Getting Inspired to Write with Saskatchewan G-G Award Winning Author–Dianne Warren

Dianne Warren

Dianne Warren

Saying I don’t like writing exercises would be the polite way to phrase my opinion–in a confidential chat I’d be much more likely to say I hate doing them, and dislike coming up with them for presenting at workshops I lead myself even more. 

But that would have been a week ago, before I attended a morning workshop with Dianne Warren at the Saskatchewan Writer’s Guild Annual Conference and AGM.

Today, I’m newly inspired after penning four pages of a short story on notepad sheets of hotel letterhead. Yes, that’s right, penning. I never write in longhand anymore either.

So what happened?

First, let me tell you a little bit about Dianne and her writing. She’s one of a handful of Saskatchewan authors who has won the Governor General’s Award for writing–and been nominated for the Giller. While she was born in Ontario where her parents met after WWII, her family came “home” to Saskatchewan where she was inspired by places like Saskatchewan’s Great Sand Hills.

I’ve been to the sand hills. It’s a dry and dusty place, much like you’d expect a formation comprised mostly of sand and a few hearty species of native grasses, weeds, and flowers that have the stamina to last through summer’s heat and winter’s cold would be. It is, however, an inspiring place to those of us who appreciate the wind in our faces and a vista that’s as close to untouched as it gets these days.

After all, not a lot thrives in sand. I should know, as I grew up on a farm near Qu’Appelle, where you have to gun the 4×4 to get through some of the gates to make sure you don’t sink in the stuff. It feels good between your fingers and toes though, even if you’re not at the beach.

Anyway, Dianne’s G-G winning book, Cool Water, is set in this area where stories have intertwined for generations. They’re enduring stories–like the people who live them.

So, this year at the Saskatchewan Writer’s Guild Conference and AGM, Dianne Warren gave the Caroline Heath Memorial Lecture on Friday evening and a fiction workshop on Saturday morning, titled Word in the Willows.

Even though I was at the conference because I was also a presenter, I was excited about attending the workshop. After all, it isn’t every day I get to hear writing tips from someone who has won Canada’s highest honour for writing, especially when that writing is something I can step into myself and place the characters as friends and neighbours.

The workshop began, as they often do, with Dianne reading from her own work. It wasn’t, however, a passage of carefully crafted work from her G-G book or her latest release, Liberty Street. Instead, it was a first draft, a draft that simply, as she said, was to get the story down.

To be honest, anybody could have written that first draft.

Then, she began to talk about how she writes her way into the story, getting to know the people. How she lets the prose run away with her when an opening presents itself, even if that opening eventually hits a dead end and doesn’t go anywhere. Even if–terrible thought–that piece has to be cut from the finished book like fabric fragments when you’re shortening a pair of jeans or altering a dress.

I don’t like dead ends when I travel or write. And I absolutely hate to cut any scenes.

In fact, I don’t write the same way Dianne does at all. But that’s okay. We all have a different process and one way or another we follow lots of leads until the story fully takes shape. My leads just happen in my head when I should be sleeping, instead of coming to life on a computer screen or sheet of paper. In fact, a story has to live in my head until it’s fully real before I can even begin to write.

For me, writing is like a journey, and I can’t write about it until I’ve gone through it, beginning to end.

I guess that’s why I hate writing prompts. After all, we have about ten minutes after getting the prompt to produce something to share. That means my journey can’t be much more than a quick trip to the post office. And what I really like when travelling–into a story or in the physical world–is a full immersion into some new, exciting experience.

That takes time and forethought and planning and …

Well, in my aha moment at Dianne’s workshop, I realized there really is a way to take those short journeys too. It takes believing that the stories are all really inside you and the prompt is just the vehicle that helps them navigate to your blank sheet of paper.

Interested in story prompts like Dianne used? Check these ones out:

If you have some writing exercises and story prompts you like to use, please tell me about them in the Comments area below.

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8 Secrets to Making a Successful Panel Presentation

Panel presenter

Presenting on a panel? Relax and be yourself!

So you’ve been asked to present on a panel and you’re not sure what that entails. What should you pack into your approximately 15 or 20 minutes (depending on how many people are on the panel)? What’s the secret to making a successful panel presentation?

I’m presenting on a panel at the Saskatchewan Writer’s Guild (SWG) annual conference and AGM on October 23, 2015, in this session:

3:45 pm – 4:45 pm Charlotte’s Web – Linda Aksomitis, Jillian Bell

Escaping the pen and finding words for the web will be made easier when you listen to Linda Aksomitis and Jillian Bell speak. Their farm of ideas will broaden your knowledge on using the web to allow your writing to live beyond the pen. Untangle the confusion of the net, and embrace the freedom and tools of writing online.

8 Tips for Presenting on a Panel

So, the first and most important tip I can give you for presenting on a panel is to make sure you stick to the topic. After all, your listeners have selected your panel to learn more about this exact subject–they’ll likely come with questions they hope to have answered. And when you think about it, whether it’s a book description or product information, we all like to get what we were promised.

The place to begin, then, is with a careful analysis of the topic and your area of expertise on it. After all, panels consist of writers and speakers whose brand puts them into expert status.

Panel topics are specifically designed to allow speakers to provide a different “take” or angle on the subject. That’s why it’s important to check in advance with others on the panel to make sure you’re all not going to say the exact same thing. While panels are often about the individual experience and what you’ve learned from it, confirming that every panelist includes different resources will be beneficial for your listeners.

For example, as I’m making my notes for this panel presentation, I’m zeroing in on the line about ideas that will “live beyond the pen.” The best panels all provide some specific takeaways such as whether Instagram or Twitter is a better social networking tool for a fiction writer, along with the reasons for your selection.

Many listeners are also looking for some “action” items, or things they can go home and do right now to help them with the subject of the panel. That could be something as big as come up with a Twitter handle and join, or as simple as add a specific RSS feed (one you share) to their favourite feedreader.

I’ve been a public speaker for decades, so I don’t write out what I’m going to say at panel presentations, although I know many people prefer that method. I do, however, make an outline that I either use on cards, or else on a slideshow. This keeps me from getting derailed and wandering off topic.

Speaking of wandering, keep a watch on the clock! Stick to the time you’ve been allocated–every minute you go overtime is being stolen from your fellow presenters. It’s easy to get a bad reputation with other speakers if you’re not considerate.

I also like to keep statistics and their sources handy, since I find no matter how I’m presenting information that cold, hard facts, like cold, hard cash, have high persuasive power. When I use slideshows, I include graphs and other images on the screen to captivate my audience. It always helps to have an authority or two to back up your opinion or experiences of a subject.

This type of information also helps firmly establish your expertise–and while yes, panel presenters are invited due to their brands, we all have to remember to make our presentation about the topic, not about us. Everything we say should be applicable to other people’s circumstances. Don’t make it me-me-me, if you want your listeners to rave about your panel afterwards.

Once the panelists have all spoken, it’s time to answer questions from your audience. I find this is the best part of the experience, but I know that others may not agree since answering questions can really put you on the spot. This is when your preparation–or lack of it–will really show.

When answering questions, keep these things in mind:

  • Answer succinctly
  • Include other panelists in responses (don’t hog the floor!)
  • Avoid confrontations when you get negative comments (rely on those statistics if possible!)
  • Thank the other panel members for sharing the time period with you

If you’re getting ready for your first panel, remember to relax and have fun. Your audience will appreciate your enthusiasm for your topic and your excitement.

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