October 20th, 2017

5 Tips for Presenting an Engaging Workshop

“Picture them in their underwear.”

Has there ever been a more stupid piece of advice? Yes, I know it was delivered by none other than the quintessential dad of my generation, Mike Brady.

But his perm and that piece of advice were both mistakes. That trick might make you see your audience in a new light — or wish someone would turn off the lights — but it won’t actually make your presentation better.

What can? Below are five quick tips for making your workshop more engaging for your audience.

Woman speaking in front of a room

1. Consider your hook.

You’ve heard a million times how stories need a great hook. Why would presentations be any different? “I’m here to talk about blah, blah, blah” doesn’t grab an audience’s attention. Figure out a better way to hook your audience and introduce your subject. Here are some hook ideas:

  • Personal story
  • Intriguing facts/statistics
  • Poignant example
  • Joke related to the topic (No willy-nilly “an angel, a demon, and a writer walk into a bar…”)
  • Object lesson
  • Interactive quiz

Your introduction doesn’t need to be long, but enough to excite your audience and make them believe it’s worth listening to the rest of what you’re going to say. You can also use your hook to establish rapport and express your unique personality (what we call voice on the page).

2. Break the presentation into parts.

However long you’re given to speak to your audience, it’s too long. That is, our attention span for a speaker lasts maybe 15-20 minutes. Thus the popularity of TED Talks, which aim for no more than 18 minutes!

Given this attention span, an hour-long speech means you have to gain your listeners’ attention with the opening hook, but then regain it two more times. The best way to do this is to present information in chunks.

Peanuts Comic - Lucy to Charlie Brown: "I have three hints for becoming a good speaker, Charlie Brown. You must know when to stand up, when to speak up, and when to shut up."

Break up the long presentation by:

  • inserting a video clip
  • including a breakout session
  • pausing to take and answer questions
  • sharing an example
  • telling a story

Any time you shift how you present information, you create an opportunity to reclaim your audience’s attention. Mix it up, and be creative in maintaining their focus.

3. Make sure you have a takeaway.

We can concentrate so much on what we want to say that we don’t consider what we want our audience to hear. But ask yourself:

  • What is the crux of what I want to communicate?
  • What takeaway do I want attendees to have?
  • What is the call to action?

Knowing your ultimate goal helps you decide which content to include and which isn’t all that important. It also ensures you organize your talk in a way that you end with the conclusion you want your audience to draw. Don’t make this presentation solely about what you can present; ask what information your audience could really use.

4. Practice, practice, practice.

When I wrote my first writers workshop, I thought it was in pretty good shape. But I decided to practice aloud. Thank goodness. I had included way too much information, my points meandered, and even I would have supremely bored if that had been the presentation I actually gave. But I made critical changes that refocused my content and felt much better about the result.

Look, once you stand up and present the way you would in the actual room, you get a far better idea of how things will go. It’s particularly difficult to know how long your presentation will run based on the script or outline you have on the page. Take the extra time to do a run-through and identify potential problems. Then fix them before you arrive.

5. Relax and enjoy.

If you’ve been booked as a speaker, your audience wants you to succeed. Those writers want to learn from you. They’re rooting for you.

Don’t picture them in their underwear (please), but do remember they’re human. Moreover, 20% of people report a fear of public speaking, so one out of five in your audience are already impressed that you’re up there and definitely want things to go well for you.

So try to relegate your nerves to a minor role, and let your passion for the subject and your camaraderie with other writers carry you through. In short, enjoy yourself.

What practical tips do you have to offer to writers preparing a presentation? What do you believe engages audiences best?

About Julie

Julie Glover writes cozy mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.

Julie is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. You can visit her website here and also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

October 18th, 2017

Plot Up A Storm with the Team from WITS

plotting your story

 

You’re working on your latest manuscript, or polishing the story idea you want to blaze into Word Glory during NaNoWriMo. This is your masterpiece. The story that will grab your reader and pull him into your world and through the story with you.

It. Has. To. Be. Perfect. No pressure.

We’re not here to give you a lesson in plotting, but it IS just a few weeks until some of you enter into the madness of National Novel Writing Month. And we’re in the mood this week to be super-nice to all of our WITS pals – hence Monday’s Pimp and Promote.

Plus, some of us here at WITS *cough* are stuck on some sticky plot points. (Yeah, it’s me. Laura) (Fae is right here alongside you, Laura.) (And I’m having a heck of a time too. Jenny)

So, we’re inviting you, amazing WITS readers, to help us with our plot nasties and throw out some sticky plots of your own that you need to untangle. 

