Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"Writing the Novel" Panel at CWA 2015

Amidst blooming crabapple and cherry trees, throngs turned out this week for the 67th Conference on World Affairs at CU-Boulder. Only a controversy about whether this beloved institution will continue to be free and open to the community put a damper on the activities.

It's a particular joy to see eminent panelists from all over talk about issues, life, and whatever inspires them, sharing viewpoints and insights that take us out of our quotidian thought processes. I listened to a panel called "Writing the Novel," attended by four novelists, each of whom had practical advice as well as general observations about the novel writing process.

These panelists agreed that attending workshops to learn the craft can be beneficial, but all emphasized that it's necessary to actually complete the long work, not just dream about it.

G. Willow Wilson, a young Muslim woman who writes graphic novels and created the female Muslim superhero "Ms. Marvel," outlined a number of steps, including how to find an agent, recommending "Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents." The guide is updated frequently. By approaching agents who represented books similar to hers, she was able to connect with her agent of 10 years. Another valuable piece of advice is that the book should grab the reader's attention--from the very first sentence. It's unlikely readers will give the book 100 pages to see if it gets good.

Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Campbell award-winning science fiction writer David Brin ("Earth," "Startide Rising," and other "Uplift" novels) felt the most important help a writer can get is criticism. He even went so far as to say that if an early reader said they loved his book, he'd remove them from the reviewer list in the future. He feels criticism was the key factor in making a writer improve.

Teen writer Anna Caltabiano has completed two Young Adult novels, the first when she was only 14 years old! This articulate, passionate youngster showed she understands what it takes to be a
writer, saying she enjoys putting two characters together in an empty room and seeing what develops. She often has an ending in mind, and writes outlines for the next several chapters, but doesn't necessarily plot out every detail in advance.

One of the most inspiring of the panelists was Leonard Pitts, Jr. Though he's a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, he recounted how he tried for decades to get a novel published, and hadn't succeeded
until 2009. His persistence finally paid off, though, and now he has four best-selling novels under his belt. He asked how many in the audience were "aspiring writers." He then said, "Ha, that's a trick
question! Aspiring to write isn't enough, you have to need to write."

As an aspiring novelist (seriously, I have at least written my first one), I hope to apply some of these hints toute suite.

No comments:

Post a Comment