Wednesday, April 28, 2021

How Your High Schooler can Earn College Credit Now!

 Just finished this podcast with Jennifer Cook-DeRosa, author of Homeschooling for College Credit

Definitely worth a listen - some great ideas and simple ways for kids to earn significant college credit before finishing high school!

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

My Home Work Space

 Just thought I would share my at-home office setup. I built this desk and am pretty proud of how great it looks and functions!

Monday, March 1, 2021

Joel Gardner Mission and Values Statement

To be successful in life, one must be clear about what success is. I have reflected and written about my own personal purpose and values over the years and have crystalized these into the visual below. It is certainly a work in progress, and this feels like the closest I have gotten to the feelings, passion, and beliefs at my core. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

An experiment: 4 minutes to spark creativity and innovation

Do you ever find yourself feeling stuck on a creative project? I have, and I have been experimenting with ways to energize my creativity and innovation. I decided to put together a video with the intent to inspire creativity. My thought was that having a video with (a) inspiring music, (b) beautiful, stimulating scenery, and (c) motivating words and quotes might help a person change their emotional and intellectual state and enjoy improvements in creativity and innovation. Take a look at the video below - what do you think? 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Kauai Writers Conference - Day 3

Below are my notes from day 3 of the Kauai Writers Conference. It's been great advice and a wonderful experience at this conference, and I am appreciative of the kindness and expertise of everyone at this conference.

Full disclosure: My mind is overwhelmed by the volume of outstanding advice and insights from this conference. As a result, my notes below lack synthesis and editing. I will potentially return and revise, but I at least wanted to get the notes down and published for future review.

How Agents Evaluate Your Work

Stephanie Cabot and Susan Golomb

Making Contact With The Agent

  • Excellently written introduction letters are critical. If you write a really good inquiry letter, that will entice us to look further. 
  • It is okay to send a query to multiple agents. If  you do, let them know you are working with several agents and that you promise to let the agent know you will let them know.  However, don't send an inquiry to more than one agent at the same organization.
  • Follow the process for sending an inquiry.
  • Inquiry letters should be sent via email. Snail mail doesn't really make you stand out much more.
  • If it is a fiction novel, send a completed manual. If it is nonfiction, not necessary to have it fully completed.
  • A nonfiction book should usually include a chapter with it.
  • Nonfiction should also include an outline of each chapter. Perhaps 2-3 paragraphs per chapter.

When Agent Reviews Your Work

  • It is hard for the agent to read the manuscript - they have a ton going on. 
  • I don't mind a squeaky wheel checking in on where I am with reviews, etc.
  • Respect the fact that your agent is working all the time. Be patient. If you get another offer, then give other agents the opportunity to respond. It is in your best interest to search and find the best agent. 
  • Your social media. 

Working With an Agent

  • Pick someone you can go on a journey with. 
  • Sometimes I take a person on to see if we can work together on something together. 
  • I love changing lives. I love getting people a huge 6-figure advance. (Sounds nice to me!) I love when a lot of my clients end up becoming great friends. I love when something has potential and they come back and have done what I have said - it feels like magic. It is a real journey, and I am lucky to have really wonderful, nice clients.
  • I get joy from seeing what is inside peoples' brains and seeing the incredible creativity that come out. As an agent, you have to love the challenge of the sale and doing something significant. It is satisfying to do your end of the work and see something powerful happen. 

After the Book is Accepted

You start working with a publisher, and everyone wants to mass with your baby.

On creating a platform for your work

  • How important is a "platform" for fiction? It is not. 
  • How important is a platform for nonfiction? Very.

Surviving and Thriving in Today's New Publishing Landscape

Andy Ross, Lisa Sharkey, Carrie Feron, Alia Habib, Regina Brooks, Michelle Tessler
  • I want to be surprised. I want something new that has narrative pride. Emphasize what is original in terms of view and voice.
  • We represent every type of book for which there is a reader.
  • Narrative non-fiction - nonfiction that is driven by story. 
  • Audio books are going to continue to grow.
  • "Multicultural trends" are important. Write about people from many backgrounds.
  • For nonfiction, audio books and carbon books are where the sales are at.
  • What kind of podcasts can best promote book. 
  • It is hard to self-publish because it is hard to find a readership. But if you have an online community and an email list, you have an opportunity to be successful. 
  • One trend that is happening and that might really take off is audio-books before print books.

