Women Writing The West Conference Takeaways

I joined another writing organization this year: Women Writing The West. Every year they have a short story contest called the Laura as well as a published fiction contest named The Willa (with categories from children’s, YA, poetry, nonfiction, contemporary and historical fiction). The focus is on stories told in the west with female protagonists – like the ones Laura Ingalls Wilder and Willa Cather told. The group also creates a beautiful catalogue of member’s books that is distributed to more than a thousand bookstores each year.

The organization also hosts an annual conference in a different western city each year – the 2019 event was held in San Antonio, Texas. I love a good field trip – and this conference had three! We visited The Alamo, the Briscoe Western Art Museum and the World Heritage Missions outside the city. What a treat to see such sites with a group of well-informed and curious women!

I tend to write contemporary stories – with the exception of the story-within-a-story in Jungle Crossing about an ancient Mayan girl. No matter what I write I like to do a fair amount of research, probably because I have a nerdy love of learning about almost anything! I decided to attend a lot of sessions about research at the conference.

Jane Kirkpatrick and Pam Nowak talked about finding something strange in your research and fully exploring it – being careful to look for the shared knowings when coming across disparate accounts of a historical event. Also – work to think beyond your own interests to find something that will interest a variety of readers.

Elizabeth Boyle talked about the importance of hands-on research. As someone who loves to go places to learn about my characters and settings, I loved this advice. I also liked her idea about making a list of things that you need to learn in order to write the story.

General interest books are great if you know very little about a topic, but the more you know, the more you need to narrow your focus and find specific expertise. She highlighted the importance of books over online sources because footnotes can lead to all kinds of story potential. My next WIP came from a vague reference that I couldn’t stop thinking about. So I agree: books rule in research!

When you’re out and about researching, find the right person. Don’t let one person tell you no. Go to the next one. Join local organizations that may give you special access for a small membership fee. Visit during the less busy seasons, so the staff has time to spend answering your questions.

Another session with Jane Kirkpatrick, Kim Nowak, and Gail Jenner talked about how we need to find the common struggles that we share with women from the past – as modern women. I think this advice works for all characters – finding some connection with which we can identify will make it more likely that our readers will feel the same way.

The panel also emphasized that you have to start writing before you think you should. Otherwise you’ll never start. I love this advice, as someone who went and took a major’s worth of history classes before starting to write a novel that I never got around to writing. Yikes, right?

Think of it like a horse race, they said, just get the story down on paper!

Barbara Brannon talked about several ways to find information from various records to newspapers. She talked about how it can be helpful to transcribe things like letters before trying to understand the significance of the content. I admired the way she used her research to inform all types of writing from fiction to poetry to song. She got our her guitar and sang for us!

All the women I met were so welcoming and incredibly inspiring. So many women in this organization have had long writing careers and show no signs of slowing down. Very inspiring!

Next year’s conference is going to be in Colorado Springs, Colorado from October 15-18, 2020 – and the field trips look fantastic!

Blogging Elsewhere

I’ve written a new post at YA Outside The Lines about why we chose the ideas we write. You can read it here: http://yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com/2019/03/writing-for-right-reasons-by-sydney.html#comment-form

2017 Reading Project: Expanding My Worldview

For the past few years, I’ve focused about half the books I read into what I call Reading Projects. Sometimes I read to prepare for a trip – so that I understand the history and culture of the place I’m visiting. I have a lifelong project to read a biography about each American president. Right now I’m finishing up a series of books about the 1920s. Just for fun – and to catch a few classics I had missed along the way. I’m old enough to appreciate them more now 🙂

A few months ago my 17-year-old daughter came home from school, insisting that I watch the TED talk her English teacher had shown in class: The Danger of A Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Not only did the talk inspire me as a writer, it inspired me as a reader.

My 2017 reading project will be to read at least 12 books from non-European cultures. I also plan to include some history for context. I write a brief note about all the books I read on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/SydneySalter), but I plan to blog about my 2017 Reading Project.

I am so excited to learn more about people all around the world!

Flooded With Shiny New Ideas!

It’s happening again…

I have spent the last several months working on preparation for my WIP, researching, taking notes, filling notebook pages with character development exercises, possible scenes, a loose plot plan.  

Ready and excited to write, I began drafting the actual novel, one page at a time. Slow but sure, I’m adding to my word count and page count. But it’s happening again…

Shiny new ideas are flooding my mind!

Every time I start a new novel this seems to happen to me, and I’m not sure why.

Am I living in a really creative mode? Maybe. I haven’t quite reached the total immersion stage of writing (I still have to keep a cheat sheet of my characters’ names and relationships in front of me), so I’m still in the world-building stage of writing. I’m setting up the action for the middle of the novel, discarding some ideas, embracing others. So maybe I am simply in a mode of creating ideas?


