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We Are All Connected By Our Stories

iStock_000015967475XSmallEvery writer should have the experience of attending a writer’s conference at least once in their writing life. I drove that I-5 ribbon of highway that cuts through the state of Oregon to get to The Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, and that’s where I spent the past few days. Two of the women in my writing group joined me in Portland and we were grateful to have each other throughout the long weekend.

Writers are a quirky lot. We spend a lot of time in our introverted creative bubbles, so when we do venture out, it’s kind of a party. “Oh my gosh, you mean I can interact with other human beings?” Usually we are observers of the human condition, but at a writers conference, we are the human condition.

We all connect with others through our stories. We spend all day telling each other stories; the story of the plumber who didn’t arrive on time, the story of the tantrum throwing child at the market, the story of how I got to the writers conference. And writers have other stories too, not the stories of day-to-day, slice of life, but stories carefully molded and crafted to allow someone a vicarious experience, an insight into another world, stories that are not about us or for us as much as they are for the precious and sought-after “reader.” These are the stories we call “novels.”

All throughout the conference, writers carefully carried about these stories as if they were babies . . . the stories we created and birthed from our hearts and minds. These are the stories that we took with us into pitch sessions, relaying hundreds of pages to an agent in just a few minutes. Eight minutes, that’s all you get to pitch your story and you have to be able to tell an agent or an editor what your story is about, not the actual story. No easy feat, and one I spent months preparing for.

In the heat of the moment, those eight minutes are the blink of an eye! Tell you what, though, I did well. Out of the three agents that I pitched my novel to, all three asked to see more of my manuscript. I was confident, passionate and I didn’t throw up on anyone’s shoes–something that I had feared. Walking into my first pitch session, I felt like I had drunk four pots of coffee. I couldn’t tell if I was nervous, excited or was having a panic attack. It was one of those times when I had to keep reminding myself to breath, because obviously I wasn’t! You can imagine how relieved I was when that first agent said, please send me your first four chapters, a synopsis and a bio.

Now, no one has offered me an agent contract yet, and my manuscript will have to stand on its own, but I am going to let myself bask in the satisfaction of a job well done for a few days and enjoy the fact that I gave three good pitches before I send off the requested pages.

I attended some panels, New York Times best-selling authors, talking about their craft and their process and some Q&A sessions with writers. The only classes I took were taught by Larry Brooks, and I found myself wishing that I had a semester with him instead of just a few hours. If you don’t know who Larry Brooks is, and you are a writer–you are missing the ultimate instruction on the art of novel-writing! Go buy Story Engineering today!

My pitches went well because of Larry Brooks and all that he has crammed into my head, and because of my story-coach, Jennifer Blanchard. Both insisted that I know my story. Isn’t it funny how we are surrounded by story, we all connect through story, we make up story and yet when asked to succinctly recount what it is our novel is about, we can get tongue-tied? The craft of novel-writing is so multi-layered and nuanced that we really do owe our respect to its form if we are going to be read. And that means, strange as it sounds, you have to know your story inside and out.

I slept for crap at the conference. I ate too much and I didn’t get outside. But I met dozens of interesting writers who inspired me with their focus and perseverance. And it was absolute heaven to talk shop, talk about our stories, take class and pitch agents. Today I am filled with a good and satisfying exhaustion and I don’t intend to get out of my jammies until noon.