How have things changed in "the age of distraction?"

  • Anyone who has spent time pitching a book hears the question "how many words is it?" You have to snag them quickly. Think about the first 20 pages. Then think about how you can get the reader to page 120.
  • You have to have time and resources to promote your book. Most of the things the publisher wants you to do cost money.
  • If I was on NPR, how would I distill the content of this book? Hone your pitch! Boil it down! Do not bury the lead! 
  • You will need to discuss and share about your book regularly.
  • Make time to meet your readers! Tours are difficult because they are expensive and it doesn't always pay off. However, authors who will do book tours "at their own expense" is a very nice selling point. And, it lets you meet your fans, which is important. You can interact with your fans and followers online much more easily, too. Sharing your book on your YouTube account is important, as well. 
  • The rise of the independent book publisher - the heart of book publishing. 
  • Think of ways to connect with other authors and readers
    • A bookstore is like a little church for books! Make connections and 
    • Mini-conferences are a powerful way to meet readers and writers
    • Book festivals can be meaningful, too
    • Consider work-shopping their writing at the local bookstore. Have lots of people read your book and give you feedback. Your family won't tell you the truth! Have published authors read your books, too. Writers groups can be a powerful way to get feedback, as well. This is a great way to test-market your book. Have lots of people read it and give you true, sound feedback on its readability. (Do a survey, or something). 
  • When I evaluate a novel or memoir, I am the advocate for the reader. You need to hear when it is boring, when dialogue is clunky, etc. 
  • Work backwards from your reader. Create a fictional reader in your mind. What is their age? What do they like? Are you delivering something that they would like? (Use Design Thinking, essentially, to really understand their needs).
  • If you are writing about another culture, it might be worth having "sensitivity readers" take a look at your books and give you feedback for authenticity.

The Author/Agent Dynamic

Stephanie Cabot (agent), Priya Parmar (writer), Whitney Scharer (writer)

Why is it so hard to get an agent? How can I get an agent?

  • When I was writing my query letter, I found a lot of good information on the internet, and that really helped. Nathan Bradsford did a great job dissecting a query letter and showing why it worked.
  • Website tell you what to do. Write it, don't look at it, rework it. Take the time to make the query letter really simple. I spent a month on my query letter before I started sending it.
  • A lot of people were reaching out to agents who were not really right for their works. You have got to do your research. Find those who are agent for similar books. Find out who is accepting queries. Look around and really look - try to make the slog a little less painful.
  • First, be sure you ask the right questions before you connect with an agent. Do they work through the whole process? Do they manage authors throughout their careers? What kind of publishing houses have they worked with? Want to work with? Do they seem like someone you would like to work with regularly? Can they coach you as you continue to write and help you manage your career?
  • You have to decide what kind of agent and agency you want to work with before you sign the agency contract. Do your due diligence. If the agent doesn't give you any feedback or says things look perfect, it gives pause for thought.
  • Look for an agent that has strength and leverage and power to help support you. 
  • Red flags: she read my book and saw something completely different than what I had in my head. Different cover, different life, wanted me to bring it way down. It needs to an open, honest, straight dialogue with someone who will listen to you and help you be successful. 
  • An agent might have a small list (35) or a large list (125). 

Kauai Writers Conference - Day 2

Notes from Day 2

As mentioned previously, I am blogging my notes from the Kauai Writers Conference. It has been a meaningful experience, and I appreciate my employer Franklin University for supporting my development as a professional. 

Below are my notes from today. You will note that some of this is pretty wordy - feel free to skim or skip sections. 

The Four Paths to Getting Published

David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut

1 The Big Five

These are larger corporations. There to make money. You most likely need an agent to get published by these ones. They are generalists - looking for a broad audience. They have Ellen on speed dial and can take out ads in the New York Times.
  • Pros for going with the big 5: Getting some of the best people with great experience. Incredible resources and distribution. Lots of good things can happen, and you could get  major tour where you go all around the country to talk about the book. You get money up front to write your book. It is typically over $10,000 and could be over $1 million. 
  • Cons for going with the big 5: You need an agent. You don't usually get much response. It can take months, years, or can actually never happen. The agent might want some changes in the book, and you might not hear from them for months or ever. The book submission process can take months, and your book might never work out. It is often 1-2 years to get your book out there and published. Your book is "new" for 3 months, and they will promote it for that time period. If you work hard to make it a success, then you will have some level of success. 

