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Perseverance Pays Off In The Writing World

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Andrew Munz, lately of Iceland

Walking into the 2013 Jackson Hole Writers Conference, I more or less was convinced that my novel-in-progress was utterly groundbreaking. It was everything I wanted to write, and represented the type of author I wanted to be. And to know that I would get the opportunity to meet with editors and agents further fueled my dreams of fictional world domination. I was ready to dominate the conference. But when the reality hit me, I realized how out on a limb I was.

Being one of the youngest attendees at the conference was nerve-wracking. There were people here who had already published their third, fourth, fifth novels. How on Earth could I measure up to these experienced writers? But those nerves subsided when I finally gathered up enough gumption to befriend to my fellow attendees.

The other writers I met were so fascinating and supportive, because we shared the same dream: a publishing career. It’s every writer’s dream to be able to make a living off his or her creativity, and the conference was a first step for many of us. Sharing novel ideas with other writers instilled me with tons of confidence, because everyone was hugely passionate about their projects.

And then the time came when my confidence was put to the test.

Manuscript critiques.

I had polished and re-polished those first fifteen pages like they were my Willy Wonka golden ticket to fame. All I needed to do was to convince one literary agent that my writing was worth a damn, and I’d be rich, right? (Oh sweet, innocent, delusional Andrew Munz…) I also couldn’t shake the thought that a poor critique would likely cripple me, and make me never want to write again. I put so much thought into the possible outcomes that walking into my agent critique was petrifying.

I sat down across from Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Literary Agency and introduced myself. She asked me to tell her about myself, about my writing journey and how I came up with the ideas for my book. She took a breath, and placed her hand on the pages.

My stomach lurched as she cleared her throat.

I…”

Oh god, oh god, oh god.

“…am obsessed with this,” she said.

And in a moment all of my fears dissolved like soggy Cheerios in the sink. Our allotted time flew by as we chatted about my story. She asked me if the book was done yet, and I was so bummed to admit that, no, it wasn’t. But she gave me her e-mail and encouraged me to query her with the book when I was finished with it.

Cue three long years of obsessive revisions that included three full rewrites from beginning to end, and plenty of self-doubt and mini-projects along the way. But I never gave up.

Tallying up all my rejections, I’ve had sixty-six literary agents and independent publishers tell me “no.” And I refused to toss my book away until I got that “yes.”

Sarah LaPolla responded to my query letter with excitement. I was so happy to know she was still enthusiastic about the story. She said she was very much interested in reading the finished book, and I sent her the full manuscript as quickly as I could.

Once she had completed it, Sarah was still interested. She and I had a conversation to discuss some major edits she thought would tighten up the book. She said that she would love to work with me on my novel, but only if I was willing to do some more revising.

I think in order for this novel to work for me, I need some deep character work being done, and a lot of sacrificing of darlings,” she wrote to me.

The decision was a heavy one. I think every author worries that a literary agent will make them do massive overhauls and completely compromise the original idea just to make the book salable to publishing houses. And I won’t lie and say that I didn’t have that fear as well. But when Sarah and I spoke at length about her suggested changes, I realized that the edits weren’t hindering at all. Instead, she was opening new doors and making me think about characters and plot points in ways I never had before.

Eventually, Sarah offered representation and I wholeheartedly accepted. We still have a long journey of revisions ahead of us before that special submission day takes place, but if attending a writers conference taught me anything, it’s that patience and persistence are paramount achieving a publishing career.

There’s no fast track to JK Rowling-esque fame and fortune, folks.

My biggest piece of advice to any aspiring writer who fears walking into a manuscript critique is that any ounce of criticism can be a learning experience. If I received one bad critique after another (and don’t think I haven’t sat through those), I would want to work that much harder to prove everyone wrong.

Had I given up after then first, the fifteenth, the fiftieth rejection, I wouldn’t have someone like Sarah in my corner. And I have the JH Writers Conference to thank for that.

When Andrew Munz mentioned that the Jackson Hole Writers Conference

helped him get an agent, we thought let’s hear about

from the source. Thanks, Andrew. We look forward

to seeing your book in print.

You can check out his blog.

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Writing It Right anthology ready to order

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Shaggy Dog Press is pleased to announce publication of our 25th anniversary anthology, Writing It Right: Reflections From the Jackson Hole Writers Conference.  Tim Sandlin’s introduction is followed by prose and poetry from past conference attendees: participants, faculty, staff and volunteers.

The well-published and critically acclaimed are joined in the 100-plus pages by long-time attendees and first-timers. Writing It Right features poetry faculty, like Naomi Shihab Nye, Laurie Kutchins, and Eric Paul Shaffer, next to novelists, like Malcolm Brooks and David Abrams, who found their first publication by showing up for the conference.

This is a democratic collection of words inspired by the conference, by the writers and by the beauty of this place. Again and again throughout the anthology, the writers aver the importance that the conference has had and continues to have to their writing life. Again and again, they say they will be back. We love the fact that people come back year after year.

There are also photos and illustrations that the editors and designers of the book hope have captured the atmosphere of the conference and of Jackson Hole.

Too many poignant moments are recreated in Writing It Right that to pick out just one to encapsulate the collection is difficult. So I choose two, and only because both of them mention Tim Sandlin, and there would be no conference without Tim Sandlin.

This is from Kim Strellis who attended in 2010 and after a hiatus in 2015. In her own words:

I attended another of Tim’s unions of wit and talent. I realized I had missed out on other growth conferences by waiting. I didn’t need to write anything–just attend, soak up knowledge and advice, and enjoy.

And this from Naomi Shihab Nye, who has only come as faculty in 2012, but who says she will come back anytime:

Tim Sandlin gives the simplest, most no-nonsense introductions for writers getting ready to speak. What a relief. Those of us who have sat through one million literary introductions, often more puffed than a pillow, felt grateful for this. Tim always starts on time. These were just two things to admire about the organizer of one of the nicest writing conferences I will ever attend on the Planet Earth.

