Tuesday, January 17, 2012

16 Writerly Inspiration and Aha Moments

We all know that we can't improve our writing much by simply writing a manuscript. Or even a dozen manuscripts. Not if we write in a vacuum. Big improvements come from:
  • 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.

Happy conferencing,


Places to Find Writing Conferences and Workshops


  1. Twitter is sort-of like a conference, and honestly, it's all I can afford right now. :-/ Someday, though, I've promised to treat myself to a conference, complete with hotel room and complementary Continental breakfast. See you there.

  2. Good stuff, Martina! I play the guitar and relate a lot of my writing progress (or lack thereof) to that experience as a result. When you're learning to play the guitar you'll practice chords and scales for months, and you'll try to play songs. So many times I've struggled with a chord fingering or figuring out how a certain technique is done until I play with a more experienced guitarist. The aha! moment:

    At times, literally overnight you'll learn to pull something off that you've struggled with forever, all because the right person, showed you the correct way, at the right time.


  3. That intense intensive sounds like a lot of fun to me. I've been pulled in so many different directions this last year. I hope I get to concentrate on ME this year. :)

  4. I had an 'aha' moment this weekend at a conference, too, on how I approach writing scenes. It really opened my eyes to writing and what to look for when rewriting. Hopefully I can apply this to my current revision which I just blogged about this morning.
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Great post with wonderful reminders!

  6. The Miami conference sounds like it was fantastic! I agree that any writing conference we can go to is a huge shot in the arm. I always come away from them recharged and recommitted. Great post. Thanks for sharing :-)

  7. Absolutely. And that's one great thing about writers going to a conference--it puts us in the same space/place with professional writers. A totally diff atmosphere! It can push us to new heights.

  8. Thanks for sharing your experiences at the conference. Maybe I'll add it to my list for next year!

  9. I'm jealous that you got to go to this conference. It sounded awesome (and I hope you're going to share more from it. hint hint!)

    I had an aha moment during the RWA nationals last year. You've got to love it when that happens.

  10. Times like these I wish I live somewhere where conferences happen. :/

  11. Suzanne, I know the conferences are expensive. There is a great online one, WriteOnCon. I'm not sure when they are running it again, but the link is here: http://writeoncon.com. Keep an eye out for it!

    EJ - exactly! And sometimes you just have to hear it in a way that clicks for you.

    Nuria, Annie -- thank you! :D

    Dawn, yay you! If you have a tip you'd like to share, we'd love to hear it.

    Kenda, I agree. I always come away from a conference feeling like I'm ready to charge ahead. But I have to say that the Miami conference was truly wonderful in terms of opportunities for learning. I absolutely loved it.

    Carol, well said. That's exactly how I feel.

    LM -- I highly recommend it.

    Stina. What was your aha RWA moment? And yes, I'm going to share a little bit more--as much as I can while staying within what they requested us to avoid. But I may have a wonderful surprise for you all sometime soon. Stay tuned!

    Rin, at the very least look up WriteOnCon and some of the online ones. You'll be surprised at how much you can get out of just those alone.


    Carol, I hope you can. Even if you have to do the JK Rowling thing and carve out 4:30 am time--you deserve your writing time. (Although, personally, being a night owl, I would rather do the 1:00 am to 2:00 am shift. And I frequently do that.

  12. This was my first Miami conference, and I agree that it lived up to its reputation. Lots of writers, editors, agents like to hotfoot it to warm(er) Miami in January.

    Sorry our FL weather wasn't up to its reputation, but the conference sure was. A highlight for me was hearing Lin Oliver's funny and fabulous writing advice and her tidbits about the origins of SCBWI.

    Love your blog!

  13. Great post! I would love to attend the Miami SCBWI conference. I've been to the last two bigger NYC SCBWI conferences and this year decided to skip it so I can attend a regional SCBWI conference later this year (in New Jersey). I'm excited for the opportunity to attend smaller break-out sessions and intensives, and have one-on-one time with an editor or agent.

    I'm off to the Writer's Digest conference this weekend and hope to have an Aha moment (or several!)

  14. I think I need to save up some "sick days" and hit this conference. I was wowed by the intensives at the SCBWI LA this year. My learning curve turning into a diagonal line heading upwards.

  15. Hi Augusta!

    Wasn't the conference amazing? I loved Lin's speech, but I have to say that the highlight for me was the novel intensive. I loved Jill Corcoran's voice intensive too, but really upset myself because we had to leave to catch a flight before the end. And what the heck do you mean about the weather? The weather was AWESOME! Last year, I picked Cici up at the airport here in DC the day before the NY conference intending to DRIVE up to NY, and the usual half hour trip back to my house to 4 1/2 hours due to snow. Miami was perfect. :) I loved every moment.

    Ghenet, we are so on the same wavelength. That's exactly why I decided to do Miami this year! Can't wait to hear how the WD conf. went, and hope you have a similar experience in NJ that I had in FL.

    Leslie -- come with us next year!!!!! I don't think I'm going to make it out to LA this year either since I don't have the visit the parentals excuse. (Seeing them already the end of June.) So that means I need an excuse to catch up with you and Lisa and everyone.


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