2 Independent publishers

Some are large corporations but not necessarily in the "Big 5." All university publishers. WW Norton. There are also "micro-publishers" who are tiny operations. Some of these are a form of fan fiction. E.L. James had many followers of her Twilight fan fiction. If you go with the smaller publishers, you can be a big fish in a little pond instead of a little fish in a big pond.
  • Pros for going with independent publishers: specialize in a certain kind of book. They know how to market a book like yours. These publishers can be much more effective at finding your audience. (Examples: publishers who publish reference style books like what to expect when you are expecting. publishers who want to represent underrepresented voices). Sometimes it can be faster, but sometimes it can be slower.
  • Cons for going with independent publishers: They do not have Ellen on speed-dial. They do not have the ability to print lots of copies. They might have fewer resources, and the smaller the publisher the poorer the distribution. However, 50% of books are sold via Amazon, so there are some pluses to that. 

3 Hybrid Publishing

At is best is a professional publisher that partners with you to publish your book. You make a financial commitment to the publisher as does the publisher to publish the book together. It is a specific kind of book. You have to pass their editorial guidelines to make sure it fits their list. It is professionally edited, copy-edited, cover is made, distribution into the world, but you are contributing financially to the model. Shewrites Press is an example of this hybrid publishing model. You have more say in how your book gets out into the world. It is much more collaborative than when working with a bigger publisher. Be careful - many places claim to be hybrid publishers but do not actually offer any helpful services. They do not offer the services and they sometimes steal their copyright. The best strategy is to google the company's name and the word scam. International Book Publishers Association (IBPA) has a list of companies that are good to work with.
  • Pros for going with hybrid publishers: you can get a book out in just a few months, sometimes. You are getting professionals to help with the process (at good hybrid publishers). The book is yours - you have much more control over each step. 
  • Cons for going with hybrid publishing: It costs money up-front. You have to pay a minimum amount - they mentioned $7,500 as an initial amount. Distribution is all over the map with hybrid - some are great and some have no distribution. If no, then you have to be the person to really get out there and sell a lot of books.

4 Self-publishing

Author as entrepreneur. You are writer, editor, copy-editor, proofreader, sales marketing, cover design, etc. This is much more overwhelming. You end up having to do it all or have to hire people to do it. Book Baby is a good group to hire to help you with this work. Authors House is there to rip you off! It is difficult to really sell books when you self-publish. The big hits actually have people who have quit their jobs and work full-time forever.
  • Pros for self publishing: You get your voice out there. It can be picked up by a bigger publisher, if it is excellent. 
  • Cons for self publishing: It takes so much work to do it right. 

Other Notes

  • DO YOUR RESEARCH - Make sure the publishers and agents you are approaching do your kind of book. For publishers, go and look at the books they have on their website and see if they look good and are the kinds of books you want to do your work. Contact the authors who have published with them and see what their experience was like. Speak to the person in charge and ask lots of questions. Research to find an editor or illustrator that is excellent and can help you move forward.
  • Audiobooks are the fastest growing element of the publishing world. 
  • Support - The speakers indicated they are happy to help us navigate all of these things. I appreciate their expertise and generous offer to be available to new authors.
  • On Stolen Ideas - Many people are afraid their book idea will be stolen. But, this rarely happens. However, you can register your idea with the WGA West.
  • Know Your Audience - being well-known is helpful. But, who is your audience? If you don't know where they are and what their habits are, then you will never be able to sell books to them. 