What about all you pantsers who hear the word “plot” and hide under your desk?

Some of us are that way too. But we still have story lines that must be worked out and plot points that must be doctored. Look down in the comments – we’re going to brainstorm right along with you. This is a group effort, so please don’t leave us hanging down there with our plot undies flapping in the wind.

We are prepared to roll up our sleeves and dig into these “OMG, what do I do now” moments with you.

“What if I don’t have the foggiest idea what ‘plot’ is?”

Some of you might need a basic framework to hang your story around. The Plot Whisperer, Martha Alderson, provides it! (Click these links, y’all – they are golden!)

Martha Alderson’s Plot Planner

 

Or, if you’re a short story writer, you might want to see Freitag’s story pyramid. Why use a different diagram for a short story? Shorter stories don’t usually have time for the mini black moment / crisis that comes in Act 2 of a novel.

What if you just want a list of plot types? Darcy Pattison’s got you covered with her plot templates!

Randy Ingermanson is the ‘Snowflake Guy’. His Snowflake plotting method is intriguing. You start with a logline, and build a novel from that. Sound impossible? Read this, and you’ll find it isn’t!  By the way, his newsletters are packed with awesome free info on time management, craft, and marketing. 

Here are some craft books we recommend that may help you on plotting and story craft in general:

Writing Fiction for Dummies – Randy Ingermanson

Beginnings Middles and Ends – Nancy Kress

Story Genius – Lisa Cron

Writing the Breakout Novel – Donald Maass (don’t forget the workbook too)

Planning Your Novel – Janice Hardy

Save the Cat! – Blake Snyder (there are more in this series, if this method resonates with you)

Writing Screenplays That Sell – Michael Hauge

Stein on Writing – Sol Stein

Jenny: Heck, I wrote a whole post on craft books a few years back – check that magic out if you want to find some golden resources.

Most of us at WITS feel like this when it comes to plotting:

“I hate when people ask what a book is about. People who read for plot, people who suck out the story like the cream filling in an Oreo, should stick to comic strips and soap operas. . . . Every book worth a damn is about emotions and love and death and pain. It’s about words. It’s about a man dealing with life. Okay?” ~ J.R. Moehringer 

And if all of this plotting nonsense gives you the heebie-jeebies…if you are in the J.R. Moehringer writing camp and think plot is overrated, that’s okay too. You can read his quote above and smile. You’re still invited to provide feedback to other people down in the comments. 

Love,
The WITS Blogging Team

October 16th, 2017

Pimp and Promote!

We haven’t done this in a while – So here are the rules:

How does this work?

To quote the genie in Aladdin, “There are a few provisos, a couple of quid-pro-quos…”

  • Pimp out somebody else’s work – this can be a favorite author, blogger, post or book you’ve read, a wonderful teacher or just someone who had profound influence on you as a writer or a person. Please limit your comments to one work.
    AND
  • Promote one of your projects that you’re excited about – a hobby, a blog, a book, or a new direction your writing is taking you. You decide. Just tell us about it in the comments! (Please restrain your enthusiasm to just oneof your WIPs.) The rest of us will jump in and “ooooh and ahh” at you, and likely promote your project even further because we’re just so darn excited today.

 

READY? GO!

October 13th, 2017

Why “Never Stop Learning” Should Be Every Writer’s Motto

Now and then, I meet a multi-published, award-winning author whom I haven’t read before and ask, “Which book of yours should I read first?” They rarely suggest their debut book. Quite often, they’ll say something like, “My first books were okay, but I really hit my stride with [fabulous book title].

If they suggest the debut, it’s often because that was the sixth book they actually wrote or they spent six years writing and rewriting it.

What happened between Before and After? They learned stuff. Stuff like:

  • Story structure that made the novel flow better
  • Character development that made their protagonist and antagonist more convincing
  • Prose and grammar skills that made their writing compelling
  • Personal insights that clarified which genre they should write and the theme their books convey
  • Time management that helped them turn out more consistently good stories

Given how you’re reading a writing blog, I assume you also want to learn stuff. And that’s great. But how can you do it? How do you make sure your stories just get better and better?

1. Craft books.

We live in an amazing time when there are so many great books about the craft of writing. You can find information on story structure, writing approaches, point of view, specific genres, and just about anything else you can think of.

Make it a goal to read at least a couple of craft books each year. Be selective, because you can get so swamped with information from these books that you feel paralyzed about writing another word.

