My First Writers’ Conference

This past weekend I attended the James River Writers Conference. It was a weekend-long event, but I was able to attend only on Sunday. Even so, this one day was enough for me to learn, get encouraged, and whet my appetite for other writers’ conferences in the future.

The event that I think I learned the most from was the First Pages workshop. During First Pages, selected works were read aloud – but only the first page. The panel of agents and editors then gave their feedback on what worked and what didn’t. I took a lot of notes. I want to be able to hook my readers right from the first page!

I think I enjoyed the Plotters versus Pantser panel the most. Four authors shared their writing techniques, and whether they tend to plot out a story in detail beforehand, or just write from the seat of their pants. The answers were actually mixed from all four authors. It seems like even the best pantser needs to have an outline and story structure going in, and the most die-hard plotter needs to leave room for creativity and organic storytelling. This was refreshing to me, since I call myself a plotter but often find that my outlines are woefully incomplete.

All in all, I had a great time at the conference. Even though I attend other smaller James River Writers events throughout the year, it was encouraging to see so many writers from so many different places all together. Published or still amateurs, fantasy writers and essayists – at the heart, we are all writers, and were there for the common purpose of improving our craft.

I will definitely go back next year, and I also look forward to attending some other writers’ conferences in other places very soon!

An artist illustrated the First Pages workshop. Fascinating idea, and so talented!

An artist illustrated the First Pages workshop. Fascinating idea, and so talented!

 

Why I’m not Doing NaNoWriMo

If you hang around the creative writing world at all, then you know that October is NaNoWriMo prep month – that is, the time to prepare for November, which is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

I’ve done NaNo before (let’s not talk about my pathetic word count). Earlier this year I was looking forward to doing NaNo again and at least bettering my word count for the month, if not actually “winning” (that is, writing 50,000 words in a month). But as the fall approached, I realized that perhaps I’d be better off not doing it.

My writing load has greatly increased over the last few months. Here’s a brief rundown of what I’m currently working on:

     Editing/rewriting novel #1 of a trilogy

     Writing first draft of novel #2 of same trilogy

     Writing weekly posts for my blog

     Writing 10-15 posts a month for my job

     Working on three short stories that I hope to have published by the end of the year

I’m not saying all this to brag about my writing endeavors (though I am excited about and thankful for the paid writing opportunities that have come my way recently).

I’m also aware that this laundry list of activities could sound like nothing more than excuses. Hey, we’re all busy: jobs, families, holidays, general life. Nobody has extra time lying around in November to devote to NaNoWriMo. If you want to do it, you have to make the time to do it.

I could make the time to do NaNo. I even have a story idea that just needs a little thought and outlining, and it would be ready to go for November. Even though I have a busy schedule, (and two other jobs besides the job I write for), I know I could make the time. I’m just not sure my brain could handle it.

My focus is spread thinner than I’d like right now. I’ve developed a weekly writing schedule for myself, so that I don’t try to write for everything every day. Switching between so many different subjects and styles of writing on a regular basis can easily sap my creativity and mental energy. I’m sure there are plenty of writers out there who manage the constant switching just fine, but since this is all rather new to me, I don’t want to put any unnecessary stress on my poor amateur brain.

I look forward to participating next year. I don’t know what my personal and professional writing life will be like in a year, but I want to be able to fit NaNoWriMo into my schedule and my mind by then. In the meantime, I will enjoy the writing that I’m currently doing, and will use this experience to become more disciplined with my mind and my schedule.

I love NaNoWriMo and everything it represents: getting people excited about writing, creating a sense of community for an otherwise solitary activity, a great platform for setting and tracking goals. Whether you’re a published author or you’ve never written a thing since your last essay in high school, I think participating in NaNoWriMo is a fun and inspiring thing to do.

So to all you WriMos for 2014 – go write!

Inconceivable! And Other Words That Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean

If you understood the reference made in the title of this post (hint: if you haven’t seen The Princess Bride, stop reading right now and go watch it), then you probably know what I’ll be discussing in this post.

In a living language like English, words sometimes change their meaning over time. For example, we use the word “prosaic” to mean dull or unimaginative; but originally, it simply meant “prose,” as in literature that wasn’t poetry.

So yes, words change, and even the most contentious literary lover might misuse a word or will encounter a new word they didn’t know before. But some words in recent years seem to have become problematic for many people. Here are a few of my pet peeves:

Literally. This means “exactly, without inaccuracy.” Nowadays, though, most people use it as nothing more than a modifier to add emphasis to a statement, like beginning a sentence of moderate importance with the word “dude.” There’s nothing wrong with “literally” moving into slang usage in this way, but where I take issue is when people forget what it actually means. Saying “Dude, my head literally exploded” in everyday conversation is one thing; but if you’re trying to sound professional in either your speaking or the written word, just remember that you wouldn’t still be here if your head had literally (i.e. actually, truly) exploded.

Alright. I’ve blogged about this word before. There’s not much to say here, because “alright” isn’t a word at all. What you’re trying to say is “all right.”

Welp or whelp. First of all, welp is not a real word. I see welp or whelp used in slang and conversation as an alternate way of saying “well” at the beginning of a sentence. For example, a Facebook update might say “Welp, there goes my great idea for my school project. :-(” Again, I’m fine with slang usage for words, but please don’t forget what the actual definition is. While “welp” doesn’t mean anything, a “whelp” is the pup or cub of a dog, a bear, or other animal, or can be used to as a somewhat derogatory term for an obnoxious child.

I’m sure there are other words that could be added to this list of “words that don’t mean what you think they mean.” These three are a good start, I think, mostly because I see them used (or misused) so frequently. What misused words would you add to the list?