Get Entrenched

This last weekend (Thursday through Sunday) I was at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold conference. I realized that I have gone each year for nine years straight. RMFW is my tribe. They are a great bunch of people who have the same passion as I do: writing and teaching writing craft. Some years have been better than others, but I thought this year’s programming was especially good. The main focus this year was on tangible writing craft and the workshops included levels from novice to professional. The keynotes were great. The food was good. There was much networking with new friends and catching up with old friends. There were cocktails. Maybe more than a few cocktails, but who’s counting?

One of my favorite moments was sitting down with another writer (of whom I am in awe and love dearly) over a cocktail. We caught up and discussed writing projects. I bounced my new work in progress around and discussed my need for a B story line in the WIP. This writer friend listened. I threw out ideas and she shared a few ideas. It’s always helpful to get another perspective. When I woke up the next morning with the answer to the B story question, I was amazed. Sometimes you just need to bounce ideas off of other skilled storytellers. I now have a great B story line. That in itself is worth the price of admission.

I’ve been to several other writer’s conferences over the years. Some are better than others. Regardless of which writer’s conference you attend, there are always things to learn. Your goal is (or it should be) to become better at your chosen profession—even if you are still working the day job. Just keep learning. Keep practicing. Keep writing. If writing is what you want to do, then be good at it.

One of the keynote speakers and teachers this year at Colorado Gold was thriller author James Scott Bell. Jim is a long-time teacher of writing craft, and his books on various topics are easy to assimilate and understand because he breaks down craft topics into easily digestible meals. Some of his craft books I have read more than a few times and recommend them to other writers. These include:

  • Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish.
  • Write Your Novel from the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pansters and Everyone in Between
  • How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript
  • Elements of Fiction Writing – Conflict & Suspense

He has half a dozen more craft books, and they are all good, but I especially love the above titles. If you have opportunity to attend one of Jim’s classes, you will be enthralled with great teaching wrapped in a cloak of entertainment while learning elements of writing craft. You will walk away richer and a better writer. If you don’t have opportunity to attend one of his workshops, let me encourage you to read one or more of the above books. These books will clarify things for you with regard to the craft of writing. This is important because the reality is you as writer don’t know what you don’t know until someone points it out to you. It’s easier to have it pointed out in a book than have an agent or editor tell you.

Why am I touting this writing conference?

Because you will learn more in one long writing conference than you probably will in ten years of writing on your own without interaction.

Why am I touting writing craft books?

Because books help you to understand the things that make your writing better, especially for mass market fiction and genre fiction.

But here’s the main point. It doesn’t matter what writers’ group you get entrenched with, or which writers’ conference you attend. The main thing is that you get yourself entrenched with other writers and make some effort to improve your writing. Writers need each other. Writing is a solitary process, and the ability to bounce ideas off other writers is invaluable. The ability to learn something that you’ve been struggling with is invaluable. The ability to share your pages with someone you trust who has more skill than you on a given topic is invaluable. All these things will make you a better writer. Involving yourself on a regular basis with other writers will stretch you as a person, but you will be better for it.

Do a google search in your area for writing groups. Look on MeetUp. You will find that there are probably a ton of other writers around you that you were not aware of. Meet them. Have coffee with them. Volunteer to help out with the group if they need it. Have a cocktail. Talk about writing. Get your pages critiqued. Become a better writer. Get entrenched. That’s the important bit.

JSB_at_Angels_Flight_400x400James Scott Bell


I will be out this week as I prepare for Colorado Gold in Denver. It’s one of the best writer’s conferences in the United States and I love going. If you are attending, please find me there. You can go to the registration desk and ask someone to text me and I will come meet you.

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks will resume next week.




To Con or Not To Con

If you’re a writer and you take your art seriously, you want to do whatever you can do to learn or improve your craft. Let’s face it, there are a gazillion writers who publish uncrafted novels which aren’t ready for consumption, and, unfortunately, they usually sell three copies to friends and family. If you want the greatest possibility to be a successful (however you define that for yourself) author, you have to put your best possible product out there. The book must (usually) fit within the standards of the genre (because it has to be marketed by someone, and booksellers need to know where to put it on a shelf), and absolutely must be as polished as possible. Then, and only then should it be pitched (if the author wants to go the traditional publishing route), or be considered for self-publishing (NOTE: if self-publishing there are many more steps that you need to undertake before you click the submit button).

These are craft issues. Most fiction writers don’t have an MFA and it isn’t necessary to obtain a degree of any kind to be a writer. Writing the story is an artist’s passion, or a hobby for some who improve their craft on weekends. And sometimes it is just an idea that someone has who has always wanted to write a book. Regardless, it is necessary to get some educational foundation of the craft of writing. Some writers are able to get that much-needed foundation from books and can use those books to help them create the solid structure necessary on which to hang their plot and characters. There are some very good books that explain how each character needs their own goals and motivations, and how stories are built on conflict. It is possible to learn how to write dialogue, how to create a scene, and how to create just about every aspect of the novel from the pages of writing craft books. It takes time to read all of these books (I’ve not seen one book that teaches it all), and consistent dedication for the writer to translate from what they have read in the book to what they will write on the page.

There is another route. You could  go to a writers conference. But, do be ready to be immersed in all things writing while surrounded by a jillion other excited people soaking up that same information. I personally find writers conferences a great way to soak in information AND make great connections with other writers. It is also a great opportunity to get quality feedback on your work in progress. I also admit to needing a nap afterword.

Do not take it for granted that all writers conferences are the same. They vary based on price and content, as well as quality. Also, be aware that a convention isn’t the same as a conference and you will need due diligence to find the best fit for you. I have been to my fair share of writers conferences and have been both wowed and ho-hummed. And I admit that I am biased, but I do truly believe that the best writers conference in the United States is Colorado Gold, which is hosted by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Colorado Gold has workshops for writers of all levels (beginner, intermediate, and professional) and a wide array of topics on craft and business. Because RMFW is a non-profit educational organization, the conference is very affordable, especially when compared to some other for-profit conferences. It is also a really great group of people who are passionate about helping everyone learn and be successful. If you can only afford one conference this year, I recommend that you attend Colorado Gold.

There are myriad other conferences if you can’t get to Denver in September. One of the best resources I’ve found for finding quality conferences is the AWP directory which has a searchable comprehensive list of writers conferences as well as writing programs and retreats. There is still no guarantee each listing will be the right conference for you, but with a little effort you should be able to research your choice and make an educated decision.

Whether you choose to improve your craft by reading books or you choose to go to a writers conference, do something to improve your skill and your craft so you can be the polished artist that you want to be.