A few of my personal favorites:

2. Classes.

Since I’m currently penning a mystery, I recently took an online course on Autopsies for Authors. Although my family and friends didn’t fully enjoy my sharing postmortem trivia at every turn, I found the course fascinating and gathered information to incorporate into my story.

Whether it’s craft, marketing, or specific topics, excellent writing courses are available through several sources, including Savvy Authors, W.A.N.A. International, Lawson Writer’s Academy, and RWA University and RWA chapters. Look around, ask around, and find what you need. Someone, somewhere is teaching a class that will improve your writing.

3. Conferences.

Conferences package all that education into a compact amount of time. Whether it’s a local chapter conference or a week-long writing workshop, such events allow you to focus on your writing in a way that isn’t as likely to happen in your house. Where distractions pop up like house elves begging for socks, and all a decent person can do is oblige.

Take advantage of intensive opportunities to improve your writing and industry know-how. Attend RWA National or take a Cruising Writers retreat. Find conferences in your particular genre, like ThrillerFest or SCBWI. Check local sources for day or weekend events worth attending. You’ll return with increased knowledge and enthusiasm for your writing.

4. Community.

Speaking of conferences, that’s also a place to foster community. Much of what I’ve learned about writing has come straight from conversations with other writers. Some have background in an area I don’t, others are farther along in their journey and have great mentoring advice, and plenty are in the pre-published trenches where I am and have insights as well. Not only does community support us personally (and emotionally when we feel like shredding our work in progress because we’re convinced we suck); community educates us.

Make use of writing chapters you can join. Find beta readers and critique partners. Get online and chat with other writers, specifically asking questions of people who know things you want to know. As long as you’re not a wild-eyed stalker about it, most people are happy to share what they’ve learned. Comment on blogs like this one, and you’ll find that conversations start up and become friendships. Create community.

5. Contests.

I’ll be straight, y’all—writing contests are a hit-or-miss activity for learning. Some contests I’ve entered have given me wonderful feedback, and other times the results I got were less than helpful. But when I’ve received effective critique, it’s been well worth my effort and entry fee. Once you’ve fostered that community mentioned above, ask others about the quality of a particular contest and which ones are worth entering.

Generally speaking, contests with trained judges and/or specific judging guidelines will offer better feedback. Contest feedback helps to clarify what captures a reader’s attention, where your strengths and weaknesses are, and who your ideal audience might be.

But also volunteer to judge some contests. You learn an awful lot by critiquing others’ entries. What common mistakes do you see, that you should then avoid? What keeps you turning pages, and how does that inform your own characterization and pacing? What feedback would you give others, that you really should give yourself too?

We have all kinds of ways to keep getting better as writers. But the way you get those readers who say, “Her books just keep getting better and better” is to never stop learning. There’s always something else you can discover to strengthen your storytelling and writing skills.

Which learning tools have been most helpful in improving your writing?

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WITS Readers! We hope you are enjoying Julie as much as we are because you will be seeing a lot more of her. She is our latest resident blogger-in-charge here at Writers In The Storm and we’re delighted to have her on the team. Help us show her some love, down in the comments!

~ Fae, Jen, Laura and Sherry

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About Julie

Julie Glover writes cozy mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.

Julie is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. You can visit her website here and also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

October 11th, 2017

Why Every Writer Needs Writer’s Events

For those of you who have followed my posts over the years, you know I joke a lot about being queen of the troll introverts. I’m happy in my writing cave, it’s comfy there. I have my espresso machine and my fat cats for company. And I have awesome WiFi which means I can chat with all the writers I want via social media and email and FaceTime/Skype. Why would I ever want to leave?

Image via Pixabay

Well, over the last few months, I did leave. I went to three vastly different writer’s events: In May, I participated in the Gaithersburg Book Festival (GBF). Then in August, I went to New York for the Writer’s Digest Conference. And September was the Women’s Fiction Writers Association retreat.

My thoughts on the different types of events:

The Book Festival

GBF is my home town book festival. They’ve brought in some amazing authors over the years so when I got the letter that my application had been accepted, I was equal parts ecstatic and terrified. Plus, the event was taking place a week after my debut released. I’d never – NEVER – done a book event before.

What I did right:

Since it was my very first event, I asked a couple of other debut authors I’d become friendly with and who lived in striking distance, if they wanted to submit applications with me. It was much easier getting onto the stage with others who shared some of the same fears and excitement.

