IWSG & DFWcon ReCap
I’m combining my DFWcon Recap along with an IWSG check-in because, in my case at least, writing conferences and writing insecurities go hand-in-hand! IWSG stands for “Insecure Writers Support Group.” It’s a monthly check-in, and this is my very first time joining the group.
Last weekend was the DFW Writer’s Conference a.k.a. DFWcon (DFW stands for “Dallas – Fort Worth” for those who may not know.) It’s my 3rd year attending, but it’s the first time I was both an attendee *and* a vendor. Yup – I manned (womanned? personed?) a table to sell my book Unexpected Texas. Actually, my hubby manned the table most of the time, which was great. He’s a good schmoozer!
Look Ma! A New Genre!
It’s so fun to be surrounded by writers! Sure, people mingled at the official mixer, but even when we were out for dinner, I overheard other diners discuss their pitch sessions, agonize over which classes to attend, and chat about writerly concerns.
One morning at the hotel breakfast buffet, I asked the guy beside me, “What’s your main genre?”
“AC, I guess.”
“AC? That’s a new one on me. What’s it stand for?”
“AC?” He looked at me like I was crazy. “Means air-conditioning. I’m here for continuing education in heating and cooling.”
We are a varied bunch!
Brad said that most groups he teaches to have a certain uniformity to their attire. When he teaches ranchers, they dress like ranchers, and when he teaches business people, they dress like business people. But, as he put it, “DFWcon people are very individual. They dress from the outside in, rather than from the inside out. It’s very expressive and unique to each person.”
Improv for Writers
While I’m talking about Brad Newton, I may as well mention how much I enjoyed his class. I avoided Improv for Writers last year because I wasn’t sure how it would apply to my writing.
While I’m a natural born goofball, when it comes to DFWcon, I want nuts and bolts. I want to leave each seminar armed to the teeth with tools I can apply directly to my writing life and career.
If I’m in a writing seminar and it’s not well-organized, or it’s just a pep talk – I leave. I don’t need someone to fluff me up like a pillow. That’s why God invented YouTube cat videos, right? That said, people spoke so highly about Brad Newton’s Improv for Writers class last year that I decided to give it a whirl this time around.
I’m glad I did.
My 2 big takeaways from Brad Newton’s Improv for Writers:
1. The best stories carry us along with them: Brad’s improv games made me realize how an audience plays along when you tell a story. Brad didn’t say this to us directly, but his games made me realize this through my own feelings. That’s the beauty of improv. It’s visceral, not cranial. Brad could have lectured us. He could have used PowerPoint to explain how an audience roots for you and your characters, but his improv class allowed us to discover this for ourselves. I think it’s important for writers to get out of their heads and into their bodies from time to time.
2. Letting yourself make mistakes frees up a lot of energy. During one game, Brad kept urging us to go faster and faster. We all resisted. We didn’t want to goof up. It’s not like anything was at stake, mind you, other than a little embarrassment. “Dare to be wrong!” he urged. “Go ahead, make mistakes!” Finally, we loosened up and got sloppy. Afterwards, I noticed how energized I felt. It made me realize how draining it is to try and only do the right thing. It made me think of freewriting (which I love to do), and how I get so much more writing done when I let myself make mistakes on the page. I had never really thought of perfectionism in that way before. Brad’s class really made me feel how giving in to the mind-trap of perfectionism caps off my creative energy.
I heard an Elevator Pitch – in an Actual Elevator!
Y’know how you are always being told to polish your “elevator pitch”? Well, my husband asked a woman why she was at DFWcon as she stepped into the elevator with us. As we descended 4 floors, she launched into a concise little elevator pitch describing her work. It was perfect!
Speaking of Pitches… (cue the IWSG Theme Song)
I showed up early to the pitch session waiting area and I was not alone. As I sat around a table full of anxious writers, we killed time by practicing our pitches on each other. It was fun and helpful. We even helped a guy figure out what genre his work fell into.
