The last weekend of October I went with my mother-in-law to a writing conference at Anderson University. I had told her over the summer that I was finally ready to invest in my writing again. She registered me for the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference for my birthday.
I attended with trepidation. I’d never been to a writing conference before. What would it be like?
There were five session times, with several options to choose from for each session, plus a a 15-minute one-on-one consultation with one of the conference speakers. I had to miss the first session because my consultation was right in the middle of it, but that was okay. I met with Alex Marestaing. I picked him because the ideas I’ve had lately in my head have been stories for a middle grade audience, and Alex writes middle grade and young adult fiction. I admit I was intimidated; I feel like I’m at the very beginning of this writing stuff, especially when it comes to fiction. (I’ve always felt my strong suit was essays. Not so much with stories.) I told him I had a couple of short story ideas, but since there’s little market for middle grade short stories, I asked how to turn my ideas into a novel. He suggested focusing on the characters. He read a little of what I had during the consultation — even took it with him overnight! — and said my writing is good. (Yay!) He scribbled a few notes on the manuscript, and I got the idea to combine the characters I’d had in two different stories to make them into one person.
I ended up attending four sessions. One was unimpressive, one was okay, and two were great.
Angela Jackson-Brown spoke about how to write characters who are nothing like you. She stressed the importance of writing emotion. You as a writer may not have experienced the same things your character has, but you’ve experienced the same emotions. You may not have ever given birth, she said, but you’ve experienced pain, hope, love, fear, anticipation — all the things that go along with childbirth. She emphasized the importance of making characters multi-dimensional. If your character is evil, what’s good about him? If your character is good, what’s evil about him?
Alex Marestaing spoke about how to succeed in the middle grade and young adult market. (And he revealed that — thank goodness — the dystopia trend is fading.) One thing that really stuck with me was that he said that kids so need hope in what they read. They don’t believe in love because they’re living in a time of the highest divorce rates in history. They don’t believe in politics because they see just a bunch of jibber jabber on late night talk shows. They don’t believe in the future because adults are constantly talking about how bad the world is getting and how everything’s going downhill and how it’s probably the end times. And they don’t believe in God because they see the media showing Christians as hypocritical and closed-minded. Kids need to find hope somewhere. Maybe it can be in what they read.
Maybe I can actually do that.
Both Alex Marestaing and Gloria Gaither, the Keynote speaker, spoke about kids’ music and what it tells us. Two recently popular songs speak to how lost kids are.
Echosmith wrote, “I wish that I could be like the cool kids, ’cause all the cool kids, they seem to fit in. I wish that I could be like the cool kids.”
Fun wrote, “Oh, Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for. What do I stand for? What do I stand for? Most nights, I don’t know.”
If this is what kids are really feeling — and I have no doubt that it is — they truly do need the hope that Jesus gives.
The most striking comments I heard from the speakers at the conference are here:
Put into words that which cannot be put into words.
Revise your idea of important.
Let your work be your testimony.
What comes to the surface are the things that are moving in the deepest currents in your life and in your heart.
Look beyond. Look deep.
This isn’t about us. It’s bigger than this. Ideas matter. You matter. That’s why God gives us ideas.
Light up the dark! Write to give hope.
And all of that is a preface to say this: I’m working on a novel. That is a sentence I never thought I would write. But I’m doing it. I’m taking a series of vignettes I started writing this summer and combining some of those ideas with a short story I wrote when I assigned my honors English students to write one of their own. I’m working on developing the characters, embellishing the plot, and giving glimmers of hope in the story.
I’m doing it. But if I don’t tell people I’m doing it, I’ll find it much too easy to put it aside, hide it in a drawer, and never pull it out again, telling myself it’s something I’ll do someday… until someday comes and I say, “I thought about doing that once.”
I know it will be a long process. I’ve no idea when I’ll finish, but at least I’ve started. And I’m telling you, so you can hold me accountable.
I’m writing a novel.