Some people come to the Festival of Faith & Writing just to meet writers. They don't write; they read. They want to see the shape of the person who actually crafted the story. I'm a little like that. Today, Haven Kimmel, author of A Girl Named Zippy and, more recently, The Used World, which I read, was signing books in the campus store. I like Haven's books, but I was too self-conscious to get in a line with 30 other women to get my book signed. But I did get a look at her, and Zippy doesn't look like I thought!
Far from just listening to authors, today was a day of mechanics, of tools for writing. A morning session on editing featuring writer Shauna Niequest and Zondervan editor Angela Scheff was humorous but of limited utility. It was like the banter of two Valley girls. Yet I did glean four important truths: write vocationally (set a time and do it); edit everything; find a structure (outline your book, even if you do it last); and never write and edit at the same time.
A literary agent, Chip McGregor, gave a very informative talk on developing a book proposal: big idea, great writing, and a platform. It was full of details, humorous anecdotes, and good tips. Crucial: include a sample table of contents to show scope and sequence.
In the afternoon, I listened to Eric Taylor, a historian who wrote a book called The Last Duel, tell how he did historical research. I figured it might be helpful to a project I'm working on. It was. He said that determining how much research was necessary was a continuous process, circular, as he would write some and then determine what he needed to know more about. Later, he also discussed how to make historical narrative interesting, how to build suspense and create excitement.
But the best of the day for pure inspiration was Daniel Taylor, who told us how to find and tell our master stories, the stories that define who we are and tell us how to live. He moved me to tears with a story he told about dancing with a girl who had polio when he was a kid, of how that moment defined how he came to view human beings as valuable. I bought the book from which the story came, Letters to My Children, and had Daniel Taylor sign it. I love that story.
And that is just about the end of the Festival of Faith & Writing for 2008. Yes, there is a lecture by Katherine Peterson tonight called "Stories of Beauty," and I'm sure there will be insights from that, but I have reached saturation level. It's time to do something. It's time to write. In the end, it is, after all, just work.