Am I hedging my bets? Probably. Novels in the early stages do not look anything like the fantastic imagined stories we’ve prepared to write. Most of writing occurs in revision. I know that I’ll need to go back and add layers of depth later. In spite of pages and pages of character prep, I still don’t really know my characters yet. That comes with more scenes, more paragraphs, more pages, more plot. Revision. Revision. Revision.

I’m in the ignore the problems and push forward stage of writing. That’s why all these shiny new ideas seem so great. I haven’t discovered their flaws yet! I’m noting all the ideas in the back of a notebook, but I’m pushing forward so I can finish my first draft.

Then I can polish this novel–during revision!

Mmm… Bunnies!

Aaah! The day that makes me an insatiable chocolate monster–one who has (more than once) taken a sharp knife and carefully shaved hunks off her daughters’ chocolate bunnies during the school day.

(Please tell me I’m not the only one who has done this!)

Advice and Giveaway with Deborah Lytton

I loved losing myself in Deborah Lytton’s new YA novel, SILENCE. Readers of all ages will love this sweet, tender romance! Here’s my interview with Deborah. Leave a comment to win a copy of the book! 
What’s your best advice for fellow writers?
My best advice to fellow writers is to share the best advice I ever received: Write. We spend so much time at the computer being distracted by other things, it’s important to free our imaginations from the clutter and just create. So even if you only have time for a few sentences, make sure you write every day. I am a single mother of a 10 and 13 year old, and I work part-time as a lawyer as well, so there are some days I don’t make it to the computer. That’s when a pad of paper and a pen are my best friends. Sometimes I even write in the car while I am picking up one of my girls from school or a music class. The key is to write.
What popular writing advice do you never follow?
Outlining. For me, outlining is confining. I prefer to let the story take its own course and lose myself in the process rather than work from a specific layout. This method takes longer than writing a story with an organized outline, but it helps me create without limitations. That’s not to say that I don’t have the beginning, middle and end plotted out. I do have an idea of where the story is going, I just don’t like to map out the journey.
Where do you do most of your writing? 
I write in notebooks at the beginning, using pen and paper. I try to choose ones that are not too fancy because I have found that if they are really nice, I don’t want to scribble in them. But I always go with covers that inspire me with color or design. I try to carry the current WIP notebook with me at all times. Then I move to my laptop. My favorite spot is at a writing desk that belonged to my grandmother. It has a lot of special memories attached to it, and I always feel like my grandparents are encouraging me when I sit there to write. I also have a constant writing companion—my dog, Faith. She sits right next to my chair while I work. I think she likes to listen to me type.
What’s the best book you’ve read on the craft of writing?
There is one book I keep next to my desk, The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. It’s based on the work of Joseph Campbell, and it has always inspired me. Another book that I keep nearby is Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. It’s a gem.
What are you reading for fun these days? 
I am in the midst of finishing a new manuscript, so I haven’t been reading much myself. But I am reading books with my daughters. My 10 year old is reading Rules by Cynthia Lord. So she reads chapters aloud to me. The book is really touching and so well written. My 13 year old and I are reading Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George. We read chapters together and then hand the book back and forth so we are always at the same place at the same time. The book is really engaging with an inspiring, brave heroine which I love.

I wanted to thank you, Sydney, for hosting me on your blog today. This has been so much fun!


One accident. Two lost souls. And a promise.
17 days.
17 days together. To hear without hearing. And speak without speaking. 17 days to fall in love.
In silence.
Told in alternating points of view from both Stella and Hayden’s voices, Silence is a lyrical story of self-discovery, romance, and resiliency, of two souls finding their voices and breaking through the silence.
Deborah Lytton is a writer and actress who began her career in front of the camera at the age of six. She graduated from UCLA and Pepperdine University with a degree in law. Deborah lives in California with her two daughters. She is active in the writing and blogging community and is a member of SCBWI.


Leave a comment to win a copy of SILENCE. Open to anyone worldwide! 

Blogging Elsewhere

Ack! I sure haven’t been blogging here. I have good reasons–and I’m sure they’ll show up in fiction someday. It’ll be sort of like Jane Eyre, except with grannies in the basement. Egads things have been weird!

Thanks to peer pressure I’ve kept up at YA Outside the Lines, and here’s my most recent post: http://yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com/2015/02/sometimes-love-means-letting-go-sydney.html

I will pressure myself to blog here regularly too!

Guest Blogger: Denise Jaden

Rather than doing a traditional interview-filled blog tour, Denise Jaden is celebrating the release of her new nonfiction writing book, FAST FICTION, by dropping tips about writing quickly at every stop of her blog tour, and offering some awesome prizes for commenting on any of these posts (including this one!)

The more you drop by and comment, the more chances you have to win these great prizes:

Denise’s Fast Fiction Tip: Write because you love it!

