Monday, January 23, 2012

Eckerd College Writer's in Paradise Conference

I have just come off of an eight-day writer's high after attending my first "grown up" writer's conference, Writer's in Paradise. It was intense and wonderful and exhausting, partly because I still had to work before and after conference hours, and partly because of the cerebral indigestion I'm still experiencing from the Mack truck of knowledge dumped on me.

If you are considering this conference, consider no longer. The faculty is TOP TIER. If you write non-fiction and Ann Hood is listed, take her workshop. She was the fearless leader of my non-fiction group workshop, and her critiques of everyone's 25-page manuscript submissions were both spot-on and brutally honest. Ann used each person's piece to teach us lessons on character development, POV, character likability, internal/external conflict, tension, objective correlative and more.  Just like the characters in our stories, we, the non-fiction students in her group, got what we needed (good advice), even if it's not what we wanted (ego strokes). We all have a lot of work to do, but Ann certainly has given us the tools to do it, and for that I'm beyond grateful. THANK YOU, ANN!

Each morning started with a lecture on craft from one of the faculty followed by an afternoon workshop of our submissions. One morning, however, instead of a craft lecture they played a game--"Writer's Idol"--based on the importance of beginnings--catching an agent or editor's attention in that first sentence or first page.

They read people's first pages aloud to a panel of authors (Dennis Lehane, Ann Hood and Stuart O'Nan). Authors were supposed to raise a hand when they would stop reading. Once 2 or more hands were raised, the reader stopped and the authors shared why they raised a hand. The goal was to be able to read an entire first page with no hands raised. It was incredibly helpful to see how just a simple word choice could mean the difference between turning the page and not.

Of the 15 or so submissions they read, only one was read all the way to the end of page one. My submission was one of the ones read, and I almost made it to the end. They read to the very last line of the page, and then two hands raised. Have to pat myself on the back for getting as far as I did. Believe me when I say this was no easy feat. Most hands raised after the first sentence! Now, if I can just get the other 24 pages to be as engaging, I'll be on my way.

During the morning craft lectures, it was cooler than cool to learn from the likes of Andre Dubus IIIElizabeth Berg, Stuart O'Nan and Dennis Lehane.

Best lessons from Ann Hood:
Honestly, too many to put in a blog. Plus, if you want to find these out, you have to attend one of her workshops! She'll be workshopping at Tin House this July. Get your applications in NOW!

Best lessons from Dennis Lehane:
Dennis made us watch Up in the Air (George Clooney) and Pitch Black (Vin Diesel) for a talk he gave. While most people found this an odd pairing, Dennis did a fantastic job of using Pitch Black to show us the classic three act structure used in all movies and most books and Up in the Air to discuss the importance of dramatic question. Beyond this enlightening comparison, I really appreciated that he started the session by saying we shouldn't be so "snobby" in judging certain books or songs or movies. There is always something to learn and appreciate in all art, even B movies like Vin's.

Best advice: "Build a door. Then turn it into a window." and "Set yourself up with questions, not answers. Answers box you in. Start with a character and a question."

Best lessons from Andre:
? + CSSD > CT = S,T,B. This is Andre's "formula" for good writing.
It translates to:  Curiosity plus Concrete Specific Sensory Detail with Characters in Trouble equals Story, Truth, Beauty.

"You have to tell us what it's like, what it's really like, to be in this thing that happened."

Best lessons from Elizabeth Berg:
"Be observant so you're gifted with the things that are shown to you."

"What your jobs teach you about people helps your writing. As a nurse I learned the importance of family, what happens/how people react when we die, what people value. One man found such comfort in a simple yellow coffee cup."

"Study people from head to toe. So much is said in the shoulders, the way they walk or what they do with their hands."

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Now I've  got to get writing. I have a LOT of work to do!