The anthology is available for purchase ($14.95) online now at Shaggy Dog Press (shaggydogpress.org) And will be for sale during the conference. Since $10 of each sale goes directly to the Jackson Hole Writers (which organizes the conference), the book will not be available on Amazon. You can even press the orange Buy Now button on the conference’s home page and get there as well.

Thanks especially to Susan Marsh, Lisa Newcomb and Libby Treadwell for making this book possible by their caring edits and their lovely design work.  And to Greg Brazelton for his cover photo of Mount Moran.

But a special thanks goes out to all who contributed to this anthology. We hope this will only be the first collection celebrating writings from the conference. Next time, more of you who have attended the conference, in whatever role, will want to submit.

Enjoy.

                                                                                                          –Connie Wieneke, JHW

 

Wondering about copyrights

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We all need to be educated on this issue, especially as we approach publication, whether in a literary magazine, mainstream blog, or by a publisher.

 

Prepping Your Work For the Conference

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Don’t be afraid to spend a little time fine-tuning your manuscript before turning it in for conference readers. Do some of the work ahead of time and you will have a better time of it.

Writing Wyoming again comes to the rescue with some ideas you can actually use. Check it out this Guest Post by Jennifer Top. Sign up for the weekly blog posts by filling in the Follow by Email box. Easy.

 

Testing The Waters

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Ever wondered about webinairs and on-line editing services. Jackson Hole Writers Conference past participant Jennifer Jellen recently took a chance and signed up for a a Writer’s Digest webinair. This is her take-home message:

So much of writing is focused on adding— whether it be developing rich characters, building fantastic worlds, or creating beautiful sentences— that we sometimes forget how essential subtraction can be. Enter the art of editing, that final stroke by which you carve away every nonessential bit, lightening and enlivening your work so that its true heart can show.

I thought I had this part down. Coming from a long line of stoic Teutons, I have no problem wielding a literary ax. Delete that chapter? No problem! Cut that character? He was boring anyway! But a recent webinar with literary agent Kate McKean of the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency showed me that I was missing the point. Editing, it turns out, is much more than hack and slash; it’s a subtle art that, when properly applied, refines your connection with the reader, stripping away any artifice that might get between your audience and your story.

As we gear up for this year’s Jackson Hole Writers Conference, I thought I’d share a few of the many gems that Ms. McKean revealed during her talk.

  1. Let your characters find their end before you commit to their beginning. This sounds a little counter-intuitive, but it’s essential. No matter how well we plan and plot, characters and ideas evolve as we write. Sketch in your beginning, write to the end, and then come back to edit the beginning once you truly know your characters and their whole tale.
  2. Don’t be afraid to jump ahead. This is one of the best writing suggestions I’ve ever received: Insert the abbreviation TK when you’re uncertain or stuck. TK stands for To Come (apparently TC means something else entirely). So if you don’t know what happens next, or are unsure of a detail, simply write TK and move on. You’ll maintain your momentum and later, once the story is fully formed, you’ll be able to fill in those gaps.
  3. Use an active voice whenever possible. When we switch to a passive voice—He was struck by the teacher—we create a space between the reader and the story, whereas the active voice—The teacher struck him—keeps the reader in the moment. Sometimes, we slip into a passive voice without even realizing it. A great way to double check is to search your work for the word by and look at the associated verbs.
  4. Remove anything unessential. We’ve all heard the advice about going easy on the adverbs, but other words can add unnecessary bulk as well. Intensifiers such as very, really, and just don’t advance your story. They don’t tell the reader anything important; they simply act like literary cholesterol, clogging up the arteries of your story and making it harder for things to flow.
  5. It’s not the agent’s or editor’s job to fix your problems. Today’s agents and editors don’t have the time to take a rough, raw work and transform it into something great no matter how much they love the premise, the characters or the writing. It’s our job as writers to craft the best possible story, to hone it through good editing, and then to collaborate with agents and editors to polish and publish it.

Ms. McKean’s webinar was a great source of information on the subtleties of editing and their importance to all writers. The webinar was offered through Writer’s Digest online and was well worth the small fee I paid to attend. While I generally don’t recommend paying for advice, this was truly a great learning experience and I hope her tips will help you as well. You can find Kate McKean on Twitter (@Kate_McKean).

 

–Jennifer Jellen

Reading your work

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Whether you write poetry, fiction or nonfiction, reading your work out loud is so important. You might feel satisfied with the words on paper or computer screen, but when you speak those same words, they suddenly become clumsy, without rhythm, fall flat. Even as you work through your drafts, practice reading out loud. Or if you have a trusted friend have them read it to you. The beauty of your language and story will come through, just as the places where something is not working.

A recent blogspot by Susan Vittiow Mark at Writing Wyoming’s offers up some tips when reading your work in a more public venue. Seems like wise things to remember.  Might save your audience from fidgeting. Shut up and play your guitar.  Zappa couldn’t have said it any better.

 

Susan Marsh on Writing Wyoming Blog Spot

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Recent Writing Wyoming Blog Spot features Conference resident faculty Susan Marsh. She has had both a memoir and a novel published this year.

Check out her blog on Writing Wyoming and learn something about writing beyond setting. Follow Writing Wyoming Setting is used to serve the author’s needs; place resists this. It can intervene as I write, the same way my characters do: “Cross that out – I wouldn’t say that,” says a character as I struggle with early-draft dialogue. Place likewise demands to be portrayed on its specific terms.

Let’s make an effort to connect, collaborate and support writing, especially in our own communities. In Wyoming, our community is LARGE.

–Connie Wieneke