I spent this past weekend in Boston attending a wonderful conference called  The Muse & The Marketplace–my first writers’ conference. I have so much to say about the experience that it’ll be easier in an organized list.

MY GOALS FOR THE CONFERENCE WERE:

  • to get inspiration and tips for my novel-in-progress from accomplished authors.
  • to invest in my writing career.
  • to spend time IN PERSON with some of the members of my virtual writing community.
  • I’m happy to say I met every one of those goals!

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • My Twitter and Writer Unboxed friends were as warm, welcoming, and clever in person as they are online.
  • In the session with the editor of the Modern Love column in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times, I randomly ended up next to Elinor Lipman, an author I adore. After summoning some courage, I turned to her and introduced myself as one of her biggest fans. I told her about the time I tweeted this: “The first chapter of The Inn on Lake Devine is the MOST perfect first chapter of any book I’ve read in the past few years.” She was pleased, which led to a discussion about Twitter, a topic that completely mystifies her. So what do you think I did? I gave her my card and noted my website, which includes . . . my Twitter series! Then we commiserated every time this one woman a few rows ahead kept asking the NYTimes editor inane questions like “what should be in the subject line of the submission email” and twice asked for clarification on the word count. Google the guidelines, lady! Ms. Lipman agreed. In other words, we’re now best friends. (I wish!)
  • I ended up in an elevator alone with Ann Hood (author of The Knitting Circle, The Red Thread). I was so tongue-tied I twice informed her, “You’re Ann Hood.” I also said “You’re Elinor Lipman” to Elinor Lipman when she first sat down. Aren’t I smooth?
  • I had lunch with Elisabeth Weed, a literary agent I’ve admired for years who represents some of my favorite authors. This lunch was part of the “star power table” program, which allowed an attendee to pay a little extra to sit with “stars” for the meal. I also got to sit with novelist Dawn Tripp. For those of you who don’t know how the agent process works, a fiction writer needs a complete and perfect manuscript before attempting to “land” an agent. I have two complete manuscripts, but they’re both embarrassing. It’ll be at least two years before I’m ready to seriously search for an agent. Considering the impending arrival of baby #4, it may be more like three years. Even if this agent or the others I met don’t remember me by then, which is highly likely, I’m still grateful for the experience of meeting a few agents in person and realizing they are–gasp–human. The lunch with Dream Agent was especially fun and relaxing. I’ll certainly be stalking–I mean querying–her when my novel is ready. [Edited in 2013 to say, I ended up abandoning fiction completely.]
  • Ron Carlson’s keynote speech was a major highlight for me. Some of the bigger takeaways (paraphrased): The real writing happens when you stay in the room and tolerate the unknown; We write to discover our beliefs, not prove our beliefs; We should write from what we know towards what we don’t know; Write what matters to you; All writers are accompanied by doubt–we should worry when certainty sets in.

NOT-SURPRISING LESSONS:

  • I am more extroverted than the average writer. I told some people there I’m actually quite introverted 80% of the time and that I both love and NEED plenty of time alone. Nobody believed me. Some laughed. But it’s true!
  • I don’t like writing classes that include too many writing exercises where we spend a good portion of the time hearing all the students read from their notebooks. In a situation like The Muse where the classes are only a little over an hour, I want to hear from the teacher. My favorite classes were taught by Jenna Blum (subject was why we should avoid using flashbacks) and by Lynne Barrett (subject was structure). I heard Elinor Lipman’s class on dialogue and Ann Hood’s class on revision were both stellar. I’m sorry to have missed them. As a caveat, Jane Roper’s “hour of power” with writing exercises was wonderful. But the advertising was clear there. I knew what I was getting, and I loved it.
  • Social media “know-how” was a HUGE topic throughout the weekend. It’s the one area of this business I seem to innately “get.” Now I just need the impossible-to-put-down and flawless manuscript. I wish it were the other way around!
  • Four days on his own with the kids was about all Bryan could handle. A week-long conference would’ve sent him over the edge.

SURPRISING LESSONS:

  • Most of the authors and students seemed to agree on avoiding the “frame story” structure. In other words, if the story you really want to tell takes place in the past, tell that story and that story only. Good to know.
  • I suspect I could get some of the same instructional experiences out of a local conference with the added benefit of making new connections closer to home. I’m so happy I went to The Muse, but any conferences in the near future will have to be local for reasons of budget and practicality.
  • Apparently, the North End of Boston is my favorite place on Earth.

I know I must be leaving out tons, but I’m sure I’ve bored you enough already. If you’re on Twitter, search the #Muse2011 hashtag and you’ll see plenty of informative tweets from people who attended.

Have a wonderful week everyone! Nina

Meeting the Writer Unboxed gang at Muse 2011.

Meeting the Writer Unboxed gang at Muse 2011.

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Nina Badzin is a freelance writer, an advice columnist at The HerStories Project, a book reviewer at greatnewbooks.org, and a co-founder of The Twin Cities Writing Studio. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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