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Highlights from IECRWA–Just do it! You have the tools

I posted a few highlights from the keynote and luncheon speakers on Twitter and facebook. But I thought I’d put together a little more coherent summary of what I heard. So here goes.

Stella Cameron started the day with a keynote address. She was very funny and insightful though she had to cut her speech significantly. Apparently her time slot was shorter than she had thought it would be and then there were the male members.

Yes, this conference actually had a good number of male writers. It wasn’t strictly a romance conference and that may be the reason. There were writers of all kinds in attendance, including mystery and memoir writers. Some of the men were romance writers, too.

Summarizing Stella’s talk in my own words, I’d say it comes down to this. Writing and getting published has always been hard. Get over it. People who feel called to be writers all have the tools to succeed, it’s just a matter of doing it.

Of course, Stella had better words and some pretty funny stories and jokes. (Including actual jokes–like this one: What do you say to an elephant you find on your couch? Bad elephant! I didn’t say the jokes were good.)

I dashed down a few of Stella’s words in my little notebook. “The whining has been the same since day one.”
She was talking about the publishing industry when she started. In her experience people have always been wring their hands and worrying about the demise of publishing, downward sales of books, etc. Even though the economy is really bad right now and it is effecting the industry, people are still selling books.

Then she talked about our magic toolkit. Writers, she believes are all magical. What is in our magic toolkit? “A soft heart is a writer’s tool.” That ability to feel emotions and to empathize with all kinds of situations.

“Anger is a writer’s tool.” All stories must start with conflict. We can use our experience with anger to help us find the conflict.

The point of all this is, “don’t hold back. Feel.

Even though we are magical people it is important to understand that “magical thinking is not the same thing as magic.” We mustn’t allow ourselves to wander into “magical thinking.” This is where we try to convince ourselves that we will succeed as writers without suffering.

“It’s time to get over it.” She expressed anger with the people who try to convince writers that there is a shortcut to success in writing. We can’t ignore the most important part of our writing career–learning craft.

She gave some really important business advice:
“Aim to get enough money in advance that you never earn out.”

“Please don’t spend time and money for self-promotion for a book that hasn’t been bought.”

“In publishing there is never a good time to choose a side.” In other words don’t make enemies by getting involved in every controversy that springs up on the internet.

Linda Lael Miller was terrific, speaking off the cuff. She told us some personal stories about her life and her journey as a writer. We also had some fun learning a thing or two about her horses.

She stressed that the romance genre is possibly the trickiest genre to writer for. The readers tend to be well educated and savvy. They will call you on mistakes in your books.

Like Stella, LLM was encouraging about the prospects of getting published during an economic downturn. “There has never been a good time to be published,” she said. “People just keep doing it anyway.”

She talked about how she learned from her life on a ranch that you just do what needs doing. You don’t stop and wonder how. You get the calf out of the mud even if you’ve never been trained to do it.

One of my favorite images from her talk was when she pictured us as storyteller in ancient times. “We’d be the ones closest to the fire spinning our yarns and soaking up the approval of the gathered audience.”

The conference packed a lot into one day with workshops running from 9:30 to 4:30, followed by a book signing. I hope the folks at IECRWA decide to do it again. I know it was a huge amount of work for them, but they did a terrific job and (in my opinion) it was all worth it.

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