The Life, The Universe, and Everything Writer’s and Illustrator’s Conference this year was awesome! I didn’t think I was going to be able to get to go all three days, but somehow my vacation hours added up and I was able to take the time off. I’m sure glad I did!
I had a very different experience at the conference this year than in past years. Historically, I attended panels intended to teach people how to write more realistically about specific topics, like computer hacking or surgery in zero gravity (yes, this was a real panel I went to one time).
Because I’m in a place where I could very well be beginning the query process in the next 18 months, I went to a lot more professional development panels than topical panels. As a result, I feel way more prepared to take on the challenge of finishing my first manuscript and beginning the publishing journey.
Here are my main takeaways.
Pantsers can be Plotters, too.
I’m an incorrigible pantser when writing. I love the thrill of discovery that comes from writing by the seat of my pants, and I was convinced I couldn’t write any other way. I went to a couple panels that broke down outlining (or plotting) this year and I realized writing an outline was actually well within my abilities. Contrary to my belief, I learned there is a place for pantsing in plotting. The difference is at what point in the writing process discovery writing takes place. For plotters and outliners, that happens while outlining!
I also learned the purpose of an outline is to help a writer write their story quicker than they would have otherwise, not suck the soul out of exploring plot tangents like I thought. With discovery writing, it is easy to get lost in sparkly side trips that sometimes lead writers to a dead end with no choice but to go back and erase the entire trip. While outlining, a writer can take those side trips without wasting time and narrative for it, and there’s a lot less material to delete at the end of the day. Once the outline is done, the writer can draft a lot quicker because they know where they are going, have a set plan, and have already explored (and possibly enjoyed) all the shiny pit stops along the way.
There are better tools to overcome writer’s block than just “gutting it out.”
For the past couple of months I have been seriously blocked with my writing. National Novel Writing Month ended and I was neck deep in buying a house, moving, the holidays, and settling into the new house. During all this craziness, my story stopped flowing and ground to a near standstill stop. I got some really good tools for my toolbox for overcoming writer’s block from some of the panels I attended.
A suggestion that resonated with me was that if there comes a point where I am feeling bored, frustrated, like the plot isn’t moving, or that I’m blocked, that is a sign that I wrote something wrong. The solution was to then go back to the last place I was comfortable with the writing, highlight everything that comes after it and delete it. From there, start completely over and try something different. I gave it a shot, and it worked! As it turned out, the last place I was comfortable with what I wrote was a chapter and a half back. I’ll admit, it really hurt to go back and delete everything I had written since NaNoWriMo ended, but when I sat down to write today, everything flowed much better and I feel like I’m actually on the “write” track.
Intuitively, I know what to do and I need to trust myself.
I had a moment where I realized that I knew answers to a lot of the questions that were being asked at the end of the panels, and unlike many people, I don’t have a lot of questions for the big dogs out there. I felt stupid for not approaching the big name authors or raising my hand during panels to ask questions like everyone else. I mean, that’s why we go to conferences, right? To ask the big dogs how to write? But I didn’t have any questions for them, and I already knew all the answers to the questions that most other people were asking.This was a huge source of insecurity for me this year and I felt like I “wasn’t doing the conference right,” so to speak.
One panel I went to helped me understand why I didn’t have a lot of “how to write” questions and helped me realize that it was actually okay. The presenter mentioned that when we read enough books, we are able to intuitively write in story structure. She cited an experiment that followed a group of kids into adulthood where, as kindergartners, they took a test that was designed to determine if they were creative geniuses or not. If I remember correctly, 98% of the kindergartner’s results came back as creative geniuses.
As the kids grew up, though, something happened and a fewer percentage of kid’s results identified them as creative geniuses each year. Something was happening to the group of kids as they grew up that caused fewer and fewer of them to test that way. Her point in sharing this was to illustrate that everyone starts out a creative genius, but a lot of people don’t become creative geniuses when they grow up because they get in their own way. They don’t believe themselves to be creative geniuses or smart enough or whatever, and it literally stops them from achieving that potential. This taught me I need to get out of my own way and trust my instincts, because at the end of the day, I don’t need to ask someone else how to write my book because my manuscript won’t as bad as I think it is and will likely contain all those structural things that a story is supposed to have. It’s really comforting to know that I’m already equipped with all the tools and the answers I need in order to be a good, successful writer. All I have to do is get out of my own way and let my intuition do the work.
I need to take better care of my physical and mental health as a creative.
I went to several panels on self-care for creative people, each with a different take. The panel that impacted me the most was about the physiological effects and influence of exercise to creativity itself. That panel was a slap in the face for me.
Over the past year, I’ve slowly let my habit of running almost every day go because it has been so hard to fit it into my schedule. This particular panel illustrated that exercise better connects neurons and increases the oxygenation in the blood to the brain, thereby enhancing creativity as a result. It occurred to me my block might have something to do with my lack of effort to exercise during the week. I’m starting to think that maybe if I get back into my running that I will have more breakthroughs and find it easier to get into a writing flow.
Overall, I think this is the year I have gotten the most out of LTUE. I came back feeling like I had many more tools added to my toolbox and I’m way more prepared to take on the next steps in the publishing business. I feel more ready to take on the second draft of my manuscript and I feel way more confident in my abilities as a writer. I’m really excited for the progress I’ve made so far and I’m looking forward to the progress I am going to make based on the information I got at LTUE this year. Things can’t be looking more up in that area. Full of work, yes, but overall, I’m optimistic. I’m so excited for the moment I can say, “I’ve finished my first manuscript and I’m querying agents now!” It feel so much more real to me than it has ever before.