I decided to pitch my memoir. It’s a book based on diaries I kept when I dropped out of college and ran off with an artist to live on a tiny island with a population of 7. It was completely off the grid. There was no ferry service and mail came once a week. It was a bit like the TV show “Gilligan’s Island,” because there was “no phone, no lights, no motor car.” We even had a professor out there, but no coconuts.
My memoir is in the 3 Act structure and reads like a novel. External events include our boat sinking, nearly getting blown up by 17 tons of dynamite, and a neighbor accusing me of being a Satan worshiper. Internal events include my struggle to be a step-mom, disappointing my family, rejection from friends, and dealing with my in-laws’ expectations.
The response I got from everyone at the table was along the lines of, “Wow! That sounds really interesting. I’d read that.”
So I walked in feeling pretty good about things…
The agent on the other hand, visibly bristled when the word “memoir” came out of my mouth. I specifically chose this agent, however, because memoir was listed as a possible genre, along with travel, women’s issues, and spirituality. This agent also mentioned enjoying working with highly creative people, people who have more than one facet to them, which made me think of my music and photography. I didn’t end up mentioning those things, though.
I also showed the agent my self-published book, and mentioned I had another coming out in September. I thought this would show that I am a do-er, y’know? Didn’t feel like it helped, though. Aside from stiffening at the word “memoir” the agent had a pretty good poker face. It was hard for me to read what was happening at the other side of my pitch.
At one point the agent asked me to describe my memoir’s universal theme. I said something along the lines of, “It’s about finding one’s place in the world, and that while the emotional price of following your heart can be painful and cause family and friends to reject you, it can also lead to a deeper understanding of yourself and your place in the world.”
Yeah… it was redundant and rambling, but the agent looked surprised and said, “That’s actually pretty good.”
Even so, I was not asked to submit a query or any sample pages. The agent’s parting comments were, “Living on an island is not something most people have done. What you have done is very unusual. Very strange. Readers need something they can relate to.”
As for the other people at my table? One was asked for a full manuscript, another for a partial, and two others, like me, struck out completely.
The Takeaway from my Pitch Session
The upside to my pitch session is that it made me ask, “What is it that I truly *need* as a writer?” I’m not afraid to write, I enjoy social media, and I have no shortage of projects lined up. What I need, however, is some wise guidance. I’d love to have a mentor, publicist, or another author a wee bit farther along on their creative journey to model myself after and learn from. I definitely need camaraderie, and am grateful for all the connections I have made online! I’m happy to share what I learn as I go, and to pool my knowledge and experience with other writers. That’s one of the things I hope to gain/contribute to the IWSG group.
Speaking of Mentors
At last year’s DFWcon, I took a public speaking class from Harry Hall. It was very helpful, and I bought his book afterwards. I was happy to see him again this year and to let him know that I’ve booked my first speaking engagement for June. He gave me a few pointers, and we chatted several times during the weekend.
Nina Amir, who taught a class called The Author Training Manual, was also very helpful. I even took notes while talking to her in the buffet line at lunch!
Later, at the keynote, I was lucky enough to sit by Les Edgerton, the author of Hooked (among many others.) He gave me a few pointers on memoir writing and recommended the book Your Life As Story by Tristan Rainer, which I have ordered.
I also connected with the vibrant woman at the vendor table beside mine: Chantelle Aimee Osman. Wow! She is multi-talented. I attended her class on screenwriting and I was so inspired that I’ve started a screenplay based on the Lynching of Santa Claus.
Too Much for one Blog Post
While I have gone on and one… Believe me, I could still go on and on! I didn’t even get to tell you about:
… all the wonderful peeps I met and/or reconnected with from past DFWcon writing conferences.
… the lively class led by Kelsey Macke that’s got me fired up to try my hand at vlogging.
… the hilarious Tex Thompson. Who knew a class on grammar could make you snort-laugh? (I wasn’t the only one!) I’m still snickering over a few of her remarks, actually…
But it’s now lunchtime, my kitchen timer has dinged, this post has become ginormous and I had better post this post. Even so, I may just have to write up a DFWcon Recap Part 2. Stay tuned!