What I Learned this Weekend

I learned something this weekend:

I have a lot to learn.

About writing novels.  About writing short stories.  About selling novels and publishing novels.  About developing characters and story worlds and plot lines.  About publishing flash fiction.  About blogging and platform developing and reaching out to reader’s hearts and souls.  About treating my writing as a profession.  About treating it as a ministry.

I learned a lot this weekend.

I attended a writer’s conference this weekend.

The one-day Wordsowers conference which I participated in last Saturday blessed me in so many ways.  I learned, I laughed, I alliterated.  (Okay, so it start with an “a” but it has two “l”s after that, so give me a break.)  I walked away feeling encouraged, empowered, and exhausted.  (It’s like going on midnight for the nth time in a row for me… so the alliteration may just have to be a thing.)

I had a lot of things that I wanted to learn from my time at the conference.  Some of them I did learn.  But none of them resonated with me as much as the lesson I didn’t expect.  The lesson I already knew.

I don’t know everything

Obviously.

I never thought that I did.  (Except maybe when I was sixteen.  Ancient history people, move on.)  What did I think?  I thought I could learn everything just by writing more.  Practice makes perfect, right?

No, not really.  Practice makes more-practiced.  (Which can be a good thing.)  There really is no perfect.  Not that I can achieve.

I can achieve “better.”

How?  I’ve got to learn.  And to learn, I’ve got to study.  If you want to get better, you’d better study with me.  Here’s the curriculum:

Blogs

Points to you.  You’re already doing this.  Me…?  In theory.  But I should be doing it more.  There are so many other great authors who share their knowledge and insights on the web for free.  Blog posts don’t take but a moment to read (unless they go on and on like this one.)  They are condensed, organized, boomkmarkable resources just waiting for writers to grab and read.  Easy read, easy learning.

Sounds like a deal to me.

If you’re not sure what blogs (other than this one) you should check into, here are some of my favorites.  I’ll be checking in on them more often.  Maybe we’ll bump into each other.

Go teen writers

Story forger

Helping Writers Become Authors

Incandescent Life

Craft Books

Craft books are books about writing.  They have a lot of the same benefits of blogs less one: they cost.  To offset their price tag however, they offer a lot that no blog post could ever bring to the table.  They’re more in depth.  They have margins which are great for notes or post-its.  They’re better organized.  They can be read on the beach.  They don’t get drown in your other emails and forgotten.  They sit on your nightstand, watching you sleep.  Calling you.  Beckoning to be read.

If you’re like me, you look at the craft books shelf and think, “Actually, they look pretty boring.”  Which maybe they do.  Don’t be deceived.  Any good craft book will get the wheels greased inside your imagination machine and soon you’ll be flying through pages while more mind churns over a half-dozen different plot bunnies and twists for your current novel, and other stories.  If the book you’re reading doesn’t create an Imagination Station level experience for you, then get a different one.

To help you avoid some of the hit and miss throes of craft book buying, here are my highly recommended favorites:

Go Teen Writers, Jill Williamson and Stephanie Morrill (Read this first.  Even if you’re not a teen.  Then read it again.  Then move down the list.)

The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction, Jeff Gerke

Self-editing for Fiction Writers, Renni King

Talk to people

Yes, the scary ones.  And not just the writers.  Talk to your readers.  Talk to your pastors or parents or friends or co-shoppers at the grocery store.  Talk stories with anyone who will talk stories with you.  Talk about their favorite stories, and your favorite stories.  Ask them about their favorite (or one of) character and what made them special.  Ask them about writing themes and wholesome fiction.  Ask them about the how much violence is too much violence debate.  You may not agree, that’s fine.  If you come with the intent to learn, then the discussion will be beneficial anyway.  Having a good conversation with others about story is uplifting and thought provoking.  You may learn something along the way, or you may just get a great story idea.  Who knows, but what’s the harm in trying?

Go to writer’s conferences

Okay, so maybe this isn’t something you can do right now, but it is something you should look at.  Writer’s conferences are a wealth of information about every writing- and publishing-related topic under the sun.  Plus, even cooler, they’re full of other writers.  Real writers you can meet and talk to and learn from and swap critiques with.  They’re full of published authors willing to answer your questions and unpublished authors excitedly pursuing that first book contract (just like you and me.)

AND EVEN IF YOU DON’T TALK TO ANYBODY, writer’s conferences are still worth all the hassle of… whatever little hassle is involved.  Writers are always asking what is the cure for writer’s block.  There is no easy answer.  (I’ve listed a lot, and more than a lot) but none of them compare to a day of creative engagement like you can find at a writer’s conference.  There is no “cure all” solution for writer’s block, but attending a writer’s conference is VERY NEARLY CLOSE.  As close as you’ll get.

Take my word for it.  Or take anyone else’s who has attended one.  Writing conferences are the bomb.

If you’re not sure where to start, or you don’t want to have to buy plane tickets out to California to attend one, hit up google.  I had no idea that there was one held annually in my home town until I heard about it on the radio.  Should have googled it three years ago.  Do yourself a favor and go look.  (Once you sign up for one, let me know.  I’d love to share what little I know about preparing for one.)

The most important thing

Alright, there you have it.  That’s what you (and I) should be doing to learn more about the craft.  There’s probably more that I’m missing (you learn something every day) but that’s more than a worthwhile list to get you started.

Speaking of getting started, that’s what we should do.  All of us.  Right now.  Go google “Writer’s workshop (your city)” or hit up Amazon for a craft book. At the very least go find a blog you like (in addition to mine) and give it a read.  Like what you find?  Subscribe.  That way your email can make you keep you learning-writing resolution.

