I spent today in beautiful Sarasota, Fl – about 40 minutes from my home in St. Petersburg – attending a writing workshop led by CNN Senior Copy Editor and novelist John DeDakis. DeDakis has been with CNN for years, and currently works on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. He’s also the author of two books, Fast Track and Bluff.
This was the third event I’ve attended in the past couple of months and these things are always a gamble, whether they’re free or like today’s, involve a cost. I’ve been to panel discussions where the authors could barely suppress their yawn, I’ve listened to authors read from their novels with inspirational enthusiasm – like I said, it’s a gamble.
DeDakis definitely showed passion for his craft, and led some good conversations. Overall, he had a good outline and I wish there’d been more time to delve into some of the topics in some more depth. But there are always take-aways from these workshops or panels, it’s just up to us as writers to work from a positive side of the fence. So while some of the information was repetitive of what I’ve learned through my own research and other classes, I’m happy I went and below are the points worth mentioning:
- Keep a book journal: Great idea! Document (either online or in on paper) your progress of writing your book. While I first thought of turning this blog into my online journal, I decided against it, as I don’t want to give the book’s entire story away. So I’ve decided to go old school here – a journal I can carry with me with me everywhere – to jot down ideas, as well as document my actual progress.
- Resources: Whether it’s from the speaker or from other attendees, I always come away with books to consider purchasing, websites to visit and a myriad of other writing resources. Often times, this is reason enough to attend these types of events.
- Chapters, Scenes & Timelines: This was an area I was glad we touched on as I have been struggling with naming chapters as my book will have several flashback scenes. As long as I am able to transition clearly from present time to flashback and then back again, I’ll be okay. An additional tip was perhaps to use an actual day or date/time method of naming chapters, where ‘Chapter 1’ instead becomes ‘Tuesday’ or ‘Chicago, 1962’. This opens up more options for me. Another good tip here was DeDakis talking about naming scenes and chapters in early drafts simply for organizational purposes. By giving them a short, but descriptive title you can easily identify where you need to go back and flesh something out or do other edits.
- Turn off your internal editor on your first draft: My major flaw, but since I identified with DeDakis (both of us having a journalistic/editorial background), I am going to try very, very hard to stop editing as I go. This will be harder than quitting smoking – but I will try!
We also did a short writing activity – He gave the group 3 scene set-ups and 10 minutes to write a scene. Then several of us read to the group. I was happy to receive good feedback from him – pointing to my ability to ‘show’ not ‘tell’ – especially since I’ve only done a few other writing prompts within a group setting, and I always feel intimidated by them. So this was encouraging.
I was impressed with the materials we received, including a paperback copy of his first book which he signed for each of us – nice touch:)
Most memorable quote from DeDakis today had to do with plunging in and getting the writing done:
“The common denominator between courage and cowardice is fear. Courage is acting despite your fear; cowardice is fear in action.”
I like listening to succesful writer, editors, publishers, agents talk about their experiences. It’s advice you can’t get anywhere else, and it’s all up to you, keeping what you want and discarding what doesn’t apply – and in the end, it always inspires me to go home and write!