The First Writer Unboxed Un-Conference: Unbelievably Valuable

I returned Friday night from the first-ever writer’s conference sponsored by the popular blog, Writer Unboxed, and my head is exploding. Thousands of writing blogs exist, but Writer Unboxed has always felt different and special to me. WU is a warm, welcoming community. It feels like family. And meeting all of the members of this community in person for the first time re-enforced that feeling.

There were so many take-aways from this conference that I don’t know where to begin. After each workshop, I found myself wanting to rush to my laptop and revise my work in progress, right then and there.

Unlike many writer’s conferences, the Writer Unboxed Un-Conference focused its workshops solely on the craft of writing, as opposed to marketing, agent meetings, and the publishing industry. The quality of the writing is what we as writers can control. There were also numerous opportunities to engage with other writers and even read work aloud during the bedtime stories sessions that concluded each day in the library of the historic Hawthorne Inn in Salem, MA.

The sessions featured seasoned presenters ranging from writers to writing coaches and literary agents. Here are some highlights:

Wired for Story, Lisa Cron: The author of Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, Cron said many writers don’t spend enough time figuring out their character’s internal goals and struggles before they sit down to write.

“A story is how what happens effects someone in pursuit of a difficult goal and how they change as a result. That is what your story is actually about. Story is internal, not external.” Lisa urged writers to fully develop their characters, starting with the internal needs and goals, before putting words on the page. She covered the five layers of story, which I will cover in another post.

Voice-Finding Your Self and Your Subject, Meg Rosoff: Writers must dig deep into their unconscious brain, where the dark stuff resides, to bring power and depth to their writing. “Finding your subject is a matter of looking into your head and finding those places you need to explore,” she said.
“We’re looking for places of denseness in the unconscious mind. They are the scary and dark places–the places that have not yet been opened up.”

How Good Manuscripts Go Wrong, Donald Maass: Literary agent Donald Maass has read thousands of manuscripts and he can spot the flaws and places where they go wrong. “What is it that causes us to really fall in love with a book? You are welcomed into the world of the story,” Maass said. “There is a confidence to a good opening that tells you the author knows what’s going on here. I can relax. I’m in the hands of a good story teller. You feel a sense of comfort, that the author is in control of the story.”

Even good openings can go south in the soggy middle of the manuscripts. That’s where the author either keeps the reader engaged or causes the reader to put down the book. Here’s the key.
As you continue reading, you stay interested because “there’s always some new insight, some deeper level of feeling. It’s never uninteresting. The middle of the book continues to surprise and intrigue and keep you engaged. As you finish you get the feeling there is a reason I read this book. There’s something that’s important, something that touched me, that illuminated something for me ”

Write On-On Perseverance, Therese Walsh and Jael McHenry: How does a writer keep writing through the doubts and disappointments, through the early rough drafts.

“For me it comes down to the characters. If the characters come alive for me I want to spend two or three years with that character,” Walsh said.

McHenry said one must keep the goal in mind.
“Continuing to work on your novel doesn’t guarantee you will get published but quitting guarantees you won’t,” she said.

These snippets don’t do justice to the depth of wisdom these excellent presenters shared and I will cover several of the topics in more depth in future posts.

For now I want to express my thanks to Writer Unboxed Founding Mama Therese Walsh and her husband, Sean, and all of the dedicated WU’ers who organized this fabulous conference. I’ve made many friends in this amazing community and I look forward to future opportunities to engage with this awesome community.


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17 responses to “The First Writer Unboxed Un-Conference: Unbelievably Valuable

  1. Really enjoyed meeting you IRL, and getting to know you, Chris! Great takeaways here. As I’m sure you’d concede, no matter how you describe it, you’re scratching the surface of what happened in Salem. It’s a week I’ll never forget. A writerly life-altering experience.

    • Thanks, Vaughn. I couldn’t agree more. As others have noted, it’s hard to describe the totality of the experience to those who weren’t there. WU is am amazing community. This conference has reinvigorated me, as I know it has for you. Write on!

  2. Have just discovered your blog through this post. It sounds like a fantastic conference! I’m a long-time reader of WU. If they do this again, I may just try to hop across the pond (from the UK). Thanks for the write up 🙂

    • Thank you for your kind words, Sophie. WU is such a great blog. I am sure they will do another conference, though I don’t think it will be an annual event. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Good incites on the conference. It’s all still swirling around my head. So much to digest. It was so good to meet you and looking forward to more of your writing!

  4. Priya Gill

    Great post Blake. Thank you for sharing your insights. I really wanted to go for the conference and it sounds like you (and Vaughn and all the attendees) had a great time and learnt a bunch. Maybe another year once my little boy is older and can stay a few days without mom. I look forward to your future posts to at least “visit” the unconference remotely.

  5. It was wonderful to meet you, Chris. I’m so glad you were a part of the Un-Conference. A lot has happened since I’ve been back home, but the Un-Con high is still keeping me going on. Write on, right?

    • Therese, thank you! You made it happen. I know I speak for the entire WU community when I express my gratitude for the warm and welcoming culture you have created within this writer’s community. Even though I had never met any of you prior to Salem, I felt I knew you and the openness and support each of us manifested toward one another was a hallmark of the conference and this community. Write on!

  6. Pingback: And Then This Happened | VR BARKOWSKI

  7. Chris,

    I’m still getting around to everybody’s wrap-ups of the UnCon. Great synopses of some of the sessions! They were mind-boggling and story-altering. I’ll never forget the impact it has had on me.

    It was a pleasure meeting you in real life, and I look forward to the day we’ll meet again. Write on!

    • Mike, thanks for your kind words. The UnCon recaps I’ve read on our colleagues’ blogs have been amazing. I look forward to seeing you again. Let’s hope for WU UnCon2 in 2016.

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