Writers’ Conference

There’s a reason why many companies have yearly seminars.  It gives employees a chance to fire up their enthusiasm for their company and its products or services.  It offers them a chance to unplug from the ordinary and have some fun while networking with others in their field.  And it gives them the chance to learn about industry trends or acquire and refine a new skillset.

This, in a nutshell, is what makes a good writers’ conference: relax, fire up, network, learn.

But let’s face it.  In this tough economy, digging around in your car and between your couch cushions for enough spare change to pay for a writers’ conference is far from most people’s minds.  That change is supposed to pay for gas, after all.  It’s very possible that you might get a guilt trip for being honest about your expense-to-income ratio: “You should invest in your career.  That $500 + airfare + hotel + rental car is an investment in your future!”  Ummm, yeah.

We all want to invest in our career as writers.  We all want to “make it” — defined as whatever your own personal goals for your writing happen to be.  But for many of us, attending a writers’ conference, much as we would love to do it, is just out of the question.

Solution?  Design your own writers’ conference!

Let’s look at a few of the amazing resources right in your own backyard, sorted according to our four aims listed above.


One of the major draws of going away to a writers’ conference is just that: going away.  Unplugging from the daily grind.  The good news: you don’t have to travel a great distance to “get away” for a little while.  Scope out the state parks in your area.  If you live somewhere where the weather is pleasant this time of year (not Texas), take a notebook and a pen or your laptop and a picnic lunch and strike out into the wilderness for an afternoon.  If you live somewhere that is unpleasant outside at this time of year (Texas), then perhaps there is a great indoor location that would work for you.  Even a fine coffee shop or wine bar would be excellent.  It doesn’t need to be an all-day, sit-in-the-lobby-of-a-hotel-you-aren’t-staying-at affair.  Find a special getaway spot that fits your personality and allows you some down-time to recharge your batteries.

Cost: zero – $


One of the best ways to get fired up about your writing is to listen to an inspirational speaker.  There’s nothing like a supercharged speech to rev the engine of productivity!  So often, we fall into a rut and become discouraged.  We need someone with a plan, someone who’s been there and done all that, to set our feet back on the path to success.

Once again, there is no need to travel anywhere to find motivation!  Thanks to the fact that we live in a virtual age, there are any number of webinars available for writers — some free, some with a relatively minimal charge.  Check out the Writer’s Digest University  for a selection of great offerings.

Perhaps a good book might inspire your creativity and productivity.  The Writer’s Digest Shop has a huge selection of great writerly materials.  Your local library and Amazon are other great places to find books for writers.  More on this later in the post.

There are often author events hosted by local libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops.  Look for advertisements for these events and try to attend a few.  Helping a fellow author is never a wasted effort, and you may be able to do a little networking of your own!

Cost: zero – $$


Of all the purposes of a conference, this one at first blush seems to be the most difficult to come by outside an actual conference.  But it need not be difficult at all!  Here are a few options to consider for finding new ways to network with other writers:

  • Join a new writers’ forum.  There are so many online networking sites for writers of all types.  Perhaps you already belong to one or a few.  Why not browse around for a new group?  Perhaps visit some websites of a few of your favorite authors.  Sometimes they have their own online communities, or perhaps they belong to some.  In either case, it might give you a good place to start looking.
  • Join a new writers’ support group in your area.  If you don’t already belong to a local writers’ group, perhaps now is a good time to join.  If you live in a city, there are likely to be several different groups available to you.
  • Start your own writers’ group! If, after many fruitless searches, you cannot find a local group that suits you, perhaps you can fill the void by starting a group yourself.  Why not?  Someone has to start these things, after all!
  • Attend author signings or readings.  As mentioned above, this can be a great opportunity to meet other writers (and readers too)!  Who knows what doors might be opened through such contacts?

Cost: zero – $


Just because you can’t attend a conference this year doesn’t mean you can’t work on your craft or become more industry savvy.  Here are some great, inexpensive ways to feed your knowledge.

  • Follow some successful writers and industry insiders on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Find a few writerly blogs (like this one!) that are fun to read and offer tidbits on bettering your writing.
  • Use your library!  Some have better selections of writing books than others, but chances are good that you’ll find something useful.
  • Haunt used bookstores for writing books.
  • If there are some books you know you want, look for them on Amazon, alibris, or the Writer’s Digest shop.

Here are a few books that might help you get started (I found these at my local library this weekend!):

  1. The Portable Writers’ Conference
  2. The Writer’s Idea Book (Jack Heffron)
  3. The Writer’s Idea Workshop (by Jack Heffron)

Cost: zero – $$


Don’t let finances and the economy prevent you from bettering yourself as a writer.  You don’t have to lay out a small fortune to attend a conference.  With a little creativity, self-motivation, a library card and internet access, you can put together your own workshop and recharge your writing!

