Weekly Musing: Southern Kentucky Writers Conference and Book Fest Part I

This past weekend I had the pleasure of driving up from South Carolina to attend the Southern Kentucky Writers Conference and Book Fest in Bowling Green, KY. I was nervous and while the beautiful drive helped calm me, this was only my second writers’ conference I’ve ever attended. At least at this conference I was confident I would understand things presented better since I have more knowledge of the writing profession.

The festival itself was a two-day event with the first day, Friday, devoted to 75 minute workshops presented by one author on a specific topic. Saturday was the Book Fest day filled with multiple one-hour long workshops divided by genre headed by a panel of authors. Also, Charlaine Harris , the author of the Sookie Stackhouse books the HBO show True Blood is based upon, was the keynote speaker.

In an effort to do fully capture what I took away from the writers’ conference, I’m going to divide the experience into two posts. This week I’ll cover what I attended Friday while next week’s posting will cover Saturday’s events.

Luckily for me, the conference didn’t start until 9am both days. Thank the writing gods for realizing some of us aren’t morning people. I attended four workshops that day with the first one was presented by author Virginia Smith .

Her topic of discussion was self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. At first I thought it was going to be another in a long line of discussions of the pros and cons of both so I hadn’t anticipated learning anything new. I was pleasantly surprised, though, when she actually spent most of her allotted time going over how one formats a manuscript to upload to Amazon’s Kindle store, the pitfalls and joys of designing your own cover, some real figures of how much she’s made with some of her eBook titles, emphasizing having your book professionally edited, how to determine what category your book should be listed under, and most of all, putting out the best product you know how to.

Although I’m nowhere near being ready to publish a book, it was very helpful to attend a presentation that gives me an idea of what I’m truly in for when I get to that point.

The next workshop I attended was presented by author Allie Pleiter about productivity and muse-wrangling. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this but afterwards felt this was the best and most beneficial workshop or panel I attended.

Ms. Pleiter refers to herself as ‘The Chunky Lady’ not because of any physical features but because of a method she’s developed called The Chunky Method. In it a writer determines how much writing they can effectively get done in one sitting. You are either a Little Chunk or a Big Chunk writer.

According to her, Little Chunk writers can write anywhere at any time on anything, tune out distractions, write in more chunks, but usually write less than 1,000 words in a sitting. She also compared Little Chunk writers to Dorie from Finding Nemo meaning they can be flighty, process-oriented, and are highly interruptible (oh, look a butterfly.)

Big Chunk writers tend to need a dedicated space to work in, are environment driven meaning their physical and emotional environment need to be just right, write less often because they need more time to get themselves in the zone, their space needs to be ergonomically so, but they can usually crank out over 1,000 words in a sitting. To continue with the Finding Nemo analogy Ms. Pleiter compared Big Chunk writers to the father in the movie: they are focused, result-oriented, and hate interruptions.

It’s easy to calculate one’s chunk:
1) Track how many words you write for five sessions.
2) Take the total number of words written and divide by five.
3) That number is your chunk.

What was so great about her presentation was she emphasized more than once that neither Little Chunk nor Big Chunk people have an advantage. Both types of people are successful writers and most of us are a combination of both and can even change types as life steps in forcing the change or just as a writer matures. For example, I’m definitely a Big Chunk writer however, I have worked on writing in different spots just to keep it interesting for me although I think that does affect my word count negatively.

Ms. Pleiter also showed how to use The Chunky Method to calculate how long it will take to write your book. Say you want to write a 100,000 word book. You’re a Big Chunk writer with an average of 2,000 words a session. It’ll take you approximately 50 sessions to get a draft done. You can apply this to setting up a schedule and tracking your progress each session toward that goal. If you aren’t happy with your chunk, she suggested just trying to add 50 words to each session. That comes down to approximately four sentences. Just four more sentences but those quickly add up to another page or two a week.

Another advantage she has found in this method is it allows her to be confidently tell her editor when she’ll have the next book ready as she applies this not only to first draft of one book, but editing a second book while also planning a third book.

The next session I attended was about sharpening one’s perceptual abilities in an effort to help one’s writing. The presenter was John E. Branscum and he brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm. This was helpful since his workshop was post-lunch and most of us were probably suffering from a food coma.

While I appreciated his passion, I must admit this was the only session I attended that I was confused as to what was going on and I’m not sure I got much out of it. It was fun breaking out into small groups to participate in an exercise to come up with three new words and define them. Some people came up with some very brilliant words or phrases.

There was also another exercise about time concerning looking at situations in our own lives through both the lens of when the event originally took place, how it felt, how it looked, vs. how that same event looks to us now. Do we see and understand the viewpoint of the other players involved in that incident?

Other than that, I wasn’t sure what from it I can bring to my own writing but, as one of the presenters stated, just take advice that feels appropriate for your situation and junk the rest.

The last session I attended on Friday was a presentation about how to find a character’s voice. The presenter was children and YA author Kristin Tubb . While I don’t read children’s books and very little YA, I think it was great to have a YA author give the presentation. I’ve heard from a few YA authors that since they are an adult writing from a child’s or teen’s point of view, they needed to work hard to capture their character’s voice. But this is something that all writers, even non-fiction writers, need to learn.

Ms. Tubb gave six keys to voice:
1) Character’s voice (not yours as the author)
2) The world view through your character’s eyes (poor, rich, optimistic, pessimistic, etc.)
3) A characters past + character’s future = character’s present voice
4) Making a vocabulary list of phrases and words that either describe your character or would be what your character would say or feel a connection with
5) The narrative voice meaning the tone, dialogue, pacing, etc. of the story
6) If it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t

It’s easy to see how this can easily be applied to children’s or YA literature but clearly this is important for any kind of character. In the past I’ve tried using character sheets but those don’t seem to be beneficial. I’ve tried ‘interviewing’ a character asking questions like ‘What’s your favorite color? And what’s in your fridge right now?’ but it just felt silly especially when you’re asking a late 14th century character about their fridge.

I like vocabulary list idea quite a bit. I also love the idea of music to associate with a character. I heard more than once during the weekend how many authors have a playlist of music they listen to when they are writing. Also many noted they use Pinterest, or other sites, to store pictures they find. Some print out pictures of people they think look like their characters as well as places and objects associated with them.

At the end of the day my head was swimming with information I’m still trying to process but it was a wonderful start to an informative weekend. I came back with so many ideas and renewed energy for writing that I’m trying to figure out where I should start.

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