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For writers

Tips for attending a writers’ conference:

Before the conference:

  1. Pray about whether or not you should attend.
  2. Research the agents and editors who will attend. Become familiar with these people.
  3. Research the publishing houses that will be represented.
  4. Polish the first two or three chapters of your manuscript.
  5. Prepare an elevator pitch (about 30 seconds long) about your manuscript so that when you meet one of those agents or editors or another writer in a hallway or elevator (but not the bathroom!), you’ll be ready to talk about it.
  6. Prepare a one-sheet for the appointments.
  7. Write encouraging scripture verses on 3 x 5 cards. At my first conference, I laid out my cards and read over them before I left my room every day.
  8. Practice your pitch.

During the conference:

  1. Pray to be in tune with God and for His will to be done.
  2. Dress in layers. Every hotel conference room I’ve been in has the temperature turned to the “hanging meat” setting.
  3. Remember that many people are attending the conference for the first time and are fighting nerves, doubts, and the urge to vomit. Introduce yourself to people. (If you’re an introvert like me, force yourself to introduce yourself to people.) Invite them to have lunch with you or sit with you in a lecture. I have many writing friends now who were strangers before I said, “Hello,” and made my hand reach for theirs.
  4. Take notes during the sessions.
  5. Remember that the agents and editors are people, too.
  6. Try to look at the appointment as getting to know someone new, not as the fifteen minutes that will make or break your writing journey.
  7. Make a writing to-do list for when you get back home.

After the conference:

  1. Write thank you notes to the people with whom you met.
  2. Take a few days to process the conference.
  3. Don’t be surprised if you feel overwhelmed after the conference.
  4. Don’t be surprised if you feel sad after the conference—if things didn’t go exactly as you had planned or if you’re sad that the huge experience you’d worked for and planned for is over.
  5. Get to work on your to-do list.
  6. Incorporate the knowledge and skills you learned at the conference into your writing.

Tips for the aspiring writer (especially Christian fiction):

  1. Pray.
  2. Write every day.
  3. Read good craft books and take notes.
  4. Pray.
  5. Join a critique group—Try to find people who are serious about their writing journey and who are kind, who will pray for you and along with you.
  6. Pray.
  7. Join writers’ organizations and on-line writers’ forums like American Christian Writers (ACFW).
  8. Attend writers’ conferences—for learning the craft of writing and for meeting people in the business. (ACFW and the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference BRMCWC).
  9. Pray.
  10. Be open to positive critiquing.
  11. Be open to learning.
  12. Pray.
  13. Don’t compare your writing journey with other writers—“She already has two contracts, and I don’t even have an agent.” “He’s signed with Bethany House, (or Revell, or Harvest House, or …) my dream publishing house, but I bombed my pitch with that house.” God has plans for you, and according to Jeremiah 29:11, those plans are “to give you hope and a future.” Don’t get fixated on His plans for someone else.

On Freewriting

For some people, the blank page with the blinking curser is an intimidating force. It’s hard to start the first sentence, the first phrase. A blank sheet of paper is worse—crisp, white, pristine. But it if you can free yourself simply to start, just put something down on that white page or type something onto that screen, you, more times than not, will find that you can keep going.

You have to get over the idea that your first sentence or your first phrase has to be perfect, has to be award-worthy. One practice that helps you do that is an activity called freewriting.

When I taught English decades ago, I usually began every class with a freewriting prompt. I participated along with my students because the practice got me ready for the class, ready to write and teach, too.

Freewriting is easy to do, but you have to follow two rules which are NO MATTER WHAT—KEEP WRITING and IGNORE ALL GRAMMAR RULES.

Yes, that’s right. I’m an ex-English teacher, and I’m telling you to ignore grammar and punctuation.

The idea is to start writing and write for an allotted time without stopping—without stopping to think of a better way to describe something, without looking up how to spell a troublesome word, without deciding if the character has brown hair or blond. If you get stuck with the story you want to write about, just write, “I’m stuck,” or “I don’t know what else to write,” until something pertaining to your story comes to mind. When the time is up, read back over what you’ve written and see what nuggets you can find.

I use freewriting sometimes when I want to learn about a character’s back story. I may start like this:

Okay. My name is Blake, and you want to know about me. About what makes me tick. Well, what if I don’t want you to know. Ha. Just kidding. I grew up in western Pennsylvania ona horse farm with two brothers and one sister. She’s a hoot.

Notice I didn’t go back and put a space between on and a. Not important and it would slow down my thinking. I want my mind on Blake and whatever he wants to tell me.

Sometimes I start as if I’m having a dialog between the character and myself:

Hey, Amie. I have to write the scene when you find out about your ex-boyfriend’s impending marriage, but I don’t know exactly how you’d react. I need to know more about what your relationship was like. And listen, I’m supposed to write 1500 words today. That means I need to get started. That means you need to start talking to me instead of being so closthed mouth. I mean closed mouthed. I’m stuck. Stuck. Stuck. What to do? What to write. Did you really like him or were you with him to pass the time. Are you crushed now? Relived? I think you’re relieved. But you’re worried that people will think you’re crushed. You worry a lot about what people think of you. Why?

This is awful stuff, but it doesn’t matter because no one is going to see it. The purpose of the exercise is to get words flowing from my mind to my fingers.

Once I get words down, I have something to work with. I can change and add and delete whatever makes it better.

Try it and see if it works for you. Decide on your topic. Set a time of ten or fifteen minutes. Start writing and don’t stop until the time is up—even if you get stuck. Keep going. Don’t worry about misspelled words or commas or sounding stupid. Just get your mind working and your fingers tapping.

Just start writing.