Learning The Write Stuff

A new school year has begun, and my grandkids aren’t the only students in the family. Yes, Mimi went off to writers’ school, i.e., a writers’ conference, last week. Unlike young students who brush off the question, “What did you learn in school today?,” I am happy to fill you in on the results of my author academics.

In kindergarten, my grandson Liam is learning the basics–the alphabet, counting, acceptable classroom behavior, etc. In writer’s school, I found out about the BISAC‘s. No, that’s not a misspelled word. If you are going to write a book, you need to know how it will be categorized. There’s a code for it. You can’t say that you are going to write in the fiction genre. What kind of fiction will you write? Fantasy? Christian? Historical? Mystery? And there are subgenres. You may not have written a word yet and a code will have to be called on you from stressing out over determining the correct BISAC.

When perusing the conference schedule of classes, I noted that one sounded like a fun kindergarten activity. It addressed show and tell. Now that’s a great way to get to know your fellow writing students. What goodies would they be showing and telling me about? Their favorite writing pen? A partially written manuscript? Plot notes on a napkin? Nope. None of these. Show and tell refers to how a writer conveys information to the reader. You don’t write that your main character Suzy is sad. That’s telling her emotion. A good writer pens that Suzy’s shoulders drooped, her head hung, and tears formed in the corners of her eyes. That’s showing the reader your character’s emotion. My favorite part of this class was the faculty member showing us the bag of dark chocolates she had to share with us.

My fellow writing students and I learned that not only do we need to know how to handle storytelling, but we must learn to handle rejection as well. Once we have conquered getting our story down, it is on to the next hurdle–publication. Not everyone will love our creative babies; those who don’t like them may be some key people in the publication process, i.e., agents, editors, and publishers. One highly successful and multi-published faculty member revealed that she had received twelve (that’s a DOZEN) rejections in ONE DAY. That’ll never happen to me, though. Not that I won’t ever get rejected, but I have never sent my work to that many people for consideration at one time. And rejection is THE END. Why ask why you were rejected? We were informed that you are never told the reason. Just deal with it.

An author sells her book, right? Partially true. An author apparently sells herself as well. A successful writer must be media savvy. She needs to be out there on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc., getting the masses to like and friend her. Guidelines were given as to how often this media presence should occur. Seriously? Who has time to tweet 3-4 times a day? Shouldn’t I be working on my manuscript instead? You want me to be concerned about filtering for color consistency and having Content 6 for Instagram? Can’t I just post a cute picture of my cat/dog?  Social media is becoming less and less fun for authors. Why, it is work! Following a class on “The Instagram Influence,” I felt like I might be under the influence as my head was swimming.

Most discouraging of all was the explanation given to the writing students of realistically how long it takes for a book to get published once in the pipeline of a traditional publishing house. Eighteen months to two years? Say what? That’s longer than a pregnancy! It is way too long to be expecting my creative baby to be birthed. So much for our fast-food society. We can be instantly connected via cell phone or social media, get burgers and fries in a jiffy, and be approved for a mortgage online in minutes, but you’ll age two years before seeing your book in print. Egad!

One thing about my writers’ conference mirrors the typical school experience. Every student has a favorite period during the school day. Mine was, without any doubt, the two hours plus break in the afternoons. The third day I took a two hour nap as I was physically exhausted and mentally drained. Learning about writing wore me out. At least we were not required to nap on mats on the classroom floor. I could escape to my hotel room and sleep on an actual bed.

Many practical tips about writing were conveyed during the course of the conference. More than one faculty member urged us to be prepared to take notes at any time because writers see a story in everything. How true! I mean you are getting a story out of my attending writing classes, right? On a more mundane level, my attention was captured by smashed lemons I spied in the parking lot of the dining hall at the conference center. What was the significance of this find? Who, or perhaps what, left that battered fruit on the ground? When life gives you lemons, write a story! I mulled over possible storylines as I enjoyed a lemon bar for dessert inside the dining hall.

Social lessons were also learned through interaction with fellow students. Upon meeting another writer, information is exchanged as to where each writer lives and her genre. (HINT: That’s genre and not GENDER as one obvious newbie blundered and said at a previous conference.) Writers are also into cards. Oh, no–not playing them. You simply must have a writers’ business card to exchange and network. But the most desired item of all is another writer’s e-mail address. It’s called platform building. For realtors it’s location, location, location. For writers it’s connection, connection, connection.

The writing conference is over, but my learning about writing never will. It is an ongoing process. But, I am in hopes that what I learned last week will enable me to know enough right stuff to get my book published. Stay tuned–it may be out in a couple of years!

Just WONDER-ing: Have you ever considered being a writer? What do you think being a writer involves? If you were a writer, about what would you write?