Ten Things I Learned at the 2012 OWFI Conference

OWFI has a special place in my heart, since it was the very first writing conference I ever attended ten years ago. This year was the first year I was able to go since 2007, and it was just as I remembered — perhaps even a little more fun.

Trying to condense all the awesomeness of two solid days of writing-related sessions and seminars into a single post is a Herculean task, but here are ten things I picked up from the conference this year.

10) Twitter has a follow limit, or: no, Critic, you don’t know everything about social media.

Normally, social media panels at writing conferences are fairly basic, since most people are coming at it from a beginner’s standpoint. As the popularity of social media sites has grown, though, it seems organizers have gradually started adding in more advanced information.

The social media panel at the OWFI conference this year had a number of gems and interesting ideas, and answered some questions I’d had for a few years. (Example: When do I need to create a Facebook page for me as a writer, especially since I have no book?)

Even though I’m familiar with how Facebook and Twitter work from a business standpoint, I’ve not spent the same amount of time using them from a writing standpoint. The basics are the same, but there’s different protocol for using social media sites for clients, for me personally, and for me as a writer.

Also, seriously: Twitter has a follow limit. Who knew? (People other than me, thankfully.)

9) A synopsis doesn’t have to be double-spaced.

When I saw they’d knocked the novel categories in the OWFI contest down to 25 pages from 45 pages in years past, I nearly had a heart attack. I spent an entire day editing my synopsis, paring it down to three pages, and at least another week reading and rereading it, slicing out every unnecessary word I could find. I didn’t want to waste any of the precious 25 pages on that synopsis if I didn’t have to.

Then, as I was sitting in the atrium waiting to go in to my first pitch session, I started talking to the lady next to me, who also happened to be the OWFI contest chair for this year. Turns out, your synopsis doesn’t have to be double-spaced.

My synopsis: 3 pages double-spaced, a page and a half single-spaced.

Something to remember for next year, right?

8) Writing conferences are chockfull of interesting people.

You meet all kinds of people from all walks of life, all of whom write in dozens of different genres. I talked to a former history teacher who writes thrillers and a woman who has a middle grade novel set in 1932 Ukraine. I met people who write fantasy and sci-fi and mysteries and young adult and middle grade and memoirs. Instead of “What do you do?”, the first question anybody asks is “What do you write?”

Plus, I got to meet people that I’d previously only seen online, or that Rebekah had previously only seen online. It was great to finally put faces to screen names, which brings me to my next point:

7) KT Hanna is even more adorable in real life than on Twitter.

Not even joking here, y’all.

6) If ever you think “I need to get this out of the way so I can get to the good part,” really rethink that part.

If I had a nickel for every time that thought passed through my head (especially during NaNo), I could go to the movies every weekend for the rest of the summer. “If I just get past THIS, I can get to the river monster/demon fight/city riot/admission of Twu Wuv.”

As you might suspect, that’s not the best way to write. If that’s what you’re thinking while you’re writing it, that’s most definitely what readers will think while they’re reading it.

This particular nugget came from a session on genre fiction done by Melissa Frain, an editor from Tor. On a related note, she mentioned that 99% of the submissions she receives have a prologue. Most of the time, people added the prologue because the first chapter “isn’t exciting enough.” Her response? “Think about the problems with that.”

5) Read your genre.

So you know what’s been done before and where you fit into the market.

4) Don’t read your genre.

So you DON’T know what’s been done before, and therefore can’t emulate anybody else.

3) After two days at a writing conference, you walk away with about 15 new books you need to read.

Here’s what’s been added to my list, either books or authors:

Anna Dressed in Blood
Jim Butcher
Kristen Cashore
Charlaine Harris
The Jeff Herman Guide to Literary Agents
The Glamour of Grammar
Bird by Bird

2) Never fall in love with your first draft.

When our keynote speaker, Steven James, was giving his talk at the Friday night banquet, this was the first piece of advice he had. While it’s something I knew, logically (kill your darlings!), it’s something that I’ve faced time and again as I’ve plowed through my edits on the 2006 NaNo novel.

It seems like every editing pass has me chucking something in the bin from the first draft. Entire scenes that I thought were oh-so-important have ended up on the cutting room floor because they don’t add anything to the story or characters or push the plot along. They’ve been replaced with scenes that I’m excited to write (See #6!).

(Related note: I went back and actually read the first draft of this story a few weeks ago. Let’s just say I’ve improved since then.)

1) Be yourself. Nobody else will.

Steven James also told a story about Rabbi Zusia, who had a dream that terrified him. He faced the angels and learned what question they would ask him at the end of his life. It wouldn’t be “Zusia, why weren’t you Moses, leading your people out of Egypt?” or “Zusia, why weren’t you Joshua, leading your people to the Promised Land?”

The question was: “Zusia, why weren’t you Zusia?”

A few days later, I was talking to Jessica and having a momentary freak-out because there is NO WAY my stuff is as good as Terry Brooks or Robert Jordan or George R. R. Martin, so why am I even bothering? (Raise your hand if you’ve never had that “there’s no way I’m good enough” moment. Congratulations, you’re an android.)

After listening to me for a moment, Jess turned to me and said just one thing: “Zusia, why weren’t you Zusia?”

Yes, THAT was when it clicked.

At the end of the day, nobody wants you to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or J.R.R. Tolkien. We’ve already got them. You need to be you.

Nobody’s ever seen the world the way you have. Nobody has the stories that you do. And in the end, that’s the question you’ll be asked: “Why weren’t you you?”

4 comments on “Ten Things I Learned at the 2012 OWFI Conference

  1. conferences are so much fun. i always get a headache by mid-afternoon because my brain is getting too full of new information. by the way, i love the jim butcher series, there are full of awesome.

    • thebnc says:

      I’ve read one of the Harry Dresden series (Grave Peril, I believe) for a class back in college. I always wanted to start from the beginning and actually read the series from book 1. Plus, I think Butcher has a fantasy series (Codex Alera, if I’m not mistaken) that I’m also interested in.

      Seriously, my to-read list in Goodreads is about to become unmanageable.

  2. […] it was added to the front of the book because the first chapter wasn’t exciting enough. And, as we learned earlier this year, there are numerous problems with that […]

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