Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wherein I make you do my job . . .

Current Project: NMMNG
Status: Creating Believable Characters (Thanks Debbie for sending me back to my reference books! Go check out her post below if you didn't catch it yesterday!)

No, don't worry, I'm not going make you tackle stacks of grading, wrangle a toddler, or outline a YA novel. (Although, if you want to toddler wrangle . . . ) Part of the Vice-President's job in our chapter is finding speakers for our meetings. Lisa, Barb, and I have been doing a little brainstorming, but I want a larger sample size. We all come to meetings for different reasons--some for the social networking, some for the goals and inspiration, some to glean new skills, and some to advance an already flourishing career. I know we have a few lurkers on the blog who may be contemplating joining, and I'm hereby declaring this Delurking Day because I want to hear from you too.

First, think back on meetings and conference presentations that you have particularly enjoyed. If you remember names, please share! Was it just that the speaker was particularly entertaining or did it make a real difference in your process. For me, Jennifer Crusie's presentation at 2005 nationals on conflict changed EVERYTHING for me. A light bulb went off, and I saw everything wrong with my first WIP, and I suddenly "got" every book I read hence forth. Of course, the goddess Crusie is unlikely to come west, but this is my personal gold standard. At the same conference, the Sure-Fire Six Step Pitch (by an author with the last name McKnight, thank you vague conference materials) got me started on the road to synopsis writing. And the incomparable Cherry Adair and her presentation on goal setting changed my outlook forever--I still have my little index card of goals from that workshop.

More locally, every time Alice talks synopsis and pitches, I come away so inspired. When Terri Reed spoke on critique groups, I discovered an important part of the writer's journey that I was not aware of previously. Elizabeth Lyons changed my mindset about editing and selling (I may have seen her as part of Willamette Writers--my memory is a tad fuzzy). Mary Buckingham made pacing finally make sense to me. In four years with the chapter, there have been so many speakers who have come along at just the right moment for me--inspiring me, keeping me going, illuminating parts of the process, and it would be impossible to list all of them. I am intensely grateful to past Presidents and Vice-Presidents for finding such valuable speakers for the group. I have a lot to live up to!

In addition to knowing what speakers have made a lasting impression on you, I also want to know where you are right now in your career. What sorts of presentations would be the most helpful for you? As I go forth and track down speakers, I want to make sure that I'm hitting areas that are relevant. Do you prefer writer speakers or have you enjoyed our meetings with non-writer speakers like the forensic anthropologist? (I wish we had had three more hours with her!) Have you seen other speakers elsewhere (nationals, Portland, other conferences etc.) that you wish you could share with the group?

I'm trying to assemble a wish list of speakers to reach out to because the worst they can do is say no, right? So dream as big as you want!

*Of course the flipside of great speakers is ones who fall a little flat, and if you want to discuss less than helpful speakers, please don't use names on the blog here--just mention the things that made it less than helpful for you (I do want to know this too!) and feel free to email me privately.


wavybrains said...

Checking the box so I remember to come back and reply to you!

Alice Sharpe said...

Wavy -- well, I'm hardly a lurker so telling you about myself seems kind of silly! I'd say I'm in mid career.

The workshops/speakers/meetings that always resonate with me are one of two things: either they are interactive or they happen to impart a snippet of information at the exact moment in my learning curve where I am able to assimilate it.

An example of the first can be illustrated by the workshop of a writer whose name I can't remember held at Emerald City many years ago. I was there with a friend. Part of the exercise she was telling us about required us to pair off with a stranger and then ask that stranger some questions about their characters. The one I recall was, "What is it you REALLY want?" The first answer might be, (Talking as though you are your character) "I want Charlie to love me." Then the questioner asks it again. "What do you REALLY want?" This requires the writer to dig a little deeper and maybe say, "I want to have children someday." This goes on for like twenty times and trust me, by the time you get to twenty, you know what that character wants on just about every level imaginable. The last answer might be, "I want my father to love me for what I am," and it's usually followed by an aha, that your character isn't really in love with Charlie, but desperate to please her dead father (who was a lot like Charlie --for instance). My friend and I did this with each other in the car driving home, asking and re-asking and digging deeper and it really was inspiring. She was in tears. Gotta love that!

