This past weekend I attended a writing conference and workshop at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It was my first solo trip out of state and I had to wake up at 4:00 in the morning in order to get there on time for check-in (and account for any construction-based delays). Even in my groggy state I still felt giddiness when I passed the sign saying “Pennsylvania Welcomes You,” signaling that I was really on my way. Over the three and a half days I spent at JMU, I met several awesome people who are also extremely talented writers and also gleaned helpful writing tidbits from the craft talks I attended. I thought I’d list three of the many things I learned there in this week’s article.

1. You can do a lot with straightforward sentences. In many forms of writing, especially poetry, we sometimes dance around the central idea within a line through imagery and metaphor. And that’s okay! It makes our writing beautiful; it can also make it a bit muddled at times. Having a sentence that’s short, sweet, and to the point every now and then helps keep the reader from getting lost. Also, if you’ve got a series of long sentences, adding a short one can make a mental impact by grounding the events of the story, as well as making a visual impact on the page. Keep it crisp!

2. Every person thinks they’re the star of the movie; therefore, you have to write characters this way. Everyone has their own motivations and drives for doing things. You have to think about a character’s motivations in order to truly flesh them out. A character shouldn’t just be “the love interest,” or “the comic relief,” or “the bad guy”. If they are they become flat, nothing more than devices to advance the main protagonist’s story. And that’s a bummer.

3. I’ve got a long way to go. The first thing we did at the conference last Thursday was go to a craft talk that started with welcoming remarks. We were told that we were here because we were some of the finest writers in the nation. But, as the conference drew on and I saw what my peers were writing (things I could never put on the page, let alone conjure up in the first place), I started to feel a touch down-hearted about my own work. However, I’m certain that I wasn’t the only person there to feel that way, nor am I the first writer in history to experience these doubts. Even so, I’m going to use those feelings as motivation to write and read more often and more critically so that next year, should I attend the conference again, I can really impress people (and myself, of course). It’s also important for me (and you) to remember not to feel too bad about not sounding like other good writers; those writers are good because they don’t sound like anybody but themselves. Your experiences and opinions are valid and they’re going to color your voice in a way that is special and awesome. Now we all just need to convince ourselves of that.

Also, have a cute pic of me and my poet buddies!