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Musings from the SDSU Writers Conference

January 30, 2012

I had the pleasure of attending the SDSU Writers Conference for the first time this past weekend. I cannot begin to tell you what an amazing experience it was and how much I learned. I was so engaged in the experience that I was physically and mentally exhausted (in a good way) at the end of each day.

The SDSU Writers Conference is in its 28th year and held annually in San Diego. The Conference offers workshops, networking with editors and agents, and opportunities to schedule advanced reading and consultation appointments with said editors and agents.

My friend and writer, Margaret Dilloway (How to Be an American Housewife), found her first agent at the Writers Conference several years ago. I asked Margaret for advice as a newbie Conference attendee. She said take advantage of the workshops and talk to the editors. She could not have been more right!

Let me tell you a few things I learned about myself at the Writers Conference.

I knew nothing about the basic elements and structure of writing stories. Although I’ve been writing for what seems like forever, my technical training is journalism-based. I never took English or Creative Writing classes in college; as such I had no knowledge of basic elements of story structure. The conference taught me about plot points, point of view, character development, writing in five parts; essentially the basics for writing a compelling story. I’m sure this is why I was struggling with how to begin writing a novel-length story.

I need to improve my “show, don’t tell” writing. Again, I think this comes from my “just the facts” journalism background. I’m certainly more conscious of it now and have some great techniques to identify it in my writing.

Editors and publishers want writers with a platform. I’ve been reading about this more and more. But hearing it from editors, agents and speakers really drove the point home. Those of us who blog and tweet are building an audience. The publishers want to know there are people that will buy your book. This is why I encourage all writers to start a blog, even if it has nothing to do with their book. It’s networking in the digital age.

How else did I benefit from the Writers Conference?

I now have a very clear idea how to write my novel and what needs to be included in every scene. I also learned awesome editing techniques. While I’m an excellent copyeditor for others, it’s a struggle to edit my own work.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the Conference … I met with an agent who pre-read my children’s story. She gave me some feedback and is interested in seeing it again for possible representation!

This blog post is just the beginning. I need to comb through my pages upon pages of notes; review business cards I collected; visit websites that were mentioned; connect with the speakers online; and make revisions to my children’s story. But right now, I’m still reflecting on the amazing experience that was the SDSU Writers Conference.

What discoveries have you made about your own writing? Have you attended writing conferences or workshops that completely opened your mind?

What Writers Conference would be complete without books?!

50 Comments leave one →
  1. Sofia Borgstein permalink
    January 30, 2012 1:28 am

    Writing Conference sounds cool, keep writing!

  2. January 30, 2012 4:02 am

    That sounds like a wonderful conference — and I realize how much I want to go to more of them–I’ve only attended a few and always get such great information and meet such interesting people. I hope you’ll be posting more blogs with information you learned!

    • January 31, 2012 10:59 pm

      Thanks, Julia. I’m sure I will. I still need to wrap my head around everything!

  3. January 30, 2012 4:13 am

    WOW! So glad you got to attend this Conference Leah, sounds like it blew open lots of doors for you. Way to go! I have found being involved with the Writers Community of Simcoe County extremely helpful as we have had some awesome speakers on a variety of topics and it’s also helpful to meet with other writers and share together. Next week I am going to stay with my youngest daughter in Toronto so I can attend the ‘Canada Reads’ debates and I am excited about that also. Keep writing Leah!

    • January 31, 2012 10:59 pm

      Thanks, Elizabeth! Your writing group ventures sound exciting too. It’s neat when you can find a group that works for you.

  4. January 30, 2012 4:20 am

    I always like hearing how writers work, think, etc.
    BTW, I nominated you for a Sunshine Award.

  5. January 30, 2012 4:54 am

    Thanks for sharing what you learned. Keep us updated onwhat works and what doesn’t….

    • January 31, 2012 11:00 pm

      Thanks, Jennifer. You all will be the first to know what happens next!

