I attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference this past weekend for the first time and came away inspired and dejected, in equal measure, with a healthy dose of “It’s time to up my productivity game” thrown in.
The inspiration flowed abundantly throughout the three days of the conference. I went to a session on setting with the marvellous Eileen Cook that gave me an entirely new way to understand writing the emotions of a place. I attended two panels comprised of editors and agents, one for pitching and the other for querying, and came away with tons of fresh ideas.
My favourite workshop was taught by Liza Palmer, one of the funniest and most charming people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. She gave me loads of helpful screenwriting techniques that I can instantly use in everything that I write.
But then there was the dejection. One early afternoon session, titled SiWC Idol, consisted of literary agents listening to the first pages of writers in attendance. The agents would throw up their hands when they wanted to stop reading. When half of the panel had their hands in the air, the moderator (the entertaining and debonair Jack Whyte) would stop and the panel would offer critiques.
It was a bloodbath. The gatekeepers of the literary world want top-notch work and may only give you two sentences to prove you’ve got what they’re looking for before they move on to the next writer.
It can be overwhelming.
When I came home, I needed a few days to let it all settle in, then I created a colour-coded spreadsheet, which I dubbed “The Year of Productivity.” It’s a business plan, of sorts, for the rest of this school year.
I broke it down by writing projects, general writing goals and what I need to do for my speaking career. I took the big areas (blue sky – thank you, Liza Palmer!) and broke them down into individual steps (i.e. finish first draft by writing 15 pages per week, outline series bible, adapt feature screenplay into a short for competitions, rewrite agent query, etc.). Each item has a month when it needs to be completed.
I feel reborn with this 2 page spreadsheet. So often we get stalled because we don’t know what to focus on or our goals become too broad and overwhelming. It really helps to see it all listed out on paper, with actual deadlines. I’ve highlighted this month’s action items in blue and I change them to red when each item is completed.
I printed a copy and put it in my writing binder. Now I have something to keep me on the straight and narrow, and I can add to it or amend as necessary. Thank you, SiWC, for the much-needed kick in the ass to help me get where I most want to go. One day I’ll be presenting there.
How about you? What does your year of productivity look like?