Get Ready for WriteOnCon!

WriteOnCon is near and dear to our hearts at the Winged Pen because it’s where a lot of us first connected. I’ll be attending this year and I hope you will be too! If you haven’t before, here’s some tips on making the most of it.

What is WriteOnCon?

WriteOnCon is an online writing conference. No pricey registration fees. No hotel rooms required. No extended time away from the family. All you need is $5 and Internet access.

And if you’re asking yourself if it’s worth $5, let me tell you, it’s worth a whole lot more! Not sure? You can check out a the keynote presentations for free. If you want access to everything, pay a few dollars more. Check this post for all the details.

The presentation schedule opens this Friday, the 9th, but the forums are open now. Check them out!

How Do You Do WriteOnCon?

First, Register and Create Your Profile

Register here. You can add as much or as little info as you like in your profile, but remember, what you get out of WriteOnCon depends on what you put in. Yes, you can be anonymous and just view/read the presentations. But we’re writers so it’s all about the words. Don’t you want to meet some writers in your favorite genre and/or category?

A quick bio is all you need to introduce yourself to other attendees. Don’t have a bio? Start with a simple one. Just give us a glimpse of what you write and a bit about your personality. Need an example? There’s one at the bottom of this post and every other Winged Pen post.

Don’t forget to include your social media accounts. You can keep up with new writer-friends more easily after WriteOnCon if you’ve followed each other on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Check Out the Schedule

There are three-days’ worth of presentations, some video and some written. The conference covers everything kidlit from picture books to young adult. And new this year — new adult! Craft topics include researching historical fiction, creating strong character voice, writing romance, outlining plot and character arc and more. Gain insight on the publishing industry by checking out talks by literary agents and the truth about being a New York Times best-seller from Beth Revis. You can even pitch agents your manuscripts! Whether you’re a newb or have been writing for years, there is something worthwhile!

The Forums: Get Feedback on Your Writing and Help Other Writers

Now that you’ve gotten your feet wet, it’s time to dig into the central part of WriteOnCon, the words. You can post your query, the first page of your story, and/or your first five pages for feedback by other conference attendees. You can also pay it forward by helping other writers hone their words. To do this, go to the forums. The forums are broken up by category, so head over to picture book, middle grade, young adult or new adult whichever is appropriate. Remember to be kind and use the critique sandwich – something you liked, something you think can be improved, and a last shot of encouragement.

If you get a great AH-HA! moment from comments you receive, revise real-time. Post revised queries or pages at the top of your entry so that new readers will see that, not point out the mistakes others have already noted. And remember, the best way to get help revising your own work is to reach out and help others.

Superheros

The WriteOnCon Superheroes are authors, agents and editors who will be visiting the forums and providing pro-level critiques. This is a great opportunity!  Because the early fund-raising campaign for WriteOnCon was so successful, the superheroes will be trying to provide feedback for everyone. I can’t image how they could make it through all the queries and pages. There were hundreds of posts last year. But that’s the plan. Look for superhero comments on your own posts and on others because you can a learn a lot from their critiques even if they aren’t on your writing.

Will I see you at WriteOnCon this week? I hope I do! Stop by and say hi! And remember amid the rush to hear all the presentations and to give and receive tons of feedback, to relax and enjoy the words and make sure you make a couple new writer-friends!

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult speculative fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She reviews young adult books, is a judge for the CYBILS Book Award – YA Speculative Fiction category and fangirls all things bookish. Find her on Twitter and Instagram, or on her website, writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.

 

First Pages: My Search for the Un-put-downable Start of a Story

I’m revising manuscript number five of my not-yet-illustrious writing career. The story is complete, has been read one critique partner and revised, and is ready to go to beta readers. This story has heists, fight scenes and even kissing (new for me since my prior stories were middle grade), and I’m very excited about it. I dream of agents begging me for this manuscript…if they get past the first five pages.

Sigh.

The story’s good, but the start…meh.

With past manuscripts, I’ve polished my first pages. Changed my start from the bus on the way to summer camp (which apparently rates as low as waking up in bed for interest level), to something more active. But I wasn’t looking for small improvements here. I’d really like manuscript five to be “the one,” so I pulled out all the stops on rethinking my first pages. I don’t want okay first pages. I’d settle for good, but not before trying for great.

Can I get to great?

Not sure. I hope so. (The gremlins are whispering probably not even as I write this). But I thought I’d share what I learned by trying.

What had me worried about my opening pages? Critique partners said they were “really close” but not quite there. I tried:

  • starting just before my main character’s life changed (two different ways),
  • just after her life changed,
  • a flash forward to near the climax for the “How did I get here?” effect,
  • a flashback to the incident that set the chain of events in motion,
  • the first confrontation with the bully, and
  • the first confrontation with the other main character/love interest.

