- Writing a variety of things, playing with techniques, and seeing what sounds "true"
- Getting feedback on what is working and what isn't working from other writers, hopefully those with more experience and talent than we have ourselves
- Getting feedback from others who read (for pleasure) the type of thing that we are writing
- Reading voraciously (and with a writerly eye) both within our genre and outside our genre
- Reading books on craft written by editors and other writers
The above paths to improvement are nothing new. We all know about them and hear about them all the time. But I'm going to add something to that list, something important: going to writing conferences. And I don't mean just the conferences that have great keynote speakers and opportunities to (hopefully) put your work in front of editors and agents. I mean writing conferences where you get to do all that, but more importantly, where you get to actually sit down in a room with other writers and take in lessons on craft, look at examples of different techniques, and try them out yourself. Conferences that force you--yes, force you--to become a better writer.
I just attended an SCBWI conference in Miami, and Holy Cow. It was amazing. I usually go to the big SCBWI New York conference in January, but this year, I took up an invitation from a writer friend--one of my best friends--who I met at the conference in New York two years ago. She told me that the Miami conference is full of writing intensives and break-out sessions, and she was right. She and I, along with another writing friend met at a conference, attended a day-long novel intensive on Friday, and then listened to great speakers all day on Saturday, had our manuscripts critiqued Saturday afternoon, and then had two more wonderful craft sessions on Sunday. We came away inspired, the same as we would have in New York, but more than that, I think we all came away as dramatically better writers.
It comes down to Aha moments, moments where you hear exactly what you are ready to hear said in just the right way. It can be something you've never heard before, or something you've heard a hundred times but never really understood because you weren't ready for it until that moment. I think I had about six of those in the Friday intensive presented by writer Dorian Cireoni and agent Marietta Zacker. It was an intense intensive, full of great advice. They offered it with energy, passion, and deep knowledge. They showed AMAZING examples of brilliant writing by Sara Zarr, Sarah Ockler, Nova Ren Suma, and others who write for children and young adults. They also gave us exercises designed to help us look at our own work in different ways. They were stellar teachers. And I defy anyone to take a workshop from them and not learn a ton. But I also need to mention who was there. Not just novice writers. There were many published writers in that class and the other classes offered over the weekend. There were also editors and other agents--professionals who have learned that you never stop learning.
If you haven't been to a conference yet, GO! Go as fast as you can. But don't go just in the hope that you will get your work in front of someone or hear about how to get your book published. Go because if you do, you will learn how to become a better writer and how to write a better book. Good books will eventually find an audience. I do firmly believe that. It may not happen overnight--but if you work diligently, read everything, write consistently and with passion, and constantly work on learning and honing your craft, it will happen. Don't let yourself get discouraged. Get inspired instead. Learn, grow, persevere, and go to conferences to meet other writers to take on the journey with you. Chances are, you will meet writers who will change your life--and become your friends for life.
Places to Find Writing Conferences and Workshops