Monthly Archives: April 2014

West Texas Trail Writers Conference

I attended an annual writer’s conference last weekend, the same one I’ve attended for the last five years.

This year, the speakers were Becka Oliver, Executive Director of the Writer’s League of Texas; WC Jameson, author of over ninety books and 1,500 articles and essays; and Lisa Wingate, author of women’s fiction, history and mystery. I don’t imagine I have seen a list of speakers who were more widely diverse.

Becka covered what to expect from agents and editors. With her vast experience, she made dealing with them sound like an everyday occurrence, maybe it would be if she were your agent. Her presentation was practical and down to earth.

WC Jameson’s presentation was a master’s class on writing. He bases his writing on treasure hunting he has done over the last three plus decades. Aside from the books he has written on treasure hunting, he has novels and stories based more or less on history. While no one can duplicate his experience, those who have the moxy can duplicate his hard work.

Then we had Lisa Wingate, award winning journalist, magazine columnist, and national bestselling author of twenty-one book and magazine articles. She was a one woman tour de force of writing skill and experience, she won the day with her exposition of dramatic structure in a story. It’s the first time I’ve seen an audience almost brought to tears by someone presenting about writing. If you get the chance, go see her present.

That’s not to say that any of the others aren’t worth a second look. All three were wonderful presenters.

I came away, as I always do, fired up about continuing my writing. But the conferees were just as inspiring as the presenters.

Let me tell one story without naming names. There was a woman who had written for fifteen years. During that time, she didn’t get a second look from agents or editors. She joined a writer’s group in California and they told he her work was good. Still editors and agents didn’t respond to her.

She happened to be in a position to give an editor a ride from the airport to the conference. Along the way, a truck overturned trapping her and the editor in her car. She took the opportunity to pitch her book. The editor told her to send a proposal. She reached in the back seat and handed her one.

The next week the editor called. She wanted to publish the book she had read and wanted to see the others she had written.

She was an over-night-success… after fifteen years of hard work.

Learning From Reality (Shows)

I like to watch American Idol and The Voice, and it’s not the singing that compels me to watch the shows. I love watching people from different backgrounds become stars in a few weeks. Most of the contestants have a natural talent and some skills, but they actually don’t know how talented they are.

From coaching from talented musicians and feedback from judges who are in the profession, the contestants progress from neophytes to polished performers (some of them).

The same thing happens with writers. We go to classes, conferences, writer’s meetings, and critique groups were we are exposed to talented writers and editors. From them, we grow and become until we get our sea legs through publication or other recognition.

The song show contestants often have skill that most of the nation can see before the contestant themselves admit to being talented. Through continued urging from the coaches to “let go and be themselves,” they finally unfold on stage when they learn to be.

Again, the parallel with writers is evident. Writers should study the classics in their genre, read as much as they can, and learn as much as they can, but until we learn to have our own voice, to let go and be, we sound contrived.

Listeners and readers can recognize the difference between performers (writers or singers) who are doing what they are doing self-consciously, just as they can recognize the performer is doing what they do without thinking about the audience or the reader.

When the artist gets to that point, what they do looks effortless and is a pleasure to hear, watch, or read. Before that, something is just a bit off.

Getting to the point of being able to appear to perform without effort is our goal. That’s when we’re entertaining. But like the Wizard of Oz, there is a lot that has to go on behind the curtains.