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IWSG & DFWcon: Because Writing Conferences & Insecurity Go Hand in Hand!

DFWcon in Hurst, TX (photo by Tui Snider)
DFWcon in Hurst, TX (photo by Tui Snider)


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.

Hi, everyone!

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.”

*forehead smack* In my defense, he looked like a writer… whatever that means. Which brings me to something Brad Newton, who taught Improv for Writers, noticed about the DFW Writer’s Conference:

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.”

Nifty, eh?

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.

Waiting for a DFWCon pitch session (photo by Tui Snider)
Waiting for a DFWCon pitch session (photo by Tui Snider)

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.

Oh, well.

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.

Making friends at DFWcon (photo by Larry Snider)
Making friends at DFWcon (photo by Larry Snider)

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.

Unexpected Inspiration

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!

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Tui Snider
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  1. So articulate and well said! You’ve really captured the essence of the conference, impressive writing.
    Got my attention!

  2. Silly agent, doesn’t she know memoir is on the rise because of the whole reality TV thing. Missed opportunity.

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      Hi Jane, Is memoir on the rise? That’s good news! I’ve been a fan of memoirs and other personal accounts ever since I first read The Diary of Anne Frank. It’s one of my favorite genres. Thank you for your kind words! :D

  3. Welcome to IWSG! It’s an awesome group, Tui, and I’m so glad you joined. You will be a great addition.

    Aren’t writers’ conferences FUN? I always go to the same one, but I love it. I’ve met some amazing people there, and had incredible experiences.

    Please don’t listen to that agent. I want to live on an island! Many people do! If you wrote a memoir about something most people have done, the response would be, “Uh…everyone has done that. How is your story different?” I want to read your book RIGHT NOW. I think that guy didn’t know what he was talking about.

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      Hi Holli, Thank you so much for your encouraging words! I nearly didn’t post about my pitch session, but IWSG was perfectly timed for me to vent. I feel better already and am all set to polish up that island memoir. I got some really helpful tips for it from Les Edgerton, and I ordered the book he recommended, so I’m raring to go!

      I had never been to a writing conference before DFWcon, but now I am hooked. It is a LOT to take in, though, I must admit. :D

  4. I’m jealous of that fantastic writing conference. It sounds like it was loaded with information not just on the craft of writing but on the life of being a writer. I wish our local conference would focus on things like that.

    Thank you for your wonderful post.

    Way to whip out that universal theme! I think some agents and publishers think readers only want to read about lives like their own, but if that’s true, why have the best selling books been about unusual topics? Eat Pray Love. The Hunger Games. Harry Potter. Yeah, HP had had some universal themes, but no one can relate to being the magical messiah. Yet, that’s what took the theme we all know and gave it a fresh face. Phooey on that agent.

    Welcome to IWSG!

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      Hi Christina! Thank you for dropping by. Nice to meet you via IWSG. I am liking this group already!

      Good point about all the books you mentioned. One reason I read is in order to hop into a life that is different from my own. I want to experience different things. I even feel ripped off when my dreams are just like my daily life!

      Thanks again for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. :D

  5. Sorry the agent wasn’t interested. His loss, right?
    I would’ve thought AC was a new category…
    Welcome to the IWSG!

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      Hi Alex, Yeah! Maybe I’ll look back on that pitch one day when my memoir is selling like hot cakes and smile… Heck – I’m smiling now. DFWcon was a blast!

      Thank you for creating IWSG and for taking time to drop by my blog and say hi. :D

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      You are right, emaginette! I *did* have a blast… insecurities and all! :D

  6. Sounds like you had a good time! Thanks for sharing your experience! Great pictures!:)

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      Hi Barbara, Y’know, DFWcon was intense, fun, and intensely fun. I’m already planning for next year. Thank you for dropping by! :D

  7. Thanks for sharing your experience at the Writer’s Conference, Tui. Brad Newton’s Improv for Writers games sound intriguing (and freeing). Someday I hope to have the courage to go to a Writer’s Conference. Knowing that you are a member of IWSG (which I had never heard of before now — thank you) and you were able to do a pitch session gives this insecure new writer a good dose of hope (smile).

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      Hi Diane, Oh – goodness! Don’t be afraid to attend a writer’s conference. You will be surrounded by kindred spirits. It’s better than the average social gathering when it comes to being a writer-friendly environment.

      That said, I will admit that discussing your manuscript with an editor or agent is scary… but it’s not a mandatory part of things! One year, I didn’t bother with the pitch session at all, and I still got a LOT out of the conference. Thanks for dropping by my blog and commenting! :D

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