Writers Conferences to Jazz You

I've put together a list (not exhaustive) of nationally recognized writers conferences for those of you who are considering attending a conference between now and early next year. Here's the list:

June 2011

Bear River Writers’ Conference, Petoskey, MI – June 2-6, 2011 www.lsa.umich.edu/bearriver

Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conference, Austin, TX – June 10-12, 2011 www.writersleague.org

Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, Lincoln, NB – June 11-17, 2011 www.nebraskawriters.unl.edu

Wesleyan Writers Conference, Middletown, CT – June 16-20, 2011 www.wesleyan.edu/writers

Santa Barbara Writers Conference, Santa Barbara, CA – June 18-23, 2011 www.sbwriters.com

Jackson Hole Writers Conference, Jackson, WY – June 23-26, 2011 www.jacksonholewritersconference.com

July 2011

Antioch Writers’ Workshop, Yellow Springs, OH – July 9-15, 2011 www.antiochwritersworkshop.com

Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, Portland, OR – July 10-17, 2011 www.tinhouse.com

Taos Summer Writers Conference, Taos, NM – July 10-17, 2011 www.unm.edu/~taosconf

Writers Retreat Workshop, Hindman, KY – June 17-26, 2011 www.writersretreatworkshop.com

Stonecoast Writers’ Conference, Freeport, Maine – July 17-23, 2011 www.usm.maine.edu/stonecoast_wc

Napa Valley Writers' Conference, St. Helena, CA – July 24-29, 2011 www.napawritersconf.org

Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, Fort Bragg, CA – July 28-30, 2011 www.mcwc.org

August 2011

Pacific Northwest Writers Association Summer Conference, Bellevue, WA – Aug. 4-7, 2011 www.pnwa.org

Willamette Writers Conference, Portland, OR – Aug. 5-7, 2011 www.williamettewriters.com

Write by the Sea, Star Island, NH – Aug. 6-13, 2011 www.joycemaynard.com

Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Middlebury, VT – Aug. 10-20, 2011 www.middlebury.edu/blwc

Book Passage Travel Writers Conference, Corte Madera, CA – Aug. 11-14, 2011 http://bookpassage.com/travel-food-photography-conference

Cape Cod Writers Center Conference, Cape Cod, MA – Aug. 14-19, 2011 www.capecodwriterscenter.com

Sun Valley Writers Conference, Sun Valley, ID – Aug. 19-22, 2011 www.svwc.com

September 2011

Southern California Writers Conference, Los Angeles – Sept. 23-25, 2011 www.writersconference.com

October 2011

Women Writing the West, Lynnwood, WA – Oct. 14-19, 2011 www.womenwritingthewest.org

Surrey International Writers Conference, Surrey/Vancouver, BC, Canada – Oct. 21-23, 2011 www.siwc.ca

2012 

San Diego State University Writers Conference, San Diego, CA – January 2012 www.ces.sdsu.edu/writers

Southern California Writers’ Conference, San Diego – Feb. 17-20, 2012 www.writersconference.com

Association of Writers and Writing Programs, Chicago, IL – Feb. 29-March 2, 2012 www.awpwriter.org/conference/2012awpconf.php

Desert Nights/Rising Stars Writers Conference, Arizona State University Piper Center, Phoeniz, AZ – March 12 http://www.asu.edu/piper/conference/

Las Vegas Writers Conference, Las Vegas – April 2012 www.lasvegaswritersconference.com

Present vs. Past Tense in Fiction

(Welcome SheWriters!)

Today, I'm writing about first-person present tense vs. past tense in short stories and fiction. I have a client who has written a beautiful literary mystery in first-person present. I remember telling him initially that I thought he should consider past tense. Present tense can seem unnatural - even jarring in some cases. He didn't want to make the change at the time, but now an agent is interested in the novel, and she is suggesting he change it.

Michael Nye, editor of the Missouri Review, posted an interesting blog about it last fall. You can read it here. Essentially, he says first-person present tense is overused in fiction today, and that in some ways it can prevent the writing from exploring the past with the character.

"Present-tense seems to be a default mode for someone who isn’t carefully considering the style choices being made.  It flattens the story.  It flattens emotional and narrative distance and lacks the sense of shadowing, the illumination and darkening of a character’s world that strong narratives can create.  The narrative choice suggests that there is nothing to remember about the past (and the past, to badly paraphrase Faulkner, isn’t ever really in the past) and nothing to expect of the future," Nye says.

I've thought about this quite a bit while writing my memoir. The past has everything to do with the present, and much to do with the future. Without considering the past, one cannot choose between following the same path or embarking upon another. We (or in the case of fiction, a character) cannot grow without having the knowledge of what has gone before and the ability to act on it. If we are forever in the moment, critical aspects of the story - ideas and experiences that inform the narrative - are left out. To understand what is at stake, for the character or oneself, requires a deeper exploration.

You can experiment with this yourself. Write a short story in first-person present tense and then rewrite it in past tense. See if there are elements of the story that emerge - even surprise you - in the past tense version.

Have you done this before? What was your experience?

Some Tips for Daily Writing

It’s a beautiful morning! Sun is streaming through the front windows and door. The dogs have finally settled at my feet after breakfast and their morning romp through the house. I’m thinking about writing and an age-old problem: When do you find the time?

Nearly all of my clients struggle with this. Like many writers, they have day jobs and families. One of my clients is a high-powered businessman who is married with a 4-year-old son. He’s plagued with trying to find the time even for daily journaling, which I recommend for all writers.

So I put together some tips for him. Some are mine but most of them are the advice of other writers, notably Natalie Goldberg, who wrote one of my favorite books, Writing Down the Bones. I also found a list of 80 prompts by a journal writer named Mari McCarthy, which I’ve attached here (and here’s the link to her website, Create Write Now).

First, I suggested some specific times to get him started. This seems to be a universal problem – carving out the time to actually sit down and write. What I suggested for him is essentially to get out of the office for at least 30 minutes every day. He happens to have an office next to a lovely park and across the street from a quaint town library. So I told him, on Mondays and Wednesdays, take your lunch and go across the street to the park. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I told him to buy a sandwich or salad, close his door at noon and tell his assistant not to disturb him. Write for at least 20 minutes. If you’re on a roll and have the time, keep going. On Fridays, go to the library and pull a book of poetry from the shelf. Read two or three poems, then write a response to one of them. Or begin a new poem of your own. Take the entire lunch hour if you need it. But write.

On the weekends, I told him to set the alarm 30 minutes before the rest of the household is awake and use that time to journal.

I work at home and have few distractions (outside of my dog, who thinks it’s important to nudge my elbow every hour or so). But I still get bored – uninspired – by my surroundings and so often will take my computer or notebook and escape to a local café. I used to actually drive 20 miles to my favorite coffee shop in the Santa Ynez Valley once in awhile. When I drove up last weekend, I was heartbroken to discover it was closed.

The point is to step out of routine, which stimulates your imagination, releases your muse and sparks creativity.

Writing is a commitment. If you want to be successful as a writer, you have to put the pen to paper, (or fingers to keyboard) and write. It’s that simple. And that complicated. The missing ingredient is discipline. You can’t write without discipline. And the best way to establish discipline is to set a routine and follow it scrupulously. Stephen King does it. Natalie Goldberg does it. Ray Bradbury, Michael Collins and David Sedaris do it. Every successful writer I know of has a writing schedule – and is disciplined enough to stick to it.

So, take a few minutes today and set a regular writing schedule. It will be the recipe for your writing success.

If you have some techniques that enable you to write regularly, I'd love to hear them. Just add them to the comments below.