Write On! (part 2)

The 22nd Annual Writers' Institute at UW-Madison by Laurie Buchanan

The 22nd Annual Writers' Institute at UW-Madison by Laurie Buchanan

Continued from Write On! (part 1)

The first three quotes are from Doug Stevenson, an expert in creativity and innovation process. He’s a degreed and accomplished facilitator and a prolific source of creative ideas of his own. He’s often used as a “trained brain” or “creative catalyst” in ideation groups, particularly for new product development, brand strategy, experiential marketing, or organizational change. He’s trained in emotional intelligence, leadership, and the use of humor in business and nonprofit settings. He has a background as a comedy writer and improvisational performer. He’s also an accomplished business writer.

“We learn by playing, it informs us as humans.”

“Writer’s block? Take an Improv class for fluency. It’ll help you to become open and fluid in your thinking.”

“Editing is like sculpting—it’s what you take away that matters!”

Christopher Mohar teaches fiction, poetry, and composition at UW-Madison. He’s the recipient of a Carol Houck Smith Fiction Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and he holds an MFA from the University of Washington, where his creative manuscript received the David Guterson Fiction Thesis Prize. He said:

“You are a writer if you put words on a page.”

Christopher also shared ten things every novel needs to be complete:

An original premise—don’t retell someone else’s story.
A sympathetic protagonist—rooting interest, vulnerability, redeemability, heroic qualities.
A catchy opening—create a feeing that we’re falling into the story; start with a body floating in the lake.
A compelling story question—the central conflict/premise of your book, formulated as the question that you’d like your readers to ask themselves as they read (and a plot that keeps the momentum going).
A strong voice (see previous post—Write On! Part 1).
High stakes—whatever stands to be gained/lost if the hero/heroine’s efforts succeed/fail.
Polished dialogue—difficult to write, but dialogue can make the distinction between a professional and an amateur.
Balanced scenes—(show, don’t tell; favor understatement, not overstatement; important dramatic moments should always happen in scene, never in summary; summary is best used as “mortar” between the “bricks” of scenes; details are most powerful when they’re concrete, specific, and significant; good scenes escalate tension internally/externally).
A sense of place (a great setting is woven into the very fabric of the novel).
A strong ending (don’t betray your reader’s trust—nothing kills a good book like a bad ending. A strong ending keeps me thinking about the book after I’ve closed it).

Ted Weinstein is an AAR-member literary agent who represents a broad range of non-fiction for adults. His clients include a wide range of journalists, scholars, and other talented authors. At this year’s Writer’s Institute he facilitated the “Book Proposal Boot Camp” where he said the 3 trends in non-fiction are:

Narrative—history, biography, journalism, memoir (character, story: imagine the movie)
Self-Help—practical, pursuit of happiness, news you can use
Concept history (i.e., a noun, preferable one that changed the world)—Cod, Salt, Secrets of Saffron, Uncommon Grounds, A Mind of Its Own…

He talked about:

Platform—how high above everybody else do you stand in your area of expertise?
Synergy—creating lots of different things that feed each other (i.e., merchandise, workbooks)

From idea to book tour—what makes it successful? The tirelessness of the author—tenacity!

All publishing is self-publishing. In other words, assume your publisher will do nothing for you and then be pleasantly surprised if they do.”

“The less you need them [publisher] the more they want you.”

“A book proposal is really a business plan. You’re asking them for money so you need to provide them with a business plan.”

“A literary agent is a knowledgeable advocate.”

This year’s Writers’ Institute was phenomenal. Mark your calendar now for next year’s event. The dates are April 12-15, 2012. I look forward to seeing you there! This is Paden Plume (my alter ego) signing off for another year.

Paden Plume (Laurie's alter ego)

Paden Plume (Laurie's alter ego)

 Listen with your heart,

Laurie Buchanan

Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”
               – Laurie Buchanan


© 2011 Laurie Buchanan – All Rights Reserved

21 thoughts on “Write On! (part 2)

  1. You could make you fortune as a painter’s model and yet you insist on writing. I would like to have your tenacity in sticking with your goals. But if you’ll keep writing those books, I’ll be here to read them. The Supercharger is working fine so far, getting stronger and better every day. Are you already on the Coast?

    • Ted – Thank you for stopping by, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’m sorry for the delayed response–Len and I are traveling in California right now and we have limited connectivity. And I echo your sentiments about Sandi’s motor running! Whoohoo!

  2. Hey, Ted! Well, it is and I’m raring to go home and give it a test run. My brother is holding me captive here until tomorrow, just to make sure I don’t get too ambitious too soon. Did you learn or deduce anything about the phenomenon of people who stop watches? I still don’t understand. My surgeon didn’t know what I was talking either but I let him do it anyway!

    • Hi Sandi

      Glad you’re flying free.

      I suspect (as I said in my last post) that the phenomenon stems from the tendency of some people to build up large static electricity charges on their skin.

      I tend that way, but mostly walk around bare foot, and so discharge myself.

      I have killed a few computers by touching their innards with shoes on – but that isn’t that unusual, many people can do it. It just annoys me that I sometimes forget to take my shoes off before working on a machine.

  3. Laurie I knew this was going to be an amazing post. Thanks for all the links too! I will keep this short as I think you are over on my side of the world but a little further south at the moment.

    Ted and Sandi I don’t stop watches but as long as I wear them, they tend to keep perfect time and their batteries last 2 or 3 times longer than expected.

  4. It’s great that the weather is cooperating Laurie! In these parts we’ve had high 60’s though some torrential rain as well. But what else could one expect in April? Ha! Terrific too that this writer’s institute was so memorable, and look forward to the final wrap from you!

    • Sam – The great thing about April showers is that they bring May flowers. While traveling in California it looks as if June is bustin’ out all over with all of the gorgeous blooms and the smell of Star Jasmine just about everywhere. My next post (Tuesday) will be from sunny southern California.

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  6. I particularly appreciated your notes on Christopher Mohar’s lecture. “You are a writer if you put words on a page.” Encouraging! Also about balanced scenes in a story: “show, don’t tell.” Definitely something to keep in mind when I get on my “summary” horse!

    Love your regal muse!

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  8. WOW I just got to reading this post Laurie. It’s one I will save and treasure. Fabulous info for writers here. I’ve not done a long writers retreat like this but always thought about it. Thanks for sharing so much of it with us, I am truly inspired to participate in an upcoming event such as this – especially if I can get a plume feather like that one – that’s an awesome picture:)

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