Midwest Writers Workshop–Day 2

It’s the middle of day two of the Midwest Writers Workshop here in beautiful Muncie, Indiana.

Writers are scurrying from pitching an agent to a social media tutoring appointment to their next session from one of our amazing faculty to a manuscript makeover appointment to finding a bathroom to grabbing a snack to checking out the book table to heading to yet another session.

And that’s what it’s all about. Learning more about the craft that we all love.

We’re all here supporting one another as writers. Some with published books. Some with dreams of publishing. All with a passion for words.

That’s why I love it.

This place reeks with people who love words and writing. We’re all geeks sort of geeking out over words and how to put them together. This place reeks of geeks.

And it’s awesome.

There are lots of writers conferences, and I’m a strong proponent of all writers attending a conference for the continued training, support, and encouragement from other writers. I’m new on the planning committee for the Midwest Writers Workshop (we’re celebrating 40 years with this conference), and I’m amazed at how this team pulls together to make a great conference happen.

This year, Cathy Day and I worked together with some savvy Ball State students. Several of the students are acting as assistants for the five agents who are taking pitches, and the others are working in the social media lab giving one-on-one tutoring advice in the art of social media (websites, Twitter, Facebook pages, etc., etc.). Here’s a photo of our social media lab:

The social media lab with one-on-one tutoring about social media for writers
The social media lab with one-on-one tutoring about social media for writers

I’m sitting in the social media lab listening to the students talk about how great the attendees are, how they feel like they’ve both been able to teach something to their clients as well as learn something from them, and how they’re enjoying connecting with other writers. We’ve built in time for the students to attend a couple of workshop sessions as well.

We’re all in this writing life together.

And we’re having a perfectly awesome time.

You ought to think about attending next year!

The Hard Work of Writing

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’ve been guilty of saying just that to students in my Editing class. And while it’s true that I get to do what I love (and that, in itself, is a blessing), it’s not true that I’ve never worked. Many many days have been “head-down-plod-through-get-it-done-keep-going-don’t-give-up-the-manuscript-is-soon-ending” kind of days.

Editing is hard work.

And so is writing.

So my friend Kameron McBride (a BSU student and Midwest Writers social media intern) writes in his blog and makes the point that, indeed, writing doesn’t just happen like the cobbler going to sleep while the elves make the shoes. It’s sweaty, difficult, and painstaking work. We don’t (ever) wake up to a manuscript magically completed.

An illustration for the Brother's Grimm story "The Elves and the Shoemaker"
An illustration for the Brother’s Grimm story “The Elves and the Shoemaker”

So it’s a good thing we love it!

To be good at writing takes constant practice. Another BSU student and MWW social media intern John Carter discusses the importance of trying to create a schedule to keep him writing regularly over the summer. Then, of course, once “real life” is in place and summer vacation is a thing of the past (at least if you aren’t in academia), then that schedule and routine will be invaluable.

My friend L. Marie has been posting lots of writing process interviews. We writers must juggle life and overcome fear and discouragement. I love her post about this. (And, if you want more, read her whole lineup–especially if you’re into YA.)

Yep, this writing life is hard work–discouraging at times, frustrating, often unrewarded (except when we’re outstanding in our own minds).

And, like any skill, we need to work to improve. Sure, maybe some of us were born with an innate ability to put words together, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to learn or to hone our craft. As Barbara Shoup (director of Indiana Writers Center and, incidentally MWW faculty this year) points out in this blog post, the craft can be learned if you’re patient and willing to work at it.

Work at it.

Here’s what my friend and mentor Cathy Day says about it:

Convincing yourself each day to keep going, this means that you are a writer. The world will be sure to declare, “You matter, but you don’t. Wow, your work is exciting, but yours is old fashioned and dull.” What do you do when someone says, “Eh, you’re okay, I guess.” Do you stop? Or do you keep going? That’s the moment when you know whether or not you’re a writer.

Cathy says, “You must do it simply because you want to.”

Kind of like what Mo Smith (yet another MWW social media intern) describes here.

And it’s hard work.

But therein lies the glory. We want to do it so much that we’re willing to work at it. To stare at the screen on the tough days. To get up early and write when that’s the only time available. To keep on plugging when it fights against us.

That’s the hard part for so many. I hate to sound like an old fuddy-duddy (even if I am one), but in a culture where crimes are solved in a TV hour and purchases are made immediately online and we get upset if someone doesn’t answer our text within 60 seconds–well, have we lost what it means to work at something tirelessly?

We each have to answer that for ourselves.

Get Thee to a Writers Conference

It’s great for us to be able to connect virtually with so many writers–we can build our tribes with people literally all over the globe. But then . . . there’s something to be said for that personal touch, getting to talk and laugh with other writers face to face.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a local writers group that meets regularly, give those folks a big hug next time you’re together. Many writers are laboring away alone because they haven’t been able to locate a group with whom they can connect. Hey, if it was good enough for C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien to meet with others in a group called the Inklings and read one another’s work, it’s certainly good enough for us!

Many of our college students in writing programs are worried about what happens when they leave. Their college community and the folks in their major provide a positive and supportive group that disappears once the diplomas are handed out. What next? We want to help them understand that the writing world has many, many places where they can connect with other writers.

One of these is the writers conference.
Bright ideas
I’ve spoken at my share of conferences and am currently privileged to be on the board of an excellent midwest conference–appropriately named the Midwest Writers Workshop. Our conference is held for three days every July on the beautiful campus of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. This is our fortieth year!

As a new member on the board, I’ve so enjoyed watching my committee members in action. They work hard to bring in agents who are eager to hear pitches and faculty who can teach about a variety of genres. This year we’re expanding our social media training module to help writers do exactly what we’ve been talking about here–increasing their presence by building a website and using other social media. Some of our older attendees just need a little guiding hand to help them get over the hump and engage in the online world–and incredible Ball State students offer their expertise. This year we’re also including a time for writers of different genres to get together and read a few pages of their work to one another (again, a la Lewis and Tolkien). Many of our attendees go away having found new tribespeople, maybe even discovering folks in their own backyard with whom they can meet regularly for reading, critiquing, and encouragement.

At writers conferences, faculty teach about the craft of writing. I really want that message to come through in all of this social media talk: First you need to be a good writer–and you need to hear that from others besides yourself and your mom. If you need improvement, go to a conference where a faculty member is talking about how to pace your plot (if that’s your problem), or how to create strong characters, or how to build a scene, or how to write dialog. These folks come to these conferences to help the likes of you–of all of us. Take advantage of their expertise.Speech bubbles

Conferences are happening literally all over the country at all times of the year. You can probably find one within driving distance. Prices vary depending on what’s offered, how long they are, and who’s speaking, but you can surely find one that works in your budget (perhaps the Left Bank Writers Retreat this June in Paris? . . . ‘twould be magnifique! Twist my arm!). The Poets & Writers website offers this link about writers conferences, and then includes this link with listings for various upcoming conferences. Newpages.com includes a listing where you can browse writers conferences by state.

So set aside a little time and money for you to spend a few days honing your craft and meeting new friends.

As citizens of the literary world we should continue to learn, continue to improve, and continue to challenge one another to be better writers.

And that’s why thou must get thyself to a writers conference.