The Writer's Path

Whitney Scharer, Paula McClain, Priya Parmar, Amanda Eyre Ward

"All roads lead to the mountain top"
  • Whitney Scharer - She calls herself the only debut novelist on the stage. I've always been a writer. As a kid, I sat and wrote poetry. I chose my college because of the creative writing faculty. Worked for over a decade at  creative writing center, wrote short stories and published them. The whole time I never called myself a writer - it felt like a "side-thing" that I was going. I was scared to own the identity of "writer" because people would be less likely to judge my work more harshly. It took 2 years of research and 5 years of writing for the first book. I was cramming writing into my life, so then I really started focusing all of my efforts on my writing. 
    • On publishing: I took 7 years to write the novel. My milestones were to just finish it and polish it up and get feedback from my writing group. My biggest goal was to write something that the writing group would read. There was a point with my draft where it had it's own energy and it was going down a track where I realized it was going to become a good book. I revised it a bunch of times and the writing group told me they thought it was done. I had a dream agent in my mind - Paula McClain was the person who represented authors I loved, and I sent her my query. She read it quickly on a plane to Japan. She loved it and emailed me and was excited to represent me! The first publication experience was wonderful. She had an auction between many publishing houses. It was a surreal, crazy experience. She got to pick the editor she would work with. 
  • Amanda Eyre Ward - I never really wrote. Never had a journal. I was a reader - I read all the time and escaped through reading. I took a fiction writing class in college and Jim Shepherd said put your short story in my mailbox and I will let you know if you can take the class. I wrote a story about a long-distance trucker on amphetamines who hit a wall. I called him up and he said I could come. From then on, I just wanted to write. In graduate school I tried to write a novel but put it in a box and let it go. My first novel features a woman on death row and a librarian whose husband was killed by that woman.
    • On publishing: a few agents wanted to represent me. One agent told me the book was done, and so I went with her. :) Michelle was the agent and took on Sleep Toward Heaven. One great thing about her is that I can trust her. She didn't give up on the book, so she found a tiny publisher named McAdam Cage. I took a deal that seemed like a bad deal. Sleep Toward Heaven was a big splash in my local bookstore. Sandra Bullock's sister read the book and wanted to option the book! At that point, the paperback hadn't come out, and we felt vindicated and it went to Harper Collins. 
  • Priya Parmar - I wasn't really a writer at all or a reader until I was about 9. I learned to memorize instead of reading when I was young. I didn't know what I wanted to do, so I took lots and lots of degrees, including a PhD and realized I didn't want to teach at the university level. I got a heart condition and realized I didn't want to be in an office anymore. I shifted to creative writing, and the first page I wrote was the first page of my first knowledge. She learned to write using critical analysis, and the shift to creative writing was a HUGE joy and relief.
    • On publishing: i got an agent very quickly, but part of that was because I didn't know how to get the right agent. There was a very sweet agent, but she didn't have the muscle to protect me. I had 4 different editors because they kept getting fired. I realized I needed to break up with my agent, and it was an awful experience. At that point, everything went wrong because the agent didn't work too well for me. The agent really needs to help you get through your career, and this time the agent broke up with me. Then a team of fairy godmothers stepped in and helped me find the right agent. But it was very painful before then. 
  • Paula McLain - I love when we get surprised about how our lives are going. I wanted to be a secretary with a Honda Civic, and I did it! Then, in my 7th year of undergraduate studies, I stumbled into a creative writing class - a poetry class. If you want to write poetry, maybe you should start by reading poetry. So, that is what happened and my mind was totally transformed. I learned about an MFA program possibility and got into Michigan and took out lots of student loans to study poetry as a divorced parent of a 2-year old. I just wanted to be a writer, and what did I have to lose, anyway? The fiction writers are more ambitious - they were passing around a list of New York literary agents. I ended up writing 1 chapter of my memoir. On a Friday, I cold-called the first name on the list of the agents and she called back and I realized I needed to write the book! So, I wrote the book, and if I had the grit to write it, she would actually read it! The magical thing that happened was that I didn't know I needed to throw myself over a cliff. All of those difficult things I dealt with made me an underdog. I got so much traction by believing that I could do it, despite the thought that people didn't believe in me. 
    • On publishing: I finished my memoir, and it was sent out and the rejections piled up. the book finally sold and it got one offer. My first book tour was a driving tour of the mid-west. The book didn't sell, it didn't perform, and I lost my agent and publisher. And that is usually how it happens, actually. At some point, I decided to write a novel. It took 5 years to write the first novel and I only had about 1 hour a day to write (lots and lots of stuff going on). My agent said, "This is beautiful writing, but in a novel, something has to happen!" She did readings and signings and there were just a few people that showed up. It is tough, and you have to have the audacity to pick up and write again! I read a Hemingway memoir. She read a biography and realized she needed to biography - she said she is going to write a novel on this person's experiences in France. I told the agent and she told me to write it as fast as I can! It ended up being her famous book "The Paris Wife." She wrote it in 7 months at a Starbucks in Cleveland. People actually read it! (Millions of people, actually... :)


