I’ve always loved listening to authors share their experiences. I could do it all day. In fact, I did just that on Saturday at the Red Clay Writers Conference, sponsored by Georgia Writers and Kennesaw State University. Lucky me. What a way to rekindle motivation and pick up a tip or two. You learn that you’re not alone, that all writers, published or not, share the same fears and doubts. The same ups and downs. And no matter how relaxed and funny authors seem during presentations, they don’t exactly love doing them. That’s why they write, because they are most at home with words.
Wendy Wax of Atlanta did the keynote, The Most Basic Thing of All. Wendy started her journalism career in television and then stayed home to write after her children came along. Her most recent novel is Ten Beach Road, and she’s busy writing its sequel. The best insight gained from her is “you can’t fix a blank page.” In other words, writers must write. It was the message I needed to hear. We can social network until we burn blisters on our fingers, but it won’t progress our career one iota if we aren’t producing anything to move forward.
There’s only one person who needs a glass of water oftener than a small child tucked in for the night, and that’s a writer sitting down to write. ~Mignon McLaughlin
My glass of water had become blog surfing, discussion groups on LinkedIn, following Twitter feeds geared to writers, and checking blog stats. Reading books on writing became another crutch. Sure, we need to study the craft, but come on, the best way to improve our writing is to write.
Next up at Red Clay, we had a choice of panel discussions. I chose Below the Surface: The Craft of Fiction moderated by Jeff Stepakoff. Stepakoff used to write for The Wonder Years, Sisters, and Dawson’s Creek, among other television series. He now teaches screenwriting in the graduate writing program at Kennesaw State, and his most recent work is the acclaimed Fireworks Over Toccoa. On his panel, in addition to Wendy Wax, sat Sheri Joseph and Amanda Gable — all published Georgia authors. Sheri’s work includes Stray, winner of rhw Grub Street National Book Prize, and Bear Me Safely Over. Amanda recently wrote the award-winning, The Confederate General Rides North.
Then I attended a discussion on poetry. I’m a bad poet, and I know it, but I love poetry. I’m not sure why I’m so drawn to this genre. Is it because it was my main expression of angst during teen years, or because her poetry is the only keepsake I have of my mother who died when I was 16? Learning the art of poetry is important for a writer’s development because of its lyrical language and its economy of words. But I love poetry for poetry’s sake.
For the next discussion there was a choice of Travel & Food Writing or Writing Funny Humor in Fiction. As a longtime fan of Lewis Grizzard, I attended the redundant Funny Humor. I got it. This panel consisted of three white southern males. Notice a pattern? Even if I weren’t a reader or a writer, I would have found the trio entertaining. I’ve since checked out their published works, thanks to the read a sample feature on Kindle, and just purchased Front Porch Prophet by Raymond Atkins because of its subtle southern humor. Check out these funny humor writers by clicking on the links. They’ve written multiple books, and each author brings a different style of humor to the southern table: Raymond Atkins, Man Martin, and John Schultz.
The last segment of the day offered either a question and answer with agent Jeanie Collins Pantelakis of Sullivan Maxx Literary Agency, or a session on writing a thriller with Anne Jones (Tides of Fear). I didn’t stay because of a social engagement — a date with my laptop — but I’m sure the quality of the last two discussions was on par with the rest of the day at Red Clay.
Keep in mind that for every author mentioned here, there was an equal number conducting sessions in the room next door. Something for every writer. Something for every reader. And the food was good.
I urge you to check out regional writing conferences in your area. What could be more fun than rubbing elbows with published authors? Maybe some of their magic, which is really hard work and the temperament to avoid going for another glass of water, will rub off. Red Clay exceeded my expectations, and maybe you’ll get lucky too.