Shelley Widhalm, left, and Abii Franke, mentor partners in the Thompson School District 3E Learning program, hold up their conference booklets from the 2017 Northern Colorado Writers Conference on May 5-6 in Fort Collins, Colo.
By ShellEY WIdhalm
Going to a writers conference like the one put on annually by the Northern Colorado Writers takes a bit of alchemy.
Start with the golden booklet given to the 130 attendees of the conference, called “Imagination: The Alchemy of Writing,” and get out the test tubes for the two-day conference that was May 5-6 at the Fort Collins Marriott.
Flip to the schedule to the 32 sessions, each lasting one hour, on various writing techniques with titles like “Plotting with Your Pants Down: How to Effectively Outline Your Novel” and “The Loaded Exchange: Writing Tension-Packed Dialog.”
Other sessions mixed in the marketing and publishing side of writing, as well as providing advice for writing in different genres, such as mystery writing, screenwriting and writing personal essays. There also was a roundtable critique session with about 10 different agents and editors and a pitch session with agents to pitch your novel or nonfiction project.
“It was a great lineup of presenters, agents and editors,” said Kerrie Flanagan, creative team member for the conference and one of the presenters on self-publishing and magazine writing. “It’s important for writers to connect with other writers and professionals in the industry, because writing is such a lonely endeavor. It’s nice to connect with others who are passionate about it. It provides inspiration, motivation and community resources.”
The Jerry Eckert Scholarship
I went to the conference with a student I mentor about writing, Abii Franke, a 10th grader at a Northern Colorado high school. We attended for free as winners of the Jerry Eckert Scholarship. I submitted a 500-word essay, “The Writing Lives of Two Starfish,” about meeting with Abii once a week through the Thompson School District 3E Learning program, Explore, Engage, Expand, a customized approach to education that matches students with mentors in their subjects of interest.
The late Jerry Eckert, author and a longtime NCW member, supported volunteerism and had a love for writing, so my volunteer work seemed like a fit.
“The essay is very tight, and it’s something Jerry Eckert and his family care about, which is mentoring,” said April Moore, director of NCW, who recognized Abii and me during the banquet dinner on May 5. “It brings tears to my eyes, knowing how much Jerry would appreciate it.”
I encouraged Abii to get business cards made, and she did, stating that she’s a writer and artist, and she handed those out to the presenters and other writers. She pitched her young adult novel to an agent and got a request for a partial, which involves sending part of the manuscript with “NCW Conference” in the email subject line for special attention to separate it out from the email slush pile. I got two requests for partials and talked to another agent during dinner, and she said I could send her my work, too.
“It’s been a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed learning all the nuances in writing,” Abii said. “All the presentations were really good, because each of the presenters had their own unique take on writing. I think I can use some of the tips that the presenters shared to improve my writing even more.”
Trai Cartwright, story developer, left, Abii Franke, high school student, Shelley Widhalm, writer and editor, and Kerrie Flanagan, writer and publisher, pose in front of the book sale table at the Northern Colorado Writers Conference on May 5-6 in Fort Collins, Colo.
Here are a few writing and publishing tips
(and quotes from the conference that a writing alchemist might find golden):
- “If you’re a writer, you are in business. You will have to market your book and yourself. There’s no way around it,” author J.C. Lynne, “Social Media & Marketing: Navigating the Event Horizon.”
- Writers should expect to have failures—failed novels, projects and efforts—in the path toward publication. “That’s why I’m here. I get to be a failed novelist and successful at the same time,” author Chuck Wendig, keynote speaker during the banquet.
- “Write ‘The End’ on your draft even if you’re not there … or at a certain word count. And then let your work breathe,” literary manager Whitney Davis, “Reworking Your Rewrites: Demystifying the Editing Process.”
- In a first draft, write for story. Don’t worry. Don’t stop to polish, and don’t hold back. Edit later, revising first for plot and character and then polishing the language at the line level. “Almost everything that comes into my box has potential,” literary agent Jennifer March Soloway, “Preparing Your YA Novel for Submission: Polishing Your Opening Pages.”
- Editors today are looking for the total package: good, talented writers who are informed about the market, have a platform and are consistent and prolific in their writing. They need to: know the market, follow the guidelines, and be timely, author and magazine editor Jessica Strawser, “How to be a Writer Editors Love.”
Here are some of the things attendees said about the NCW Conference.
They collectively said the conference helped them get connected and pick up writing tidbits and the motivation to get back to writing:
- “It’s always similar information, but there’s always going to be details from the presenters that aren’t at other conferences. This one I find they’re pretty engaging with their audience, and I like that it’s smaller ,” Ochoa Cisneros, poet, Loveland.
- “The thing I wanted most was to connect with other writers and get some advice of where to go in my writing journey. … I found what I was looking for: community and direction,” Alicia Aringdale, urban fantasy writer, Loveland.
- “I came looking for inspiration and practical tools to use for my writing. And I found both of those things. Now, I have a direction and the inspiration to keep going,” Renate Hancock, poet and short story writer, Buena Vista.
- “I really got a good sense of how the process works of finding an agent, and I got a lot of inspiration. I just have gotten an amazing chance to talk to people who feel the same way I do and have the same problems I do in writing. It’s very affirming.”Jocelyn Bolster, contemporary young adult writer, Pinewood Springs.
- “They kept it pretty small, but that was one of the things that jumped out to me, a lot of familiar faces and reputable names,” Paul Dail, horror writer, Cedar City, Utah.
As a final thought, author Carrie Visintainer said in the closing remarks, “Ignite Your Creativity, “Inspiration is out there knocking on doors, and you can choose to answer it or not.”