  • The people you meet here need to be your connection! If they get what you are doing, then get your tribe together! Find the people who you want to be.
  • Advice on finding an agent: 
    • Do they ask all the right questions? 
    • Does she say things that feel new and right at the same time? 
    • She proposed how to structure it and it felt right for me.
    • There is a feeling or rightness.
    • It is a relationship - you can be who you are and they think it is okay.
    • Being brave enough to say this doesn't feel right to me. Trust your instincts and insights. 
    • Have a plan. Talk to lots of agents! Talk to people who have agents and get their insights.
    • It is not necessarily the biggest name or agency - find the person who has the same ambitions you have.
    • Be careful. The first response is "yay!" The second might be "is this a scam?" 
    • A hungry person can help you move a book forward. What is my style of person? I am willing to pay the price to promote my book.
    • Sometimes you have to make hard decisions. Continue to believe in yourself. Walk away from someone if you need to. Keep writing. Keep searching. Keep moving toward your goals!
  • Don't give up! Just keep writing! Just keep searching for the right agent!

9 Tools for Getting Your Butt in Chair

Katie Davis

Procrastination is the Enemy

Katie did a huge survey: What is the biggest obstacle to writing? What is the top reason for not starting or finishing your book? The answer: Procrastination!!! People who want to write books go through routines of procrastination. It can become a serious habit and can become a huge mind game. If you don't finish it, nobody will give you a bad review! It is a protective measure, sometimes.

Possible causes of procrastination:
  • perfectionism
  • letting things marinate too long
  • you are bored
  • it is hard
  • You want to avoid being critiqued
  • You get distracted by the details or edit yourself when it is just time to write
  • You are overwhelmed with life
How do you overcome it? Take a 2-step approach. Identify the cause, and resolve it. Figure out what is getting in the way and resolve it specifically. 

Procrastination is a habit. Get rid of the shame of the procrastination and find a motivator that can help you be excited and create a new habit.

The 9 Tools

1 Know Why

Have a clear reason for why you want to write the book. This really will get you motivated - you are doing it for a purpose! Describe that purpose clearly.

2 Know Your Passion

What is the impact you want to have? What are the topics or the audience that you really want to benefit.

3 Reminders

Create a reminder system that helps remind you to take some action on your writing. For me, I think a phone alarm would work. Scheduling time in the calendar would be helpful, too. Also, just scheduling 15 minutes a day to write. I think I could write 1 page a day (at least a crappy draft) in 15 minutes. Figure out how to write 1 page at a time and get it done! Let the naysayers be your reminder and your motivation. Have an accountability group or a critique group to help keep you accountable and excited to move forward.

4 Create a To-Do List

Create a list of what you need to work on. Follow the list! Create a list with the word "write" on the top of it. Make it a priority. Make it easiest for your body to be able to focus and write by choosing the right time of day. Take away the time wasters and focus on the writing. Make the sacrifice!

5 Treats!

Give yourself little rewards as you go. Celebrate when you finish an outline, complete chapter 5, finish an outline, or contact 5 potential agents. Whatever the hard thing is, reward yourself!

6 Calm Your Brain

Maintain a clean office. Close all the tabs on your computer screen. Make it easy to focus! Remove energy-draining relationships from your life or at least keep people under control. 

7 Unplug

There are apps that will turn off other apps, programs, or websites. Apparently there is an app that will delete everything you wrote if you stop writing... Sounds evil but highly motivating!

8 Evaluate

Every night when you get in bed, ask yourself "Did I get what I wanted to get from the last 24 hours?" Every day you aren't writing the thing you say you want to write is a scary thing.

9 Visualize

Think: "I am 97 years old, and I am looking back on my life. And I remember the time when I was going through difficult things, and I am so glad that I worked through those difficult times." Visualize you in 30 years looking back and feeling so grateful for your hard work, perseverance, and success.

