Last night was the first night and my friend Megan and I went with our notebooks in hand. The guest speakers were Dean Hughes, Anita Stansfield, and Stephen Tuttle. I didn't realize it was a panel before I went so I didn't bring any good questions. Luckily, others were more prepared than me. And luckily for you, I wanted to write up some of the advice so that I would better remember it.
Dean Hughes talked about how to make a living as a writer. He said that you either have to write a lot or have a big hit. He said that there are different worlds that a writer writes for. If you are writing for a living, you must write so that people will pick up your book and buy it. If you are writing for the academic or literary world, then you can take more chances and pursue the type of writing you want to. He said that he chose to sell books so that he would have the freedom to make a living as a writer. However, he felt that it had limited him from trying different things that people might not have accepted very easily. He also said that facing a blank page can be so difficult for a writer, but brainstorming and getting ideas out is easy so he always starts there.
Anita was really articulate. I feel like she was able to speak the way most writers write. She said that she always focuses on the storytelling first and then addresses the mechanics of writing. She gave a metaphor of musicians practicing: after they are finished, the notes are gone. But writers are left with their words after practicing their writing. Somehow the words become sacred and difficult to throw away. A writer should realize that they'll have a lot of practice writing. Anita is a mom of five and said that she was able to publish when her children were young because she made her writing a priority. She had a messy house, but her kids and her writing were her top priorities. She also said that she made a conscious commitment that her children would never resent her writing (she even imagined having conversations with her grown children about it). She said that when distractions came, she would accept them, deal with them, and then refocus. Sometimes she would change a diaper, write a sentence, make a snack, write a sentence. She talked a lot about balance--both in life and her writing. She explained that you should look at what you are writing about as an iceberg (kinda funny because she is currently writing about the Titanic). She said that you should know the whole iceberg, but only give the reader the tip. The reader will sense that you as the writer know the whole iceberg and enjoy your writing for that. Anita also said that a good writer has good instincts. I loved that.
Stephen was my favorite. I think it might have been because I related to his approach to writing the best. He said you should find the four or five authors you obsess over and embrace them. He said if you don't have four or five authors like that, then you need to read until you do. He called this literary affinity. He also said that having a writer's group could be worse than not having one if you are getting bad feedback. He actually said, "Someone's always asking for more dragons and someone else is always asking for no dragons." He warned against writing about topics that you only have knowledge of through other fictional sources. And he explained that when you write, get rid of the first pages or paragraphs and the last pages or paragraphs--the middle is where it's at. Finally, first be a writer, then a reader, then an editor.
I haven't done the best job of conveying how inspiring it was to listen to these writers. Even though I wouldn't necessarily write the same types of literature as them, I still learned so much. The most interesting thing that all of them agreed on was that no matter how they tried, they couldn't stop themselves from writing. I feel that so often. It's like I crave it. And it's hard when I don't feel like I am as talented as I'd like to be. Or that I don't have the time. Or even that I don't have something to write about. There's always a reason to stop writing. But it's nice to see people that pushed through that and have been able to be successful at something they love.
If you are local and want to attend other events, go here for the schedule.