Last weekend, I went to the Northern Colorado Writers Conference for the first time. I wish I’d known about it years ago! I’ve traveled to other cities for writing conferences, and it was super nice to be able to go to one just a short drive from my house. Didn’t have to pay for a hotel room or anything!
Because apparently the Post-Conference Hangover is a real thing, I’ve been spending all week recovering/catching up on things I put off. So to simplify my to-do list, I’m making this blog post easy by giving you a rundown of this excellent weekend. (note that my quotes are probably not exact. I’m not very good at writing one thing while listening to something else. But the gist is there!)
I started with a critique session. Anyone going to the conference could sign up for a free critique group session with an agent or editor. Each writer in the group (around eight) shared the first page of their book, and everyone gave feedback (with preference given to the luminary at the table). I figured I should take advantage of the full experience. And since I do have the first page of my own book (considerably more than one page, but still not a complete book), I took the opportunity to see what kind of feedback was given in a session like that.
We had a variety of genres to read, and the discussions on each page were quite interesting and useful. The experience reminded me of the importance of having a critique group and beta readers to give you feedback on your writing, even before you get to the editing stage. Even just reading my own page out loud showed me elements of the scene I could improve and clarify. A worthwhile experience!
Two of the sessions I attended over the course of the conference were focused on social networking for authors—equally applicable for editors! As this type of networking is something I’ve been focusing
on lately, I found the information from Mary Walewski quite useful. She talked about building your network and focusing on your Unique Selling Position. I particularly liked her perspective on why social media is important: “You are on social media to serve, not to sell.” For someone who really doesn’t like acting the saleswoman, I found this position particularly reassuring!
Through Mary, I learned about the website missinglettr.com, which helps market your blog posts. “The number one mistake people make with their blogs is only telling people about each post once.” In retrospect, the blogs I enjoy definitely advertise their posts more than once! And it doesn’t bother me. In particular, I’ve seen this post about Dr. Strange in Infinity War floating around my news feeds a lot. I only read the post once, of course, but I’m glad they advertised it multiple times because I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it! I’m definitely going to give missinglettr a shot and see how it works for me.
Early early Saturday morning (ok, maybe 8am isn’t that early, but on a Saturday! And after a day’s worth of conferencing the day before!), I made my way back to the Marriott for the author panel. Though I’ve actually never read anything by any of the authors present, I really enjoyed what they had to say and learned a lot. Windy Lynn Harris, Todd Mitchell, Steve Knopper, Brian Kaufman, and Carter Wilson gave us insights on the writing process, dealing with contracts and publishers, choosing writers groups, and more.
Some paraphrased quotable quotes:
“This is an art of communication” ~ Windy Lynn Harris on networking among writers and why it’s important to build a base of support
“Readers are pretty good at spotting problems but not very good at providing solutions” ~ Todd Mitchell on proper use of beta readers. This is definitely true. When (untrained) people point out problems with your book, listen to what the problem is. But don’t necessarily use their proposed solution. Recognize that something is wrong, and then use your author skills to more properly diagnose and treat the problem. Or ask an editor for help! Mr. Mitchell also added, “Find the people who can clarify your vision.” (like Forster did for Dickens)
“Share your work with people who don’t love you” ~ JC Lynne, the MC for the panel, on how to get honest feedback. She didn’t mean you have to give it to people who hate you. But if you want a sincere evaluation of what works and what doesn’t, give your book to someone who has no bias in your favor.
I have way more notes on this excellent panel, so let me know if you want more!
Somewhat surprisingly, the highlights of the conference for me were the two keynote addresses. I say surprisingly because both speeches were given by authors/speakers I hadn’t really heard of before and whose books I hadn’t read. But both were quite entertaining and inspiring.
The main thing I learned was this: don’t be an outdoors adventurer. Joking aside, both of these outdoorsmen told really inspiring stories—they just both involved seeing people around them die in tragic, nature-based accidents. But Peter Heller and Jim Davidson were able to turn their tragic experiences around and learn (and teach) valuable lessons because of them. The theme of Jim Davidson‘s closing address really summed it up: Resilience.
Being a writer isn’t easy. Actually, life isn’t easy. Obstacles and challenges will always come up. The key to success is resilience. And mountain climber Mr. Davidson gave a great list of how to build your personal resilience:
- Accept the change
- Embrace the challenge
- Persevere through uncertainty
And above all, know that setbacks refine you—and you can act to refine yourself through the setbacks. Trials help build your endurance. So don’t give up! “If you don’t start the climb, you’re never going to finish it.”
Go to Conferences
So there you have it. Go to writers conferences. They are a great opportunity to mingle with like-minded people, improve your craft, and find the inspiration to keep writing. I’m definitely looking forward to next year’s NCW conference—and I hope to see you there!