Lessons from writers

It was tense

I had the privilege of attending the 11th Geneva Writers’ Conference last weekend. It was hosted by the Geneva Writers’ Group, founded in 1993, an international group that brings together 300 English-language writers from 30 countries.

It was my second time at the conference. I earn a living as a freelance corporate writer and when I’m not working, I spend my free time…writing. (Not all of my time, but a good deal of it.) Of course, there is writing and WRITING, and the work I do for my clients, while gratifying on many levels, is not the same as the writing I do for myself.

So, I hear you thinking, sitting in a room full of writers all weekend. Dotting the i’s and cross the t’s together. How nerdy is that? In fact, it was a lot of fun. We plotted and pitched, assassinated characters and created entire universes together.

Outside of corporate communications, my writing pursuits are many and varied: there is my personal blog, in which I share observations of life as an expat Canadian living on the French side of the border; a recently completed memoir on a similar theme for which I am currently seeking a literary agent; my latest project, a novel, the first draft of which I aim to complete this year.

In the end it is all storytelling: to write anything worth reading requires a singular focus and common skill set. Yet each genre is different, with its own rules and creative framework. Writing a novel that is successful in both literary and commercial terms is a particular challenge.

The GWC is an amazing opportunity to sit down with other like-minded individuals and talk about craft. I regret that it only comes along every two years. There is so much to learn from each other.

Imagine, over two days of workshops, I had the chance to:

  • Hear about what makes a great opening from a New York Times’ best-selling author
  • Discuss what differentiates tone from voice, narrative from point-of-view
  • Learn techniques to show rather than tell readers about a character
  • Grill agents and editors on what will really make them sit up and pay attention when my query letter pops into their inbox.

There was a session with a successful travel writer on the importance of location and another on the business of literary translation, a field that has long fascinated me. There was a chance to pitch your work and a lunchtime reading slam, where braver souls than I got up and read their work before the assembled group.

I learned that while other writers are amazing at description and setting, I have a pretty good ear for dialogue, often a weakness in novels. Knowing this, I will play to my strengths.

So now it’s back to reality and the daily work of writing. Do you have a project that requires strong storytelling skills? I would be delighted to help you plot it!








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