Yellow Springs, OH: Friday night marked a bittersweet ending to a fabulous (and sometimes frenetic) week of writerly activities at the 25th annual Antioch Writers’ Workshop.
This workshop is famous among writing conferences for participants’ access to their always-amazing faculty, and this week was no exception. Attendees connected with, lunched with, and learned from some of the best teachers and writers working in the business today.
As with the other four AWW events I’ve been fortunate to attend, I came away feeling inspired in my writing, awed by the talent in evidence via nightly readings from faculty and participants, and encouraged through spending days and nights amidst a truly generous creative community.
Here are ten teachings and tidbits I brought back with me from this year’s workshop.
1) The villain always thinks he’s the hero of the story.
(Thanks to agent Janet Reid for that one. She is no-nonsense. If you are fortunate and good enough to sign with her, she will represent your book with unmitigated fervor. Check out her blog at www.queryshark.blogspot.com for incredible insight into what works and what doesn’t in a query letter)
2) Just because an agent tells you that your idea or your work is presently unpublishable (or not what the agent represents) doesn’t mean it is not worth revising and/or resubmitting to another agent or publisher.
3) The biggest warning sign that you’re dealing with non-legitimate agents and publishers: they ask you for money.
4) Most writers I met and spoke with during the week find that they do their best work in the morning, often saving editing and revision for later in the day. While a good time to write is whenever you find time for it, recognize the times when you are able to do your best work. Save your best moments for your writing. That last line is from Wendy Hart Beckman.
5) Regardless of whether you are self-published or your manuscript is bought by a publishing house (small, medium, or large), you WILL need to promote your book and yourself. Remember, as a writer you want to reach readers… and after you’ve written a great book, essay, poem, or story, you need to find ways to connect with them, whether through a blog, twitter, facebook, or any other available avenues. Stay up-to-date on new technology.
6) Poet and teacher Cathy Smith Bowers, Poet Laureate of North Carolina, is a true Southern lady, and her poetry is deeply evocative…some of the best I’ve ever read or heard.
7) One of my favorite lines of the week, written by participant and contest winner Jason Gebhard: “Your hair is many sentences my fingers will never read.” That one hit me in the heart, a beautiful image.
8 ) Donald Ray Pollack’s book of stories, Knockemstiff, is fantastic.
9) If you are describing the plot of your book (or story), you must answer this question: Why does the character take action at this time, and what is it that forces them to take action in the pivotal moment? (from Crystal Wilkinson)
10) A great exercise for getting to know your character better: write a first-person paragraph in which the character introduces him or herself. This is from Carrie Bebris, who taught fiction in the Saturday one-day workshop. I did this with two of the villains in my book, and wrote 600 words in twenty minutes. This pair would not shut up!
If I tried to write all I learned and confirmed at AWW, it would be a book unto itself. Since I’m writing a mystery at the moment, that one will have to wait.
I’d like to add a special thanks to agent April Eberhardt. She is one of the kindest and most caring people I know in the publishing world. If you write women’s fiction, send her a query. Whether or not it’s accepted, you’ll be blessed.
Next year’s Antioch Writers’ Workshop will be July 9-15, 2011. Mark your calendars and write your way up to it. You and your career as a writer will be better for it.