Rearrangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love DFWCon

I’m going to borrow Freytag’s Triangle to tell my conference story. Oh, you remember Freytag…from 9th grade…when you had to diagram out a short story’s rising action, climax, falling action… Now you’re with me.

The Inciting Moment:  I drove up to the Hurst Conference Center Saturday morning full of anticipation and anxiety. I didn’t know anyone there — just a few faces from Twitter. After checking in, I slipped into a seat at the closest empty table and stared like a pothead at the starry ceiling of the conference room. I must have looked lonely because some fellow writers joined me, snapping me out of my internal safe place and forcing me to make small talk about writing. Following the conference kickoff speech and a few announcements, I was off to learn how to be a writer.

Rising Action:  The first session was “Pitch Practice & Tips” with Jenny Martin, A. Lee Martinez, Julie Myers, and Kim Boykin. It was immensely helpful, mostly because they all seemed like real people. Of course they were real people, but I was intimidated and they weren’t intimidating. (Actually, A. Lee Martinez was intimidating but in a hilarious sort of way that made it all ok.)

Then I went to “Finding Your Writing Voice” with Jenny Martin. This workshop rocked! She had great pointers with specific examples from published works. I’m the kind who has to see what I’m learning — so this was awesome!

Then, in Kim Boykin’s “Making a Story Great With Texture,” I tweeted I was in the session hiding in the back, and a fellow twitterer said she was there, too. She turned around in her seat in the second row and told me to move up with her. God bless Rosemond Cates (children’s book writer extraordinaire). I would have hidden in the back of every class. I had no idea I was so introverted.

Later that afternoon, I gave my first pitch to an agent. She was lovely and approachable. I’m happy to say the pitch went well, really well.

Climax: Now you would have thought the pitch was the climax, right? Well, technically the climax can be a good or bad thing in the protagonist’s life (“the moment of greatest tension, uncertainty…also called the ‘crisis.'”). Yeah.

Coming off the high of my pitch, I skipped into the small group session I’d signed up for. Ten writers, with eight minutes each to read their queries and the first two pages of their manuscript, would receive feedback from an agent and an editor. I listened intently as seven of the ten attendees went ahead of me. Each manuscript was fascinating and well done. My heart pounded, and I thought I’d blackout any moment. It was terrifying. And then it was my turn. I read. They critiqued. I laughed out loud, but inside I was crushed. I thought, “What am I doing here? I can’t write.”

Falling Action:  I carried this despair and disappointment through the night and woke with it sitting on my chest the next morning. The enthusiasm that had floated me to the conference the day before had gone, and I had to drag myself to go finish what I’d started. After all, the conference was expensive, and I wasn’t going to waste my money.

My first Sunday session was appropriately titled “How Not to Suck.” I sat there hating that I did suck, but then A. Lee Martinez essentially said you had to at least suck because that meant you were writing. He said it was like a child who draws a dinosaur that doesn’t look anything like a dinosaur. The child would say, “It’s a dinosaur. It may not be a good dinosaur, but it’s MY dinosaur.”

Something in that kindled a sense of hope. And then I went to the session on “Revising Like a Pro.”

Jenny Martin and Heather Alexander explained the process of essentially tearing apart the “lego structure” of your manuscript and rearranging to make it great. That’s the point of the editing process. It’s not that what is written is bad. Okay, so it might be bad, but it can be better.

Denouement:  I’ve had a few days to digest the whole conference experience. On Saturday night I would have told you I would never write again. But now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I’m fired up. I’m going to clean up my MS and shoot it off to the agent I pitched. I want to write. I love to write. I have a story to tell. And, I’m just going to get better with the more experience I have.

DFWCon was a great experience. I plan on going back!

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One thought on “Rearrangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love DFWCon

  1. Meg

    I’m proud of you, Mrs. Hurlburt! Thanks for not giving up; I just got to the good part- and so have you. 🙂 This is just the beginning of an adventure that is bound to be exciting. Thanks for letting me tag along.

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