Navigation menu

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Return of the Baltimore Writers Conference

By Jill Earl

What a difference a year makes. Exactly a year ago, my first post for ‘The Muffin’ was 'Notes from the Baltimore Writers Conference', my first experience at the annual event. This time around, I attended with a writing buddy, and had some writing experience under my belt. What would the day hold for me?

The conference opened with keynote speaker Larry Doyle, a former writer and producer for ‘The Simpsons’ for four years. Titled ‘How I Became A Salesman’, Mr. Doyle’s droll humor wove its way through his talk. For instance, his reason for becoming a writer was to avoid his father’s line of work of door-to-door sales. His choice of writing as a vocation didn't go over well. His observation: “Being a movie writer is 90% finding writing jobs---so you can say I’m a salesman in Hollywood. Dad would be proud.”

His first novel, I Love You, Beth Cooper , a homage to 80's teen comedies, is now available and will be released as a film next year, directed by Chris Columbus and starring Hayden Panettierre of the T.V. show ‘Heroes’. He fielded many questions from the eager audience, and at the end, left us with this last comment, “Most Hollywood writers are very well written, which is amazing considering the quality of work coming from there.” He’s currently not working on his next novel.

In my first session, ‘Taking The Freelance Plunge’, freelancers Cathy Alter and Geoff Brown tag-teamed to walk attendees through the process. Both made the move to freelancing for the freedom of creating their own schedules and doing work they wanted to do, missing the reliable biweekly check initially. Mr. Brown remarked, “Having a spouse with a paying job is important. Very important.” They continued with advice on effectively researching markets, starting with smaller magazines to build your portfolio, and looking into setting up your own blog. Their last bit of advice: “Read everything. Read, read, read!”

In the ‘Literary Journals & Magazines’ session with Gettysburg Review assistant editor Mark Drew and Gargoyle Magazine editor/publisher Richard Peabody, attendees learned to tailor their pieces to what lit mag editors are looking for. Among the sore points for both: inconsistent characters, long drawn-out plots, and not reading the magazine to get a feel for it. “We’re looking for any reason to reject your work.” To better your chances for acceptance, Mr. Drew suggested, “Know your characters so well that you take editors by surprise and hook them, and they’ll want to accept your work.”

“Wherever you are, use that opportunity to further your writing experience.” That statement opened the ‘Travel Writing’ session, led by L. Peat O’Neil, author of Travel Writing: See the World, Sell the Story. We jumped into defining the elements of a travel piece--title, lead/lede, the ‘where are we?’, ‘why are we there?’, theme, and ‘how’--adding facts, character development, and backstory to make an interesting piece. As a brainstorming exercise, Ms. O’Neil had us recall a travel experience, remembering specific details using our senses, then write down some ideas that could be the beginnings of our own travel pieces.

We moved on to areas to break into travel writing, such as small presses and journals, choosing your target market and carefully reading it to discover their style. Once established, she emphasized the need to be gutsy in marketing and selling yourself; developing contacts with editors and other writers; and suggested focusing on a region/area instead of a variety of places. Her takeaway at the end of the session: “Read widely of what was written by travel writers decades, even centuries past, get a fresh perspective on the genre.”

My last session, ‘Screenwriting’, led by screenplay consultant David Warfield, was mostly a Q&A time. He suggested that beginners look into screenwriting competitions as a resource to get the proverbial foot in the door, but making sure to do the necessary research because of the many scammers out there. Mr. Warfield added that learning how to craft good query letters is an important skill to develop, since few in the business accept unsolicited scripts. At the end, attendees received a handout with helpful resources.

Throughout the conference, I met fellow writers, made great connections, ate really good food and didn't buy out the bookstore---a first! We hit the wine and cheese gathering for last-minute networking and snacks for the road, then left.

With conference season officially over, the work of sorting through this last round of handouts and notes, and applying what was learned begins. Bring it on!

No comments:

Post a Comment

We love to hear from readers! Please leave a comment. :)