Monday, May 20, 2013

PennWriters Conference!

Sometimes life happens in high speed.

I got home from the last three, really intense weeks of the semester, slept for obscenely long hours for the next five days, and was time for four whole days of the 2013 PennWriters conference!

(And I'm going to spend the next three weeks packing to go to Oxford, trying to say hello to everyone at home, and creating a solid revision plan for my manuscript.  Oh, and reading everything I can get my hands on.) 

But back to the conference: 

Especially for those of you who haven't been to a conference before and are considering it, here's basically how I spent my weekend:

1.  GETTING INSPIRED.  Which for me, at this conference, was mostly--almost entirely--thanks to Donald Maass (pronounced like the fuzzy green groundcover).  He's an excellent writing teacher and a possessor of contagious, empowering optimism when it comes to the future of novels and the role of writers.  If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, even if the price of the dinner makes your eyes pop out of your head a's worth it. 

2.  HONING CRAFT.  We did this a lot in Donald Maass's day-long Writing 21st Century Fiction workshop (which was amazing).  There were also workshops like YA author Erica O'Rourke's session, where she showed us that voice--and yes, Young Adult voice--is something you can learn and refine.  (Ms. O'Rourke, by the way, was phenomenally kind and helpful and took the time to answer some personal questions I had about writing.  I'm very grateful to her.) 

3.  MEETING OTHER WRITERS.  When people advertise the "networking" element of conferences, it always sounds, to me at least, like you're supposed to come out of these things with two prospective agents and five critique-partners-for-life.  While I have heard of people who begin lasting critique relationships at conferences, this wasn't really the case for me.  (Though I did have some wonderful conversations, and will definitely stay in touch with some of those people.) What was the case was that I got to meet writers who were all different kinds of people, working on all different kinds of projects, with all different kinds of dreams and goals.  Those interactions gave me a new and valuable perspective.

4.  GETTING TO KNOW THE BUSINESS.  Since I'm an aspiring novelist, I was pretty well-acquainted with the process of querying agents and navigating towards the publication of a book.  There were, however, many times during the Pennwriters conference when I was able to correct a misconception or learn something new by hearing the perspective of an agent or editor that I hadn't before.

5.  WINNING.  The small wins, anyway.  I entered the raffle contests at the last minute, and though the big fluffy baskets full of goodies were tempting, I went for the pro-critique giveaways mostly.  And...I won two of them!  A skype session with NYT bestselling author Jonathan Maberry, and a query critique from none other than Chuck Sambuchino.  I'll be very excited about that last one as soon as I can recover my query from the very insightful overhaul an agent suggested in a one-on-one session...

All these things, even the raffle prizes I won, have something in common:  they're about LEARNING.

Which is funny, because that's not why I signed up for this conference at all.

I signed up for this conference solely because an agent I was interested was going to be there, and I was going to have my manuscript ready and pitch to them.

^(That's the funny part.)

I wasn't ready to pitch.  And I didn't pitch.  But I did get a good perspective on what I want, where I'm going, what I'm doing right, and what I have yet to do.  So even though I signed up for silly reasons, I'm very glad I did. 

All in all, I would say these were the most valuable things I got out of the Pennwriters conference:
~~Meeting other writers who had perspectives different from my own
~~Hearing authors, agents, and editors speak and interacting with them in one-on-one settings
~~Donald Maass (Haha. Really, though.)

I also learned a lot about driving near Pittsburgh and driving in general--in particular, that it is possible to rear-end someone at close quarters, leave not the tiniest mark on their car, get nothing but a dent the size of two quarters on your car, and live to tell the tale.

Also, if you live anywhere near Lancaster, PA, information about next year's conference will eventually be available here.  


  1. Which Oxford are you going to? (I looked on Wikipedia and there's at least twenty different ones all over the world!)

    I've never been to a writing conference, but it sounds like they're great!

    1. The original, unless I am mistaken...

    2. It is. According to Dr. Bart and Mr. Chaucer it used to be "Oxenford." Because you could get your oxen across the river there.

  2. Congrats on winning two critiques! Sounds like it was a great conference. Whenever I read blog posts about people's conference experiences I wish so badly I lived closer to where this stuff actually happens! Have fun in Oxford!

    1. Thanks! And yes, traveling for them is both inconvenient and expensive. :(

  3. YAY to those critiques! Those are always great. Glad you had a great time. I haven't had a chance to visit one yet and stories like these make me want to do it even more :)