If you’re overwhelmed and not sure how to fit all of this into your busy schedule, then don’t.  Fit some of it.  A little piece of it.  Maybe one book, or one blog.  Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything.  Fit what you can into your schedule and move on.

Now, for the most important thing…

Don’t stop writing.  I said at the beginning of the post that you can’t reach perfection just by practicing.  But all the learning in the world won’t help you if you don’t write.  The best way to get better at writing  is still writing.  That won’t ever change.  Seeking to learn through some of these other channels is important, but continuing to write is critical.  Do that, and you can’t be doing I wrong.

 

What are your favorite blogs?  (Other than mine 😉 )  What craft books have you read?  Some of the ones I mentioned?  What were you thoughts?  Did you read others?  Would you recommend them?  Have you attended any writer’s conferences?  What were your thoughts?  (Lots of question, but here’s one more: What’s your favorite story, and why?)

 

Photo: A golden apple, AJ Batac, CC BY 2.0


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Brandon

Raised on C.S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend the physical reality to reveal spiritual realities which apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts and solar systems (including our own.)
When not writing fiction Brandon spends his time tending his blog The Woodland Quill, sportsing, or just struggling through that last-year-of-high-school/first-year-of-college which is really neither but is definitely both.

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  1. Jess Penrose May 5, 2017 at 4:21 AM - Reply

    Hm, I can’t say conferences are too easy, I live an hour away from the nearest town, and 6 hours from the nearest city… but I assume I can go without that. Can I? I read lots of blogs, and I’ve never even seen a craft book! Or, is that like ‘One Year Adventure Novel’?
    Oh, and I just need to ask… in an above comment… did you say Nadine? As in, like, Nadine Brandes? Like, my Ninja Master? THAT Nadine?!
    Now, to answering questions… Um.. favorite blogs…Maiden of the Misty Mountains, and Nadine’s Blog. The rest I don’t think I can answer… although, OYAN was good. Really good. And yes, I recommend it. 100%. Must be used, read devoured!!!

    • Brandon May 5, 2017 at 9:04 AM Reply

      If you can’t do a conference right now, I wouldn’t let it stress you out. They are the hardest item on the list to pull off, but potentially the most rewarding, so at some point, you should try. There’s nothing quite like spending a weekend surrounded by other writers who are talking about writing. But I was writing for years before I went to my first one (and I’ve only been to three) so you can certainly make progress on your writing through through other channels.
      (Nice work on reading a lot of blogs. That’s a great way to hear a bunch of different opinions and approaches so that you can find exactly what helps you the most.)
      OYAN is more like… a craft curriculum. (But on the other hand, it is /the/ craft curriculum.) ALL HAIL OYAN! Craft books are like… books though too. Go Teen Writers is (by far) the best one I’ve found (and I’ve found some good ones.) I know you have to like, pay for it, but it’s totally worth it.
      And yes, as in Nadine Brandes, ninja master. (Told you conferences were great. 😉 ) And on that note, I follow her blog too. It’s great! OYAN must be used, reused, and reused again. And then cherished and enshrined as the greatest thing to happen to writers since spell checker. 😛
      Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts! It’s great to hear from you!

  2. Rolena H. May 1, 2017 at 8:37 PM - Reply

    Ack! (in the best sort of way) What a great summary! And your last point, don’t stop writing, is the one that keeps ringing in my head from the conference. Many of the workshop leaders kept saying “Write the book”. And it’s true. How will we ever grow in our writing if we don’t dare to keep writing in the first place?
    Now that I said something I should probably answer one of those questions. :p One of my favorite stories is of Prince Jaron (Ascendance Trilogy, Jennifer Nielsen) because we’re told the story from his point of view yet he keeps so many secrets from the readers it kept me on the edge of my seat the whole ride. Also because he’s the craziest, wittiest most selfless character I’ve met in a long time.

    • Brandon May 1, 2017 at 9:36 PM Reply

      Cool! It’s hard to summarize the conference, even it it was only a day long. I think the best part of it for me (even though the teaching /was/ great) was the friendships I developed with other writers (including Nadine, Ben, and some random KeePer.) And yes, “Write the book.” Even my favorite-colored frame says that. 😛
      Oh! The Ascendance Trilogy has been on my list for a few years and I just got the last of the books over at Half Price! I’ll have to give them a read when I’m done with…. yeah, some other things. (But they’re short looking, so they’ll probably get bumped up the list.)

      Thanks for reading!

      • Rolena H. May 2, 2017 at 4:30 PM Reply

        You know, I really expected there to be a larger crowd, but since it was smaller sized it was definitely a highlight to actually make friends with the workshop leaders (and some other random KeePer) authors I never would have dreamed I’d get to talk with about our craft.
        And with such great writing advice you really should hang your favorite colored frame on your wall.
        What?! You have the books on your shelf and you haven’t read them yet! Stop whatever you’re doing and go read them. Right now.
        *sigh* I guess I’ll have to settle with them being bumped up the list. Calculous trumps Prince Jaron. Sad day.

        • Brandon May 2, 2017 at 4:35 PM Reply

          Yes, totally. Wait, there was another KeePer there? How’d I miss that? 😛
          Don’t tell me to stop what I’m doing and fiction, because I most definitely will and that would be bad. Sad day? Yes, I’d have to agree with that.

          • Rolena H. May 2, 2017 at 5:25 PM Reply

            “How’d I miss that”, he asks?? Remember, you were too busy following Ben around like a puppy dog to notice. :p

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