Friday, November 13, 2009


Writers' Conference Anxiety

This weekend, I am going to a one-day SCBWI-IL workshop in Chicago called Prairie Writers' Day. Is it a good idea to travel to a writing conference on Friday the 13th? Let's hope so! But even it if was a different date with no superstitions, I would still have "writers' conference anxiety!"

I shouldn't have this problem--I've planned and taken part in writers' conferences before. I even wrote an article for WOW! about how to be prepared for a writing conference and get the most bang out of your buck. But I still seem to suffer from anxiety before every writers' conference.

Here's why I think this happens to me: 1. I'm too busy to properly prepare myself for the conference. So, I don't know the speakers, schedule, or venue as well as I should. 2. And this is the biggie. . .I worry about what I will do if I meet an editor/agent in the bathroom or at lunch or in the hallway. It's almost like meeting a celebrity, especially since this person, if she likes your work, has the potential to change your life.

So, while I am sitting in the workshops and lectures, dutifully taking notes, I am trying to come up with some sort of brilliant thing to say to this person, so that I do not sound desperate or pushy or weird. But I want to be confident and funny and leave an impression. Believe me, all the worry, anxiety, and half-eaten lunches have still not created a witty opening line. Usually, I say something like: "I really enjoyed your talk."

And she says, "Thanks."

That's it--that's it. Then another person at the lunch table will say something about one of their clients or the latest award-winning book or even the editor's favorite TV show, and the editor will eventually ask the writer, "So, what do you write?" If that could only be me. . .

When I follow with my query letter after the conference, I will write something personal about the talk or the lunch table (even though I'm sure I made no impression). Hopefully, my work can stand alone as it should!

So, I am telling myself this time, I am going to this conference, leaving on Friday the 13th of all days, with a new attitude. I am going to have fun with my writing critique group members, celebrate and talk about writing, and soak up as much information and inspiration as I can. If I meet a speaker in the hallway or in the bathroom, I am not going to worry about being witty or wise or standing out in the crowd. (I am also NOT going to picture the person in his or her underwear as is the common advice for people who suffer from anxiety when giving speeches.) I am just going to say the first thing that comes out of my mouth--just like I would say to anyone I meet while waiting in one of the longest bathroom lines ever when you are at a children's writers' conference. (For those of you who don't know--at least 95% women, at least.)

I really, really am.
(I'll let you know how it goes.)

Happy Writing!
Margo Dill
"Read These Books and Use Them"

photo by rhcrayon

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Sunday, October 25, 2009


The 2009 Muse Online Writers Conference

By Jill Earl

I’m finally coming down from my annual Muse high. This year, from October 12th to October 18th, I attended the Muse Online Writers Conference, an annual event packed with more than enough activities to satisfy any writer. The first Muse Conference came on the scene back in 2006, when co-founders Lea Schizas and Carolyn Howard Johnson saw an opportunity to create a conference where writers from around the world could attend, without the limits of money or distance. And best of all, everything is FREE!

I first started attending the Muse three years ago, and have seen it grow better each year. I’m consistently amazed at the quality of the conference, how Lea manages to line up an excellent roster of presenters, putting together a vast array of workshops and chats, pretty much accomplishing everything by herself. Her dedication is awe-inspiring.

I continue to register for the Muse each year because it’s a great way to experiment with various forms of writing. Right now, I’m focusing primarily with nonfiction, so I signed up for workshops in pet writing, personal essays and writing for trade magazines. The beauty of this conference, however, is that you don’t have to limit yourself only to the sessions you’ve signed up for. Because everything’s online, you’re free to pop into any workshop or chat that piques your interest, whether that’s children’s writing, writing press releases, setting up your website or preparing your headshot.

A new addition to this year’s conference was pitch sessions with various publishers. Special workshops and chats were offered beforehand, so attendees could prepare their pitches and be ready to meet with presenters during the conference. Great opportunity for writers to acquire and improve pitching skills, and perhaps get an offer from a favorite publisher.

If attending the Muse Writers Conference sounds like a plan for next year, check out WOW!’s review of the event with Lea Schizas, which appeared in our September 2007 issue here:

Also, keep an eye out for registration notices for the 2010 Conference, which should appear sometime next month.

The Muse Online Writers Conference. Consider adding it to your conference list next year, you’ll be glad you did!

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Monday, November 24, 2008


The Return of the Baltimore Writers Conference

By Jill Earl

What a difference a year makes. Exactly a year ago, my first post for ‘The Muffin’ was 'Notes from the Baltimore Writers Conference', my first experience at the annual event. This time around, I attended with a writing buddy, and had some writing experience under my belt. What would the day hold for me?

The conference opened with keynote speaker Larry Doyle, a former writer and producer for ‘The Simpsons’ for four years. Titled ‘How I Became A Salesman’, Mr. Doyle’s droll humor wove its way through his talk. For instance, his reason for becoming a writer was to avoid his father’s line of work of door-to-door sales. His choice of writing as a vocation didn't go over well. His observation: “Being a movie writer is 90% finding writing jobs---so you can say I’m a salesman in Hollywood. Dad would be proud.”

His first novel, I Love You, Beth Cooper , a homage to 80's teen comedies, is now available and will be released as a film next year, directed by Chris Columbus and starring Hayden Panettierre of the T.V. show ‘Heroes’. He fielded many questions from the eager audience, and at the end, left us with this last comment, “Most Hollywood writers are very well written, which is amazing considering the quality of work coming from there.” He’s currently not working on his next novel.

In my first session, ‘Taking The Freelance Plunge’, freelancers Cathy Alter and Geoff Brown tag-teamed to walk attendees through the process. Both made the move to freelancing for the freedom of creating their own schedules and doing work they wanted to do, missing the reliable biweekly check initially. Mr. Brown remarked, “Having a spouse with a paying job is important. Very important.” They continued with advice on effectively researching markets, starting with smaller magazines to build your portfolio, and looking into setting up your own blog. Their last bit of advice: “Read everything. Read, read, read!”