If I had to pick one tip above all others, I’d say do this because you love it. Sometimes we need reminders of that. I have a few writer-friends who remind me often. I also keep a folder of favorite writing bits that I’ve composed over the years to look back at when I need to be rejuvenated. The thing is, not only will your passion for what you’re doing translate to readers when your book eventually has readers, love and passion will also make the writing process much easier. When I talk about fast-drafting in my book Fast Fiction, I highly encourage writers to write about something they care about. Caring about your story and loving the process will make your writing zoom by faster than anything else. 

The Prizes:

  • Compliments of New World Library: They will be giving away A BOX of copies of FAST FICTION by Denise Jaden and GET IT DONE by Sam Bennett (US and Canada only):
  • Compliments of Denise Jaden, TWO BOXES of great fiction (US Only). Details on Denise’s blog.
  • Audiobook copies of NEVER ENOUGH by Denise Jaden!
  • A critique of your first five pages, compliments of Denise’s agent, Michelle Humphrey from The Martha Kaplan Agency!
All you have to do is enter the rafflecopter for a chance to win (at the bottom of this post, I’ve included links to all of the other blogs where you can comment for more chances to win).
About Fast Fiction:
Writers flock to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) each November because it provides a procrastination-busting deadline. But only a fraction of the participants meet their goal. Denise Jaden was part of that fraction, writing first drafts of her two published young adult novels during NaNoWriMo. In Fast Fiction, she shows other writers how to do what she did, step-by-step, writer to writer. Her process starts with a prep period for thinking through plot, theme, characters, and setting. Then Jaden provides day-by-day coaching for the thirty-day drafting period. Finally, her revision tips help writers turn merely workable drafts into compelling and publishable novels.

A portion of publisher proceeds will be donated to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

Praise for Fast Fiction:

“Fast Fiction is filled with stellar advice, solid-gold tips, and doable, practical exercises for all writers who want to draft a complete novel.”
— Melissa Walker, author of Violet on the Runway
“Being a ‘pantser’ I have always resisted outlining, but I have to say that Fast Fiction changed my mind! Denise Jaden takes what I find to be a scary process (outlining) and makes it into an easy and, dare I say, enjoyable one. Fast Fiction is a hands-on book that asks the right questions to get your mind and your story flowing. I know I’ll be using Fast Fiction over and over again. Highly recommended for fiction writers!
— Janet Gurtler, author of RITA Award finalist I’m Not Her
“Fast Fiction is full of strategies and insights that will inspire and motivate writers of every experience level — and best of all, it provides them with a solid plan to quickly complete the first draft of their next novel.”
— Mindi Scott, author of Freefall
“Fast Fiction provides writers with the perfect mix of practical guidance and the kick in the pants they need to finish that draft. This book is a must-have for writers of all levels.”
— Eileen Cook, author of The Almost Truth
Practical and down-to-earth, Denise Jaden’s Fast Fiction makes a one-month draft seem doable, even for beginners, any month of the year.”
— Jennifer Echols, author of Endless Summer and Playing Dirty
“One of the greatest challenges any writer faces is getting a great idea out of one’s brain and onto the page. Fast Fiction breaks that process down into concrete, manageable steps, each accompanied by Denise Jaden’s sage advice and enthusiastic encouragement. And anything that helps streamline the drafting process is a-okay by me! Fast Fiction is a great addition to any writer’s toolbox — I’ve got it in mine!”
— Catherine Knutsson, author of Shadows Cast by Stars
“Forget the fact that this resource is directed at those wanting to complete a fast draft — if you’re out to get your novel done, period, Jaden’s Fast Fiction will be the kick in the butt that gets you there, from story plan to ‘The End’. . . and beyond.”
— Judith Graves, author of the Skinned series for young adults
Where you can find Fast Fiction:
Help an author out:
Can’t get a copy of FAST FICTION right now? I wonder if you’d consider helping out in other ways. I’d really appreciate any way that you can help!

  • Ask your library or bookstore to bring in FAST FICTION
  • Leave a review on Amazon (the more books are reviewed on Amazon, the more they will show up as suggestions for readers).
  • Mention FAST FICTION on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, or pin a link to Amazon on Pinterest

Blog Tour Stops:

Comment on any of the following blog posts celebrating Fast Fiction’s release to be entered to win prizes galore! 
(All Fast Fiction blog posts should be live by March 9th, or sooner. Contest will be open until March 15th. If any links don’t work, stop by http://denisejaden.blogspot.com for updated links.)
GCC Blogs:
Additional Participating Blogs:
Remember, all you have to do is leave comments to get lots of extra entries to win some great prizes. 
Don’t know what to comment about? Tell us the name of your favorite writing book!

Share this widget here:
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Or, if the Rafflecopter Giveaway doesn’t seem to be coming up on this blog, access it here: http://www.denisejaden.com/FastFictionContest.html