Writer’s Digest Conference: Notes (Part 2)

First of all, can I just say that I think the dude driving the car in the rap part of this is absolutely hilarious? They should have made the video just about him.

Now onto conference notes!!

This is basically going to be a massive condensing of everything  I learned this weekend (minus anything dealing with pitching or literary agents, and anything that I saved in Word documents instead of hand writing — because, believe it or not, those require more time and effort to edit and get out to you guys — so that’ll all be in my next few blog posts). Please bear with me on the length of this post.


Writing About Yourself in the Digital Age by A.J. Jacobs:

  • There are three rules to writing a good book.
  1. Be aggressive.
  2. Remember that it’s possible to write anywhere, at anytime.
  3. Write with style and passion — do this, and you can make any topic seem interesting (even an epic poem about a sofa).
  • When writing in first person (hence the “writing about yourself” part of the title), you have to make people care. To do this, share small details of life; both good and bad characteristics… find the grey area between the good and the bad. Be expansive and write about the world as much as you do yourself. And most of all, be compassionate.
  • Conflict drives a story. Be willing to put it in the foreground.
  • As a writer, your job isn’t just writing. It’s also marketing, editing, agenting — all of that. None of it’s a chore; it’s all creative stuff, and it’s all part of the process.
  • Start your story with a hook — make it so gripping that whoever’s reading it has no choice but to keep reading so that they can find out what happens.
  • Editors LOVE counter-intuitive pieces. Take a piece of common wisdom and turn it on its head.
  • Tweeting is the most effective way to build your platform, because it reaches the largest number of people. (Guess I should get on that, huh?)
  • When writing stories, readers want a narrative arc. When writing blog posts? Not so much. Books need to have a beginning and ending — somewhere they’re going. Blog posts don’t.

Writing the 21st Century Novel by Donald Maass:

  • While thrillers are popular, they’re usually only good for about 9 weeks on the bestsellers lists, while on the other hand literary fiction can stay up there for one to two years. Why? Because it reaches readers; changes hearts and changes minds. People want something more than simple entertainment out of your story — they want to be affected by it.
  • There’s currently a rise in cross-genre fiction and a decline in plain and simple this-is-my-genre stuff.
  • In writing, it’s okay to use big emotions, but make them specific. Make the reader feel the emotions. What do they look like — their color, shape, dynamic? Be specific and unique. Use secondary emotions to back up and give meaning to the big emotions. Excite the readers’ imaginations and make them feel something.
  • Safe writing is fine, but it has no impact. You have to be willing to go out on a limb and test yourself.
  • You have to have lots of arcs in your story — the inner-journey, the general character arc, the plots and subplots; everything should have an arc, and no arc should be simple or straightforward. Make it complicated; make it like real life.
  • Have one thing that your character has to do by the end of the novel that they aren’t brave enough to do. Make it something they’ve sworn never to do, or never to do again. Make them do it, and then watch for the fall out.
  • Have a single truth or belief that your character trusts and believes in more than anything else. Destroy that truth. How will your MC recover? “Sometimes it’s destroying who you think you are to find you’re something different.”
  • When you get to the halfway point in your novel, the “saggy” middle, think of the one thing that would completely blow the story sideways and change where you think it’s going. Do it.
  • Put the biggest possible thing you can think of in the middle of your story. Make your character think that that MUST be the climax. Then, top it with the actual climax towards the end.
  • Your villains must be interesting; strong, 3D secondary characters. Don’t just make them evil, make them people.
  • The recession’s showing us what people are really willing to pay for — good stories and good writing.
  • Don’t be afraid of dating your novel. All of the classics are dated, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Give it a date, and stick with it.
  • Remember, if you’re writing a fantasy novel, that there is still time and history and change.
  • Writing is, first and foremost, about writing good books. Not about selling film rights or getting lots of promotion. Just writing good books.


