2011 Willamette Writers Conference

Last weekend, I attended my second conference with Willamette Writers. As usual, I put on my ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ attitude, but when I stepped inside those Sheraton lobby doors and looked at all the other faces embarking on the same crazy journey as I was, I actually felt a little at home. At least I wasn’t a virgin.

Because conferences open unexpected doors, force you to talk about your book and projects, meet some great writers, and provide a good reference as to where you stand among other writers, I highly recommend that you go to one at least once every three years. Some of my highlights are listed below.

eMedia Panel, with Jane Friedman, Ron Gompertz (who actually sat by me in a previous class – I had no idea who he was – and made innocent fun of my novel, bless him), Suzy Vitello, Peter Bowerman, and Julie Fast.
* e-formats are a must, and are often 10 to 1 in print sales.
* iPad is the next big thing for book applications
* Get yourself involved in the eMedia as much as possible, (Twitter, Blogging, video, podcast, etc.)

Blogging 101, with Jane Friedman
* Less is more (unless you’re highlighting a conference)
* Always be professional, always
* Edit, edit, edit
* Involve your readers with questions and valuable content (like this)
* Use SEO (search engine optimization) by using appropriate tags and good post headings
* Use good post headings
* Be yourself (but keep your cute cat pictures to yourself)

Mythic Power from Your Life, with Eric Witchey (he is a must see if ever in your area)
* Think of the bigger picture in your book, what the key symbols are, what solid, eye-catching icons you can incorporate into your story, and how you can strengthen this for theme and meaning
* “myth makes sense of life when life doesn’t” – that is the story
* “find the emotion in your character and then relate that to universal needs” for drive and conflict

I Hate Torture Porn, with producer Richard Jefferies (way cool class on screen-writing for horror movies)
* Cross-examination of different types of horror, from The New Place (Amityville), to The Unknown (The Thing), Isolation (Dead Calm), Pure Evil (Exorcist), Body Violation (Silence of the Lambs), etc. Knowing what brand of horror you are working with gives you the big picture and makes for better plotting and characterization.
* Contrast elements (churches are known to be safe havens, which makes a great place for horror)
* Do not censor your ideas, because what really scares people are the things they avoid and censor

Self-editing for Scenes that Sell, with Jill Kelly (highly recommended)
* edit your pieces multiple times concentrating on only one feature each run through (only punctuation, only dialogue, etc.)
* Don’t ask your readers if they liked your book, ask them where they became bored, lost, or confused, and what they wanted more of or what they thought was missing
* Keep your subject and verbs close together in sentences
* Draft fast, edit slow
* Pay extra attention to sentence styles and punctuation that might slow the reader down

Creating Memorable Characters with Robert Dugoni
* Characters don’t become real on the page until we give them real attributes, but focus on the smaller things that make us human, like saying the wrong thing, etc. These little characteristics allow the reader to relate, especially when your character is someone not many of us will be (politician, felon, etc.)
* Look within yourself to find character, “all characters are to a greater or lesser extent a projection of the author’s own personality.”- Block, Lawrence, Writing the Novel
* Describe your character’s physical attributes with action. Instead of ‘she had blond hair,’ say ‘she flipped her blond hair out’ (showing, not telling)
* Characterization comes through various forms: dialogue, dress, movement, insight, reactions, etc.

Gala Awards Banquet
* Drinking wine in the small crowd of the lobby with people like Barry Lopez, Gus Van Sant, Bruce Livingston, and yes, Chuck Palahnuik! (I think Jodi MacArthur would like to kill me now.) was very cool. I stood right next to them all and pretended I was great too.
* Sitting at the table of the Student Winner of the Kay Snow Awards, Ashley Teng, with her story, A Ghost Beside My Night Stand
* Robert Dugoni’s memorable speech, “This Day We Write”

I lived to tell about it.

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4 thoughts on “2011 Willamette Writers Conference

  1. Thanks for the blow-by-blow. I would give my eye teeth to hear Chuck talk about his work.I try to hit a conference every year, my favorite being the Grub Street-sponsored Muse and the Marketplace (Boston). It always falls on my birthday weekend (good excuse) and I've had the best luck with agents during their manuscript review. I always come back high and energized. Sounds like you did, too. Peace…

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  2. You drank with Chuck! Gah! Love his work. Love. (LOVE)The conference sounds fantastic. These are really great tips here. I starred it on my google reader for edits. Thanks for sharing. ;-)

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