Writing Conference: A Family affair by Tacheny Perry

Writing Conference: A Family Affair

A couple weeks ago I attended the Nebraska Writers Guild conference with my dad and sister. It was the first non-pregnancy/birth related overnight away from my oldest children. And so, naturally I was both excited and nervous.

I made an itinerary, promised a special prize for good bedtime behavior, and then I got on a plane and prayed everything would be fine. Those worries however, I’m going to save for a moms blog.

This post is about the writing.

Writing Conference: A Family Affair by Tacheny Perry
My baby and my sitter!

Friday evening, with baby and built in babysitter (aka grandma) in tow, we headed to the conference center to enjoy reading from other Nebraska Writers Guild members and share some of our own. I was actually called second and was able to share one of my favorite moms blog posts: Boy: Why I Cried when I Found out I was have my Third. It was a lot of fun to hear all the different voices and genres, and though we had to leave before my dad could share, I had a wonderful time.

Saturday morning opened with a talk by Sabrina Sumsion about press releases, which I found informative but difficult to write on the spot. (No one’s allowed to read my worksheet 😉 ) Then we were treated to some very interesting stories by retired journalist George Ayoub. He also had some wonderful quotes. Some of my favorites were:

“Don’t be a writer; be writing.” – Faulkner

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

“I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.” – Tom Stoppard

My pitch session came during the last (and my favorite) talk of the day. Before you get excited, I wasn’t successful, not in the “Yes, I’m going to sign you today!” way. However, I felt much better about it than I did about my first in-person pitch. For one thing, this time I actually sounded like I was familiar with my book. The agent asked several clarifying questions and I was able to give coherent answers to almost all of them. AND when it was over I got to rejoin a talk about creating compelling characters.

Danny Manus, the final speaker, works in Hollywood, mainly on scripts. But he had some wonderful ideas and specific tools to help any character, whether on screen or in print. I loved that he had exercises and questions I walked out excited to apply to my projects. His presentation was a condensed section of a 4-week webinar series. (Writer buddies, if you’re interested in checking it out here’s a link)

A couple of my favorite character exercises:

  • come up with 5 core traits/adjectives for protagonist and antagonist
    • for each, write 3 ways you bring them out in the story
  • What are 5 things that brought your character to page 1
  • Create 3 ‘deal breakers’ for you protagonist; make him/her break one
Writing Conference: A Family Affair by Tacheny Perry
Right around here I got this picture…thanks mom ;-/

I loved learning new tools for my craft. I loved meeting new people with whom I share a dream. But mostly, I loved being able to go to a conference with my family. More than any book, or lesson, or experience, my family, their writing legacy, has influenced my writing. My dad, my mom, and my grandpa were my first readers, critique partners, and champions.

During his opening remarks, the Nebraska Writers Guild president mentioned our family and the fact that I was a third-generation member. My father took me to my first guild conference and his father took him.

“How cool is that?” he asked.

Pretty damn cool.

 

Writing Lessons from a 2-Year-Old

Writing Lessons (1)I was watching my two-year-old son play the other day, running from home-base (which was me on the couch) to his kitchen play-set, his car, and then back.

Each time he left, he’d say, “Bye mommy. I go to work now.”

And I’d respond, “OK, have fun!”

Then he’d beam up at me and say, “OK. Fun.” And run off again.

I found myself wishing I could capture that pure joy. Feel the pride that completely transformed his face when he knew he’d said something and I’d understood it. I found myself wishing I could write like my 2-year-old. Not in broken –English, of course (unless the story calls for that), but totally absorbed in the wonder of words.

So, for the next couple days, I sat back and observed him with this questions in mind: What writing lessons can I learn from this crazy ball of energy? This is what I came up with.

  1. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

Ever watch a kid launch himself off a rock? Or belly-flop from an ottoman to a couch? (Mine likes to preface this last one by saying, ‘Doggie, doggie, Doooo” –not sure why) They are fearless. And sure, sometimes that leads to scraped knees or a knot on their heads, but it also leads to new experiences. Some mornings I find myself sitting in front of the computer, paralyzed by the idea that I don’t know what I’m doing; worried that I’m venturing off to ‘parts-unknown’ without a map. But that’s where the stories live, and really, the worst that can happen is several hours later my delete button gets a real work-out. As one of my high school math teachers used to say, “Buck up little campers!” Adopt the courageous (and sometimes foolish) heart of a 2-year-old, and just go for it!

  1. It’s OK to talk to yourself.20150828_165243

So honestly, this is one I was pretty good at already. Hanging out with two kids all day
I’m the only adult around to talk to so I take advantage, but the way children talk to themselves is different, better. Usually when I’m holding a conversation with myself the content is boring. Chores, lists, plans for supper. When my son talks to himself he does voices (usually high and squeaky); he takes on invisible bad guys, argues with Mickey Mouse, and travels to the moon. Think of all the adventures I could write down if only I was brave enough to have them in my head first.

  1. Keep trying until you get it right.

I tend to be impatient. I try things a couple times and if I don’t get it, I move on. Imagine if I’d done that as a kid. Imagine if, after the first couple times I fell trying to take a step I’d said, “Oh well, I guess that’s not happening.” I watch my son, with his tongue stuck out in concentration, try again and again and again to stack blocks. And every time they fall he just picks them up and starts over. Writing takes drafts, lots of drafts. Publishing takes nos. But I can’t just move on. I have to keep going until the writing is right and until I get a yes.

  1. It only takes a few words to get your point across.

My son, in four words or less, can tell me he needs a drink or something to eat, wants to go to the park, can’t reach a toy…etc. But it takes me four hundred words to set a scene. When I got my first set of real edits from a critique partner one of the biggest ones was, ‘cut, cut, cut.’ And I thought to myself, “But all the beautiful words! I worked so hard to string those suckers together.” Of course, when I sat down and actually studied them, there were a lot of things I could delete. If you can say the same thing but in fewer words, you probably should. Now if only I could remember that the first time…

  1. Language is magic.

This is what really inspired the post. I take communication so lightly now. I’ve been doing it for years. I’ve forgotten its magic. But I see it again when I watch my son talk. His face illuminates after even a simple phrase like, “More yogurt please.” He’s discovering the power I take for granted. Words. Thoughts made audible.  Transformed into something that can be shared and understood. It really is magic. And if I can only tap in to the wonder I see on his face every time it works, my stories will sing.