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Writing East Midlands conference 2016

On 5 March I went to the Writing East Midlands conference. I came away feeling as though I’m equipped with all the skills to be a successful writer … except writing skills!

I learned about self-promotion, working with an editor, creating a web presence, and writing crime fiction. I’ll be sharing my pearls of wisdom in bite-size chunks (to mix my metaphors!) over at Help For Writers during the next few weeks, so I can’t give everything away here. I can give you a few tasters, though.

It was a blast from the past to visit Loughborough University, as I graduated from there in 2001. I was based in the art department on the other side of the road, but I visited the Martin Hall building for my ‘Music & the Visual Arts’ module and it was good to see the old alma mater again!

The opening keynote was delivered with energy and enthusiasm by Mike Gayle, who made us all laugh and root for him as he told us the story of how he got where he is today.

"Asking for help is not an admission of failure."

“Asking for help is not an admission of failure” – Pete Mosley

Pete Mosley on The Art of Shouting Quietly

Pete is a business coach for creatives, and his workshop on self-promotion for introverts was full of quotable gems like: “Embrace your non-conformity”, “creative people fuel the world”, and “asking for help is not an admission of failure”. I may have been a little bit biased because I loved his illustrated slides – like me, he studied Fine Art at university – but he came across as a thoroughly nice person.

Top three take-home points:

  • Define what success means to you
  • Move out of your comfort zone
  • Do your market research

Cressida Downing on Working With an Editor

Cressida (a.k.a. The Book Analyst) specialises in deep structural editing and clearly knows her stuff. “The point of editing is to get you a beautiful book” – can’t say fairer than that! She gave a good explanation of the difference between a ‘read and review’, a deep structural edit, copy-editing, and proofreading. Lots of people think they need the last two when they actually need the first two. I try to be clear that I only offer copy-editing and proofreading – structural editing is a different thing and needs a different set of skills. Cressida was the source of the day’s most inspiring quotation: “You never get worse at writing.”

Top three take-home points:

  • Don’t edit as you go along. Get to the end first
  • Make sure your editor works in your genre
  • Editors charge by length, so cut your manuscript as much as you can before sending it off

Shreya Sen Handley, Dan Simpson & Alice Graham on Shouting Loudly: Creating a Presence on the Web

Considering the discussion was pitched around ‘shouting loudly’, there were a lot of mentions of not shouting! There was a general consensus that you need to listen, reciprocate and participate in online communities, not just shout or blow your own trumpet.

Top three take-home points:

  • Do one or two things well; don’t try to do everything
  • Avoid sharing the same content on multiple platforms (guilty as charged!)
  • If you blog, end your posts with a question to encourage comments
Stephen Booth, David Mark & Sophie Hannah

Stephen Booth, David Mark & Sophie Hannah

Stephen Booth, Sophie Hannah & David Mark on Writing Crime Fiction

After this and the closing keynote by Sophie Hannah I’m a bit of a fan, and I haven’t even read one of her books yet! I did buy her collection of short stories, which I got signed – and the next day I discovered that I’d already bought The Narrow Bed on Kindle! Her descriptions of her plots made them sound right up my street. I love a good psychological thriller.

What struck me most about this discussion was that all three participants started writing at a really early age. Stephen finished his first novel at the age of twelve! Their different approaches to location were interesting too – it was crucial to David, who’s novels are based around Hull (even those which aren’t set there!), whereas Sophie uses fictional settings as “human beings are the same everywhere.”

Top three take-home points:

  • Getting a huge advance can be a poisoned chalice if your book doesn’t sell well enough
  • Avoid being too self-critical and enjoy your successes when they come
  • “The only thing you can control is how good you can make the book” – Sophie Hannah
Rainbow

I saw this rainbow immediately after the conference. Cause for optimism?

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