Virginia Writers’ Club Symposium

Last weekend I attended the Virginia Writers’ Club annual meeting, which included the organization’s centenary celebration, and its 2018 Symposium: Navigating Your Writing Life.

When I arrived at the hotel outside Richmond, VA, the lobby was a sea of red—lots of young men and a few women wearing Indiana University sweatshirts, several identifying the wearers as members of the wrestling team. When I got to the check-in desk, I asked one of the slightly older men who appeared to be in charge of the group what was going on. (I assumed he was the coach, because he was huge, but it turned out that he was the assistant coach; the head coach was the much smaller man standing next to him. I learned something about making assumptions, I guess.) The team had just arrived for a meet the next day—against the University of Virginia, some 60 miles away—but they were staying in Richmond because of the cost of hotels in Charlottesville. I mentioned that I had gone to grad school at IU and wished them well in their competition. (They lost.)

The evening program on Friday involved a VWC awards presentation and a business meeting, none of which had much to do with me, even though I’m technically the “facilitator” for a subchapter of the VWC (SWAG Writers) and I’m also a dues-paying member. We had a decent meal, which was followed by the highlight of the evening: a keynote address by Jeanne Larsen. Jeanne spoke eloquently about sources of inspiration and ways to approach the job of writing, and she even gave me a plug by mentioning my novel in stories, What the Zhang Boys Know. (A long time ago, I did a reading from that book in Roanoke, which Jeanne attended along with a lot of her students from the Hollins University writing program.)

The Symposium itself was all day Saturday, and included four blocks of workshops plus book sales. I attended sessions with Mollie Cox Bryan (The Language of Suspense), Betsy Ashton (Build a Social Media Marketing Plan), and Austin Camacho (Plotter or Pantser: Two Ways to Tell Your Stories). I also presented one of the workshops. My topic was “From Rough Draft to Final Draft: The Best You Can Make It.” I was talking basically about how to approach revision, using your rough draft as a starting point and asking big-picture questions (about character, plot, time line, and structure, for example) but then thinking about specific style techniques (and mistakes) in the actual rewriting: punctuation and grammar, overuse of adverbs (when a more precise verb would be better) and empty words (that add nothing and so can be cut), and usage errors. I think the talk was well-received. In a future post, I’ll present some of my specific suggestions.

Gatherings like the VWC Symposium can be useful tools for writers. They provide an opportunity to network with other writers and learn at the same time. Given the typical audience, these sessions tend to address self-publishing topics and/or genre writing. In my presentation, I tried to bridge the gap between traditional and self-publishing, and my suggestions should be applicable to both genre and literary projects.

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