2016-17 West Coast Writing Workshops

So it’s halfway through the year … but now that I’m learning to walk the walk, I’ve started paying attention to upcoming writing conferences and workshops. There are tons. Being a Cali girl, though, some of the East Coast conferences – although they look fantastic – are just too pricey to get to. I want to spend my money … and my time … wisely.

(Disclaimer: please note lack of possessive apostrophe in the titles of these conferences is not my choice.)

Here are some upcoming West Coast events that I’m considering:

The Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference
June 17-19, 2016
Los Angeles, CA

2008-era website but looks like a legit conference. The schedule looks pretty interesting – check it out here. Good chance to visit my UCLA roomies?

Napa Valley Writers’ Conference
July 24-29, 2016
Napa, CA

This conference had me at “Writers'” including an apostrophe … but looks like this conference has an application process rather than straight first-come-first-served registration, which might tony up the party a bit. Check it out here. If they let you in – it’s $975 to participate. Plus you have to give them a $25 reading fee to read through your submitted writing sample. Hmmm.

Pacific Northwest Writers Conference
July 28-31
Seattle, WA

A bit of a confusing website, but managed to find the conference schedule here. Pet peeve no-no: their “about” is a video without backup text on the page. No, no, no. Never do this. BUT – looks like it could be a good conference, website aside. Conference registration $475. At the DoubleTree in Seattle (airport).

Mendocino Coast Writers Conference
August 4-7, 2016
Ft. Bragg, CA

Hmmm – Ft. Bragg in August sounds nice. This one is two days of workshops, followed by an optional “Publishing Boot Camp” on Aug. 7. Surprisingly pricey: $575 early bird registration.

The 2016 Writing Workshop of San Francisco
September 10, 2016 
San Francisco, CA

Looks like this one is a focused 1-day workshop limited to 140 people. PitchFest for an extra fee + the presenter is Chuck Sambuchino. I am reading his book Create Your Writer Platform right now (thus all the blogging).

Southwest Washington Writers Conference
September 17, 2016
Centralia, WA

A one-day conference at Centralia College. Check out the schedule here. I think I’ll pass on this one (although I DO have that book idea for the environmental lawyer in Seattle …).

Southern California Writers’ Conference
September 23-25, 2016

Irvine, CA

Yea! Another apostrophe in the title! The schedule for this one has yet to be announced (as of 5/27/16). Will be posted here when available.

San Francisco Writers Conference
February 16-19, 2017
San Francisco, CA

I missed this conference in 2016 but am considering attending in 2017. Early bird registration (until June 1) is $575 – doesn’t say what it goes up to after that. Optional speed dating add’l fee.

Anybody know anything happening in Oregon? Lemmeno if you’re going to a different conference that you recommend – I’ll add it to this list!

Thanks –


So are You a Plotter or a Panster?

noun : one that plots: as
a : a person who schemes or conspires
b : a contriver of a literary plot

noun: one who flies by the seat of their pants: as
a: a person who doesn’t plan anything out
b: a person who plans very little

I was sitting at lunch with author Sandy Baker, a friend of my mom’s who happens to also be the president of our local Redwood chapter of the California Writers Club (arrgh – no apostrophe in the title of this group, which JUST KILLS me. I mean … we’re writers, right? Shouldn’t it be “California WRITERS’ Club”??). But I digress …

So, anyhow, I’m sitting there at lunch in Santa Rosa and she’s giving me all sorts of great advice about what to do now that I have a completed manuscript. And she asks me: “Are you a plotter or a panster?”

Clearly I’m supposed to know what this means, so I kinda fudge my answer. “I guess I’m a little of both,” I lie, hoping this is an adequate response.

Thank God her next lines explain what the hell we are talking about. Evidently “plotters” plan everything out in advance of writing, while “pansters” fly by the seat of their pants.

So later, I’m thinking about this. Which am I?

With many half-finished story ideas … but only one completed manuscript to my name … I’m not sure I’ve fully decided what I am quite yet. Completing my first manuscript was kind of like birthing my first child – I had no freakin’ idea what to expect. Was I going to need an epidural, the doctor asks me weeks in advance? HELL YES, it turns out.

So finishing that first manuscript was such an unknown. I wrote a few key scenes. Then I rewrote everything. Then I stopped for a few months. Then I freaked out after reading the first chapter of all my favorite YA novels and rewrote everything in first person. Then I signed up for NaNoWriMo and wrote a shit-pot every single day for the month of November, despite the fact that it’s my busiest time of year for Vice Communications (the holiday season is kind of my own personal tax-season).

As Shift was starting to feel like a finished story, I happened to take this amazing screenwriting class at the Santa Rosa Junior College, taught by a fabulous, energetic screenwriter named Anne Jordan – who, incidentally, has the longest, most fabulous legs, ever. Though the class was focused on scripts, she introduced an outlining process that might just change my writing life forever. Here’s the gist.

  • Scripts are about 100 pages long – period. This is what is expected whether you are turning in Ghandi or The Hangover.
  • The script is divided into four equal sections (let’s just say 25 pages, each).
    • ACT I – Setting the Scene > Turning Point
    • ACT IIa – Fun & Games > Turning Point
    • ACT IIb – Bad Guys Set In > All is Lost
    • ACT III – Call to Action  > Resolution

(There’s a lot more detail here, obviously, but I don’t want to give away Anne’s material. If you want to know more, order her book The Big Secret: What Hollywood Won’t Tell You. )


So I go home and immediately apply this theory to my 250-page manuscript and it was amazing. My manuscript reached these points in the story almost to the page. A validating moment.

