Monday, March 23, 2009

iPods Ain't Just for Music

Pam here. I have a 30 minute commute each way five days a week. I’m in the car alone and it’s mostly through a rural area so I’ve got plenty of time to listen to writing workshops every day. Recently I broke down and bought a pink iPod. Okay, I’m not a pink kinda gal, but I have two sons, and I figured they wouldn’t dare steal a pink iPod.

So far, so good.

Anyway, after a bit of technical assistance from the IT guy at work, I figured out how to download my ACFW Conference recordings. So far I have 2007 and 2008 downloaded, and when I get a few free minutes, I plan to download 2005 and 2006. That’s a lot of workshops!

Here are a few of the most recent that I’ve listened to that have really helped me. I listen to some of them over and over. They’re that good.

Seekerville’s own Camy Tang gave a great workshop entitled Story Structure (ACFW 2008). This workshop is for pantsters and plotters alike detailing the different types of structures to use to plot your book. Camy explains three act structure, the hero’s journey, plot points, inciting incidents, etc. Great workshop that I’ve gone back to more than once.

Krista Stroever’s (Steeple Hill) You Had Me at Hello (ACFW 2007): If you want to know how long it takes for an editor to make a decision about a manuscript, listen to this workshop. Krista takes a stack of proposals, and gives a thumbs up or thumbs down after reading a few lines. Great workshop stressing how important it is to hook the reader from the first word, the first sentence, the first paragraph.

I’ve Got a Contract, Now What (ACFW 2007), hosted by authors Camy Tang, Robin Miller, Cara Putnam, Cheryl Wyatt, and editors Sue Brower (Zondervan), Krista Stroever (Steeple Hill). Good give and take between 4 authors who were newly published at the time and two editors. Candid comments about what they learned during those first few months with rebuttals from the editors. Bonus: You get to hear Camy laugh! lol

Jeff Gerke’s (Marcher Lord Press) Synopsis: Writing for the Summary Impaired (ACFW 2008): Another great workshop that I’ve listened to several times. Jeff also uses the three act structure and a couple of other forms of plotting to plan a synopsis. I love this workshop. He explains 4 methods to plan and write your synopsis: Method 1: Sixty Seconds and the Bus Will Be Here; Method 2: The 3-Act Structure; Method 3: The 3-Act Structure in Reverse; Method 4: The Multi-Threaded Story. Don’t let #3 confuse you. It’s a wonderful plotting tool that I love. I don’t want to go into too much detail here. These people are the experts, and they put all the work into these workshops. But I will tell you that Method 3 teaches you how to plan to succeed by plotting…uh…backwards! Love it, although Ruthy might have the vapors just thinking about plotting backwards or forwards!

Agents Steve Laube, Chip MacGregor, and Janet Grant hosted a late night chat (ACFW 2007) titled “So You’re Ready to Pitch”. Wow! They took a bunch of pitch sheets from the audience and did cold reads and gave their immediate response. It was amazing. Granted, I wasn’t there, and didn’t get my pitch sheet shredded or praised, so maybe I might feel differently if I had, but I still enjoyed the workshop a lot. What made it work for me was that with 3 people on the panel, it was almost like American Idol. One panelist might say that they liked a pitch while another said it didn’t grab them. As a matter of fact, Steve even mentioned that it was like a reality show. Fun… At least for someone who didn’t have a proposal on the table.

