Today, I’m going to give a barrage of writing tips and advice that I acquired while at the WV Writers Conference this past weekend with my cousin and writer buddy, Marsha Blevins. It was a wonderful little writing getaway and it felt more like writing camp than it did a conference, which I thought was wonderful. I always love going away to conferences and festivals as it seems to recharge the muse and I always learn something.
First I’ll begin by giving an over all report of the conference. The location, Cedar Lakes in Ripley, WV, was kinda perfect. When you weren’t attending the workshops, there were plenty of beautiful, quiet spots to go relax and write. Or even take a swim as the place has a really nice swimming pool. The food did leave much to be desired, but hey, it’s camp. This kind of goes for the rooms as well, unless you pay a little more and stay in the nicer lodge. Honestly, though, they were clean and provided a place to sleep and a shower, so what more do you need? The classrooms were just off the main assembly hall, where they kept snacks and drinks available all day long, which was pretty convenient. There were pop machines around, but you would have had to walk a significant distance to get to them and there wouldn’t have been time in between workshops. The swag bags were pretty awesome too. Lots of goodies in there!
Friday, we arrived and picked up our registration packets. The ladies working the registration table were sweethearts and very helpful. Once we dropped our stuff off to our room and got settled, we headed back over for the first workshop, which for us was Frank Larnerd’s “Building a Better Monster.” We went over the different types of monsters, your basic zombie, werewolf, vampire, etc. and discussed ways to make them our own. One thing he said, that I’ve believed all along, is that you can take any of the monsters and make them your own. After a short break, Marsha and I remained in the Assembly Hall for a panel on social media. Jennifer Deitz Weingardt and Sheila Redling were a part of this panel. It wasn’t what we were expecting it to be and was geared more toward beginners, but there were a few helpful tips given, such as to make a good connection with your followers, you need to be equal parts promoting yourself, promoting others, and then a little bit of you, personally. Once that panel wrapped up, it was time for a quick break, then the next workshop. We had planned on attending Robert Tinnell’s “Make Your Screenplay Salable,” but unfortunately he wasn’t able to make it. So we sat in on Carter Taylor Seaton’s “Getting the Facts.” For her workshop, she offered information and tips on how to gather information to make your writing more believable. She was coming from a nonfiction angle, but in a way, her tips could be used in fiction as well if you’re writing a historical piece. We ended the evening with a presentation in the Assenbly Hall by Bil Lepp, on “The Lie, Tall Tale and Trust.” It was more entertaining than anything, but he did offer some ideas on how to make your readers believe you, even if your story is completely outrageous. You just have to make it so entertaining that the listener won’t even think to question anything about it.
Marsha and I began Saturday morning with another workshop by Frank Larnerd, called “Magic Writing.” In this workshop he taught us a cool way to use tarot cards to help plot your story or even come up with an idea. I’d actually thought about doing this before, but could never really figure out how to do it. This was probably my favorite workshop out of all of them. There’s a certain spread that you use, and just depending on the position of the cards, you interpret the meaning to come up with characters and plot points. After “Magic Writing,” we grabbed a snack and a drink and headed to John Van Kirk’s “The First 50 Pages.” He was actually a previous college professor of Marsha’s, so she was really excited to go to his workshop. It didn’t disappoint either. What I really identified with and took away form this workshop was to think of your piece in terms of scenes. You don’t always have to start from the very beginning of the story and write your way straight through. For that matter, you could even write the story backwards. Just write the scenes, then piece them together. Once that is done, it will actually give you a better idea of what that first chapter should be. After lunch, we sat in on Sheila Redling’s workshop “Writing IS My Job.” She had some really great tips on how to force the creativity out when it’s just not wanting to come, like asking yourself questions like “What is the worst thing that could happen to someone? And if that happened, what would they do? What would happen after that?” She also had some good ideas about getting your finances and stuff in order and how to actually make writing your job. After Sheila’s class, we headed to Marie Manilla for “Monster Theory.” This was another one that wasn’t really what we thought it was going to be, but we sat and listened and tried to take away something. Monsters for her were the ones you read about in gothic fiction. Despicable, violent, evil people.
We ended Saturday with the WV Writers banquet where there was entertainment provided by Bil Lepp (once again, a pleasure!) and they announced the winners of the writing contests that they sponsor. Lo and behold, Marsha and I were pleasantly surprised when our cousin Sara Blevins’s name was called for fourth honorable mention in Appalachian writing. I was so proud! Yeah, writing. It kind of runs in our family. 🙂
Sadly, Sunday came all too soon. We only had two workshops left before it was time to head back to the real world. Our first was Fran Simone’s “Scene and Summary” for memoir writers. She basically went over how to have that balance of scene and summary and how it is different from the showing and telling rule in fiction. She split us up into groups and had us write a scene. I was actually able to write a scene for the memoir piece I’ve been wracking my brain on how to begin. Thanks to her workshop, it is now begun. We ended our weekend with another workshop by Van Kirk, only this one was on “Novel Endings.” He shared with us some last lines of famous works and we discussed what makes a good last line and how you know when you’re at the end. After that, we stayed for the quick round-up and farewell in the Assembly Hall where the President of the WV Writers, Susan Nicholas, asked the attendees for ideas for future conferences. After that, it was time to hit the road.
On our way out we had to stop by the front office and there was a Little Free Library stationed outside. Marsha had the awesome idea to autograph and donate a copy of W3’s anthology, Wicked Words for visitors to read.
This conference was definitely a great time and I really feel like I took away some great ideas. I’m actually even considering just going up for a few days in the fall for my own little writer’s retreat, as the place is just beautiful and I can only imagine how gorgeous it would be when the leaves are turning.
If you’d like more information about the WV Writers Conference, you can go to wvwriters.org or feel free to message me or leave a comment.