The aha! moments are random because they depend as much on your ability to understand what's being said within the context of your work as actually having it said to you. Donald Maas' presentation in Atlanta (or Dallas) with Eli a few years ago was like that. Everything he said made sense and as I was plotting a very character heavy book at the same time as I was hearing him speak, I was receptive.

I'm glad you enjoyed the pitching meeting -- I did, too, and I think the reason something like that is rewarding is because once again it's interactive. Saying things out loud, things that you've been chasing around on paper or in your head without resolution, hearing the ideas, getting feedback -- it is SO important at ANY stage of writing.

A few years ago I was suffering big time burn out. At that time, I craved something no writer's conference was delivering and that was a speaker who could help me figure out what was wrong, what I could do to change it. I never found such a thing; platitudes, gimmicks and clichés were ineffective. What finally worked was changing my market (that's when I went from pretty much straight romance to RS, (forcing myself to grow) and was completed when I found you guys.

Though I'm not too interested in "how to" workshops anymore although I do enjoy people with expertise relating how they do something. I, personally, am always interested in hearing how everyone does what they do and I'm not talking writers, I'm talking people in other professions, esp. service. We ate lunch at a restaurant today owned by a guy who started it twenty years ago and has since moved locations and upgraded, etc... and I was dying to ask him how it worked out. Did he miss the old style, the old customers, the old hands on when he did the cooking and not just the managing, etc... I would like to know how everyone does their job and how they feel about doing it, what the challenges are. I don't know how that can be approached within a workshop or speaker venue (maybe best left for private interviews) but I'm throwing it out there.

Good luck with your quest -- I know you'll do an excellent job!

Alice Sharpe said...

LOL, I didn't realize I wrote a book until I saw how much space that "comment" took up. My apologies!

Barb said...

Great topic. Trying to identify *why* certain topics have resonated with us is a very useful exercise--and reminds us all of how much we've learned through this organization.

My personal all-time favorite workshops have been Suzanne Brockmann on productivity (way back in 2000 at nationals) and Cherry Adair on story layering (both at Emerald City and 2008 Nationals--it was so good I went to it twice). Both came, as you said, at just the time I needed them. Suzanne Brockman's helped me figure out how to write an entire book just on my lunch hours at work, and Cherry Adair's helped me figure out why my character motives weren't coming across clearly on the page. Mary Buckham's plotting workshop is also up there as one of the most useful, for helping me try to codify something I was muddling around with randomly.

What I'd like to see: goal setting/learning to be more productive is one of my biggest bugaboos. I know other people get a lot of work done with heavy responsibilities (toddlers, good heavens!), so why can't I?

Plotting/outlining/synopsis writing is *always* helpful for me. I'd like to think that one of these days I'd get outlining down cold, but it hasn't happened yet.

I like hearing from experts in various fields, even if I don't personally need their info for my books--just their enthusiasm and the window into a different world is fascinating for me.

Alice's ideas about interactive workshops also make a lot of sense. Being able to apply the topic to our own work instead of just passively hearing about it can really help.

That's all I can think of right now. I look forward to hearing others' responses.

Terri Reed said...

Hi, I'm glad I said something that helped you. One never know if the drivel coming of one's mouth is worh anything. LOL.
I love workshops and speakers because I think there is always something to learn. I hope I never come to a point where I think I know enough. At the Emerald City conference this month I attended several workshops that really spoke to me. Debra Mullins workshop on self-editing was helpful. As was Bob Mayer's Warrior Writer workshop.
Have a great day!

Paty Jager said...

Been on the run all day.

I have a really bad memory, so you aren't going to get any names from me or dates. But, there are few workshops I go to that something doesn't make me think or have an "aha" moment. Even if it's a topic I think I know. The way someone else describes or tackles it can help me to see where I can make improvements.

