Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Some Thoughts from the Maryland Writers' Association Conference

On Saturday, I spent the day mingling and networking with writers at the Maryland Writers' Association Conference. It was a great day filled with wisdom, laughs and interesting conversation. As always, I left the conference motivated and re-energized.

Since I've told you all how I feel about writers' conferences and how beneficial I think they are, this time I thought I'd share a few of my favorite quotes and some of my take-away thoughts.

Direct Marketing May Not be for Me

The first session I attended was on Direct Marketing. Speaker Frank Joseph has been working as a direct market writer for decades and I figured if anyone could convince me that a cynic like me could write direct marketing content, it would be him. I'm not sure I came out of there convinced, but Frank had some great tips that I could apply to writing in general. My favorite quote from his talk was: "You can make money as a writer." He may have been talking about direct marketing specifically, but I'm applying his statement beyond that. I may try direct marketing at some point in my writing career, but just being reminded that I CAN make money writing was enough to put a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

Ethics of Memoir - It's About Relationships

Next, I went to Ethics of Memoir. Author Marion Winik discussed her experience of memoir writing and how it has changed as she has grown and learned from the consequences of what she has written. My favorite quote from her talk was: "The act of writing about another person takes place first in a relationship. It can't help but affect that connection." Since I write mostly memoir, I found this talk extremely helpful in reminding me that I'm not writing in a vacuum. When I write about my life as it intersects with the lives of people who are important to me, what I write will inevitably influence those relationships in some way. It's best to bring those people into the folds before publication. Otherwise, even if what I write doesn't seem negative to me, the consequences may not be pretty.

Notes from the Keynote

The keynote speech was given by Roxana Robinson, who said: "If someone else can't hear your voice, it doesn't mean you should stop. It means you should make it clearer." She also railed against the term "women's fiction", "because there's no equivalent for men." I wish I had written down her entire argument because it rang so true to me in so many ways. The basic gist was that it was demeaning, that just because a novel might be about family and written by a woman, doesn't make it inherently women's fiction. Would you call Hamlet women's fiction? Or Anna Karenina? I'm still mulling over what she said and wondering how the term women's fiction may be negatively affecting female writers and readers alike.

Taking Your Networking Viral

After lunch I attended Mindie Burgoyne's talk on Viral Networking. While much of what she talked about (networking on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., effectively) was stuff I already knew, I did glean a real gem: "Make sure you're giving fans/followers content they want, NOT what you want them to have." This is something I struggle with sometimes, particularly because my time for social networking is limited. I'm working on it, though.

Setting the Scene

The last session I attended was on setting. Lalita Noronha discussed how she uses setting to put the reader in the center of her stories, which are often set in exotic locales like her native country of India. Noronha reminded us that: "The 'where' and the 'when' can be as important if not more important than the 'who'. We make judgments on the who based on where and when." I've always loved the way Noronha describes setting with just enough detail to bring me into the story, but not so much as to distract from the story itself. I'll be spending some time rereading her stories and studying her technique over the next few weeks. I may not write much fiction, but my nonfiction writing could certainly benefit from some effective scene setting.

Those are just a few of the lessons I took home from this year's MWA conference. Feel free to share your thoughts on any of the topics I mentioned, or share some of the writing lessons you're learning these days.

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