What I learned:

Knowing your book and talking about your book are not necessarily the same. In the couple of months leading up to my debut, I wrote a lot of guest posts for various blogs and responded to many of the same interview questions in each. I thought I was ready to answer almost any question that came my way. Until I was asked those questions live.

Why it’s worth going:

Aside from the fun of getting to talk about your book, I loved the opportunity of interacting with readers and getting to meet a few favorite authors who, until that day, I’d only interacted with via social media. It also gave me the confidence to know I could do it. I may not have been brilliant that first time, I may not ever be brilliant at this type of event, but I can do it nonetheless (and I’m already looking at other opportunities for when my second book releases next year).

If you’re not published yet, go meet authors and support the event. One of the first years I went, I fan-girled over a favorite author. I bought her book from the indie selling on site even though I already had a copy at home and asked her to sign. There weren’t a lot of people at the signing tables which gave us the opportunity to talk. She ended up blurbing my debut.

 

The Large Conference

I’m not a large conference kinda gal. I find them overwhelming and underwhelming. But since this was my debut year, I was pushing myself to take on things I haven’t done or would usually steer clear of, so not only did I register to attend, I signed up to present.

What I did right:

I told my inner doubter to shut it and submitted those speaker proposals. And then agreed to not only do a solo presentation, but participate in two panels. Hey, if you’re pushing past your comfort zone, jump straight into the deep end. And to reward myself for being so brave, I went up for the conference a day early to meet my editor and attend a workshop I’ve been wanting to do for ages but never had the opportunity.

What I learned:

It actually is possible to put lipstick on a troll and make her somewhat presentable. 🙂  In all seriousness though, the experience was a great reminder that you can do whatever you want once you believe in yourself. I may never become a highly sought-after speaker, but I didn’t completely embarrass myself and I was able to help a few people with the information I presented. And you know what else? It was fun.

Why it’s worth going:

You never know who will be in the audience. A number of folks approached me after the various sessions to ask questions about the topics addressed. I had the pleasure of bringing up the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and, as a result, the group lucked out with a few new members.

Another audience member picked up my book at the onsite bookstore. Turns out she’s local to my area and runs a radio program discussing books. She contacted me and I got to check one more first off my list – the program will air later this month.

And, of course, if you’re unpublished, these events are a gold mine for meeting and pitching agents and connecting with other writers.

 

The Writer’s Retreat

The WFWA retreat is a bit of a hybrid event. We have a presenter give two half-days of a craft workshop, and there are discussion groups on marketing and the business of writing and writer’s life. But there’s also writing time and plenty of socializing time.

What I did right:

This one is a bit harder for me since I’m the retreat organizer, so my time during this event is mostly spent running around making sure things are running smoothly. That said, I did two things differently this year: (1) I made myself sit and write on a new project, and (2) I took off the organizer hat long enough to socialize and relax.

What I learned:

It doesn’t matter how comfortable you are in your writing cave, every writer needs to connect with other writers from time to time. Even – especially – during those times when you think you’d rather hide in the darkest part of the cave.

Why it’s worth going:

The energy and creativity in a room of writers, particularly those who write the same genre, is better than a giant pot of coffee. I was pretty worn down by the time I got to Albuquerque for the retreat and, to be honest, my thought in the days leading up to the event was to get through it and regroup after. But once I was there with my writing tribe, I was swept up in the creativity and the bonding over our shared experiences, and I left with an optimism that I hadn’t had days before.

The more relaxed atmosphere of retreats allows everyone to be themselves, to share their experiences, ask questions, let their guard down, be writers.

 

There are, of course, plenty of other types of events – writer’s cruises; small group retreats that are only focused on writing and reading your work; pitch events; local meet-ups, etc. Depending on your available resources (time and money), some may be more doable than others. But all have value. You’ll get from any event what you want to gain from it. From someone who didn’t attend a writer’s event for years when I first started, this introvert is a convert.

What type of writer events do you enjoy most? What’s something you learned about yourself from attending a writer event? What’s held you back from attending or participating?

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About Orly

 

Orly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world. Now she spends her days chatting up imaginary friends, drinking entirely too much coffee, and negotiating writing space around two over-fed cats. She is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, a quarterly contributor to Thinking Through Our Fingers blog and Writers In The Storm blog, and an active member of the Tall Poppy Writers. Her debut women’s fiction, The Distance Home, released from Forge in May 2017, and Carousel Beach will be releasing May 2018.

You can find her online at http://www.orlykonig.com or on GoodreadsTwitterFacebookInstagram, and Pinterest