Because of COVID-19, the Romance Writers of Australia took their conference online this year with five full days of jam-packed craft and business sessions.
With the benefit of all online sessions, conference goers got to ‘see’ everything and, frankly, I think we should all be careful what we wish for… It’s funny how, even when you’re just sitting at watching, and not engaging in all the social extras that you’d have at an in-person conference, you’re as exhausted by the end of it as you would have been had you been there in person!
Anyway, despite the conference exhaustion and general day job woes, I’ve been trying to process all my takeaways and tips and trying to figure out how I can fold all these into my writing practice. And, of course, I figured I needed to blog about the experience.
So, here goes, my top fifteen takeaways from #RWAus20 (I was going to try and get to 20 because, you know 2020, but too many words!)
- Storytellers are bestsellers.
Day one of the conference was a full day workshop presented by Liz Pelletier of Entangled Publishing. I’m going to say here that I’m aware Entangled has had some questions asked of it over the last 18 months or so, but even acknowledging those, I’m a fan of Liz’s style. She has a clear way of working and she’s not shy about it. And she prioritises a good story – which is where we get our first takeaway – Storytellers are bestsellers. This is pretty true. Think of Fifty Shades, or Twilight. They’re not the best crafted books ever written, but both authors spin a tale that clearly engages readers.
- Voice is everything
Another piece of wisdom from Liz. And again, I think this is true. You can teach craft (to a greater or lesser extent). But, you can’t teach voice as easily (if at all). And if the voice isn’t there, the story’s pretty boring…
- Define what success means for you.
Despite this being #3, it’s actually what’s been taking up most of my thinking following the conference. What do I want to achieve in my writing career? Not what do others think I should achieve – but what DO I WANT? I’m pretty sure the answer to this is hybrid author bringing in enough money to reduce the day job to part time (as much as I whinge about it, I like the day job, and it provides plenty of material for books) but I’m still refining that thought.
- Edit less. Write more. Rewrite rather than edit.
Another takeaway that burned straight into my soul. I’m a perfectionist writer – and while I’m working on those tendencies, I do tend to like to have things (be that chapter, paragraph or sentence) ‘right’ before I move on. That said, the more I edit, the more I lose my voice… and/or the story I’m trying to tell becomes a jumbled mess, and so I need to write – or rewrite – more, rather than editing.
- Don’t be afraid to rework or repurpose anything.
I have SO MUCH stuff on my hard drive. I’m keen to see what I can turn it into… I’m particularly hoping to repurpose some shorts into an anthology next year. They’re better on Amazon and its ilk than on my hard drive… they can’t be bestsellers there!
- First impressions count.
I did know this, but Tanera Simons, Agent at Darley Anderson made the point in her session on agents and the slush pile and it bears repeating.
Don’t try to be clever with your agent submission. Be professional.
- Work smarter not harder. Keep it simple, stupid.
Well, no shit Sherlock. This also resonated given I’d just completed Becca Syme’s Write Better-Faster course as I came into #RWAus20. But hours sitting staring at the manuscript (or, more correctly, scrolling on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) is not ‘working’ no matter how good I am at it. And I’m REALLY good at it. So, now I’m working on trying a few new process tricks to see if I can get more words on the page. I’ll let you know how I go…
- The hard stuff. The STAKES.
We all know, to get to the Happy Ever After, we have to pass through the Dark Night of the Soul (or whatever you call your bleak moment). This is where I get perpetually stuck. Even though I have Anne Gracie’s voice in my head telling me to ‘make it worse’ I don’t like making my characters suffer. I just like giving them all the sex. But I digress.
I’m going to HAVE to work on my STAKES. Because stakes are EVERYTHING.
- Write the books. Get them out there. Do it again.
This is how publishing – traditional or self – works, right? I have lots of half finished stuff. And I think it’s okay. But unless I get it finished, and in the hands of readers, I’m not actually an author, right? Time to WRITE THE BOOKS.
- Ellipses can be a crutch word. Who knew?
I use ellipses… and em-dashes— ALL THE TIME. And all the editors out there just flinched. I know. Sorry. I particularly love ellipses and em-dashes in dialogue. My characters are always trailing off… or cutting each other—
I’ll limit them. I promise.
- Cut the boring bits from your dialogue
As Rachael Bailey told us… dialogue isn’t real speech. We don’t need the boring bits. Cut!
- Stop blogging.
Hahaha. I saved the best for almost last… I’m unlikely to stick to this one because I like chatting to you all from time to time. But, I won’t be holding myself (or, at least, trying to hold myself) to a schedule. I’m just going to keep on popping by when I have something to tell you. Eventually, I’ll shift this to a newsletter… but am going to focus on getting the words done first.
- Online conferencing is worse for my bank account than an in person one…
I bought WAY TOO MANY books because, you know, my Amazon account was RIGHT THERE as people mentioned them.
Oh, and, do you like my new t-shirts… I blame Tanya Nellestein and Kerrie Starbuck…
- Delight in the dull.
So, the order in which I’ve attacked these takeaways is a little all over the place. But I wanted to finish with a few other points from Anna Hackett’s keynote, which closed #RWAus20 on Sunday night – and was fabulous.
- Romance sells joy.
Life in the time of COVID-19 has been hard work. Everyone’s had their trials and tribulations – and they’ve been different for everyone. I’m still counting my chickens. My family is well, thankfully, and I can still work from home. Both of which make me very privileged in the current environment.
But to balance the dark, there is always some light. And hopefully, for some, that has been romance. Romance sells joy (so said Liz Pelletier). We’re writing, and selling, the fantasy of the billionaire, the brother’s best friend, the friend turned lover, the enemy turned lover, the happy ever after.
We are selling JOY, damnit.
And the world needs more of it.
So, go forth, Romancelandia, and spread your JOY!