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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar, "Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction."

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.






  • By Victoria Mixon

    I don’t really attend writers conferences anymore, because it’s much more comfortable to stay home in my cozy attic office editing the books of the coolest writers on the entire planet—but I have attended a few.

    And I want to tell you a story today about something that happened at a writers conference once:

    1. Step #1: Saying what you shouldn’t

      This was a number of years ago, before I became an independent editor. We were in a workshop led by the very popular creative writing teacher at the local community college. This teacher was at the board doodling graphs and calling out for contributions and scribbling them down as fast as she could, and it was all quite exciting and loud and creative. Everyone was thrilled, and the energy ran high.

      Then things calmed down while we all thought about what we’d created together.

      And after a few minutes a small, shy woman directly in front of me raised her hand.

      “I have a question,” she said tentatively. “I’ve written a novel that was published and even favorably received, and I’m working on my second now. But it’s not coming along so well. In fact, I’m kind of paralyzed. What if I only had that one good book in me? What if I’ve lost it?”

      There was some murmuring, and the teacher said brightly and with great confidence, “Oh, don’t let it get you down. I’m sure you’re fine!”

      A woman in the back cried loudly, “I’m not just saying this because you’re my friend, but you haven’t lost it. You’re a great writer!”

      The other attendees chimed in with their encouragement and positive opinions and exhortations to ignore her anxieties. . .

      And the woman tried very hard to smile and accept their diagnosis.

      But I was close enough to see the fear growing in her eyes. So I turned to her.

      “You know,” I said, “maybe you have. Maybe you have lost it. It’s probably wherever mine is.”

      The silence that fell was instantaneous and deadly.

    2. Step #2: Facing what you haven’t

      “I don’t like what you’re saying,” called the woman in the back aggressively after a minute. “How can you tell her she’s lost it? You don’t even know her. She’s my friend!”

      “Victoria, don’t you mean maybe she’s lost her confidence?” said the teacher helpfully. “Not that she’s lost her talent?”

      “No, I mean her talent,” I said. “I mean maybe it’s gone. Maybe she can’t rely on it anymore.”

      I glanced around, and the entire hostile room looked back at me. “Isn’t that our big fear?” I said. “The terrible shadow under which we work all day long every day, year in and year out? That we’re relying on a talent that could go away? That one day we’ll wake up and we’ll have lost it?”

      The woman was looking at me as though I were her lifeline.

    3. Step #3: Doing what you can’t

      I turned back to her. “So we keep on working without it. Whether we’ve lost it or not. We just keep writing. . .because we’re writers.”

    Yeah, that was kind of the end of that particular class.

    The teacher wouldn’t smile at me as I walked out.

    However, that woman came up to me in the parking lot later and flagged me down. “I want to thank you,” she said, “for what you said in there. I feel so much better now. Nobody else seemed to get it. I’ve been really frightened.”

    “I know,” I said, and we held hands for just a second. “This work can be really frightening.”

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    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    11 Comments

11 Responses to “3 Steps to Making Friends & Enemies at Writers Conferences”

  1. Ah yes, save me from Anglo Western do-gooders. You’re never allowed to admit to any negativity in a public forum. Even at a social gathering, if someone asks you how things are going and how did something turn out, you’re not supposed to say, “Oh, xxx was a mistake.”

    I can’t remember the number of times people have reeled back in horror. “Surely you don’t mean that!” “You *can’t* say you made a mistake!” “How can you ever admit to something like that?!”

    I admit it because — and follow along here, if you can — I made a mistake. It happens. People are not infallible. I’m not infallible. But nope, no negativity, no serious discussion of issues. Needless to say, I don’t have many friends. 😛

  2. Victoria said on

    Well, the woman with the problem and I were Anglo Western. I don’t remember about the others.

  3. I love this — so true. Every writer has that nagging fear, no matter what they’ve accomplished, that they really do suck and have lost whatever writing ability they once had. It’s just a feeling, and shouldn’t get in the way of the work. Sure, you may write pages and pages of crap when feeling this way, but you can at least write SOMETHING, and there will be something in it you can use when you rewrite.
    Which is the real point, as I see it — treating writing as a discipline means accepting lots of rewriting and editing, and those are skills you can apply to any piece of writing. You may “feel like” you have no talent, but who cares? You will never “feel like” revising an MS (probably), but you do it anyway, because that’s the only way to make it better.

  4. Victoria said on

    “Treating writing as a discipline.”

    Yes.

    We don’t write in order to flatter ourselves or pay service to our feelings.

    We write because we want to be writers.

  5. Isn’t this why Einstein said creativity is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration? Creativity is wonderful, but sweating through the dry spells is what separates the writers from the one hit wonders. Or so the little fairy elves promise me.

  6. Victoria said on

    Yes, it certainly is, Mark.

    Sweating through the dry spells is what separates the professionals from the amateurs.

    You know those ‘weeder classes’ in college—where they put everyone through a hard class in the first year to weed out the debutantes and the ones who aren’t really serious about the subject matter?

    The entire life of a writer is a weeder class.

  7. […] know—I’m in the middle of our August writers conference month, including 3 Ways to Make Friends & Enemies at Writers Conferences and 5 BS Indicators for Writers Conferences (with its up-coming sequel next […]

  8. […] been talking about writers conferences here, in particular how to make friends and enemies at them. And as I promised last Monday, here are the other five things that should set off your bullshit […]

  9. […] my husband gives a presentation at a computer conference. A few weeks ago I taught you guys how to get people all riled up at you at a writers conference and what to watch out for in the way of presenters, part one and part […]

  10. […] ‘Tis the season for writers conferences. And last week I told you a story about something that happened at a conference once. […]

  11. […] and if you were busy all month actually attending those conferences you can catch up with us here, and here, and here, and especially here (a story of […]




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Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world’s expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .


SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I’m working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who has worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In his sci-fi Anghazi Series, Beyer uses his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which “space bridges” allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny’s debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield’s second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans’ fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez’ debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff’s abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star. Read more. . .


ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .


ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” Read more. . .


In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

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