Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Three Notes To Self from The Writer Unboxed Unconference: Risk Aversion, Agency, Make a Mess

Earlier in November I had the great good fortune to attend The Writer Unboxed first ever UnConference. It was mind-blowingly awesome and my take-aways were many, but three in particular keep rolling through my system a couple of weeks later. As Lisa Cron would urge, it's time for me to get specific:

Risk Aversion:
Meg Rosoff led a session on voice that consisted of 40 questions to ask yourself. Ranging from What is something you really love, to If you died tomorrow, how would you spend your night, to Is there a person you'd like to change places with, the questions were designed to drill down into issues and themes that resonate deeply within you and which you could use consciously to inform your writing. What you choose to write about is as important as the words you string together. Voice is more than vocabulary and syntax.

One question we spent some time in the session on was Name a turning point in your life. In sharing a catastrophic event from my early adolescence, I realized not so much that it still affects me today (I knew that) but HOW it affects me. I am a risk averse person. That shows up in my writing in characters who avoid conflict. Ah! Epiphany-ville!

Who wants to read a book with no conflict? Not me.

Note to self: Beef up your conflict.

Time and time again, session after session, in group chats or tete-a-tetes, the same encouraging message was shared. Only you have the power to prevent forest fires. No, seriously, the message was only you can write your book and if your draft is currently broken, YOU CAN FIX IT. You've got the power (and so does Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty).

Nora Roberts says she can fix a broken page, she can't fix an empty one. Well same here and same for you too.

Note to self: You can do it!

Make a Mess:
The last day of the conference, Donald Maass presented his Writing 21st Fiction Century workshop (totally fab, if you ever have a chance I recommend taking it). His take on writing? If it's tidy, you're not playing. Make a mess. Don't be afraid to turn your characters' lives inside out, squeeze out all the layers of emotion, really get into your stories' guts and twist them (but let that be the only gut twisting allowed anywhere near your MS. As Mr. Maass rightly decrees: telling your reader about a character's guts twisting is not the same as making your readers' guts twist FOR the character).

Not to self: Go make a mess!

Are you ready to make a mess?


  1. Love it all, Keely!

    And I love the advice you shared from Donald Maass. When I catch myself avoiding the writing of a particular scene, I know I'm about to make a real mess for my characters by twisting their guts. And probably twisting mine! Once I realize that, I know I need to get in there and get writing!

    Anyhoo, it sounds like you had an awesome time. Thanks for sharing your take-aways!

  2. Great takeaways, Keely. Sounds like you learned a lot and had a great time. Yeehaw!