Panel: Ask the Editor by Benjamin LeRoy, Scott Francis, and Millicent Bennett

  • The most important piece of fiction is quality storytelling. You need both a strong narrative and strong writing.
  • Catch the reader with the opening — let the reader connect with your story by telling them how we’re all human. Tell them how your story is about this, how it’s something we can all relate to.
  • Let your character leap off the page. Make it feel like an old friend — but remember that everything is based on personal opinion.
  • Be yourself on the page and in person.
  • Make sure to stand your ground. While somebody is guaranteed not to like your story, somebody else is guaranteed to like it.
  • Write from your gut!!!! Remember that writing is an intuitive process; lead with feeling, not thinking.
  • Every sentence should move your story forward.
  • Remember that you don’t want people to read your book, you want people to love your book. There’s a big difference.
  • Show people something they’ve never seen before.
  • If you care about it, the reader will care about it too.
  • You need to “marry” your characters. They’re in your head all the time. They’re with you when you eat, sleep, breathe, live. Your life and your characters’ lives are intertwined.
  • A story is about the characters, not the plot. The plot happens, yes, but it’s just the medium for your characters’ journeys.
  • When working with an editor, remember: they’re pushing in the same direction as you are– they want what’s best for your book, and they’ll only keep suggesting things for as long as you’re willing to hear them.
  • Editors buy books very infrequently — only about 10 to 20 a year of all the hundreds to thousands that come in each year.
  • Only 7% of all books published (including both self-published and legacy-published books) sell more than a thousand copies.
  • Average number of copies sold for a self-published book is 87.
  • There’s no checklist for writing a good book.
  • When editing, look for something that doesn’t sit right with you, and edit for that.
  • Watch out for overloading the reader with back story at the beginning of your novel!

… And that’s it for today! Keep a look out for more notes from the Writer’s Digest Conference coming over the course of the next couple of weeks!

Also, for anybody who doesn’t know, New York has distinctly good food. Even its airports:

For another’s perspective on the awesomeness that was WDC, make sure to check out my new friend Ari’s blog:


I have news. Quite a bit. So first of all, let’s get some basic facts out of the way:

1. As you may know, last weekend, I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012 in New York City.

2. While I was there, I learned a lot (but not alot) about both writing and publishing.

3. I also pitched my novel to real-life, honest-to-God literary agents.

Link: http://fuzzymango.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/writers-digest-conference-2012-part-i-or-little-mango-goes-to-the-big-city/

For a full list of the sessions offered at the 2012 conference, go to: http://www.writersdigestconference.com/ehome/27962/52254/?&


6 thoughts on “Writer’s Digest Conference: Notes (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Writers Digest Conference 2012, Part II (or, How Do You Pitch a Peculiar Parrot?) « A Fuzzy Mango With Wings

  2. Oooh, cool!!! I know I have to add stuff to m characters; I’m working on developing David’s voice, because in the beginning of the book, he had a bit of a potential for being a bit snarky, and then suddenly his voice went out of the window, so I have to keep his voice up. I’ve also discovered that a lot of the emotional moments in WMU aren’t fleshed out enough XP EDITINGGGGG GRRRRRR
    Thanks for these notes, Imma steal them and use them to take over the world… 🙂 🙂 🙂


    • I know, voice can be really difficult to keep consistent sometimes! It’s especially hard for me right now because I’m writing Dreamcatcher at the same time as I’m editing Forgotten, and Lauren/Dreamcatcher is just so much more mature than Janie and Kyle/Forgotten, because she’s older, that it takes me a while to be able to jump between them.

      And you’ve got it especially hard, because I know for a fact that snarkiness can be difficult to keep going over the course of an entire novel. It takes some serious stamina.

      Good luck (for the millionth time) with editing!! 😀 And just make sure to give me Disney World or something in return, and we’re all good, gottit? 😉


      • What are you talking about? Mira keeps up consistent snark through the entirety of Paradox… I must be, like, a bodybuilder in the world of sarcasm.


  3. Finally! Yay, so much good advice! I especially liked the part about “marrying” your characters. Back in the Leira Frank days, Leira used to annoy me all the time with bad advice. It was funny.
    I would just like to thank you for giving me a good excuse not to study for midterms… How I despise Algebra 2…
    Anyway, thanks for the notes. 🙂


    • Gasp! How dare you not study for your midterms, Ariel? AND BECAUSE OF MEEE??? :O

      Lol jk. I’ve found holing myself up in a room with a TV and endless supply of romcom movies has always been a good way of avoiding studying (just make sure to have your text book out on your lap while you’re doing it, in case your parents come in to make sure you’re actually studying or something crazy like that).

      No problemo!


Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s