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Quills Conference Debrief

From Joe Gordon, President HWG: HWG members have a long history of attending the League of Utah Writers annual Quills Conference. Every year we come home with awards (we always have more than our share of winners), a stack of business cards, and notebook pages full of tips, tricks, and tasty tidbits of knowledge gleaned from the presentations and workshops. It seemed like at the chapter meeting the following month everybody wanted to talk about what they had learned. So, taking the hint, several years ago we began a tradition of devoting that following month’s meeting to a conference debriefing and letting everyone who had attended report to the group all the neat stuff they had learned. The following are samples of some of the information, insights, and “ahas” reported this year.

From Gina Grissom: What did I learn? I need to network more and be more confident. I need to talk to everyone. My first chapter needs to have a hook, a great opening line, a relatable character and must leave the reader wanting to know more after the first sentence, the first paragraph, the first page and finally the end of the chapter. Never start with a dream or describe your character by looking in a mirror.

Diversify your writing, which means try anything and everything. You may think you excel in mysteries only to find out you do even better with science fiction. It's all about playing with words. And how will you know if you don't try?

Edit. Edit. Edit. You may think your writing is perfect in a first draft. It's not. Go through your story sentence by sentence. Read it aloud. Read it backwards. Watch for unnecessary, repetitive words. Don't just use "said" or "asked," change it up with some action. But don't overdo it, too much action and flowery description interrupts the flow of the story. Cut the unneeded. No one needs to know the minute-to-minute details, stick to what matters. Yes, your character woke up in the morning, had coffee, went for a walk, took a shower and went to work. But if nothing in those day-to-day moments is important, then cut it.

The best thing about Quills is the people you will meet.

From Patti Smith:

Respected Resources For Writers:

GRAMMAR: The Elements of Style (Fourth Edition) By William Strunk, Jr. and EB White

PUNCTUATION: The Chicago Manual of Style (17th Edition) By the University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff

DESCRIBE EMOTIONS: The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression By Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

Do You Need a Literary Agent? By Angie Hodapp

PROPOSALS – What to include:

Genre, Word Count, Marketability Analysis – (How it fits in the market, what is the competition, how successful were other books like yours, how is yours different?), Rough Outline/Chapter Summary, and1-3 sample chapters DIALOGUE TAGS Advice from Angie Hodapp, Editor. Instead of “He said”, She recommends:

  1. Use action words – She snorted. — He murmured.

  2. Use descriptions about the characters: The curl on her forehead bobbed as she spoke.

  3. Use actions to describe what the character is doing: John wiped the sweat off his brow. George tightened his tie. “What are you doing?” “Don’t look at me!” He spread his hands open.

  4. Describe the character or her voice.


Parenthesis and semi-colons are not used in fiction writing, but in non-fiction they are ok. Non-fiction is a more formal writing style.

Watch out for too many commas!

Semicolons and m-dashes can be used interchangeably

Em dashes – independent clauses need not be related. Use when there is an interrupting thought (like and aside) or in lieu of parenthesis.

Double Em dash – Use when dialogue is interrupted with a gesture.

From Bob Paterson:

Four days of wonderful talks, informative seminars, great networking, and lots of friends, old and new. I attend at a minimum, six different sessions every day. Every talk, every discussion was helpful and positive and every presentation I attended was also very professionally performed. There was a wide variety of constructive topics, definitely something of interest for everyone. Some of the subjects that jump to mind included constructive subjects such as Punctuation, Mystery Writing, Young Adult Novels, Science Fiction and Fantasy, and Setting Goals.

One session that impressed me was Proper Goal Setting. I was amazed at the importance of establishing proper, realistic goals. Here are a couple of examples of poor goals. Your goal – have an agent by X date and a book contract by X date. If this is where your focus is, your focus is misplaced. You should be working on improving your writing skills and creativity. Here is an example, from the class, on setting a realistic goal. You are a working mother with a full-time job, and small children at home. You know you can’t possibly write 1,600 words a day so you set a more reasonable, achievable goal of writing 200 words a day. Additionally, possible and realistic goals include; I will be self published by2024, I will pitch the book to three people at Quill Conference, and I will submit six query letters each month.


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