A Matter of Perspective, Part II

I’d like to continue J. Leigh’s discussion of POV vs. perspective.  This is such an important topic for writers, and something that can make or break a story if not executed correctly.  In the last post, J. Leigh defined perspective as a refinement or narrowing of the larger category of point-of-view.  When writing, you have to know whose head(s) you’re in — not only capturing how would the world look through those eyes, but also how that character would express what he or she perceives in language.  In 1st person POV, incidentally, the focus on language is even more crucial because you’re inside that character’s head all the time; there is no narrator or outside “God voice”.

So that’s by way of summary — by all means, though, if you missed that first post, go back and read it! 🙂

I want to pick up the discussion of perspective with respect to embedded narratives — stories within the main story, such as a flashback or a narrated account within the context of the larger plot.

Example: Joe Shady meets his pal Slim at the local pub.  Through the haze of smoke and liquor, Slim asks Joe what he’s been doing for the last three months.  Joe replies, “You would hardly believe it.”  End of chapter.  The next chapter and the three chapters after that are told in Joe’s voice as he narrates his adventures.  This is an embedded narrative.  For a more classical example, Book 4 of Vergil’s Aeneid — Aeneas’s tale of the fall of Troy in the court of Dido — is perfect.

Okay, let’s mix it up.  Get your thinking caps on, ladies and gents.

Let’s say you want to write a story told in a retrospective voice (older Joe remembering younger Joe).  This would allow the older Joe’s narrator voice to be more sophisticated than younger Joe’s dialogue voice.  Now, suppose you use this voice for most of the story, until young Joe catches up to older Joe.  Can you also include an embedded narrative in the first (retrospective) section?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Yes, if you are careful and know what you’re doing.

The key to pulling off a complicated layering of perspectives is to inform your readers that this is what you’re doing and then execute it with surgical precision.  Perhaps you could include a prologue to set up the retrospective tone of the first section of the book.  Set up the embedded narrative clearly and end it clearly.  On the sentence level, be sure you don’t confuse your verb tenses.  When the voices come together in the present, unify the voice across all levels of your writing (sentence, paragraph, chapter, book).  If present Joe is 17, then use a 17-year-old’s voice for the rest of the book, not a 35-year-old voice.

As J. Leigh pointed out in her post, the perspective and the P.O.V. have to be appropriate to the story.  The same applies to the decision to layer perspectives.  An pure, adrenaline-pounding adventure story or thriller probably wouldn’t lend itself well to the retrospective flashback structure.  Readers will expect action, not nostalgia.  An adventure that is character-based may well support such a structure.  It all returns to the basic rules of writing:

  1. Know your story (genre as well as plot lines).
  2. Know your characters.
  3. Know your audience.

So don’t be afraid to experiment with complex layers of perspective.  Perspective is one of the many tools at our disposal, and its correct application within a story can enrich the overall experience for your reader.

Or ruin it.

So make sure you practice.  A lot.

And get a friend to beta-read.


Have fun. 🙂

Silesia: The Outworlder Now Available!

Just a quick announcement on the release of Silesia: The Outworlder!  It is available immediately as an e-book, and the paperback edition will follow shortly!  Download your copy here today!

I have so many people to thank for this project, so I’d just like to take a moment to make some acknowledgments.

For J. Leigh – I can’t believe we’re finally realizing our dream.  It’s so surreal!  You’ve been with me every step of the way, ever since we were kids making up horse stories.  Thank you for vetting this manuscript and for the amazing cover design — you are truly a Renaissance woman!  Love you, girl!

For my parents – You have always given me your support, encouragement, and the drive to push myself to the utter limit.  For all of those things, and for your love, I am so thankful!

For my English professors and mentors – especially Theresa Kenney, Scott Crider, and Dolores Frese.  You inspired me to hone my language skills and to write with passion and precision, and you believed in me when others doubted.  I am so grateful for your mentorship, and I wouldn’t be here now without it.

For all my friends and family – Through all my crazy ideas and down all these varied paths, you’ve been there to cheer me on.  Your love and support gave me the courage to change directions, to blaze a new trail, and, finally, to pursue my life’s passion.

And I just have to close by saying this.


Thank you.  🙂

A Matter of Perspective

I’ve been thinking a lot about perspective lately. That is, perspective in the literary sense of the term. So, I thought I’d take the opportunity to ramble a bit about it.

“Perspective” technically means:

  1. A way of regarding situations, facts, etc, and judging their relative importance
  2. The proper or accurate point of view or the ability to see it; objectivity

In writing, we usually talk about “viewpoint” rather than “perspective.” Viewpoint is divided into 1st person (I), 2nd (you), and 3rd (he/she). But that doesn’t seem to really capture what a “viewpoint” really is. It’s a grammatical definition, and that’s it. Big deal.

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