17 Things I Learned from Serious Writers at WordFest

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I had the honor of attending the Writers Organizations 'Round Dallas two weeks ago. I want to thank Tex Thompson and her outstanding crew for making their very first conference a huge hit. I learned so much while I was there, and I want to share it all with you. Here are the 17 things I learned from serious writers at Wordfest. I hope it encourages you!

1. People are looking for a novel that inspires them—not a perfect one.

I am deeply struggling with perfectionism right now. A full-time editor switching gears to try her hand at being a novelist has a few pitfalls. Each day, I’m working on this. I’m going to deliver quality, yes; but I’m not going to pretend like the perfect novel exists, because I know better. In the end, I want my readers to fall in love with Knox Kevel.

2. Don’t be afraid to show the world your book. They need to see it.

Again, perfectionism can stop us from letting this happen. In my Curiouser Author Network group, I talked about a rapper named Kyle and how he almost didn’t release his song, iSpy, because he was too worried about the world not liking it, too worried that it wasn’t artistic enough. His song is #1 right now. It doesn't even matter if you don't like this song. He took a deep breath, released it, and now he's on every radio. Don’t be afraid to show the world your art.

3. Writing is a muscle. Find your sweet spot, and your muse will come.

I’m always harping on myself for taking so long to finish The Suicide Tree, but one author at Wordfest blew my mind with this: it took her years to get the juices flowing and to know her writing routine, which is 10 to 12 at night. It took her years before she found her sweet spot.

4. Determine your schedule and tell your family so you can stick to your goals.

Our loving family. Our always-distracting, loving family. Discipline in writing is a work ethic. It is a priority. So, my friends, if you are serious about writing, then you have to tell your family to leave you alone for 30 minutes or an hour to do your job. They’ll understand and they’ll respect you for it.

5. Your character is more than just body parts.

As an editor, I’m aware of this issue: over describing every single thing using body parts. “My eyes lifted to the clock on the wall to see that it was 3:00 p.m.” Just say it was three o’clock and move on, urges one Wordfest author.

6. Watch out for “so what?” stories.

A “so what?” story is one wherein all conflicts are resolved but where’s the payoff? Where’s the emotional satisfaction? What does the reader feel at the end? I shouldn’t read your book and say, “So what?” at the end.

7. Character development is a huge must.

Good authors have a big heart and know the psychology of their characters. Human-like characters capture complexity. At the end, the characters hasn’t always learned a lesson/overcome those obstacles. It’s tempting to always have the character learn a huge lesson at the end, but one author at Wordfest suggested that maybe that doesn’t always happen. Hmm.

8. For nonfiction, be a good researcher and don’t be afraid of the library.

With Google, it’s easy to think we can find anything we want at the push of a button. And perhaps that’s the problem! Too much power for the poor author. Sometimes, establishing a relationship with a librarian can be a huge help to you as you research for your book. The librarian is trained to help you find the exact answer—not a million answers.

9. Forgive yourself for not writing every day.

Ohmygoodness. I am the queen of this. But you shouldn’t beat yourself up. You shouldn’t mumble, “I must not be a real writer since I don’t write every day.” Writing every single day for some is not a reality.  So forgive yourself! Many Wordfest authors urged us to do this. 

10. Perfect is the enemy of done.

Do you see a theme to this conference? If I want to finish a story, perfectionism will kill it. 

11. Know the rhythm of your life.

Life happens. Life gets in the way. People get sick, work calls you in early, and cars break down. Birthdays and anniversaries and meetings are always there. So know the rhythm of your life, and plan accordingly. Don't beat yourself up because you didn't get in 2,000 words during a birthday weekend.

12. Set deadlines. Get a friend to set one for you to avoid perfectionism.

Deadlines will help you finish your work. If you feel like you can’t stick to your own deadline, have a friend set one for you. Yay for accountability!

13. Make a checklist you can go through after rewrites to catch things like crutch words, body parts, spelling issues, etc.

This is a wonderful idea for when it’s time to self-edit. You can even find some templates on Pinterest.

14. You have to trust yourself. Trust your own writing.

Sure, it’s perfectly fine—and encouraged—to have other people read your writing. But in the end, you have to trust yourself. You have to know if what you wrote is truly your best. Because we can rewrite for the rest of our lives.

15. Sometimes it’s okay to follow the plot bunnies.

Chase them! They might lead you to something even more amazing. 

16. Don’t have more plots than characters.

Well, that’s so smart it might actually work! You don’t want to take your readers down the craziest rabbit trail that ever existed. Stay on track.

17. If you pause, you may never progress forward.

We all have to pause sometimes (see point #11), but if you pause too long, you might never get that engine roaring again.

An expert editor, seasoned writer, and author-centric coach, Shayla Eaton works one-on-one with self-published authors, having edited three hundred books. She is the president of Curiouser Editing, where she offers top-notch publishing guidance for authors and their books.

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