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

Writing a Book is Like Building a House

Last week I wrote about struggling to come up with new memoir material for the packet that was due to my professor the next day.  I’m happy to report that the reason I decided to do this master’s – for the invariable deadlines that would force me to write – is working. After a few fits and starts, prose and pages flowed.

I have had to learn to let go of control in this process. So, while I have been hung up for a long time on the ultimate structure of this project, I finally gave myself permission to simply write what came to me that day, and not worry about writing each chapter in the succession I imagined. There is a lot to be said for writing what moves you in the moment. I was able to tackle several scenes that will more than likely end up in different places – and in a different order – once this book is done. But I am writing. And that’s the key.

Another discovery: I have written some pieces in poetic form, some in dialogue and scene, some in interior monologue. They may change form over time, but the scenes, the images, the feelings I had at the time, are there.

And, finally, a book is a major undertaking, whether it is fiction, nonfiction or a collection of stories. Many writers –particularly new writers – get frustrated when things don’t go as quickly as they expect. Days, weeks and months go by and still you’re writing. A former newspaper journalist, I’ve been used to instant gratification for so long that not seeing what I’ve written in print the next day can be maddening.

But writing a book is like building a house. One has to establish the bones – the essential storyline – first. That may entail spending a lot of time on a detailed outline. Some writers love outlines; others write without them. I like outlines because, while I often stray from the initial plan, at least I can go back to it when the story or a scene leads to a dead-end, or something unexpected happens with a character. An outline gives you a blueprint to consult throughout construction. This first part of the process is like framing the house: putting up the studs and roof beams and adding an exterior skin.

Once you’ve erected and wrapped the house, you have to put all the important functions in – like electrical wiring, central heating and cooling conduits, plumbing and insulation. In the book, these are scenes, dialogue, character development, descriptions of settings and people – all the things that bring a piece of writing to life.

Once you have the drywall installed and the interior rooms begin to take shape, you can begin to add the finer touches: carpeting or tile, kitchen cupboards and countertops, bathroom fixtures, and wall and window coverings. Consider these the literary flourishes, touches like metaphor and other poetic constructs to make the story a pleasure to read for the language alone.

Now you have a first draft. You can begin revision: painting and decorating, adding personal accents and works of art to your new home.

If at any time you get stuck, go back to the blueprint for direction and inspiration. And stay at it. Writing a good book, like building a strong house, takes time.

What I’ve been doing the past couple of months is putting up studs. Soon enough, I’ll go inside and start weaving together the inner workings of the book.

What processes have you found helpful in writing your books?



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.