You can't wait for the muse to hit you. There is hard work is it. 

"Just type something if you have a deadline. Just write! It doesn't even matter if it's bad. Just get it down!" - Katie Davis

What Harper Collins looks for in fiction and nonfiction

Carrie Feron and Lisa Sharkey
These ladies work for William Morrow and Harper Collins Publishers

How They Came to Work In Publishing

Lisa Sharkey - I came to publishing after years as a news producer. I asked myself, what made my heart thump as a child? It wasn't produce TV news, it was reading books. She works with adult and children books. She and Carrie are working on a project together. :)

Carrie Feron - I did the boring way of going into publishing right after college. If you want to see who will be an editor look for the quiet nerdy kid reading in math class. I love books and reading and authors. I really admire people that finish manuscripts. Most of my authors can write a book a year. I've worked at Crown, Bantam, Avon, Berkley Putnam. She has worked in lots of places. Avon was bought by Harper Collins and she has been there for 25 years. She's had some of the authors she has worked with for the whole time.

Finding and growing an author

Carrie - I often look to buy a book from an author who is a "small plant that could become a forest." Look at the best selling list. I find the books that sell and see how that author was writing in the very beginning. What is their voice? I try to look for that plant in the submissions I receive.

I am very careful about the people I take on because I don't want to let go of any of my other authors. I've worked with some for a long time. She only takes on 2-3 new authors per year. 

Lisa - What I want to do is find people who I think could be amazing authors for non-fiction publishing. Example: "The Other Side of the Coin." This is the lady who has worked for the queen for many years - endorsed by the queen. Example: "Russ" - he is a rapper. Nonfiction publishing is all about trends. 

If you are writing non-fiction, think of your self as a brand entrepreneur. Be a student of the universe of non-fiction. Really get into your genre of books. Talk to book sellers. Spend time in the bookstores. It is great to work backward from the consumer, backward from the reader. Really get into peoples' minds. Find that nugget, that thing that people are looking for. Get outside your family and circle, though - find the group that you want to learn from.

Answer the basic questions:
  1. who is my audience?
  2. what is my 2 sentence keynote about my book?
  3. what metadata must I include in my book's description?
  4. what like-minded people should I engage with?
The biggest thing is trust. Just realize that everyone wants your book to be a success, and we ant to make it a success. I just want it to be the best book for them as possible. 


  • Know your craft! Write excellently. Don't let the agent or publisher get stuck on something as simple as a misused word. Be true to your own voice. 
  • Target sharply the kind of publisher that will really like your kind of book. Find where people you want to be like publish. Who are your favorite authors? Where do they publish? Learn and reach out to them. Where do you spend your dollars? That might be where to go. Go to the bookstore and look at the acknowledgements in the book to find out who their agents and publishers are. "Publishers Marketplace" is a publication that helps guide these matters.
  • Make it as easy as possible for the publisher to say yes. "This is the genre. Be sure that you know exactly who you audience This is the audience. Here is how I see myself. Here is the territory I see myself publishing in." The easiest way is to find what you love to write within the parameters of what people are looking for. And then figure out how to continue to satisfy that group again with something in those parameters. 
  • I haven't seen a lot of query letters that are well-done and targeted to attract the right audience. You don't want lots of options, you want the BEST option. You have to surprise me. What is the story I haven't read before? What is the plot line that is slightly twisted and is going to intrigue me? It needs to be unique. I am hard to satisfy, but I am your advocate when you do 
  • If an agent writes me a really interesting letter, then I will consider it. If the story is unique, I will consider it strongly. 
  • Key pieces to include in a nonfiction proposal. 
    • extremely selling cover letter
    • book outline
    • first 3 chapters
    • description of remaining chapters
    • what are you (the author) going to do to promote the book (website, YouTube, blog, university affiliations, quotes of support from people, etc.). Put a strong headline about yourself - who you are and how you will support selling it. 
  • Do the work! Get out there and get peoples' feedback. Have notes of praise from people. 
  • Just because you have self-published a book doesn't mean you cannot publish the book later on.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Kauai Writers Conference - Day 1

As I noted in a previous post, I am attending the Kauai Writers Conference in Lihue, Hawaii. It has been a great experience, and I have been working to take notes on what I learn there. Below are my notes from the first day. These are practical, meaningful insights, and I am excited to be here among great minds and successful writers.

