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O’Rorke’s Restaurant in Gettysburg, PA, where the Gettysburg Writers Brigade meets.

 

On any given Wednesday night, on the second floor of O’Rorke’s Restaurant in Gettysburg, you’ll find a group of men and women gathered around a long table. Some of them will be eating, some sipping a beer, many of them talking to each other. Newcomers are welcome to the group, but if you sit down, you had better be ready to hear some unusual topics of conversation. How do you make dialogue snappier? How do you use Facebook to promote your writing? How do you get your novel published? Members of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade are all likely to have an opinion on the topics and probably not the same opinion, but that diversity of ideas is what makes the group so useful.

Writing a book is on a lot of people’s bucket lists, but they don’t know how to get started. The blank page that they are expected to fill with words can be intimidating.

You don’t have to face the challenge alone or uninformed, though. The Gettysburg Writer’s Brigade has been helping writers navigate the pitfalls of writing a book for nearly seven years and at the same time offering encouragement to those writers.

Will Hutchison, an author of three novels and two non-fiction books, formed the group in 2010.

“I think writers need to talk to writers and I wanted to get together with some writers to talk,” he said.

Since January 4, 2010, the group has had 372 official meetings and numerous unofficial ones. The official meetings are about 60 percent social and 40 percent writing technique with a little bit of critiquing thrown in, according to Hutchison. It seems to be a combination that works. Group membership has grown from six to eight members to 83 members on Meetup.com and 8 to 12 people on average attending the Wednesday night sessions.

Curt Herring is one of the newest members of the group. He joined in July 2016 when he was looking for tips on how to write a book about his father. A neighbor who was a member of the group told him about it.

“I like the fellowship and I’m learning something new every week,” Herring said. “I look forward to it each week.”

Not everyone in the group is an unpublished author. When the Gettysburg Writers Brigade first began, Hutchison was the only published author, but now he estimates that a third of the group has either had articles, books, poetry or something else published.

 

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Gettysburg Writers Brigade Founder Will Hutchison

“More people are getting published and that’s the bottom line,” Hutchison said.

 

Gail Furford joined the group in 2012 and now has two books published. “I like the input I get from each member,” she said. “I like learning from each other’s styles.

Even the group’s founder learns from the meetings. He has had two of his books published since the group started meeting.

“This group has also helped me write the books. I bounce ideas off the group and get feedback from the critiques,” Hutchison said.

While most writer’s groups are critiquing sessions that can be quite brutal to an insecure author, the Gettysburg Writer’s Brigade only does readings once a month. The group critiques must be constructive to help the author and not tear down the writer’s confidence or enthusiasm for writing.

A typical meeting begins with members filtering in a half hour or more before the meeting just to talk about what is happening in their lives. Between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. when it looks like everyone who is going to show up is in the room, Hutchison will get the group’s attention. Sometimes there are some general announcements to be made. Other times, he simply gets started on the evening’s presentation. It will be something having to do with writing, whether it’s technique, marketing, publishing or something else. Each week’s topics are decided on by the group at the end of the previous meeting.

“There’s a lot of pressure to have a presentation each week, but this is how the group likes it,” Hutchison said.

He originally thought the Gettysburg Writer’s Brigade would meet monthly, but the members enjoy the regularity of weekly meetings.

“It’s fun to sit with people who are going through exactly the same things you’ve gone through writing,” Hutchison said.

Furford agreed. “I’m getting so much more than I expected out the group learning from people’s different styles and the various topics,” she said.

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I facilitated my first writer’s workshop this past weekend. I wasn’t sure what to call it until I started writing this post. It wasn’t a traditional writer’s conference where there are lots of speakers and classes that an attendee can choose from. It also wasn’t a writer’s retreat where a writer’s goes off to some inspiring locale for a week to write and critique writing.

The Mountain Maryland Writers’ Institute conferences are a series of three themed weekends. The weekend that I facilitated was for history and historical fiction. The institute is part of Garrett College in Garrett County, Maryland, which is a beautiful place to visit.

Friday night was an ice breaker for me, my fellow facilitator Neil Brooks, and the attendees to get to know each other.

Saturday, we traveled to the Evergreen Heritage Center in Mount Savage, Maryland. This is a historic homestead as well as a nature and ecological study site. The students got a tour of the grounds and were told about the history of the place. Then we settled down outside in a pavilion next to an old sawmill to start talking history. It was a good back and forth discussion, which helped me keep focused on making sure I was meeting the needs of the students. I also had certain points that I wanted to make sure that I hit.

There were supposed to be three different sessions that I taught on Saturday, each with a different topic, but they all seemed to get rolled into one long discussion about how to write history and historical fiction.

That evening, there was another session that was a Q&A with the facilitators about how and why we became writers.

Sunday morning was a half day of meetings. We traveled to Oakland, Maryland, to the Garrett County Historical Society to tour the facility and see the research aides that the historical society has. I talked with them about how to find the facts for a story and how to use them in their writing. We also toured the B&O Railroad Historical Museum to talk more about the value of historical sites for research purposes.

This was different than any writers’ conference that I’ve either spoken at or attended. I liked it and I especially liked not being stuck in classrooms all day. We were out and about enjoying the sun and perfect weather. I feel like the historic sites helped the writers envision the past better and I hoped they found value in what Neil and I had to say.

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A train approaching the B&O Station in Oakland, Maryland, while the Mountain Maryland Writers’ Institute was there.

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collage-2015I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my workshop for the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute Writers Conference. It’s going to be a PowerPoint presentation. I sure hope I don’t run into some of the problems I’ve have giving PowerPoint presentations this year, such as having no way to project the presentation, having the project die on me during the presentation, and having the host computer mess up my formatting. Maybe fate is telling me not to do PowerPoint presentations!

I’ll be talking about writing historical fiction on Sunday, Aug. 9 from 9:15 a.m. to 11 a.m. I think I’ll be able to offer some useful insights not only about the fiction writing side of things, but also the historical side. I’m coming at the topic from the viewpoint of someone who write both non-fiction history as well as historical fiction.

I’m also sitting on a panel discussion with Tess Gerritsen, Robert Bidinotto, Merry Bond, Harrison Demchick, Leigh-Anne Lawrence, J.P. Sloan, Desiree Smith-Daughety, Mark Stevanus, and Jason Tinney about marketing, branding, and social media. We’ll be sharing tips and techniques to define, build, and get the word out about your books. I think I’ll record this session since I probably won’t be able to take notes while I’m participating in the discussion. This session is also on Sunday from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

I’m excited for the conference not only as a presenter but also as an attendee. I plan on attending as many different workshops as I can. There’s a lot of talented writers who will be sharing their knowledge and I’m going to learn as much as I can.

I am definitely looking forward to Tess Gerritsen’s keynote address, “I’ve Got a Great Idea for a Book…Or Do I?”

There’s also sessions on worldbuilding, creating characters with psychological conditions, and thriller writing. I can see a usefulness of the topics not only with my current writing but also with stories I want to do in the future.

Even though Nora Roberts name is no longer in the conference title, she still supports the group and is hosting a book signing at the end of the conference for all of the presenters who have published books.

All in all, this is a great regional conference. Any authors who live within an hour or two of Hagerstown shouldn’t miss it. Check out the web site here.

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