Anything by Margie Lawson: ‘Nuf said. Margie has this mesmerizing voice that I just love to listen to. And she’s so sweet in real life that once you meet her, you’ll love her forever. I especially enjoyed her “Style Inventory” workshop from the 2008 ACFW Conference. Tried and true techniques to identify your style to improve your books. The workshop helps authors determine if they’re right-brain, left-brain, or whole brain. There’s a couple of color-coded worksheets that sound so cool (I’m going to have to get copies). It’s the Style Survey & Cognitive Style Inventory. Without going into detail, once you answer all the questions, it identifies your personality, and you end up being blue, green, yellow, red, etc. For instance, if you’re yellow, you might enjoy writing historicals because you’re analytical. Not only can you use this personality test to determine that your personality strengths, you can identify your weaknesses and learn ways to strengthen them. Bonus: You can use the charts to figure out personality traits for your characters.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there. In addition to all the workshops given by talented authors, there are those by editors and agents. Sometimes just listening to an editor or agent helps you get a feel for their personality. Are they quirky? Humorous? Ivy-league educated? Down-to-earth? (I remember one mentioning that she came from a farming background once. Interesting.) You can hear the voices of the following editors and agents from the ACFW 2008 Conference alone: Jeff Gerke, Allen Arnold, Sue Brower, Steve Laube, Chip MacGregor, Dave Lambert, Natasha Kern, Andy Meisenheimer, Emily Rodmell, Kelly Mortimer, Rebecca Germany, JoAnne Simmons, Joyce Hart, Terry Burns, Tamela Hancock Murray, Stephanie Broene, and Karen Watson.

Wow! Double wow!

If you can’t afford to attend a conference, purchasing the workshop recordings is the next best thing. Or, put it on your Christmas wish list or ask for workshop CD’s for your birthday. You can purchase individual workshops or a package deal. So if you missed the last few RWA or ACFW conferences, all is not lost. The recordings are available at the following sites.

Link to ACFW Conference workshop CD/MP3s: Conference Media
PS: I just scratched to surface on the ACFW workshops I’ve enjoyed listening to the last few months. Feel free to share ones that have really helped you in your writing, or in getting to know an agent or editor better.

Link to RWA Conference workshop CD/MP3s: Bill Stephens Productions
PS: I haven’t gone to the RWA Conference in several years, so if someone wants to comment on the best of the best workshops you’ve listened to from RWA, please do. We’d love to hear what you liked.


  1. Great info, Pam! I think I need to get myself an iPod!

  2. WOW, Pam, talk about valuable information!! My daughter recently bequeathed me her old i-pod, and although I know how to use it and charge it now, I guess I will have to have her teach me how to download conference tapes too. Sounds like I'm missing waaaaaaaaay too much!!

    Oh, and mine's turquoise!


  3. Pam, thanks for the excellent reminder on the value of conference workshop tapes! I've listened to oodles of tapes over the years. They're great teaching tools.

    I brought warm coffeecake this morning made with buttermilk. Very moist and yummy.


  4. Pam, you've reminded me to listen to the tapes I've gotten from conferences. I have them in a drawer so I usually forget about them and how much I learn when I do listen. Thanks for the post.

  5. Pam, you nailed this head on!

    Even when I attend conferences, I buy the MP3 of all the workshops. Are you kidding not to? You have 3 days to network, catch up, and create new friendships, I'm not going to kill brain cells over deciding Workshop vs Visit-Conversation-Area-where-editor-is-chit-chatting.

    Then, when the excitement is all over and there's nothing left but the photos : ), I'll snap a leash on the dog and go for long walks, usually a workshop length.

    Usually over and over and over again, LOL!

    And besides, if you budget ahead, the MP3 you purchase at conference is cheaper than ordering it later.

    Great reminder of how to keep the conference juices flowing all year round!!

    Thanks, Pam!!

  6. Janet, warm coffeecake with buttermilk??? Oh, that sounds delicious.

    Pass me a big slice. I need it this morning.

    Hmmm, wonder if some savvy woman created "coffeecake" so she could eat cake for breakfast without too much guilt?

  7. Audra, you're right. If you purchase conference CD's onsite, the savings is huge.

  8. My husband bought me an Mp3 player for Christmas and I've got my 2008 ACFW lectures on there. I LOVE listening to them while I walk on the DREADmill. Sure makes the time go faster AND I get to learn from the best in the business while I walk.

  9. Pam, great info post! It sounds like you make the best use of your car time.

    Why am I NOT surprised???

    I plot while I'm in the car. I've ended up on some very nice scenic drives because while I'm busy plotting romance story twists and turns, exits get ignored.


    Luckily, from most points of the world with civilized, paved roads, I can simply head "North" and come within some proximity of familiar turf. Sometimes this method takes a veeeeeerrrrry long time!
    Janet! Thank you for the coffee cake. Oh mylanta, girlfriend, this is yummy to my tummy and I had a weekend of website building and crazy work/family stuff so this is doubly delightful. Thank you.