In the ‘Literary Journals & Magazines’ session with Gettysburg Review assistant editor Mark Drew and Gargoyle Magazine editor/publisher Richard Peabody, attendees learned to tailor their pieces to what lit mag editors are looking for. Among the sore points for both: inconsistent characters, long drawn-out plots, and not reading the magazine to get a feel for it. “We’re looking for any reason to reject your work.” To better your chances for acceptance, Mr. Drew suggested, “Know your characters so well that you take editors by surprise and hook them, and they’ll want to accept your work.”

“Wherever you are, use that opportunity to further your writing experience.” That statement opened the ‘Travel Writing’ session, led by L. Peat O’Neil, author of Travel Writing: See the World, Sell the Story. We jumped into defining the elements of a travel piece--title, lead/lede, the ‘where are we?’, ‘why are we there?’, theme, and ‘how’--adding facts, character development, and backstory to make an interesting piece. As a brainstorming exercise, Ms. O’Neil had us recall a travel experience, remembering specific details using our senses, then write down some ideas that could be the beginnings of our own travel pieces.

We moved on to areas to break into travel writing, such as small presses and journals, choosing your target market and carefully reading it to discover their style. Once established, she emphasized the need to be gutsy in marketing and selling yourself; developing contacts with editors and other writers; and suggested focusing on a region/area instead of a variety of places. Her takeaway at the end of the session: “Read widely of what was written by travel writers decades, even centuries past, get a fresh perspective on the genre.”

My last session, ‘Screenwriting’, led by screenplay consultant David Warfield, was mostly a Q&A time. He suggested that beginners look into screenwriting competitions as a resource to get the proverbial foot in the door, but making sure to do the necessary research because of the many scammers out there. Mr. Warfield added that learning how to craft good query letters is an important skill to develop, since few in the business accept unsolicited scripts. At the end, attendees received a handout with helpful resources.

Throughout the conference, I met fellow writers, made great connections, ate really good food and didn't buy out the bookstore---a first! We hit the wine and cheese gathering for last-minute networking and snacks for the road, then left.

With conference season officially over, the work of sorting through this last round of handouts and notes, and applying what was learned begins. Bring it on!

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Celebrate Rockvile's Favorite Son at The F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference

By Jill Earl

Last Saturday, I hopped a train to Rockville, Maryland, a short distance from Washington, D.C. for the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference (FSF) at Montgomery College. Now in its 13th year, this annual day-long event gathers area writers and readers together to listen to and learn from industry professionals, meet the FSF contest winners and celebrate the 112th birthday of Rockville’s favorite son, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Attendees began their morning with writing workshops such as poetry, novel structure, the author/editor relationship, screen adaptation and short story to get the writing flow going. Following welcome remarks, attention was turned to ‘Crime and Mystery--A New and Yet Familiar Genre’. Washington Post writer and columnist Michael Dirda moderated the lively discussion as panelists George Pelicanos, Laura Lippman, and 2008 FSF Literary Award recipient Elmore Leonard shared their experiences in this popular genre.

Emmy nominated for HBO’s The Wire, Mr. Pelicanos defined himself as a crime novelist interested in the ‘why’ rather than the ‘whodunit’ and “showing people the way things are” in his novels set around Washington, D.C. Former journalist and author of the Tess Monaghan mystery series, Ms. Lippman remarked that she “aspired to noir writing”, but “I’m not dark enough.” An acclaimed novelist and screenwriter, Mr. Leonard frankly declared, “I don’t care for cute, comfortable mysteries”, evident in works ranging from westerns to modern writings such as Get Shorty and Freaky Deaky, a favorite of Mr. Pelicanos.

The best advice to writers was offered by Ms. Lippman, “You have to grow a really thick skin and learn to get over bad reviews. If they say your work is bad, so what? Move on!”

Added to this year’s conference was the opportunity to pre-register for 20-minute manuscript consultations with editors from journals such as Narrative, The Gettysburg Review and Blackbird. All meetings were on a first-come, first-served basis.

After lunch we moved on to keynote speaker Susan Cheever, who led us through ‘The Mystery of Great Writing from 1850 to the Present’. Interspersed with tales from her early days of writing, Ms. Cheever spoke of her lifelong love and fascination for Louisa May Alcott’s writings, noted that there's more of a writers’ community today than there used to be and how “the writer’s nap is a very important part of a writer’s life”, a belief near and dear to my heart. At the end, she reminded attendees, “The only way to learn how to write is to read.”

During the awards ceremony, winners of both the high school and adult short story contests accepted their prizes and read excerpts from their works. And Elmore Leonard, winner of the 13th Annual FSF Literary Award (recognizing outstanding achievement in American literature), joined a most distinguished group of past recipients, including John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer and Edward Albee. Mr. Leonard continued to delight attendees with his wry humor as he read from one of his many novels. As an added surprise, his wife presented him with a candle-topped cupcake as attendees wished him a happy 83rd birthday.

The afternoon continued with a panel on wisdom from writers, editors and publicists; the Fitzgerald Haunts in Rockville Tour, including his and wife Zelda’s final resting place; and more writing workshops, among them memoir, short story, and personal essay.

I signed up for the personal essay workshop led by Kim Dana Kupperman, managing editor of The Gettysburg Review. Since we had limited time, we jumped into learning how to develop persona writing about first kisses from not only our own perspectives, but also from those of philosophers, thieves and martyrs. A fun way to end a rather relaxing day.

Reading, writing and learning from the best on a beautiful October day. What more could a writer want?

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