Writers from all over the country gathered this weekend for the 32nd Annual Suncoast Writers’ Conference to attend workshops by professional authors, editors, publishers and agents to improve their writing skills and network with others in their profession.
The conference, which took place at Davis Hall on the USF St. Petersburg campus, featured four guest speakers, including two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Norman Mailer, 48 workshops, manuscript readings, poetry readings, consultation services, books signings and social events where writers were able to get to know one another. In addition to Mailer, the three other speakers at the conference were Robert Butler, Chitra Divakaruni and Verlyn Klinkenborg.
The topics for the workshops included novels, short stories, nonfiction books and articles, poetry, song writing, memoirs, mystery and suspense, fantasy, travel writing and children’s and young adult literature.
One of the first workshops Friday was put on by Mailer and was entitled “Some Problems in Writing.” During the workshop, Mailer discussed the rules of writing, plot, stamina and writing in first person versus writing in third person.
When discussing the rules of writing, Mailer said there really are none.
“There are almost no guide rules that are absolutely dependable,” Mailer said.
There is one rule, however, that he follows and told other writers to follow as well.
“If you tell yourself you will write tomorrow, then you better write. Even if you go through days where you can’t write, keep showing up for work,” Mailer said.
Mailer said when you tell yourself you are going to write, you are getting into a deep relationship with your subconscious. He said it is equal to someone telling their wife that they will quit drinking tomorrow. If that person doesn’t quit drinking, then the one who they made the promise to will lose trust in them.
“I believe that the writing we do comes from our unconscious mind much more then our conscious mind. As the writer you are the general, and your unconscious mind is your full body of troops. You can’t leave them out in the rain. You have to respect your unconscious,” Mailer said.
Mailer added that as writers get older, they have to put more effort into writing and dedicate themselves to writing without getting distracted.
“When I was younger I could be working on a novel and go out and have a good time that night and get drunk and then was able to write the next day. But I can’t do that anymore. It’s either write or get drunk,” Mailer said.
Mailer said he hated plots being pre-planned..
“Once you know your end, it’s disastrous to get a new idea. It can only take you away from your prearranged conclusion,” Mailer said. “I prefer a story that develops out of the writing itself. I don’t like one that moves ahead of my characters, because then my people won’t live.”
A professional agent named Sheree Bykofsky gave another workshop titled “The Six Secrets of Getting Published.” During the workshop, Bykofsky told audiences the key secrets to getting published in addition to referencing good books to read up on in order to learn more about the market. One of the main keys to getting published is persistence, Bykofsky said.
“If you get angry every time you get a rejection letter, then this isn’t your business. You need thick skin,” Bykofsky said.
Writers who want to be published need to have a keen sense of the marketplace, a professional attitude towards writing, the ability to meet deadlines, a willingness to do their own publicity and a good understanding of the book publishing industry, Bykofsky added.
“No one is going to read your book just because you want to be published,” she said.
In addition to the workshops on Saturday, Chitra Divakaruni did a book reading during lunch as well as a poetry reading after the dinner banquet.
During the dinner banquet on Saturday night, Verlyn Klinkenborg gave a speech about the craft of writing and how young writers think they have it even when they don’t.
“Most young writers don’t know what they are doing. Everything they know about writing prevents them from writing. They are so focused on language and craft that it prevents them from looking and thinking about the world around them,” Klinkenborg said. “My goal as a writing teacher is to take their hand, go to the dark center of their mind, and let them loose to see what they find.”
The conference was sponsored by the USF Department of English, the College of Arts and Sciences, USF Educational Outreach — Continuing Education, the USF Humanities Institute, the USF St. Petersburg Student Government and the St. Petersburg Times.
For information on next year’s conference, visit http://english.cas.usf.edu/fswc/ .