1st Workshop Recap- Cascade Writers- How Not to Write a Novel

I recently found out about a local writing group called Cascade Writers. Founded something like 15 years ago by Karen Junker (she uses the title Outreach Coordinator), this group has an impressive number of events–both public and paid–still to come this year.

Karen is lovely. I’m an introvert and generally come across as shy or indifferent until people get to know me (as I think most writers are). So I was hesitant about getting involved with this group.  From my first tentative email Karen has been kind and inviting. She wants people to feel welcome and included, and immediately invited me to a get together she’s hosting for anyone who can come. Whoa. Dude people, workshops are gold for networking opportunities. I’m awful at networking but Karen made me feel comfortable and not like the total dork who knew no one at the event that I totally was. Honestly, everyone was nice at the workshop–the representatives from CW, the authors, and the audience.

Getting ahead of myself. I went to the “How Not to Write a Novel” 3-hr public workshop held at a local library.The four author-speakers were Cat Rambo, Jennifer Brozek, Tina Connolly, and Raven Oak.

Note to Self and others: Don’t forget to eat before a workshop that starts at 12:30. Also, if you arrive half an hour early like I did, don’t wander off on foot in search of a nearby Starbucks because you think you know the general direction of one, like I did. I ended up going into the workshop 15 minutes late (I did eventually find a Starbucks, it wasn’t worth it) and was able to get a seat all the way at the end. And I wasn’t even the last person to get there, yay. I didn’t count, but there was a good number of people there…guessing (and I’m terrible at this) around 60? I’ve never been to a workshop before so I had no idea what to expect. Seemed like a good turnout to me, and apparently about half had never been to an event hosted by a public library. Fun fact.

Anyway, when I walked in the authors were answering some pre-determined questions with Raven Oak acting as the moderator, if you will. They answered questions like “worst advice you ever got,” “best advice,” “tips to writers,” & “what piece of advice do you wish you’d had from the start?”  Not entirely new answers if you’ve taken writing courses, read author interviews, or done some general poking around the net, but the fact that such answers like “butt in chair writing, it sounds easy but is actually one of the hardest parts,” or  “it’s ok to break the rules, but only if you understand and know why you’re breaking them,” continuously pop up shows that they should be taken seriously.

They talked about how they start a novel, and it was interesting that many of them either were from the start or shifted over to becoming more outline-oriented. Nothing wrong with being a pantser (someone who writes from the “seat of their pants” aka no plan), but at some point you need to have an idea of where you’re going and what you’re looking to accomplish with the story. Not setting it in stone because stories will change from start to finish, but having at least a rudimentary road map. They also cautioned about not being the opposite of a pantser–the person who outlines obsessively and spends a year building the-most-perfect-world-ever that they never get any writing done. This is a trap SFF writers in particular seem drawn to, and some never get out. Oh, and revise, people. Just finished that NaNoWriMo novel? Don’t send it off right off the bat. Revise, revise, revise. I hate revisions, but that’s where the real writing happens.

I’ve taken several online classes (that I’ll eventually review) so this wasn’t really “new” information for me, but if you’re a newb to the writing scene, definitely go to these kinds of workshops! Even if you write short fiction or non-fiction, there’s information useful to everyone. The authors encouraged honing your craft with short fiction, or saving those scenes you have to delete because they don’t move the plot forward and using them in short stories later. They gave some general publishing tips. Editing tips. Just because “novel” was in the title didn’t limit the discussion. Don’t be afraid to venture forth!

They introduced people to submission sites like Ralan and Duotrope. These are great ways to find markets for your work, and Duotrope also serves as a submission tracker. I was skeptical about Duotrope until I trialed it. Goodbye Excel spreadsheet tracking my submissions. Ralan is free, and looks like a web relic of the 80s, but it is updated and a good alternative to Duotrope. As Cat Rambo said, if you use it, like it, and are able, please consider donating a few bucks to sites like Ralan so that they can stay around.

There was a Q&A session, then a 5min break. I think it’s time for an interlude with cats and fish.

Cats and Fish

Beth is on top of the tank having a drink, Cogwheel on left, and his sister, Juniper, on the right.

After the break, the authors each read for about 10 minutes from their current or forthcoming books. I haven’t been to a reading since I was a tween (John R. Erickson and his Hank the Cowdog series is much beloved in this house), so I was interested to see what it would be like. After Raven Oak’s reading using a southern drawl true to her character, I’m afraid to ever read my work in public if I need to use an accent. Mine are awful. Hers, on the other hand, was great. A performance that makes you not want to have to go next because you’re like “craaaap. Way to set the bar.” I always wondered how much “acting” you should do to relate what’s going on in the story, and it looks like it’s whatever you makes you comfortable.

After the readings the authors were available for more informal questions and book signings. I chatted with a few to get their opinion on attending WorldCon even though it’s more of a geek con than a writing workshop (they encouraged me to go), and introduced myself to the CW folks. As I said earlier, workshops = great networking opportunities. Even if you’re awkward and afraid like me. Thing is, writing is a solitary gig so it’s nice to have a group of people to commiserate with once in a while. And it’ll be a good excuse to get out of the house.

Looking forward to the premium workshop in July.

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2 thoughts on “1st Workshop Recap- Cascade Writers- How Not to Write a Novel

  1. I went to this too! I was pretty terrified of going because I’ve only just started writing and I’m really hoping to find a local community but I’m not sure where to start… And being in a room full of folks you don’t know, that’s scary!

    If you hear about other events I hope you post about them so I can find out about them too. I’m still not sure how to find out about all of these things…

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    • Hey Nat! It’s definitely intimidating being in a room full of people you don’t know! Especially if you’re a dork like me that comes in late. Have you checked out the Cascade Writers home page? They have about an event a month for the rest of the summer scheduled.

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