This is my experience, learnings, and take-away from the 3rd annual Looking Glass Rock Writers’ Conference. Read here for my summary of the theme ‘a sense of place’ and impression of the first writers’ conference.
Quick Quotes & Questions to Ask Yourself While Writing from Craig Johnson (author of Walt Longmire series).
- Which story is going to go the distance? Can you ride that for a year or more?
- Writing shouldn’t “open a vein on the page.” You should love it. Why else would you do it?
- “. . . the canvas needs to be intimidated by me.” Pablo Picasso
- “Go after the story with a club; don’t wait for it, for permission.” Jack London
- Agents want to see if you can take direction
- Give key roles in the story to your supporting characters
- People “talk” in cafes and bars
- Have characters who compliment each other (gender, personality, faith, etc.)
- Each voice has a role in the story; look to integrate them naturally for a specific purpose with their own identity
- The Industry changes . . .
The only control you have is to write better than you did yesterday
- Publishers put a lot on the author to blog and use social media to help sell book
- Good writing has a universality to it
There are common human trends that can be found across the world
- Don’t be vague
- It’s nice for publicity to have toys and a movie(s) based off your book . . .
- Character building: you like people for their virtues; you love them for their flaws
- Never underestimate minor characters. (I have a post about that!!!)
- If you’re honest with yourself as you write, you will come to conclusions that will propel the story
*I find this advice to be not only important but useful the longer I’m writing. Craig talked about “saving yourself the trouble by planning. Who’s saying the message? Who’s effected by the conflict/tension?” Much of the advice mentioned is enlightened when a writer outlines. Not only will it help expedite the drafting process, it can help focus the motifs and symbols (themes) a writer wants to incorporate into their work; I’m always looking for those kinds of things in the novels I read, putting them in my own as well. Yes, there’s always the possibility of adding stuff during the actual writing, but it helps to have an idea of the direction you want to head at the get-go. In fact, I think it’s a GOOD thing if you add/delete things during your writing. It means you’re evolving as an artist, improving on what you already have. I think it helps those writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. There’s always an abundance of symbolism in that genre; we kind of expect it
- “I don’t believe in writer’s block.” He says it’s either a lazy writer or they don’t know where they’re going
- Chapter breakdown from 5-10 pages
- The way his books start is how his books end – full circle – know the end of the book when you start
- Plant the seeds for other books into an earlier one
- What’s the message of what you’re writing?
- It’s okay if your first draft is 650 pages
- Don’t turn down anything (regarding publicity), want to reach out to as many readers as possible
- Try to write every day or even 10-15 minutes
- Pacing is a BIG problem in early drafts (etc. exposition dump at start, action all at end)
- “The story has to be bigger than your head.”
- “You can judge a man by the strength of his enemies.” Northern Cheyenne
- Research more than you intend to put into the book
- Creative dissatisfaction is a thing – it’s never going to be quite good enough
- ***Get somebody to read your stuff out loud to you
Especially regarding dialogue, this advice is something I’ve never heard of before. Craig says we can hear mistakes easier; they’ll be more obvious when read by another. We’re always reading our drafts in our own voice, at our own cadence (how WE intend the story to be told) it’s important to hear how another might approach the language
- How much do you leave to the imagination?
Craig works on the idea that the reader is pretty smart, knows what he knows
- Don’t stick your work in a drawer for 9 1/2 years
- Take advantage of people’s preconceived notions/expectations of a place to help shape their imaginations to the environment of the story and guide them to take a more unique form, one distinct from the story they read.
This can help with writers who set tales in places their readers may not have exposure to (i.e. someone who has never left Kansas reading about a story set in the Outer Banks, what might they have read or seen that helps them imagine what the ocean is like, is their imagination enough to supplement actually stepping in the water?)
- Don’t neglect the other art forms
- What is said about the character?
- What does the character say about themselves?
- What does the character do?
- Sentence structure – balance between dialogue, description, simple narration – find a rhythm
- Be aware of the genre and make the reader aware of the genre tropes and stereotypes
- Don’t listen to everybody when they give you advice . . .
- Craig is very aware that his method isn’t the only method to writing.
I really liked when he mentioned this. I think at a lot of events when there are writer speakers (any artists eve) they get sort of caught up in their methods and successes, they forget that those likely only worked for them and probably won’t for other aspiring writers. Craig was accommodating to each of the writers present, and I could not have been more grateful for his willingness to listen and engage in our ideas. He did little to talk down our ideas but started a conversation about what our plans were and gave us possible routes to take. “As when I’m here,” he would say, “after that, I’m gone!” He wasn’t so much telling us what we should or shouldn’t do in regards to our projects but lettings us talk out our options of what would or wouldn’t work, even paths we hadn’t thought of yet.
When we sat down one-on-one, I did not hold back. I told him the entire story of Arthur. I wanted to make sure not much was left out, so Craig could get the full scope of my vision. If I hadn’t, he wouldn’t have been able to provide some valuable wisdom that has propelled this latest draft of my novel. I know with every draft we say we feel confident about it, but this one really does feel the best I’ve done. I’m being more careful with dialogue, continuity, and character motivation. If I may make a suggestion to anyone readying, I would advise writing comments in the margins of your Word document (etc. “this piece of information will come back later in CH5); it will help keep you aware of what symbolism and foreshadowing you wish to weave through the text.
Cheers and happy creating!