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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lessons I'm Still Not Learning

       I have been struggling all week to come up with a worthy post about my attendance last weekend at NH Writer's Day (sponsored annually by the NH Writer's Project). The highlight for me was definitely what felt like a fairly successful pitch of a picture book I have been working on for years to a team of publishers. I do hope to hear back from them soon. I also really enjoyed hearing the 2014 champion flash fiction piece read by its writer, a Mr. Ting. I was hoping to meet him later but did not get a chance. And I sold a book at the member's sales table, which is always a thrill even when it is only one copy. I wish I could have stayed for the awards ceremony as I had several friends receiving accolades for their work.

     Honestly though, I have been struggling to talk about what I learned this year as I generally take away quite a few valuable lessons from the variety of speakers brought together to share their expertise.

     Probably the most helpful information for me came from a literary agent, who gave the inside scoop about her work at a Boston firm. These are her tips to finding an agent;

1. Get involved in a reading community.
2. Get involved in a writing community.
3. Polish your manuscript. Read it aloud.
4. Build a platform.
5. Learn about the publishing industry.
6. Research agents.
7. Write a strong query letter.
8. Review the excerpt you're sending.
9. Follow up.
10. Don't get discouraged.

      I have been doing all of these things, and will keep plodding on.

     I also attended a session given by novelist Michelle Hoover. I was pleased that she has written historical fiction, but I am not sure I can use much of the ideas she shared about locking in the first pages of your book. She spoke of how there must be a wounding event, an inciting incident, and then a point of attack in your opening. I readily concede I have trouble taking direction and following rules when I admit that I had a lot of trouble with this advice. It feels so formulaic to me that I just can't embrace it. To me these step-by-step prescriptions of how to write effectively are the literary equivalent to a paint-by-numbers creation, that is that they lack creativity. I think you are likely to end up with something pleasant enough, unlikely to provoke or offend, and very much like somebody else's "creation". I'm just not ready to give up the free write!

     I believe she was the same presenter who advised us all to use the word processing software for writers called Scrivener. I have looked into it since and that just isn't for me either. It looks so complicated and time consuming I could barely tolerate reading the description!

      I realize all of her advice might (probably would) make my work better; more organized, more appealing to the masses, simpler, but none of that works for me right now. Those are not the reasons that I became a writer. I don't want to be conventional, but I do want my work to be read, so I'm left wondering where do I draw the line? I used an unconventional format in my debut novella Broken Buckets, and I am getting the impression that many readers do not appreciate the approach (a multiple point of view format similar to the one Faulkner used to great effect).

     For now I'll continue to ponder these lessons successful writers are sharing with me, and will keep plodding on.


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