Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Post-Conference, Post-Vacation Post

Probably the smartest thing to do after a writing conference would be hurry home and burrow in, open a new document (or six!) for all the ideas that skittered across your mind while there. Or, better yet, take a solitary decompressing trip, that frees you to write and muse. I've done both of those things before.

What I hadn't done was return home, run a load of laundry, answer only the urgent emails, repack, sleep a few hours, and then set out with my family for an enforced four days of R&R—strictly away from my computer, all of us together in a small seaside house (often huddled in the A/C to escape daunting heat and humidity when not under a beach umbrella to escape frigid A/C), and on unspoken but rather clear orders from my husband not to disappear into my brain and essentially away from the moment

I had books. I had my notebook. What I didn't have was time to spread out all my notes from Hippocamp 2016 (a conference for creative nonfiction writers), and reflect, make notes, tackle follow-ups in the immediate manner I like, and to write a post-conference post.

But I'm back at my desk now (feeling of course as if I never did leave it!), so here goes.

If you read my post from the first day of activities this year, you already know how much I love this conference. You can scroll the live-at-the-time tweets, and read other post-Hippocamp coverage here and here and here, and at the official conference recap page. I'll just share some of what showed up in my notebook and program margins when I was sitting in the audience at various presentations.

First, I'll note that I was completely unprepared and overwhelmed by the lovely, positive reaction to my own session, "Writing About the Same Experience Across Multiple Pieces." Not only did people fill every seat in the break-out room (nerve-wracking and wonderful), but I was gobsmacked by how—for hours afterward and into the next day—so many writers approached me to say that the session opened up something for them about their own CNF work. I've never had that kind of response before, and almost cannot adequately express how much it meant to me. (And served as a timely reminder that when I'm in the audience and find value in a speaker's presentation, saying so afterward, face-to-face, can be a true gift to that person.)

Now, on to some of the small gems I came away with.

> In the Collage Essay Workshop (a pre-conference add-on), we got to talking about other fragmented forms, and Sarah Einstein shared her own definition of a segmented essay, which she thinks of as not exactly linear, but a series of interconnected stories that follow a timeline progression. Yes! That makes so much sense; something I think I intuitively understood but hadn't worked out a definition for.

> During a panel on query letters, one agent (sorry, didn't record who!) suggested a simple formula: "The hook, the book, the cook." What's the essential heart of the book?  What is the book about (slightly extended description)? Who is the writer?  Another noted that query letters should involve no more than "one scroll" of the email screen. Still another advised digging through the Manuscript Wish List's site or following #MSWL on Twitter.

Wendy Fontaine, part of a panel on truth in nonfiction, shared some of her captivating research on memory and recall, brain anatomy and function. This, for example: "The brain makes no biological delineation between a true memory and a false one." Whoa! Certainly makes me want to think twice, or three, maybe four times when writing about what I think I remember clearly.

> At a presentation on designing and delivering a writers' retreat, Joanne Lozar Glenn advised working backward from the intended outcome. Ask yourself what you want the writers who will attend to take away from the experience. Newly generated pages? A notebook of ideas? Feedback? New process skills? Community? A combination? Something else?

> In a talk on incorporating science into CNF, Jeannine Pfeiffer, writer and scientist, suggested ways to track down data and experts without spending a lot on abstracts or other access to scientific journals—such as using Google Scholar; the Public Library of Science; asking a professor friend to let you search on or; gaining in-person access to a local university library; and searching the terms "open access journals" + "your topic".

> At a session on content marketing, Kelly Kautz noted that for writers who are marketing themselves, their books, and/or their services, it's wise to tame the intimidating monster that is analytics data, focusing only on areas that are meaningful to you. Identify keyword combinations that work, and then purposely use them in posts or social media exchanges. That means, for me, posts incorporating the word combinations "New Jersey… Editor" "Writing teacher…NJ" and "NJ…writing coach," might be in my future.

Jim Warner, on a panel about literary citizenship, invited writers from everywhere to submit audio files from literary events, especially interviews with authors, for consideration for his podcast, CitizenLit.

> Finally, it would be impossible to sum up all the wonderfulness that was Mary Karr's keynote address, so I'll leave you with these notes:

On writing about family: "A dysfunctional family is any form of family with more than one person."
On stories within memoir: "Memoir is, by its nature, episodic. Everyone has stories."
On melodrama: "Don't write how you suffered. Write how you survived."
On writing from reality: "Don't exaggerate. Trust that what you experienced was enough."
On blame: "Judge yourself more harshly than anyone else."
On her writing process: "One sentence at a time. There's no strategy. Jump lump along. Six hours or 1000 words a day, whichever comes first."
On revision: "Make the ugly parts prettier. Make the pretty parts better. And if you can't, cut it out, because you don't want to be boring."

There was so much more. I suspect it's all going to be buzzing around my writer's brain for weeks or months to come, and maybe as long as it takes to get back there in September 2017. Which is what I want out of a conference after all.

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