Marla Cooper

Writing Conference Wisdom

Lately I’ve become a writing class junkie. In the last six months, I’ve been to three day-long writing intensives as well as a weekend-long writing conference in Austin with nonstop craft classes. What a fun excuse to hang out with other writers and hear really smart people saying really smart things!

I end up taking copious notes during the classes. Sometimes I capture brilliant nuggets of wisdom. Sometimes I hear a really good quote about writing. And sometimes I write down stuff that makes absolutely no sense two months later. Here are some of my favorite things I’ve picked up recently:

  • Jeffrey Deaver spoke to our Mystery Writers of America chapter, and this is my favorite note from his class: “Books aren’t made the way babies are made; they’re made the way pyramids are made.” Point being, you don’t just have a big Aha! moment and write a book; you work hard at it and construct it carefully. (Which most people probably already know, but what a great way to say it!)
  • “Be detailed.” One teacher used art concepts to bring writing advice to life. She said that when she was taking a painting class, she learned to put a dot of red paint in the corner of the eye. “That spot of color brings a portrait to life. That’s what makes it feel real. What are the tiny details that will transform a scene into something that’s alive?”
  • “One of the great pleasures of reading is pulling out inferences. Don’t deprive your reader of that experience by spelling it out.” This nugget of wisdom really struck me. As a writer, I’ve never thought about it in those terms, but as a reader, I love when I make connections that aren’t explicitly stated.
  • “Theme is most effective when it isn’t used as a door of entry. It emerges as you’re working on the book like a hidden passageway behind a staircase, surprising everyone, even the author.” So for anyone who’s ever felt like they need to know what their theme is, permission has hereby been granted to charge forth and let it sort itself out in due time.
  • “Your job is not to tell your book no.” In the moment, this quote struck me as important, and I wrote it down. And now? I have no idea what it means! I still think it’s good advice, though, so I’m standing by it.
  • And finally, I picked up this great quote from Terry Pratchett: “There’s no such thing as writers block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”

Readers, what’s a great piece of advice you’ve heard recently (writing or otherwise)? And does anyone have any guess what “Your job is not to tell your book no” means?

24 thoughts on “Writing Conference Wisdom

    • Thanks, Kaye! I wish she’d talked more about leaving things to inference. I could use a whole class on how to master that surely very subtle art.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Shari! I have to confess: I’ve never read Terry Pratchett. I clearly need to! My friend owns almost all of his books, so maybe that’ll be next on my TBR list.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I did a weekend mini-conference with Laura DiSilverio earlier this month. Her primary class was on conflict. I know this has been said before, but I wrote it down this time: “Conflict is the engine that powers your story.”

    And it’s a good thing I don’t have to know my theme up front because I never do and just when I think I know it, it changes!

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s excellent! Conflict is a good thing to study in-depth. I saw a play last week and I think the playwright confused conflict and just plain old bickering. It was tiresome. But that’s one reason mysteries are so fun to write: there’s built-in conflict!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. What great advice. My take on “Your job is not to tell your book no” is you shouldn’t censor your creative voice while you’re writing and instead let it take you where it wants. Not sure if that’s what was meant, but it sounds good to me!

    Liked by 4 people

    • I agree with Marla B. her. “Your job is not to tell your book no” means if for some reason, you are writing, and 15 minutes later you look down, and there’s this scene written that you had not planned in the slightest, think about it before you trash that potential gem.
      I had that happen one time. Ashley was waiting for that scoundrel Nathan in a restaurant after she talked to the chef, and alll of a sudden he popped up from behind the bar with Chrostopher. I literally helped at him, “How dare you do that to Danny! You slut!” Haven’t cut it yet.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Marla, thanks for sharing these pearls! My WIP is definitely a pyramid I’m building — oh so slowly. I’m in need of some inspiration about now!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love the pyramid metaphor because the inherent promise is that if you keep putting those building blocks into place, eventually you will have something! Good luck with your pyramid!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “Not to tell your book no”— Could this perhaps refer to when some authors say their characters take over and the story goes in a direction they hadn’t intended?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Cool post, Marla!! I need to take
    all of this great advice to heart. (Especially not telling your book no, as in, I’m not going to write you today! I keep a Post-it note nearby that says,”Why do I care?”–courtesy of
    a class I took with Hank Philippi Ryan.

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  6. Great post, M! Very inspiring! I’m reminded of a quote I kept over my desk when I was writing plays in NYC. It wasn’t advice, it just rang so true. I think it was from Raymond Carver, but I don’t remember and I wish I did. It read, “The hardest part about writing is falling in love with my characters and not knowing how to save them.”

    It’s kind of a heartbreaking quote and certainly applies more to my plays than my novels. Hey, I just realized something – cozies do the reverse of this. They save people. Which is why they’re writing comfort food… and I mean that in the best possible way.

    Like

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