4 Things I Learned at the Writer’s Digest’s Novel Writing Conference

The end of October saw me at the Westin Boneadventure Hotel in Downtown LA, experiencing my very first writer’s conference. The Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference (WDNWC) was a three-day event, geared more towards improving one’s craft than meeting agents or networking and it was great! I learned a lot, both from the fantastic speakers and from other conference attendees.

Networking isn’t as hard or awkward as I thought it would be. I will be the first to tell you that I am not the most socially comfortable person. However, networking, at least at WDNWC, was mostly friendly. It was full of easy exchanges usually consisting of the kind of struck up conversations that happen when you’ve been in the same classes with someone with shared interests. Sure, it takes a little effort, which can sometimes seem daunting: eye contact and a smile, a shared joke before a session starts, but getting to know other writers is exactly what everyone was there for, so the atmosphere was casual and good-natured. At least at this conference, it seemed like it was better to make friends instead of connections–though of course, you never know when a friend may connect you to someone who can boost your career as well.

If you’re kind of shy, like me, find someone who’s outgoing and they will help build up your confidence to make more connections. I went alone, but once I found my first friend (Hi Kerry!), it seemed like meeting and talking to new people was much easier. One thing I do wish I’d had before going to WDNWC was a set of business cards. It seemed to be the best and most efficient (not to mention professional) way to exchange information in that setting.

DIY MFA postcard signed by Gabriela Pereira at the Writer's Digest Novel Writing Conference.
DIY MFA postcard signed by Gabriela Pereira at the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference.

Dress code. It turns out wearing jeans and T-shirt are just fine to a writer’s conference–provided you bring a sweater to combat the A/C and comfortable shoes for standing.

How your novel starts is very important.  Among the various great topics talked about at the conference, variations on this topic came up a lot and left me with several new guidelines about beginnings to consider. Here are a few of the most important.

  • The first page (paragraph, sentence) has to catch the reader/agent (according to various agents including lecturer Paula Munier.)
  • The inciting incident should be within the first ten pages, the first plot point somewhere between 16% and 24% of the way into the story (according to author and lecturer Larry Brooks.)
  • Don’t start with a dream, the weather, a phone call or a character thinking alone (unless you can do it in a fresh new way)–rather, start with action, conflict or a distinctive voice (according to Munier, quoting Elmore Leonard.)

This is a lot of information for someone diving into NaNoWriMo like I am, but luckily, most of it is stuff you deal with during rewrites and edits.

It’s possible to be both brain-dead and inspired at the same time. By the end of the second day, I felt like my brain was mush, and it wasn’t because of the generous bartenders at the Halloween cocktail party either. Being in back-to-back sessions from 9 to 5 was like being in college again–except with classes only about writing and no tests. However, by the end of the third day, I was inspired and excited to write, armed with knowledge of the industry and craft, and new friends.

WDNWC is definitely a conference I would be happy to attend again and recommend to others. It was fairly cheap (early bird tickets were under $300 for the conference itself), it had great speakers, a friendly vibe and, quite to my surprise, fed us well.


6 thoughts on “4 Things I Learned at the Writer’s Digest’s Novel Writing Conference

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      1. Haha I would hope so. I think it also helped that it wasn’t geared towards getting an agent so much as learning and bettering yourself. Breeds less competition and aggression, I think.

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