Writing Conference Tips


This morning I found some notes I took at the annual South Carolina Writers Workshop held in Myrtle Beach in October, and reading over my scribbled notes brought to mind the great time I had and the information I learned. From the time I arrived on Thursday evening until I parted company with my new friends on Sunday, it was a wonderful experience. Or rather, it was a series of one memorable experience after another. The three days were instructive, inspiring, motivational, and downright fun.

My primary job as a volunteer was to work at the registration desk, but I basically filled in where needed. For instance, I helped Kia stuff attendee bags on Friday, and I helped Kim and Kathryn with the silent auction winners on Sunday. While the best part of the conference was probably getting to know and rub shoulders with some amazing people, it was also great to learn so many tidbits about writing.

Time and space prohibit a rundown of everything so I’ll just hit some of the highlights of Friday. That morning, I attended a couple of informative sessions, and these are some things I learned. Most had to do with societal change and believability.

Often grandparents writing children’s books sound like grandparents. I knew exactly what the speaker meant by this. Lately I read some negative comments on Face Book about the Junie B. Jones books, and guess who they were written by? A grandparent. A grandparent who’s out of touch with the way children perceive the world and the way they talk today. This grandparent also criticized the language in the Junie books and went on to say that it’s no wonder children speak  the way they do when they read “crap” like this. I’m wondering if exposure to grandparents’ language is more likely the culprit in this case.

Technology is tricky because it dates a book. While I know this, I don’t know exactly how to change it…or whether it’s even a bad thing. Is a person using a land line phone, a cell phone, or a smart phone? Language dates a book too, and examples such as “wassup” were given. Too, words like netbook, apps, and Skype weren’t even in our lingo ten years ago.

Although societal changes and advances in technology alter the way people communicate with each other, character motivation stays the same. Basic psychology isn’t going to change, but the methods used to reveal character are different. One presenter told about a spooky guy who lived in her neighborhood when she was a child. One Halloween, he built a casket, placed it in his front yard, and lay naked in it. When a brave and curious child tentatively opened the lid for a peek inside, he grabbed her and pulled her into the coffin with him.Today this predator would be online. This grabbed my attention because according to psychologists, online solicitation of children is becoming more common.

Before breaking for lunch, the presenter shared some other tidbits. When you edit your own work, try to find out what your quirk is like colons, commas, no paragraphs, or using a word or expression too much. When I heard that, I couldn’t help but think of Pat Conroy, one of my favorite Southern writers. In My Reading Life, Conroy admits that he has a problem with wordiness. He can’t help his verbosity, however, and says he was stung by a wordsmith, his mother, at a very early age. Is there a Conroy fan anywhere who could deny that his voice is unique and that his long winded style works for him?

The last tip was my favorite. Why? Because it works! If you’re stuck, go do some laundry, and when you come back, your writing will be crisper. It doesn’t have to be laundry. It could be a walk around the neighborhood, lunch with friends, or an episode of NCIS. The point is to get away from the work for a bit.

Wow. The more I write, the more I realize that I learned that weekend. Stay tuned. I need to take a break and will share the rest of Friday’s information  in a day or two.

Philosophizing at Nacho Hippo

I truly believe that we as humans are the sum total of all of our choices. Each day, each hour of each day, we make choices about what we’ll eat, how we’ll spend our time, with whom we’ll associate, whether we’ll study or watch television, whether we’ll exercise or waste more time on FB, and so forth. Physically, mentally, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and behaviorally, we make choices all the livelong day, choices that can affect our future, our health, and our careers.

One of the many enjoyable things I did during the Christmas holidays is reconnect with old friends. On New Year’s Eve, I met Dorothea at Nacho Hippo at Market Commons in Myrtle Beach, and we spent an enjoyable hour or more reminiscing and philosophizing. Dorothea and I had a great time talking, talking, talking, and I found myself wishing we’d had more time to get better acquainted when we were younger mothers.

One of our topics of conversation was personal choice. Over delicious nachos and tacos, I told her that the most profound thing I learned in college was that I am the master (or should that be mistress?) of my fate. I can blame my disappointments and shortcomings on the weather, the economy, my children, or my ancestors, but that’s a copout. Really, it is.

Decades ago, I was sitting in a PHI 101 class stealthily working a crossword puzzle while I listened to the professor talk about some of the great thinkers in philosophy. A lot of the things he was saying were either too complicated for me to understand or too boring for me to think about. But then, Dr. Jones began extolling the work of Jean Paul Sartre and said these thought provoking words of Sartre: “I am my choices,” a simple phrase that I’ve never stopped thinking about.

Granted, there are “extenuating circumstances,” but overall, I truly believe that we as humans are the sum total of all of our choices. Each day, each hour of each day, we make choices about what we’ll eat, how we’ll spend our time, with whom we’ll associate, whether we’ll study or watch television, whether we’ll exercise or waste more time on FB, and so forth. Physically, mentally, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and behaviorally, we make choices all the livelong day. Plus, as Dorothea and I discussed, the little choices we make pile up over time and can affect us in all sorts of ways, some good and some not so good.

As I sit here at the computer, I’m dining ( late lunch) on some goodies that one of the admissions counselor’s mothers brought by for us. I ate a ham sandwich on white bread (no wheat available) without mayonnaise. I opted for pretzels instead of chips, one dark chocolate Bliss square, and a tiny little piece of a brownie. Oh yes, and I’m drinking water. I can’t see myself drinking another soft drink after reading about the correlation between sodas and diabetes and obesity. I’m not bragging on my restraint (I wanted a brownie, chips, and another sandwich) but merely demonstrating the impact of personal choice. Oh, and I also went for a three-mile walk before work this morning, and YES it was cold, very cold. It would have been easier to stay in my warm house and play Scrabble on my Kindle, but too many choices like that, and I’d end up stiff, grumpy, and chubby.

That’s one type of choice. Here’s something else I heard from a student yesterday. She’s begun and dropped out of three different programs at the college, all for the same reason: they take too long to finish!

“What are your career choices if you don’t graduate?” I asked her.

“That’s why I’m back again,” she said. “I’m going nowhere fast in my present job. I don’t even have any benefits.”

Looking through the schedule of classes, we found a couple that would fit her schedule. Unfortunately, she hasn’t committed to either of them yet. Too late at night, too hard. What will she decide? It’s her choice, and it’s a choice that could affect her entire future and that of her children. It’s only a semester and only two courses, but these courses are fundamental stepping stones…or not.

Last week Dorothea and I walked out of Nacho Hippo still animatedly discussing the importance of personal choice, and I’ve got a feeling she’s still thinking about it today. I know I am.