Sunday, June 24, 2012

Nuggets of Writing Wisdom

Me, my crit partners, and the yellow-badged Carol Lynch Williams
I just got back from a fabulous writers' conference held annually in Utah, Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR). Here are the nuggets of wisdom (or other observations) I came away with. Most of this knowledge wasn't "new," per se, but it struck a deeper chord or reaffirmed something I strongly believe in.

Author, Carol Lynch Williams, said to always stay true to who you are as a writer (and a person). Draw a line in the sand and don't cross it.

Editor, Alexandra Penfold, said great writing illuminates our humanity and struggles. We see ourselves in the characters. She also talked about how we experience new worlds THROUGH character; character must be first and foremost.

Matthew Kirby (a psychologist as well as an author) said our brains are "meaning-making machines;" We automatically try to make sense of our worlds. The reader will catch on; trust the reader.

Matt also said authors should never write action for action's sake. Action needs to ALWAYS say something about the character. He gave the example of Christopher Nolan doing this excellently with THE DARK KNIGHT in the opening action scene, which establishes the character of the Joker.

Matt also said, in regards to world-building, authors should strike a balance between the intimate details and the sweeping scope. World needs to be revealed through the character's eyes--what they would notice as opposed to someone else.

Speaking of story endings, Matt said even if they're inevitable to the reader, they shouldn't be to the main character.

Agent, John Cusick, said "voice" in writing is just another way of saying a unique point of view. John also said he wants to see protagonists motivated by universal AND unique things (not cliche) and not just responding to tragedy.

Almost everyone mentioned the importance of writing something no one else but you could write. (Don't follow trends, stay true to your own vision, etc.)

Author, Mette Ivie Harrison, told me, one-on-one, that she's discovered you don't always have to be writing "in the zone of inspiration" for your novel to be good. Mette never wastes time. For example, if she has ten minutes of waiting at the doctor's office, she will use that time to write.

Mette will end an writing session by writing the first line of the next chapter or segment. This helps her jump right back into writing next time without having to stare at a blank page.

Author, Cynthia Leitich Smith, talked about committing to writing only what you love. Focus on what fascinates your inner self and don't worry if it will sell.

Cynthia also mentioned that the "golden key" of writing is making the reader care enough about the character that they keep turning pages.

Cynthia's best writing advice is "embrace the delete key." (So true!)

Cynthia said it's the way fantasy reflects our world that most speaks to us.

Editor, Ruth Katcher, said publishers don't know what you should write, only you do. Stay in tune to the voice in your head that's been developing your whole life by your life's experience. Find the conviction to tell meaningful stories.

Ruth also said that as a character-development exercise, rather than interviewing your character about his/herself, it's more insightful to interview characters about OTHER characters. (I tried this and it was super cool.)

Author Ann Dee Ellis' biggest advice is to PLAY. Just relax and write. Turn off your inner self-editor (especially during your first draft).

Author, Trent Reedy, said that writing is more than your dream. One day someone will need your words to achieve theirs. He also said it's not enough to simply exist. Literature and art are necessary.

Author, Tim Wynne Jones, said dialogue must either reveal character or further the plot. Beats between dialogue must happen in "real time" (these are reaction moments, moments of silence between speaking), whereas narrative summary (when you're not in-scene) takes place in suspended time.

Tim also said the real collisions in your story should center in the dialogue--the most important element of being "in-scene."

Tim also talked about the importance of the objective correlative in scenes, meaning a detail/object in the scene/environment that correlates to the interior state of the character.

Author, Emily Wing Smith, said to get over impatience with yourself. Give yourself permission to say, "What I write next may even be better."

More than anything, going to WIFYR gave me a needed boost of confidence that what I have written and am writing is worthwhile, and that with continued dedication to the craft of writing, being open to feedback, and perseverance in the face of self-doubt, I can achieve my dream of publication.

What is your favorite tidbit of writing advice--from WIFYR, if you attended, or something you've gleaned from elsewhere or even from yourself? 

(I also want to congratulate my critique partner, Taryn Albright, who won the $1000 fellowship award at WIFYR for her amazing ten-page submission!)


  1. What a cute group of ladies! :) Can I just link to you for my WIFYR post? What a great report.

    1. We are cute, aren't we? :-) I can't wait to see you again soon, Ilima. At least one of my CPs lives nearby!

  2. A lot to digest (I'll have to read it a couple times through) - but it looks like you had a lot of fun! Love your group!

    1. I know what you mean! I'm hoping all this info will settle permanently in my brain. :-)

  3. Great advice! I loved this conference when I had the opportunity to go to it. Thank you for sharing!

    1. You're welcome, Sara! Thanks for stopping by. Hopefully I'll see you again at that writers' party in August. :-)

  4. All great tips--thanks for compiling that, Kathryn!

    1. Your welcome, Lindsay. And, hey, I just started writing my new MS today, so I'll keep steady eyes on your blog to keep me motivated. :-)

  5. I love WIFYR. It was great to hear some of the tips from sessions I didn't get to attend.

    1. Yes, definitely. My CPs have posted recaps on their blogs as well. Sometimes I was in the same session and didn't pick up on everything they did. It's good to compare notes.

      I loved meeting you at WIFYR and reading some of your awesome book!