I was pretty desperate for a set of first pages that would draw cries of “YES! THIS!” from critique partners and propel the reader into the manuscript. But kept getting the same very kind, sympathetic response. “Really close.”

What did I do wrong? In retrospect, it’s easy to see that some of my starts were destined to fail.

  • “No action,” said the critique partners.
  • “Scene 1 is too disconnected to scene 2.”
  • “What does this scene have to do with the story you pitched in your query?”

I felt in my gut that there was a set of great first pages for this story out there somewhere. There was this one scene, the scene the 2nd or 3rd in the manuscript depending on which first chapter option I was trying at the time, that worked. Critique partners said, “Things really started happening here.” I knew if I could just introduce the main character enough to set up this scene, that I could pull the reader in. But what words would do that, without getting my query slotted into the form reject pile before an agent ever got to that great scene?

I complained to the Pennies, because that’s why you have a writing group, so someone can pat you on the shoulder when you need it, and I found out something interesting. Julie Artz, whose lovely, heartfelt middle grade story I’d read months before, said she’d been through five versions of her first chapter. In fact, each of the first four chapters of her story had at one point been her first chapter. What? I felt like slightly less of a loser for sweating version after version of my first pages after that. Tara Lundmark, who I met at WriteOnCon when looking for more feedback on my pages, said she’d written ten different first pages for one of her stories. Armed with this knowledge, I dropped the angst and decided to just give in to as many rewrites as it took to get it right.

At this point, I’ve written 8 different versions of the start of my story, as well as polishing several versions, including the one currently titled “Chapter 1” in Scrivener. This is what I learned through the process of trying to make the start of my story un-put-downable.

 1. Don’t Fall in Love with One Set of First Pages.

I was stuck on Version 1 of my first pages for hours even after being told by trusted CP’s they weren’t right. I was stuck on Verion 2 for weeks. I loved the setting and how those pages developed my character. Allowing myself to get stuck on that idea blocked other ideas for how to start the story from flowing. Once I decided to not settle for meh, the ideas flooded in, as demonstrated by the fact that I ended up with 8 different starts. And, really, what’s the harm of trying something different? I wasn’t going to delete those words I loved, just tuck them out of the way. I could always go back to them if my new start wasn’t better.

2. Look to Master Books for Ideas.

Okay, admit it, you laughed at that flashback start. Everyone knows not to start with flashbacks. Except when they work. I was pulling ideas from master books. Both Harry Potter and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo start years earlier in their main characters’ lives. The idea for trying a flash forward came from Twilight and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Flashbacks and flash forwards can be done well, just not by me, at least not for this manuscript. But turning to master texts for ideas is great prep for brainstorming the start of your story.

3. Get Fresh Eyes.

I am blessed with wonderful critique partners who love me even when my words aren’t working. My closest critique partners had been hacking at this story idea with me from the idea stage, seven months before I hit my first pages wall. So when I got stuck, I wasn’t the only one too close to the story to see the pages clearly, they were too. That was stressful! Who do you turn to when that happens?

I found a couple great options: Adventures in YA Publishing holds a monthly first five pages workshop that is fabulous. (We also host our 4 on 400 contest monthly, but I can’t sub to that one!) WriteOnCon hosts an online writing conference with forums for posting your work and exchanging critiques with other writers. If all else fails, you can find a new critique partner. Someone I met on the WriteOnCon Forums asked if I wanted to exchange chapters, and since we’d already critiqued each others’ first five page and her comments were helpful, it was an easy decision. Just what I needed! A new reader who knew nothing about my story and had no worries about disappointing me.

4. Remember that Your First Pages Aren’t Your Only Pages.

I was jealous of Gita Trelease’s gorgeous first pages. They’d been right from soooo early in her revision process. Then, I was reminded that she was sweating her climax. The grass may look greener over by your critique partner’s writing desk, but there are weeds in everyone’s lawn.

Also, eventually you need to let those first pages rest so you can fix up the all the other pages in your manuscript. Don’t worry, they’ll still be there for you to take another look at later.

So, after writing 8 versions of my first pages, workshopping at Adventures in YA Publishing and WriteOnCon, and polishing the final pick, are my first pages unputdownable? Sigh. No. But they’re pretty good. Good enough that I’m going to take my own advice and move onto revising the rest of the story.

Maybe version 9 of my first pages will come to me while I revise.

Or maybe I’ll figure out how to polish this version until it’s unputdownable.

DON’T STOP HERE! If you made it through this post, I bet you’re a writer. And if you’re a writer, you’ve written some first pages and have something to say on this topic. HOW MANY VERSIONS OF FIRST PAGES DID YOU WRITE FOR YOUR WORK IN PROGRESS? WHAT HELPED YOU FIND THE RIGHT START FOR YOUR STORY? I’m no expert! Let’s learn together. Leave comments below!

Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure and young adult thrillers with heroines much braver than she is. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.