First-time Success: One Day at the Willamette Writers Conference

Last week, I blogged about preparing for my first-ever Willamette Writers Conference (WWC) in Portland, Oregon. After attending and taking a few days to reflect and review my notes, I can confidently say that participating in WWC is one of the best things I've ever done for my craft.

While only able to attend one day out of WWC's 3-day span, I made contacts, learned a lot, and pushed my boundaries. I attended various workshops, did a heap of networking and even wound up doing a little pitching. I'm amazed at how much I learned — and I'm already planning to attend the entirety of next year's conference.

Here are some of my observations and takeaways from my first-ever Willamette Writers Conference.

Workshops

During the 4 one-and-a-half-hour time slots open for workshops, I attended workshops on a range of writing and publishing topics:

Conference Success Basics, led by Mary Andonian and April Eberhardt. Designed for conference newbies such as myself, by the end of this workshop I felt prepped to the max for success at WWC. Mary and April discussed how the conference enabled a writer's efforts in pitching, networking, project planning and story development, as well as what writers can do outside the conference to further their success. From blogging to independent publishing, the group had lively discussions — not bad for a bunch of writers just finishing their morning coffee!

Business Planning: Sell Your Work, Not Your Soul, led by Gary Corbin. Many writers have trouble thinking of their craft as a business. Gary cut to the chase on exactly this problem, with a step-by-step exploration of how business planning sets up writers for success. Gary demystified what it takes to plan a writing business, made it approachable, and brought home how this makes a big difference between a writer who makes a living as a writer, and a writer who doesn't.

Puzzle, Tension, Character, led by Charlotte Cook. Talk about personality! Charlotte's no-nonsense, no-bullshit style resonated with me. She led a packed room through how a publisher evaluates a manuscript. We were not going to examine grammar or mechanics, she explained. Instead, we were going to answer a simple question: "Do I want to turn the page?"

In addition to going through what constitutes good combinations of puzzle, tension and character in a story, much of our workshop time was devoted to getting our hands dirty. Charlotte read aloud sections of stories brought in by people in the room. Then she would explain elements that she thought were strong or weak in the story, and open up the room to lively discussion. "As a publisher, honey, here's why I wouldn't buy this story," she would say, then relay feedback that authors could put to work in the perspective they brought to crafting and refining their work.

Corporate Writing 101, led by Nancy Christie. Writing for periodicals isn't what it used to be. While periodical submissions can still be part of a writer's submissions process, corporate copywriting is an important area to explore for stable income and a range of writing projects. Nancy broke down organization types, how to pitch, what to look for, and a range of projects and services a writer could offer business clients.

Networking

Meeting other writers and publishing professionals was a highlight of the day, and one of my main reasons for attending WWC. From people I would not have met otherwise, to folks known online but not face-to-face, I brought home a stack of business cards, excellent conversations and good memories.

Now that the conference is done, I'm working hard on the next phase: contact. From adding Twitter follows to sending out "great to meet you" emails, I'm looking forward to keeping in touch with the folks I met this year.

Pitching

This is the last thing I expected to do at the conference, but you never know what might happen at an event like this.

Writers pitching their work to agents is an integral part of WWC. However, it's not why I attended this year. The reason? I'm not ready. I was attending the conference not to yap about myself or my work, but primarily to listen, observe and learn the ropes. My intent was to keep my ears open, and my mouth shut.

April Eberhardt, who led the Conference Success Basics workshop, had a different take — and an alternative. For writers who aren't yet ready to pitch but want to gain experience and get feedback, WWC also offers "pitch practice." In these first-come, first-serve free sessions, writers have 15 minutes to sit down with pros who have been on both sides of a pitch. The writer has an opportunity to run through a pitch, ask questions, and get pointers on what to do and what not to do when they pitch an agent.

This bit of serendipity became one of the most productive parts of my day at the conference. While I didn't have a pitch prepared, I did have enough grasp of my story to give info and provide coherent responses to questions. By the time we were done, my pitching coach gave me some final words of encouragement: "You just need a manuscript, and you'll be ready."

Didn't see that coming.

Final Thoughts on My First WWC

There are myriad aspects of the conference I could mention in this post. People met. Tips taken to heart. Ideas inspired. Connections made. But I'll spare you the length and breadth of my text file of conference notes and observations (not to mention how many emails I have left to send.)

I'll finish with this instead: As a writer, I'm prone to trying to do too much solo. Instead of reaching out to colleagues, far too often I try to tough through things myself. Heck, it didn't even occur to me that my state, my city, might have a trade organization of fellow professionals, fellow craftspeople who have challenges, doubts, skill sets, interests and hopes similar to my own. I'm a bit silly like that.

I only learned about Willamette Writers, and the conference, while reading Johanna Harness' blog post about conferences she was attending. Once I knew, though, I got to work. Willamette Writers and WWC were a revelation, and I realized I was being daft. I didn't need to go everything alone, and I was only as isolated as I let myself be.

That's why I immediately joined Willamette Writers, and am planning to start attending the Eugene/Mid-Valley chapter's meetings starting this fall. That's why I spent a day at the conference, and am so glad that I went.

Even though I could only go for one day, attending WWC was enlightening and encouraging. Of course, back home there's now a pile of new things to do and consider. I'm looking forward to it though, and to exploring new options in my craft.

And to going to WWC next year.

3 thoughts on “First-time Success: One Day at the Willamette Writers Conference”

  1. Anthony, great to meet you at the conference. The Mid-Valley chapter of Willamette Writers has an excellent lineup of speakers this season, including novelist Miriam Gershow and foraging expert Langdon Cook! So glad you joined!

    Reply

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