What I Learned at NECRWA 2012

From Michael Hauge’s workshop, “Story Mastery,” how plot structure and character arc intersect to form a satisfying story. I attended an almost identical workshop at RWA National last summer, but I still got so much out of this one. Last summer, I mostly marveled at the fact that there was a complete vocabulary to describe how a story was put together. This time, I grokked some subtleties about illustrating through action how a character changes over the course of a novel. A-ha moment for me: When Michael Hauge asked us to consider our own character arcs by filling in the blanks in the sentence, “I will do absolutely anything it takes to get my books written and published, except __________, because that’s ‘just not me’” and I realized just how much (and how irrationally) I dread revising.

From Penny Watson’s workshop “How to Promote Yourself Without Peeving Everybody Off,” all about what’s acceptable in online self-promotion, and what isn’t. When I wasn’t gazing enviously at Penny’s phenomenal bling-y tiara from Etsy (and her equally spangly earrings), I enjoyed her hard-core stance on blatant self-promo (bad), asking readers to promo writers (worse), and manipulating reviews by writing them yourself or soliciting them from friends (worst). A-ha moment for me: It’s important to have great manners, but if you make an all-too-human mistake, it’s even more important to apologize quickly and succinctly.

From Kristan Higgins’s breakfast keynote address, that it’s important to have goals. When Higgins attend NECRWA ten years ago, she made a list of five goals, including writing a romantic comedy and getting published. As an aside, she also told us she’s always wanted to save a life, but has never managed to be there at the key moment when someone is choking or on fire—unlike her firefighter husband. Later in the speech, she read to us from a letter from a reader who, after reading one of Higgins’s books, left her abusive boyfriend. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Before I’d managed to swipe away my tears and rescue my mascara, she finished up by noting that the fifth goal on her ten-year-old list was to someday be the speaker at NECRWA. A-ha moment for me: Goals give meaning to the emotional journey and shape to the narrative, both personally and in literature.

From Judith Arnold’s workshop “Writer’s Survival Guide,” a whole slew of small-but-useful tips, mostly easy-to-forget reminders of what matters. Know the market, but don’t write for the market. Exercise and get out of the house. Have non-writing creative pursuits. Keep forcing yourself out of your comfort zone. Mentor yourself; don’t become too dependent on other people. Have writer friends. Blow off the dishes and write. Don’t be a diva. Prepare yourself for the bad times. And above all, remember what’s important—the writing. A-ha moment for me: When Judith said, “If you need a break from writing, take one.” Sometimes I forget that the world won’t go to pieces if I cut myself some slack.

From Marie Force’s luncheon address on self-publishing, that this is not your mother’s self-publishing. Force’s career has revved up because of her decision to give up her traditional publishing contract and go it on her own. The whole outcome turned on one moment, the moment when a big six publisher she’d been sure was about to offer her a multi-book contract called to reject her. The rejection was devastating, but in retrospect she says it was the best thing that ever happened to her. A-ha moment for me: Rejection is an opportunity.

From Jo Ann Ferguson’s “Revisions Ramifications” workshop, that small changes have far-reaching consequences and big changes aren’t always as difficult as they seem. Also, that in order to live through the revision process, you have to find a way to make it fun, which means you have to reconnect with the characters who made you love the book in the first place. A-ha moment for me: When I realized that sometime in the last year, I’d lost track of the a-ha moment I’d had during Roxanne St. Claire’s revision workshop at RWA National 2012, namely, “If there’s something wrong with the book, fix it by fixing the scene where things first went wrong.” Or in other words, instead of dreading the whole big mammoth heap of it, just tackle one scene. Always good advice.

From the women of NEC, that a tiara improves the mood and boosts confidence, that friendships, loyalty, and hard work are at least as important as talent and success, and that there’s nothing more wonderful than being in a room full of writers. A-ha moment for me (via Dar Williams): “And I’ll act like I have faith and like that faith never ends/But I really just have friends.”