OK. I probably overestimated my abilities. I told my writing friends I'd be blogging about the conference each day. After Day 1, I can see how this might be overwhelming. To me and possibly to anybody reading this.
So I'll keep it brief and fill in details as they come up in future posts. Because this conference, after only one day, is packed full of helpful, amazing, interesting stuff.
Stewart O'Nan spoke first. I'd just read his new novel: Songs for the Missing. I love his writing. He spoke about his journey, beginning in his basement writing room, through conferences, and eventually an MFA from Cornell. He's a big believer in reading to learn how to write and gave us numerous challenges in that department. (I guess I'll have to tackle Joyce Carol Oates after all.) He reads to look at sentences, their construction, to notice words. More of his advice?
Set your big scenes big.
Surprise the reader. (Change the tone. Make an unreliable first person noticeable. Shock the reader.)
Keep your characters with you. Carry them around Feel yourself as that character.
"Writing is like reading a good book. You live in that world and don't want to leave."
Then I moved to my afternoon memoir workshop with Ann Hood (the reason I wanted to be a part of this conference. Love her writing.)
"You can't write non-fiction unless you tell the truth. You can't worry about what others think."
Since I even worry about what others might make of my fiction, this is food for thought for me.
She quoted Gregory Maguire. The What if, Then What, And then, And then thing. A great way to get at the story. In non-fiction (and in fiction), the most important of these questions is the next one: So What?
In all writing, the focus should be right there at the beginning, in the first sentences. We should know where we are and what we are in for.
Tips I think I'll work on:
1. Picture sentences. Close your eyes. If you can't picture it, it needs help.
2. In non-fiction, use all the devices of fiction: dialogue, setting, character, action, climax, resolution.
3. Find a central metaphor (examples: knitting, fire), something that gives your story meaning.
That's about all my brain can process at the moment. Stay tuned.