I attended a workshop by Robert Dugoni at Emerald City, It was on editing or what he called "macro" editing. I liked the way he put forth the information though he was talking fast. LOL

As for what I'd like to see, I'm like Alice, I'm interested in other people's jobs. You never know when something they say can trigger an idea. And I like hands on workshops that help you dig deeper into your characters, like the one Alice commented on. That's kind of what I'm doing for the one I'm giving to the Portland chapter in November. BTW this is helping me immensely in determining how I'm going to give it.

Genene Valleau said...

Thanks to Debbie, the speaker I most want to listen to right now is Michio Kaku. Quantum physics and proving the impossible is possible fascinates me, as long as it's explained in a way a lay person can understand. Guess that puts me solidly in the column of those who love to hear how others do their jobs. It's even better if their profession is one I'm researching for a hero or heroine.

I also enjoy craft presentations from writers and, as others have mentioned, always seem to pick up something new. Now so much basic how-to stuff as the bigger picture structure of a novel. Toss in handouts and plotting devices and bring a dog and I'm hooked.

Though some other people love them, I don't care much for critique meetings. That's because I write in layers and need critique of pretty much my entire manuscript when it's close to finished. That's not practical to do at a meeting. :)

I agree with what others have said that a topic or presentation will appeal to me depending on what I'm writing or researching at the time. What that will be in any given month is akin to rolling dice, so doesn't help you much in planning meetings. However, I also enjoy presentations that may have nothing to do with what I write. As just one example, Jim and Barbars's presentation on swords was fascinating, but I haven't yet included it in a story.

I hope some of this is helpful. Pulling together meeting topics that appeal to a broad audience can be a challenge, but can also be a lot of fun!

Lisa Leoni said...

Some really great ideas put out, thanks everyone! My favorite speaker was Cherry Adair talking about her editing system for RCRW. Then again seeing her talk about it at Emerald City. She's fabulous. There isn't a workshop that stands out for me from either national conference I went to. I often like the non-writing topics like swords or the forensic anthropologist (which was a selfish choice on my part hahaha). I am taking a forensic investigation class now with a former detective. He lives in Salem and may be willing to come talk to us. He has great stories about cases and relating it to criminal procedure.

Bethany said...

I had a really late night last night teaching, so apologies for no replies.

Alice, I think interactive speakers are going to top my list, and I think the character questioning is something we could implement for a brainstorming meeting.

It really is random which workshops speak to us when, but when that serendipity happens, it's pure magic.

Bethany said...


Productivity and goal setting is high is huge for so many of us. And while I might hyperventilate if my goddess Brockmann showed up in Salem, we can always dream :) I'm also planning to throw myself on the mercy of Cherry Adair, and now I can use these comments on her awesomeness to bolster my appeal to her :)

Bethany said...


Thanks so much for stopping by. I'm adding Debra Mullins to my list. I love Bob Mayer's blogs on writing with Jennifer Crusie.

We'd love to see you back too! You certainly came along at one of those serendipitous moments for me!


Bethany said...


I think the "job" speakers are awesome for idea speaking too. We've done law enforcement a couple of times. Does anyone have any interest in a medical speaker? I was thinking that that might be helpful and/or interesting.

Bethany said...


Michio!!!! That WOULD be awesome, but perhaps we could get one of his local counterparts to enlighten us.

Bethany said...


Cherry Adair seems to topping our lists! The detective guy sounds awesome too.

Sarah said...

I enjoy craft and interactive workshops, and 'subject-matter experts' like the detective, anthropologist. etc. What about an archeologist? A folklorist? A psychic? A medical examiner? A journalist?

Deborah Wright said...

Chiming in a bit late. :-)

First, where am I at? Well, I'm still working on finished my first book.

I think I can safely say that I've gotten something out of nearly every workshop I've attended at the two conferences I've gone to so far. Ditto for each chapter meeting. That said, I'm less interested in basic craft stuff these days. Like others have already said, I'm more interested in hearing from more "experts" in fields outside writing (you never know what profession might be useful in a future book), as well as interactive discussions on plot, synopsis, goal setting and scheduling.

I'll be curious to see how the brainstorming part of our Nov meeting goes -- sometimes I think just being able to talk out loud about a particular problem helps jar loose a solution. I'm not sure I'm all that interested in critiquing as a group activity, but if others want a meeting for that, that's fine.