Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Learning Vacation

This is a short blog this week because most of the writers I know are either on vacation, facing a deadline or off to the big conference of the year. Thousands of romance writers have descended on San Diego this week for the annual RWA or Romance Writers of America Convention. It's a great convention to attend because it is a wonderful opportunity to see old writing friends, make new friends and get the opportunity to listen to some of the best selling romance authors in the world.

Where else could you as a writer ask a question of the great Nora Roberts and get a direct answer. I'm not going this year, but I remember going to one of her workshops (getting there very early so I could get a seat) and thoroughly enjoying her presentation.

 I also got a chance at another conference to hear bestselling mystery/romance author Hank Phillippi Ryan. I was really interested in her presentation because--like me--she had worked as a journalist and she was giving a workshop about how her job as a TV reporter helped her. That workshop really hit home for me. She mentioned that it made her more aware of editing, and that journalists often find it easier to work with editors. As journalists we worked with editors every day. Seldom did any of our writing get on the air without someone else reading over our work. Whether it was a managing editor who questioned facts, or the news producer who shortened or corrected badly constructed sentences, or the anchor who might fix things to his or her style, we got edited when we wrote for newscasts. When you know that perhaps millions are listening or reading your work, you want the writing to be the best it can be. Any help from an editor is welcome, and that only helps to be a better editor yourself.

And where else do you get to talk to real live experts who can provide wonderful research material. As part of RWA's Kiss of Death Chapter, dozens of us got to visit Quantico one year for a close up look at the FBI. We even spent time on the gun range.

 I always recommend that aspiring writers try to attend conferences when possible. Even small conferences can be eye opening and educational. I admit some of the larger ones, like the RWA Convention can be overwhelming, especially when you don't know anyone. I remember being frightened at my first few national conventions, but then I realized there were so many other writers there who were just as alone as I was, and everyone was eager to find someone else to talk to. We were all in the same boat--wanting to learn to write or in later years wanting to sell our writing. By simply wandering around the convention and sitting at dinner and lunch tables with strangers, I got the chance to meet agents and editors so I could pitch my work. I also got the chance to meet other writers who were facing some of the same challenges I was.

If you don't get the chance to go to an RWA national event, take a look at small regional conferences. For a  few years I attended the Tony Hillerman Conference in New Mexico and at one I got the chance to meet best selling mystery author John Sandford. That was a real treat because I had been reading his books since he started publishing the Prey series. And it was even more fun to get to chance to speak directly with him. The journalist in me drove me to immediately ask how his own career in journalism had helped him. He mentioned that it meant he knew had to write every day and he still looks at writing fiction that way. As a reporter he wrote stories that were at least 750 words so he focuses on writing at least that much every day. If you had to do it as a working reporter and without excuses, you can do it as a writer if you want to succeed. That made perfect sense.

So this week as I watch all my friends go off to San Diego for the big convention, part of me is envious, but I'm looking forward the next conference I get to attend. And in the meantime I will continue to work on my next book so I'll have something to sell in the future. But whether you're a reader or a writer, don't ignore those conferences close to home. They can be helpful for selling your books, but they can also be fun for the readers who attend. Consider a vacation at a conference. You can learn while you enjoy being away from home.


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