My Adventure at the San Francisco Writers Conference 2015
Many writers will attest to this: It’s hard to say “I’m a writer” without feeling like some kind of fraud. It’s so much easier to say I’m a teacher, a baker, candle-stick maker (well, maybe not the last one). And while none of us should be in it for the rewards, rewards certainly don’t hurt.
So when I received the news that I won the Victoria Hudson Emerging Writer Prize, I was just a bit more than ecstatic. Winning this scholarship to attend the 2015 San Francisco Writers Conference meant a great deal to me. “Yippee!” I shouted to no one in particular. “I am a writer–albeit in a mostly unpaid-wallpapering-my-house-with-rejections kind of way–but I’m a writer.” After four days jam-packed with eye-opening and inspiring sessions, where I met cool, interesting people who are toiling away at a plethora of amazing projects, I declare that nobody should be afraid to admit to being a writer. In fact, get a t-shirt or a tattoo. Get both.
I loved my experience at the San Francisco Writers Conference, so I thought I would share a few highlights…
The best part about writing a novel is you can tell people “I wrote a novel.” The worst part comes right after when they ask the follow-up question, “Is it published?” From there, the conversation goes something like this:
“Well, I have to get an agent. Then once I get someone to represent me, then–”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s about this guy–”
“If it’s made into a movie, can I get a part?”
Pitching agents…I don’t know about other writers, but just the thought of it filled me with dread. I often wondered, is there someone I can hire that will pitch the agent for me, like a pre-agent-agent? And is there someone I can hire to help me pitch my idea to that person?
At SFWC15, the first two sessions I attended were specifically about pitching. In Prepping the Perfect Pitch, agent Regina Brooks discussed the most important elements to query letters and how to build a one-minute pitch. Directly following this was a Pitch-A-Thon, during which participants gave their “elevator pitch” to a panel made up of agents and editors. I didn’t get a chance to deliver my pitch, but listening to other writers speak and the American Idol-style critique of the panelists was worth a trip across the country. I realized pretty early on that my pitch was too long and confusing. Two days later, at 8:00 a.m., I had the opportunity to deliver my new-and-improved pitch during Agent Speed Dating, which allowed each participant three minutes with each agent. It was an awesome experience. I used to get tongue-tied whenever anyone would ask me what my novel was about, now I can say it with confidence in approximately 38 seconds. Full disclosure (and quite frankly, Nerd Alert): I timed myself giving my pitch in the hotel room while my friends were out on the town having drinks.
2) Editing and Revision
While most writers (I hope) know the simultaneous pain and joy of revision, I think many fall into two categories, a) those who feel their work is good enough and b) those who think their work is never finished. It’s somewhere in the middle ground where the successful writers reside. And as I tend to get lost in that middle ground, I was happy to see so many sessions at SFWC15 on the topic of editing. I attended two sessions: The Art of Writing is Rewriting and Finding and Working with the Right Freelance Editor for You. In both of these sessions, developmental editors (these are the peeps you hire before your book becomes a book) discussed the importance of engaging your inner critic and being sure each scene connects to the big picture. I got some excellent tips, such as having friends read your manuscript out-loud, physically cutting the manuscript to manipulate scenes and most important – finishing. The consensus seemed to be tackle your work, don’t tinker. The process should include several drafts before you get to the point of pitching the novel to agents.
Though the San Francisco Writers Conference tends to lean more towards business than craft, I had a few favorites on the craft of writing:
Craft in the Service of Art: Creating Literary Fiction That Endures: A panel of literary authors discussed the art of creating beautiful prose. Most emerging writers will tell you that the fiction labels – literary, commercial, women’s, upmarket – can get confusing, and there are definitely gray areas. I walked away with a better understanding of what literary fiction is.
Setting the Scene: Making the Places in Your Novel Live in Your Readers’ Imagination: The panel here, made up of two novelists and a literary agent, discussed the importance of creating a world in which the reader should become completely lost.
Dialogue and Voice: Revealing Your Characters and Yourself: In this session, novelists discussed the importance of authentic voice and use of dialogue to establish characterization.
Reading Well to Write Well: How Reading Great Books Makes You a Better Writer: Facilitator Kevin Smokler encouraged participants to pitch their manuscript to the group, who then offered suggestions of comparable books and films. This might have been my favorite session of the conference, as it got people talking about their projects and gave us the opportunity to help each other out. Writers, though a solitary bunch, are quite helpful. I got some really interesting suggestions for comparable reading materials.
4) All The Rest
The experience was just amazing for me! As a New Englander, I relished every minute of my morning runs in the spring-like San Francisco weather. I visited the Beat Museum, spent a small fortune at the City Lights Bookstore and had a drink where Kerouac once sat at Vesuvio Cafe. I met so many awesome, interesting writers, like Victoria Hudson and my (until then) only-on-twitter-friend, Beth Deitchman. I enjoyed hearing the poets share their work at the open mic. night, I hung on every word of keynote speaker Yiyun Li’s amusing and encouraging talk about eavesdropping, and I loved learning about John Lescroart’s winding road to best-selling author. Lescroart also signed a copy of his new novel The Fall and gave me some advice I needed to hear: “Keep at it.”
So thanks, San Francisco Writers Conference and Victoria Hudson for providing me with this very important step on what I hope is a long, productive writerly journey.
I’ve provided a list of links to cool people or organizations I encountered at the conference. If you’d like to give a shout out to a person, place or thing from SFWC15, feel free to add your own link in the comment sections.
Some Links You Should Check Out (in no particular order):
Serendipity Literary Agency
The Victoria Hudson Emerging Writer Prize Go Fund Me Page
Tanya Egan Gibson
San Francisco Writers Conference Scholarship Page