  6. January 30, 2012 6:03 am

    Sounds like a wonderful conference. It’s great you listened and learned so much. I hope the agent pans-out. Thanks for sharing your enjoyable learning experience with us. 🙂

  7. January 30, 2012 6:05 am

    What a wonderful experience. I’m looking forward to hearing more as you process what you learned at start putting it into practice on the novel you’ve been working on. Meanwhile, it sounds like your children’s book is almost ready to go and you’re ahead of the game since you’ve already got a strong platform. So exciting!

    • January 31, 2012 11:00 pm

      Thanks, Shary! I highly recommend this conference if you’re interested next year. It was a great experience.

  8. January 30, 2012 7:00 am

    Sounds like a great experience Leah! Very exciting to receive positive feedback on your children’s book — that is a great! Look forward to hearing more. And I understand about the challenge in being more descriptive but fighting against those journalism rules that have been so ingrained in us! It’s definitely a shift.

    • January 31, 2012 11:01 pm

      I knew you, Caryn, and many of us with journalistic backgrounds would relate. Thanks for the encouragement.

  9. January 30, 2012 7:35 am

    Leah, I’m so glad you enjoyed it and learned so much! I completely agree about writers and platforms- it is so helpful in terms of book sales and publicity. However, of course the content is most important, which is why it’s so valuable to also take those creative writing and structure workshops. Can’t wait to see what else comes out of your experience 🙂

    • January 31, 2012 11:01 pm

      Thanks so much, Erin! I will keep you posted.

  10. January 30, 2012 8:06 am

    Leah, I’m so glad to hear you got so much out of the conference and that you are motivated and confident enough now to move forward with your project. Can’t wait to hear updates as you progress!

    • January 31, 2012 11:02 pm

      Thanks, Susan! And thanks for your steadfast encouragement.

  11. Lorena permalink
    January 30, 2012 8:49 am

    I’m so glad you enjoyed your experience, Leah! As far as learning about writing goes, I’m in the same boat as you. But, I’ve learned loads just from talking to other writers, reading the blogs of genre writers, and going to workshops/conferences (SDSU Writers’ Conference, Comic-Con, etc.). I’d also suggest trying to find a critique group, either creating one with writers you already know, or joining one that already exists. They’re nice, low-pressure places to pitch story ideas to and can give you feedback on what you’re writing.

    • January 31, 2012 11:02 pm

      And I have YOU to thank, Lorena! Thanks for the opportunity. We’re so lucky we have so much to learn from now, compared to years ago when you only learned your writing structure from college classes.

  12. Kathi Diamant permalink
    January 30, 2012 9:17 am

    WOnderful post, Leah! I went several years ago, after my book had a publisher, just before it went to print, so I skipped some of the workshops–next year, I’m going back, and listening more. Thanks!

    • January 31, 2012 11:03 pm

      Thanks you so much, Kathi! I was thinking you’d love the experience!

  13. January 30, 2012 10:00 am

    Excellent post, Leah, and it was great meeting you. So glad you enjoyed the SDSU Writers’ Conference, we enjoyed having you!! Looking forward to hearing more about your writing journey! Thanks! Becky

    • January 31, 2012 11:03 pm

      Thanks, Becky! I am so happy you gave me this opportunity. I will keep you posted on my progress and have already marked my calendar for next year!

  14. January 30, 2012 11:02 am

    Leah, how wonderful for you to have connected with an agent! I can’t wait to one day read your books! Sounds like it was an amazing experience all around.

    • January 31, 2012 11:03 pm

      Thanks, Michelle! I’ll keep you posted.

  15. January 30, 2012 12:29 pm

    Sounds like it was well worth going, Leah. Thanks so much for sharing a bit with us. And good luck with the (possible) agent!!

