2018 SC Writing Workshop Takeaways

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a writing workshop in South Carolina.  I learned so much about writing, publishing, agent pitching, and even self-publishing.  As stated in my last blog post, I don’t know very much about being an author outside of typing words into a manuscript, and I feel like I’ve come away from this experience with a far better understanding of what it takes to make it as a writer, and put several fears to rest which seem to be saturating the web.  I’m going to discuss my six key takeaways for my first ever Writer’s Workshop.

  1. The real importance of Platform.  I’ve been hearing about platform for several years now, how it’s crucial to your success as a writer and if you don’t have one, then you need to spend time building one.  Honestly, this sounds daunting.  I already struggle to find time to write my book, and now I have to build a “platform”?  And this platform generally consists of building twitter followers, instagram followers, facebook friends, blogging regularly (the struggle!) ugh.  I hate facebook as it is, and now I have to have twitter and instagram too and devote hours of my life to this????  No thank you.
    • Well, what I learned from this conference is that platform is more crucial to non-fiction writers and self-publishers, which makes sense because who wants to buy your life-story unless they’re already interested in you and have heard about you?  And as a self-publisher, your only advertising is yourself, so yes, build that platform!  But, but if you’re a fiction writer seeking a traditional publisher, platform is highly unnecessary.  So long as your book is relevant to the current market, your book will sell.  So for my own peace of mind I need to make a decision that if I want to self-publish again I need to build this platform, or else do my best to find a traditional publisher.
  2. Value of another set of eyes.  During the conference, a panel of four agents listened to the reading of the first page of several manuscripts submitted by the attendees, including one submitted by myself.  During the reading, if two agents raised their hand the reading stopped and the agents explained what issues they had with the reading.  This was sooooo informative, especially when they read mine.  I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong with it before, but after they discussed it, it clicked and I was able to make it much better.  This critique panel is not unlike what a critique group in your area will provide you, namely, a new set of  eyes.  So if you haven’t taken my advice from my previous blog post, please do and join a critique group.
  3. Showing vs. telling, and what that really means.  I’ve heard this before, but no one really did a great job of explaining it to me.  Obviously, you can’t “show” everything, but it’s important to scour your manuscript and rewrite what you can and make it a more familiar and relatable experience for your readers, so they feel like they’re actually at the scene watching it unfold instead of sitting around the campfire listening to story being told, there is a big difference.  A big part of accomplishing this is simply eliminating info dumps.
    • Info dumps are lines of information and details jotted down about a time, place, or person that are not actually occurring at the moment of the scene.  So, for example, explaining the backstory of a child breaking her leg five years ago during the scene where she’s eating cake on her 8th birthday.  No doubt relevant to the story somehow, but not overly interesting to the reader and not pertinent at the moment when she’s cramming her mouth with cake and tasting all the sweet flavors of chocolate and vanilla swirls.  Usually details like this can be effectively woven into dialogue somewhere else in the story, for example at a checkup visit at the doctor’s office or something.  Point is, infodumping loses the reader’s interest and takes them out of the current scene instead of draws them into it.  Agents consider infodumping lazy because it’s a non-creative way to explain things.
    • That being said, during your first draft and brainstorming session, infodumping can be key to getting your thoughts down before they disappear forever, so in those birth stages, info dump away!  Just make sure you go back and rework it for your final manuscript.
  4. Character voice is key.  What is your character thinking?  But it’s more complicated than simply adding a line in italics, (although do that) it’s about breaking the fourth wall on paper.  Not an easy feat, and it’s even harder to describe.  An example of this could be:
    • ‘Chills raced along Farwen’s spine as the door groaned to a close behind her, shutting out the developing chaos outside. Had she really made it here in one piece?’
      • The “Had she really made it here in one piece?” is the breaking the fourth wall part, it’s getting the reader inside of her mind while at the same time staying out of it.
    • It could also be written as an inner thought in italics:
      • ‘Chills raced along Farwen’s spine as the door groaned to a close behind her, shutting out the chaos developing outside.  How did I make it here in one piece?’ 
    • I personally like the first example better, but both establish strong character voice and need to be woven into your work somehow.  I’m still learning myself how to effectively work this into my writing and develop my scenes to captivate the reader.  It’s hard, but this workshop really helped me to understand it more and at least provide me some guidelines to go off of as I’m evaluating what I have and experimenting to make it better.
  5. Networking platform building and exposure to new opportunities and tools for writers.  This conference not only had writers from all over America, but it had legitimate agents instructing the workshops, and it also had special guest speaker Hollis Gillespie, comedian, published author, and owner of the Shocking Real Life Writing Academy.  Hollis Gillespie has been on the Tonight Show, multiple radio shows, and is devoted to helping authors improve their manuscripts.  She also hosts writer retreats and special workshops through her academy.  Check it out at www.shockingreallife.com.
  6. Other random writing tips I learned:
    1. dialogue on the first page of your manuscript sparks interest
    2. don’t introduce too many names in the first chapter
    3. excessive use of adjectives is bad, bulky, and loses reader interest
    4. know how to write for your intended audience.  Not only is appropriate content a factor, but writing style is big too
    5. RUE:  Resist the Urge to Explain – aka infodump/repetition/excessive detail
      • trust the reader – if they’re reading your book, it means they read, which means they have some powers of deduction and can

I found the workshop to be super super helpful and engaging, and I will be keeping my eyes peeled for more opportunities in the future.  Hope you found this post helpful to your writing experience.  If so, please subscribe and/or follow me on twitter @mjpankey1 (I finally got one, blah).


Author: MJ Pankey

MJ is a writer and writing consultant devoted to her muse and to helping other writers gain confidence, overcome obstacles, and unleash the story within. She offers multiple services on her platform, mjpankey.com, and creates helpful content for writers on her youtube channel.

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