This isn't my typical approach to blogging, but I wanted to capture and share what I am learning. Hope you enjoy!

Panel - Sources of inspiration

Greg Iles, Meg Wolitzer, Christina Baker Kline.
Some sources of Inspiration:

  • What are you thinking about already anyway? This is what you should write about. What are you marinating in? What are you obsessing about? Find stories that are within the things that already burn within you. What are you preoccupied about? What are you thinking about anyway? Write about that!
  • Reading.  Read about what you care about.
  • There is a "tingle" you get when an idea feels right. 
  • There is no simple or complete answer to where you receive your inspiration.
  • Writers live the way others live but they retain their experience differently.
  • Writers write about themselves. Whether you realize it or not, you can only write your own experience. Or it is at least embedded in what you do.
  • One panelist said (paraphrasing here) "I realized I had to be more ambitious. Take something on that scares you. Take on writing that will have the impact that you want to have. Take on writing that is most important to you."
  • "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working." - Picasso
A few other notes:
  • "I think revising is the greatest weapon in your arsenal." 
  • If you are going to do this, it is going to be hours and hours and hours.
  • "You will pay a price. The people who love you are going to pay a price. You are a miniature pain dispenser. It is not easy to be married to a writer." - Greg Iles
  • You can do it. You can figure out how to be a writer and have a family. You just have to figure out how to make 
  • "Can writing be taught? Or is it innate?" One panelist indicated that you can't make someone a writer, but you can make someone a better writer. Perhaps the point is to maximize the capabilities of the individual. Not everyone can play at the NFL level.
  • Teaching writing is essentially nurturing talent. Writers need support, feedback, mentoring. 
  • When you want to write for a living, think there are 1.1 Million doctors, but there only thousands of writers. There are a thousand reasons for the no, but only 1 yes. But, the system is always looking for someone who can be the next big hit. Swing for the fence.
Visual Storyboarding
The lady in front of me showed me her storyboard approach for her stories. She just finds pictures on Pinterest that inspire her story or match it and then she turns them into a storyboard. She doesn't make them linear - just puts everything together on one page. I tend to think in a linear fashion, but it probably doesn't need to be linear - just keep it as a way to capture visuals for idea generation.

What makes good writing good

Joshua Mohr and Nicholas Delbanco
  • Nicholas started out by reading a scene from his house in France. So beautiful - brings clear images to my mind. Simple language but I could see the story.
  • "The chief enemy of creativity is good taste." -Picasso
  • It is powerful to read the story out loud. Josh reads his out loud up to 20 times to clean things up and make them pop and engaging and enthralling. "If I am getting bored on this page, I need to cut the whole page."
  • You have to be in love with the language.
  • Listen to what your inner ear tells you.
  • Honor your own life experiences. Tell your story, you are unique, you are special, tell YOUR story. 
  • "Your book doesn't care about your outline."
  • "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" (Quoting someone)
  • There are some formulaic writers, but that is a version of painting by numbers rather than painting. 
  • When you introduce a character, you need to make the reader not want to leave the person. Make them compelling and beautiful.
  • It is possible to overdo it on your writing, but this is rarely the case. You should be willing to pour everything into the writing, craft it to PERFECTION. It is rarely overdone.
  • Write endlessly until it seems like it is "a moment's thought." Help the writing be so easily digested and learned and internalized by the reader.
  • Be careful - it is possible to continue to polish without making your writing better.


Greg Iles
Plot is the most elemental thing that there is. You can write and succeed with the basics of plot. But if you want to write something that moves people, it must be bound up with character. At the end of the book, they must feel surprised along with a sense of "of course that happened!"

