Santa Barbara Writers Conference Outcomes

Some people go to conferences to study specific topics, focus on particular things. The 2017 SBWC didn’t hold any targeted interest for me. I don’t have a manuscript to pitch, a Work In Progress (WIP) Novel to workshop, or even something I think I’m terrible at that needs rectifying.

All I need is practice.

So my time at the conference was spent emphasizing the generative aspect of writing. In my head, writing has three components:

  1. Generate
  2. Revise
  3. Finish

Most days, if you ask me, there is a final 25% of effort to “writing” that goes into the un-sexy “business” aspects (pitching, querying, and submitting or selling the writing). Those take a lot of work, and though SBWC is great for building those skills too, for now, I have enough of a handle on that.

I’m still figuring out my process for being successful at the generative, step 1. Because step 1 isn’t over after a good idea or an opening scene. It only ends after a beginning, a middle, and an end. Endings – some ending, even if it doesn’t end up being the one that lives on after revisions – is a prerequisite to revising and honing the perfect language.

But for me, endings are difficult to write if they are anything but on-the-nose, something heartily disfavored in fiction. So, while I know I need to become better at being subtle, hiding my motifs and morals more deeply within my prose, for this conference, this girl just wanted to have fun.

Every morning of the conference I met up with my writing group to do warmups and write from prompts. It was a blast! Here are some favorite lines from what I wrote during “free writing” this week:


“My husband sleeps hot, so the bedclothes are a negotiation of layers…”

“That is the function I most appreciate about fog: The muffling quiet of it. The water vapor in the air captures sound and makes the world calm.”

“My own self-portrait, should I ever draw, paint, sketch, or photograph my appearance, would always be a work of fiction.”

“The pressure of a life of abuse, love, powerlessness, fear, leadership, helping, storytelling, coaching, to press words into precious jewels.”

“We’ve been watching, and you humans are full of NOPE.”


I also collected a ton of phrases, reminders in various classes of things I have learned before, but need to remember to utilize. The list is unlikely to make much sense, except to writers, but I was amused enough by my own note-taking to include them here for you:

  • Hook with what you leave out
  • Immediate moment
  • Breadcrumbs
  • What are you asking your readers to track?
  • Immediate scene
  • Let background be background
  • Start as close to the crisis as possible
  • Make and keep promises
  • Conflict
  • 1+1 = .5
  • Track POV
  • In Chapter 1 you are training your readers
  • Structural balance
  • Specificity
  • Foreshadow
  • Pace
  • Show not tell
  • Nuanced characters
  • Bookending
  • What’s your message?


My next steps are no different than they were going into conference week: Finish short stories and submit them in between recording audiobooks and other money making work.

I have one more opportunity, starting in July, to float around the Baltic Sea, finishing and revising all the lovely beginnings I started at SBWC. Assuming my other WIP is finished. “Out the door, make room for more,” is apparently my new (renewed) motto. Wish me luck.


What do you think?