    And I brought a new creamer. White Chocolate Coconut. Oh my stars, perfect for visiting the Island.

    And even though this tastes great on the Island, Island dwellers want you to know that they have no plans to linger in Island bliss FOREVER.

    Looking forward to using Unpubbed Island as a writers' retreat sight, complete with cabana boys and really cute baristas.


  10. Ruthy, my next carpool project is to get a voice-activated recorder.

    I wonder if I can really dictate my stories into one of those... ala Barbara Cartland?

    White chocolate coconut creamer? Really? Sounds pretty good. Gimme a double shot.

  11. Pam,

    This is a great reminder. I inherited my son's iPod video 30 gig at Christmas when he got an iTouch. I've done nothing with it and I need to.

    I've listened multiple times on the computer to the mp3 of speakers at Spring Fling, the Chicago North RWA conference where Debbie Macomber was keynote. It's helped me a ton so I have no excuse for dragging my feet on learning the iPod. Did I mention I'm technology-challenged?


  12. Cathy, it's easy to install the workshops on your iPod.

    Just hand your son your MP3 disks, the iPod, and say, "Do it, or else!"

  13. Hi Pam, Great info and reminder that my ipod is loaded also. I always buy the CD from RWA and ACFW even if I can't go. They are cheaper if you order them ahead of time. And you are so right on. They are great to listen to while on the road or while hubby thinks you're watching television with him. LOL

  14. Pink power. I have a pink one. I LOVE it!

    Great post today. I'm going to my first ACFW conference this September. I'm stoked. Sounds like such a wealth of information!

  15. Writing workshops are just about all I ever load onto my iPod. I used to have a 45-minute drive each way where I used to volunteer and often used that time to listen to workshop recordings. Everywhere I go now is 10-15 minutes so I miss that opportunity (but not the gas expense).

  16. Great idea, Pam. Also, thanks for letting us know which workshops you enjoyed most. I don't have a lot of listening time, so I would need to choose wisely.

    Oh, and I'm having the hardest time writing a synopsis right now! I even read and re-read two great articles on synopsis writing. Still I stink! UGGHH. I need prayers.

  17. Mel, maybe that's why I enjoyed Jeff's synopsis writing workshop so much since I needed to get the story down to a bare-bones minimum.

  18. Pam,
    Great blog and lots of good info. I used to listen to every RWA tape -- yes, that was in the dark ages. Guess I need to update! :)

    You mentioned recent RWA workshops. The big one for me in 2007 was Screenwriter Michael Hague. Fantastic info. His book is a must have too: WRITING SCREENPLAYS THAT SELL. Last year, another screenwriter was my fav pick. Blake Snyder and his Save the Cat workshop and book by the same title.

  19. Hey Pam, I listen to them on my iPod, too.

    When I first went to desk at the ACFW conf to order them, I wasn't sure if I should get the actual CDs or the rights to download them for a year from the website. I decided that I would get more use out of the actual CDs because then even if I buy a new iPod in 2010, I can just add them to that one and not worry about the one year time limit.

    I get the benefit of the workshops I attended as well as those I missed and it brings back memories of the conf experiences with friends.

    Thanks for the reminder, Pam. I haven't listened in a couple months and I need to write a synopsis as well. :(

  20. I don't go to nearly as many conferences as I'd like, so Cds/tapes/MP3s are a lifesaver for me too. I've gotten them from several of the bigger conferences and have always been pleased.

    Jeff's workshop on synopsis writing was a good one (plus he's an entertaining speaker, which doesn't hurt!). I listened to it again when I was prepping my Genesis entry and got things whittled to a page. It's a big change from what I started with, so we'll see if any judges comment.

    The coffee cake's long gone, but I have some homemade caramel cake Mama sent home with me this weekend. She makes the best burnt caramel icing anywhere, so take a slice and enjoy. That'll be the evening sugar boost to get us night owls going!

  21. Hey, gang. I've been running around like a offense to lunatics who probably get through airports better than I do.

    Nice to be home.

  22. I'm hearing lots and lots of people say they listen to the workshops on their iPod.

    Technology is amazing!