Monday, October 19, 2009

The Super-Secret Formula

I got to go to OCW's fall conference yesterday, and completely enjoyed myself. Since college, I didn't attend many of the day conferences (while I faithfully participated in the summer coaching conferences) because, after a week at class, attending another set of classes, starting at 9am on a Saturday, doesn't hold much appeal.

But now I'm out of school, working from home, living the writer's life...and in desperate need of community.

The way I see it, day conferences are like church for writers. It may not tell us anything we don't already know, but it's nice to be reminded. There are people in all stages of faith/publishing, but the fellowship is beautiful as we come alongside each other.

As a writer in Eugene, I'm an oddity. I'm not in close contact with anyone else who writes full time, struggles with plots, characters, inspiration, or figuring out marketing. It's delightful just talking with other people who have agents. When I'm with the writerly, I'm no longer the odd woman out.

Not the least of which is the fact that we're all a little odd. So I blend in well.

The book buying at a conference is great too - I got to pick up a copy of Linda Clare's The Fence My Father Built, Christina Berry's The Familiar Stranger, Karen Wells' The Miracle of You, and Keynoter Eva Marie Everson's Things Left Unspoken.

No room in any of the bookcases, really, but what else is new?

Eva Marie gave a great day's worth of keynoting. She answered graciously when beginning writers asked questions that were apropos of, well not much.

One in particular struck a chord with me. A conferee asked, "As a writer, how do you get yourself to sit down and write, even when life is busy?"

I wish there were a super-secret formula to easy, breezy writing that the literary world's upper echelon writers guard closely. I really do.

But here's the thing - writing is a job like any other. It's work. No book was ever finished without a great deal of personal discipline. Funny thing - writers aren't the most disciplined bunch. We tend to procrastinate. We tend to eat a lot of chocolate (there aren't a lot of svelte writers out there). Our homes are often cluttered. We work in our pajamas. But God, being gracious, enabled us to be disciplined in the one area that matters, and that's writing.

Anyone considering writing as a career needs to go in with his or her eyes open. Writing is hard work. After you write your first book, you will need to write a second, better book while editing and marketing the first. You can't go into publishing as a lark and expect to succeed.

That said, as a writer, I'm always looking for tricks to help me keep going while I'm sitting and writing. Writing a synopsis, or storyboarding is one - it's like giving yourself a map before you drive off. While big-concept synopses are helpful, so are small ones. My latest technique (because seriously, I'm desperate), makes me think of Winnie the Pooh...

At the start of a new chapter document, I start off with the chapter number (helps keep things straight), followed by what's going to happen in a nutshell. Example:

Chapter 6 - In which Sara gets a tattoo, reads Nick Hornby, and does laundry.

(Note: none of these things happens in chapter 6. Can't give away all my secrets...)

Anyway, I'm hopeful. What I love about this idea is that I have a point of reference for the chapter at all times if I get lost. The chapter innards won't go into the final copy, or even to my reader copies. They're just for me. And if I find that I spend the whole chapter in the tattoo parlor, the Nick Hornby reading and laundry can go into the next chapter without a whole lot of disruption.

Like I said, I'm hopeful. Also hungry. I'm going to move on to lunch, during which I will try Martha Stewart's grilled Ham, Cheddar, and Apple sandwich...

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