So now I’m working on Shift II: The Call (working title), and I have become much more of a plotter. I’ve outlined most of the story into Anne’s outline format, so I know where I’m headed. And it’s kind of awesome – I mean, in my professional life in marketing, would I ever embark on a big project without having a project outline to follow? Nope. Never.

The outline also allows me to jump around, the way I did when writing Shift. As of now, I have written the opening scene, the final scene, one pivotal scene in the middle and one “fun” scene blocked out. The outline allows me to be a “planster,” if you will. I can write a scene here and there as it comes to me, but I always know where I’m going.

So how do you approach your writing? I know there are a lot of us out there. Let us know what works for you!


On Momentum …

noun, plural momenta
[moh-men-tuh], momentums.
1. force or speed of movement; impetus, as of a physical object or course of events

What is is about momentum? It seems like I am an “all or nothing girl” – whether it’s with my writing or cleaning the garage or working out or remembering to water my plants. If I can JUST … tip over the edge to get the ball rolling, I disappear into my project, only to look up hours later wondering where the time went. And it’s GREAT!

But what about all the other days?

Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love and all-around fabulous, inspirational person of light) has a great take on this. In her latest book Big Magic she talks about just being a workhorse – how yes, it’s wonderful on those days where inspiration flows and the words stream out of your fingertips onto the keyboard. But for the other six days of the week … it’s plain, good-old-fashioned hard work. Just plug away at it – inspiration will come and go, but there is always work that can be done.

I have a poster in my office with a quote from Thomas Edison:
edison quote

So I know a LOT of people who wish they were writing. Who want to write. Who someday-when-life-stops-getting-in-the-way are going to write. But guess what? THIS DAY NEVER COMES.

Bottom line: writers write. They write blogs and chapters and short stories and character descriptions and screenplays (and, in my case, sometimes wine labels and websites and wine club newsletters).

Sometimes the writing is great. Sometimes … not so much. But that’s not really the point, is it? The point is to WRITE.

The other thing writers do a LOT of? READ. Once your writing gets underway, your reading experience undergoes a subtle shift. (haha – pun intended). You start to notice really beautiful writing, or effective writing, or great dialogue. (You also, unfortunately, begin to notice the flip side to these things, but this is helpful in its own way, too.) Read widely. Read in your genre and outside your genre. Read magazine articles and blog posts and biographies. It will help your writing immensely.

So … I gotta go. Shift II beckons and Emily just had too much to drink at her first college party … .

Cheers –

Reading, Writing & Red Wine

If writing is pain then reading is pleasure … and a dash of good red wine makes both far more palatable. I invite you to join me as I explore the fickle, fascinating and (sometimes) frustrating  journey towards the publication of my first novel (and beyond?).

So first –  the good news: I finally finished* my first manuscript! Yea!
*Quick caveat: I’m not sure “finished” is ever possible. But the story is complete, and I’m looking for an agent, so we are using it!

I’m trying not to downplay this first bit. As all first-time (or 20th-time) novelists know, it’s quite a personal achievement. For years I had bits and pieces of stories written. Several chapters here, an outline there, a story I couldn’t stop thinking about.

But I wasn’t getting it done. Heck – it’s EASY to come up with excuses not to write. Kids need attention. Work needs attention. That recipe I’ve been wanting to try needs attention. Frankly – it’s a lot easier to do just about ANYTHING rather than sit down in front of that blank screen and give yourself permission to write.

And the self doubt. Paralyzing. I found it to be a radically bi-polar experience (forgive me for using that term somewhat lightly). One day I’d sit and the words would flow and I would believe in myself. Man! I was SO FREAKIN’ good!

Then, inevitably, what seemed like just moments later, the self doubt would inevitably come crashing down.

“WHO ARE YOU?” it said in a scathing voice, “to think that you have ANY writing talent whatsoever??”

(Self-doubt’s best friend procrastination often joined the party, accompanied by good-old-fashioned laziness.)

So for a long time, I was “someone who wanted to be a writer.” And I have met a LOT of people stuck in that stage.

So here’s how I got the words flowing out of my fingers onto the page: I read. A lot. I read authors in my genre. I read authors outside of my genre. I re-read some of my favorite authors (Diana Gabaldon, J.K. Rowling, Kathryn Stockett, Cheryl Strayed, Stephanie Meyer), trying to pick apart what it was that worked so well with their books. I even read some authors I truly dislike – because if they got published, I wanted to know why!

I joined the local Redwood chapter of the California Writers Club. I took writing seminars. And, I read a lot of books and articles and blog posts about creativity and the writing process. It was comforting to realize that almost everyone else has this strange love-hate relationship with writing as well. It’s compelling. It’s exhausting.

(For those of you still stuck in that place where you doubt the value of your creativity, I humbly recommend the brilliant Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic.” No matter where you are in your internal struggle, this book may offer you the nugget of wisdom (or, more accurately, the permission) to go for it.)

I also tried to get out of my weird-little-YA-world by exploring other modes writing. I took a songwriting class (not so great). I took a screenwriting class from the fabulous Anne Jordan (A-MAZ-ING). I took part in the 2015 NaNoWriMo writing challenge.

So here I am, sitting proudly with my shiny new 67,200-word manuscript for Shift.


Turns out this is just the first hill to climb. And there are many hills, so dig in people. While the publishing world has busted wide open – turns out it’s just as confusing and crazy as it was before self-publishing. I’ve spent the last few months on a self-guided boot camp learning about an industry in flux, and I’m still a raw newbie getting my bearings.

So that’s what this blog will primarily be about. This discovery of a new field, learning how to query an agent, how to perform a five-minute pitch, working with an editor. I am sure there are many like me out there – and I look forward to hearing from you.