Tools for assessing and enhancing plot
12 Stages -  Look at the 12 stages of the hero's journey. (Read A Writer's Journey, or at least the 30 page version tat is shorter. The Writer's Memo is the sort version. Universal storytelling patterns. The ordinary world - spend plenty of time on the ordinary world so that everyone knows what it is and make it meaningful.
  1. The call to adventure - Obi Wan inviting Luke to come with him to the rebellion to learn the force
  2. The reluctant hero (refusal of the call) - shows fear and has internal drama. Luke feels obligated to keep farming.
  3. The wise old man or woman mentor - Obi Wan.
  4. Into the special world - They go into space.
  5. Tests, allies and enemies - The fellowship of the ring. 
  6. The inmost cave - Death Star.
  7. The supreme ordeal - Blowing up the death star.
  8. Seizing the sword - Using the force to blow up the death star.
  9. The road back - Willow returning to his village.
  10. The resurrection - ? Not sure...
  11. Returning with the elixir - Willow returning and knowing magic.
  12. (I must have missed something, here... there should be 12 :))
You don't have to use these principles in this order only - you can mix them up 1,000 different ways. You need to eventually internalize these into who you are and how you write so that they are always integrated and ever-present.
Archetypes - all of these character archetypes can be used in your writing as an impetus for change in your story. You decide - you control the fates. You have control! Be grateful that you are the sole authority of your work!
    1. The Hero - the essence of heroism - not bravery, courage, being a bad-ass, being super-smart. It is sacrifice. That is the element of the hero - going out there and carrying 5 people and saving lives and putting in the work. Momma is the ultimate hero. 
      1. The hero must have an inner and an outer problem that they are facing. This is critical - they need to overcome or make peace with both for the story to work. 
    2. The Antihero (protagonist) - just as important as the hero. Is this the buddy? The sidekick?
    3. The Mentor - Merlin is the classic mentor. Dumbledore, Obi Wan Kanobi, etc. (Note that there is a terrible shortage of women mentors in literature). 
    4. Shape-Shifter (the character of ambiguous loyalty). This character type can be used to provide jolts and emotional problems. This person is always changing from the hero's point of view - it is hard to know where their loyalties lie.  Boramire in Lord of the Rings.
    5. The Shadow - Jung: "evil isn't separate from human nature. The task of the human is to recognize the shadow and make friends with and integrate into your own personality. Then you are a whole person. Embodies the full antagonistic principle." So, how can a person integrate their "dark" side in some form of resolution? 
    6. Threshold Guardian - the drill sergeant, etc. It is a person who is making it difficult for you to go forward with your plan. Someone who might stymie you but that you can overcome.
    7. The Trickster - Bugs Bunny, Briar Rabbit, etc. Stirs things up for the sake of stirring things up. 
    8. The Herald - This is the character that tends to announce the call to adventure - I think it is the wizard dwarf in Willow (Billy Barty). 
The Negation of the Negation (from Robert McKey, a well-known sort of Hollywood guru).
Most dramatic works do not fulfill their full potential because they do not negate the negation.

Here is how it works. Most stories have a contradictory value, or opposite value to the primary value. (e.g. selfishness, hate, despair, depression). These values contradict the primary value - justice, love, etc. Begin by identifying the primary value at stake. (this is the negation - e.g. justice, love, sacrifice, hope). The negation of the negation is that the desired negation doesn't really happen. Or, if it does happen it is a warped version of the negation. It seems like The Twilight Zone is probably does this regularly - you think it will resolve, but it ends up being a warped version of a resolution.

Final tips from Greg Iles
  1. Search and destroy all passive voice.
  2. Remove all unnecessary words.
  3. Your words need to go over the person's mind like water going over a rock.
  4. (Referring to Stephen King's Concept) The writer's mind is like a house, and the subconscious ins like your basement. Don't go down into the basement and start to organize those boxes. There is already a crew down there working on the boxes. Stay out of the way and then begin working on the book.

Writing for Young Adults

Meg Wolitzer and Katie Davis

I arrived late to this session, but here is what I heard:
  • Fiction for young people should feel very immediate and emotionally powerful. When writing for young people, there must be a sense for having it happen. Try to create a need that you are trying to satisfy.
  • Take fewer side-notes in the books you write for younger adults. The emotions are still the same and strong, but don't take as many tangents. 
  • Every word should be in service of the story. 
  • Say, "it's going to be okay, because I can always change it."
  • Write about the thing that you are scared to write about. What is it that you don't want people to know about you? This is the thing that you should write about. It is something that is deep inside you and needs to come out.
  • "There's room for any good book... Write what moves you and compels you."
If you are writing for children, it might make sense to enjoy the author's podcast "Writing for Children Podcast."