    • January 31, 2012 11:04 pm

      Thanks, Cynthia. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

  16. January 30, 2012 3:46 pm

    So so so cool!! I really need a good workshop on the elements of storytelling too, as my background, like you, is in journalism. Do you know if any other conferences, such as this one, are coming up in San Diego? Maybe I’ll take some PTO from work and go!

    • January 31, 2012 11:04 pm

      You should totally go next year, Shari! It starts late Friday and goes through Sunday. So you wouldn’t even need to be gone from work that long. It would be so great to have you there. You would have loved it!

      • February 1, 2012 9:35 am

        I just bookmarked the page!! Thank you. 🙂 And, if I go, I would love love love to finally meet you in person!

  17. January 30, 2012 4:29 pm

    Way to grab the writing bull by the horns, Leah! So proud of you! About a year and a half ago I attended a small social media seminar (it was just an afternoon session), and although it overwhelmed me at first, it completely changed my perspective of social media and helped me better understand how to use it as a tool. So glad this workshop was productive for you as well. Keep us posted on the children’s book!

    • January 31, 2012 11:05 pm

      Thanks, Jolina! Isn’t it amazing how you can learn so much just from an hour or afternoon session? I will keep you posted as well. Maybe I’ll be able to send a book to your little one soon!

  18. January 30, 2012 7:52 pm

    Wow! It sounds like the conference was a huge success! I’m thrilled that you found an agent and I LOVE the idea of outlining stories!

    I’m excited to say I’ll be attending my first food bloggers conference in March and I hope to walk away with as much knowledge swirling in my head as you did from your conference!

    • January 31, 2012 11:06 pm

      I’m so excited for you and the food bloggers conference! Where is it? I’d love to go to something like that too!

  19. January 30, 2012 8:53 pm

    Sounds like you got a lot out of it. Very cool!

  20. January 31, 2012 10:01 am

    Leah, congratulations on connecting with an agent! Such exciting news. It sounds like the conference was stimulating and inspiring. I had a similar experience at the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC two weekends ago. I don’t know, if it weren’t for the money, this conference thing could become a habit!

    • January 31, 2012 11:07 pm

      Thanks, Lisa. That Writer’s Digest Conference sounded really cool too. I know — too bad they are pricey. But I feel like conferences like these are well worth the money!

  21. January 31, 2012 2:09 pm

    I love writers’ conferences! I really enjoyed a conference I attended where all of the workshops focus on creating new work, so everybody is challenged to see what they can produce during the conference. It is so energizing to be in a community of writers and to have so much mental and physical space to write. I’m glad you enjoyed your experience.

    • January 31, 2012 11:07 pm

      Thanks, Sarah! I like the idea of people focusing on new work too. Gives it a level playing field, if you will.

  22. February 1, 2012 4:48 am

    Sounds like a fantastic experience and I thank you for sharing your take-aways with us. How exciting! MJ

  23. February 1, 2012 5:19 am

    So glad you got so much out of the conference, Leah. Yes, I’ve attended conferences before, and they are a great way to stimulate your writing. Sometimes we need just a little midge in the right direction. Mthe conference I attend is the Hampton Roads Writer’s Conference right here in Virginia Beach. I’m on the board of directors, but I’m trying to lighten my load and will be stepping down in June, though I’ll remain a member of the organization.

  24. February 1, 2012 2:24 pm

    I’m so glad you got so much out of it. I’ve attended conferences but they just didn’t fit me because I’m so strictly non-fiction. However, they brought me a few contacts. However, at the end of this month I’m going to the AWP conference for the first time. I really need to bust my butt this month to have something worthy to show to anyone who wants to see a WIP. I’m scared and excited for AWP because it’s so big. I haven’t been to one that size since I stopped attending my academic conferences.

  25. Jennifer Harris permalink
    February 1, 2012 10:44 pm

    Thanks for the insight! Have been curious about that workshop/conference!

  26. February 3, 2012 7:46 pm

    Such an informative blog post, Leah. How exciting about your children’s book!


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