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  • Kathryn Patterson

Writing Advice From the Red Clay Conference

This past Saturday, I attended the Red Clay Writing Conference, sponsored by the Georgia Writers Association (GWA).  I admit that I only joined the GWA this year, but so far I have been impressed with their events. The Red Clay Writing Conference provided once again that GWA is a great organization for Georgia writers.  I listened to the keynote speaker, Wendy Wax, author of "10 Beach Road", before attending three panel discussions.  I learned something in every setting, and I am here to share with you.

  1. Keynote Speaker:  Wendy Wax presented the keynote address this year, as she discussed how she went from a retired journalist and stay at home mom to a successfully published author with nine books out there.  Personally, I like Wendy Wax because she is just plain nice.  She came out to the conference while facing a publishing deadline to pass on hope.  From Wendy, I learned:

    1. Even published authors have days when everything that comes out is "suckalicious".  

    2. It is possible to write a novel between children leaving in the morning and the afternoon school bus, so long as you keep at it.

    3. Having a critique partner and a set of readers is key.

  2. The Craft of Fiction:  Wendy Wax jumped from her keynote speech to this panel.  Jeffrey Stepakoff moderated this panel.  If the man's speaking reflects how he writers, I know that Jeffrey turns out concise fiction.  Personally, I like concise fiction. Sheri Joseph is crazy, but in a serious, writerly way.  The woman wrote 400 pages of back story to explain what  happened to her characters before the start of one of her novel.  When I heard this, I thought, Honey, that's not back story.  That's called a prequel. Amanda Gable appears to be a regular person, someone you might pass walking down the street  or working in her flower garden.  But she loves knowledge, and probably wins "Person You Most Want as a Trivial Pursuit Partner".  From these four people I learned:

    1. There is no writing process - in a way that's quite similar to "there is no spoon".  

    2. For all the books out there, every writer needs to discover how he or she writes, and follow that process.  

    3. On the other hand, there is a common writing problem.  My writing partner calls it the BIC problem - Butt In Chair.  Most writers need to just sit down and write.  

    4. For prose, all the panelists agreed that if you have writer's block, write anyway.  Personally, I find that writing about why I can't write solves most writer's blocks.

    5. You can find inspiration in any and everything, but the best stuff comes from living.

  3. Crafting the Poem:  These three women exemplify why poetry is still alive in the twenty-first century.  On top of being a poet, Cheryl Stiles bucks the grumpy publisher stereotype to run a friendly chapbook publishing company.  Katie Fesuk writes marvelous poetry (I read some of it during the panel), and I like how she views the world from a point of view slight skewed off center.  My views on Jenny Sadre-Orafai run from a successful magazine editor to the woman most likely to wear black in college.  (This is a compliment; you should see how much black clothing I still own.)  Jenny balances optimism with a healthy dose of reality, something we all could learn.  From these women, I learned:

  4. First off, poetry is fiction.  The panel hammered this home as all of the poetry advice, from creation to revision to publication, works for both poetry and prose.  Poetry tends to be a bit more structured and shorter than other genres of  fiction (excluding flash fiction), but poetry is still a part of fiction.

  5. After the first draft, you need to let your work rest and then revise it.  Revise, revise, revise, and when you think it's done, revise it one more time.

  6. A poem is never done.  You might get to a point where you think it can be published, but you never give up the right for more revision.

  7. Inspiration comes from living life, so get out from behind the keyboard occasionally and interact with the world.

  8. Unlike prose, don't just keep writing if you stumble into writer's block.  Instead, switch what you're doing.  Write a short story, take a walk, do the macarena - do anything but attempt to write poetry.  

  9. Writing Funny: Okay, this was my favorite panel of the day.  Don't get me wrong - I had an excellent time the entire day.  But watching these three men sit and discuss their work was like watching Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, and Ron White at the end of a Blue Collar concert, when they all sit around swapping stories.  The entire audience laughed, laughed, and then laughed some more. Ray Atkins sounds like someone's crazy uncle, visiting the house for an afternoon of tall tales and beer.  John Schulz proved Foxworthy right in his definition of a redneck as someone with a glorious lack of sophistication.  John looked a bit uncomfortable at the beginning of the panel, but as soon as the jokes starting flying and the men read excerpts, John brought out his Southern smile and joined in the fun.  Man Martin needs to read his own book for the audio version of it.  Man took a passage that he memorized, and performed the character so perfectly that even the other men on the panel needed a few minutes to recover from the laughter.  These men taught me:

    1. Life is funny, if you look at it the right way.

    2. Humor helps to relieve tension in a book.

    3. I will never be as funny as Ray Atkins, John Schulz, or Man Martin.

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