Every year, I looked forward to the National Writers Workshop in Hartford, CT. It was one weekend in April, packed with lectures by writers, agents, and journalists, who came to share with us their expertise in this business of writing. It was inexpensive and close to home so no matter how broke I was each year, I would put off paying the electric bill or something minor like that, to come up with the 100 bucks. I was going to the workshop. It was my one annual indulgence.
At the time, I had not even begun to write my novel. I was still just entertaining the dream of being a writer. But I loved being around 800 other people who had a similar dream. These were my people. Even if I didn’t speak to anyone, as I was both in awe of them and intimidated by them, I still learned from them.
Three years ago, there was no National Writers Workshop. It ended without warning and I was heartbroken. I had finally started writing, and I was ready to open my mouth and speak to these people, make connections, you know? But now, my chance was gone. The Hartford Courant evidently could not afford to organize this anymore, since no one was reading newspapers.
Recently I found my notebook from one of these annual conferences, and thought that I would share some of the insights that warranted writing down. Some of them are quotes from the speakers themselves, but some are quotes from others that they shared:
“Make your writing more compelling than the TV.” – Sebastian Junger
“Always retain the movie rights – you never know when Kevin Spacey may come knocking on your door.” – Ben Mezrich (author of Bringing Down the House, which was later adapted as “21”, starring Kevin Spacey).
“Boring things don’t sell.” – Tanya McKinnon
“Just waking up or about to fall asleep? Write it down. You WON’T remember it.” – Elizabeth Berg
“When you hear that voice telling you you are NOT a painter, by all means PAINT.”- Vincent Van Gogh
“Trying to write in a gender other than your own is like skating backwards.” – Toure
“Put yourself at risk…go to a place where you feel shame and embarrassment and work it out through writing. Also, write something fun. This is what pen names are for.” – Garrison Keillor
“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” – Elmore Leonard
“Editors and agents are looking for a reason to reject you. If they find a typo in your query letter, you are rejected.” – Ben Mezrich
“Every single day you wake up, your life gives you a reason not to write.” – Claire Cook
“When an agent speaks to you for the first time, they are assessing whether or not you are a psychopath.” – Tanya McKinnon
“I think I did pretty well considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.” – Steve Martin
“Always keep your laptop where you can see it.” – Garrison Keillor
“Really, just try not to get rejected.” – Ben Mezrich
I hope you enjoyed these snippets from my lost weekend! I will revisit this in a later post about how I discovered new books by hearing the authors speak at the National Writers Workshop. A benefit that has now been replaced by Twitter….thankfully!