Three Moments At CWC 2014 That I Can’t Get Out of My Head

I must miss fall’s back-to-school vibes because I attended not one, but TWO writers conferences this season: Chicago Writers Conference and Prairie Writer’s and Illustrator’s Day. The latter was held by the Illinois chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and I will talk about it on a future blog post. For now, I want to focus on CWC.

I had the great pleasure of working for Chicago Writers Conference in the past, and I was more than happy to be invited back as a moderator. The best part about being a moderator: I get to ask questions that have been burning in my soul. The second best part: Getting to attend the other panels and talks, and CWC had a wide variety to choose from. What I truly appreciate about this conference is that its main focus is the career side of writing, as opposed to craft. My delusions of grandeur are such that I’m not terribly worried about developing my talent as a writer–at the end of the day, it’s something that’s within my control. But the industry part of the whole experience? Yikes! CWC helps to unveil the mysteries that lie behind the closed doors of literary agencies, publishing houses, readers tumblrs and what-nots. With panels like “Ask the Agents” “Breaking Into (and Getting Paid) for Online Writing” “Successfully Submit to Literary Magazines” and others, the conference is a crash-course on how to turn your writing dreams into reality.

There were a lot of juicy, practical, hands-on tips I learned over the weekend, but here are three moments that I keep turning to, again and again for their ability to reassure and inspire me to do more.

1. Eric Charles May and his writing journal full of questions. 

One of my favorite talks at the conference was given by Eric Charles May, author of Bedrock Faith. on the topic of cohesive plot. May read passages of his writing journal that described a scene he was having trouble visualizing. His entries were mostly a barrage of questions about character intentions, reactions, future plot points, past set-ups, and so on. It hit me: Keep moving forward with the story, even if you haven’t quite figured out how every scene fits. Just never stop asking questions about it. The answer will eventually come.

2. Dana Norris and her 100 rejections. 

Dana Norris, non-fiction writer and storyteller extraordinaire, made me a believer in the power of literary journals. That’s not the best part. The truly miraculous transformation was turning me into someone who wants to actively seek rejection. She mentioned how she once heard another writer say that their goal is to receive 100 rejections a year. That’s how you should view the job: produce and submit so much that you hear the word “NO” 100 times. If you do the math, that’s two query letters/pitches/submittables a week, which is totally doable. The best part is that you are freed from the pressure of actually being successful at it. Simply doing it is already considered a win.

3. Sara Paretsky and the joys of sisterhood.

Trailblazer and best-selling author Sara Paretsky spoke candidly about her journey from aspiring writer into total badass in a genre that was still considered the domain of the Menz. She minced no words about the fact that second-wave feminism helped her carve out the opportunities to achieve her goals. And since she’s one classy lady, she decided to pay it forward by founding Sisters in Crime, an organization to support women crime writers. Her story, and that of many others, is a welcome reminder that other writers might be competition. More importantly, though, they are friends and colleagues that can cheer you on in this difficult path.

You too can have epiphanies next year! CWC is an annual event. I encourage you to check out their website and consider attending the conference, or any other. You’ll come out feeling a little less lonely and a little less scared.