ON WRITING: The 35th Annual Western Reserve Writers’ Conference

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Last month, I was lucky enough to attend yet another free writers’ con in the literary-friendly state of Ohio! The South-Euclid Lynhurst branch of Cuyahoga library hosted the event, organized by the talented and lovely author Deanna Adams. Although free, registration was required, and as part of that registration participants were entered into a drawing for a free critique. There were several winners…myself included! But I will get more into that later.

As someone who takes advantage of the literary bounty that is Ohio, I try to volunteer to help out when I can. So on Saturday, April 28th I showed up early to help set up. There really wasn’t much for me to do, as most of the preparation was done ahead of time. So I handed out pamphlets, along with a fellow volunteer, and directed participants to the free pencils, name tags, and complimentary breakfast goodies. One of the nice things about volunteering to help out with something you love, besides the joy of feeling like you are giving back, is that you get to hang out with other people who are passionate about the same things you are. So I was thrilled to discover several writers that I admired had decided to attend after all. It just made me happy.

Once people had settled into the big meeting room, there was a Welcome to the Conference overview, followed by the keynote speech given by literary agent Elizabeth Kaplan. Soon after, everyone went to different rooms depending on which sessions they were interested in. I stayed in the “big room” for The Seven Universal Plots talk by Claire McMillan. I had heard of similar theories about storytelling before, but I wasn’t familiar with the details. It was really interesting.

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Then it was time to go to my personal editing session! The only problem was that this year I had a poetry collection, not a prose manuscript. So a few weeks earlier, instead of submitting x-amount of pages from a current manuscript, I asked for help with my organization of the collection. The lovely Laura Walter agreed, and I must say her input was fantastic. I am a firm believer in the value of feedback and good beta readers. However, writers groups are good for general feedback, and beta readers are usually reserved for when a work is finished or mostly finished. I think the more feedback you get, the better, and while family and friends may want to help, you can’t always trust them to be honest since they may try to spare your feelings. A professional look at your work is invaluable.

Next I attended the presentation by Jacqueline Marino: Writing the Personal Essay. She gave a talk on how to use pictures and photographs to create something personal with tension. Photos of people in motion, doing something, were encouraged. Then we completed a short writing assignment, which some people chose to share. I was inspired by how so many created moving first drafts in such a short amount of time.

After lunch, which I brought from home and during which I met some interesting people, there was a first page critique in the main meeting room. Three panelists–literary agent Elizabeth Kaplan, author Claire McMillan, and Rene’e Rosen– listened as the first pages of various manuscripts were read. They would raise a hand to indicate where they would stop reading and then give feedback about why, what worked for them, and what didn’t.

After a short break, I attended the last breakout session. The last presentation I attended was 15 Tips for Writing a Play by Kelly Boyer Sagert. It was interesting, though not what I expected. I thought it would be about the technical aspects of writing a script, but it was more about ideas and examples of how the presenter came to create and sell her work.

Other than the actual presentations, the best part of the con was being around other writers. Not only did I reconnect with old friends, but I met new ones that I hope to see for years to come. Also, there’s so much inspiration simply from being with creative people, I can’t help but soak up all that energy and creativity. It’s invigorating!

While there were many more workshops and classes available than I could attend in the time allowed, I hope this short summary of events helps you and hopefully encourages you to attend the next conference.  Who knows? Maybe I’ll see you there!

*My sincere apologies for the lateness of this post. Life intervened–along with technical difficulties, but I will endeavour to create additional content in the next few weeks to make up for my tardiness. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

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