Montana fence

I’ve got my mojo back! I just got home from the 2012 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference. I’m exhausted and I feel like my brain is going to explode, but I’m also super-duper crazy-happy-energized. I can’t wait to get back to my writing and put all the tips and tricks I learned into practice. But first I have to tell you how much fun it was.

I love what I do, but everyone needs a little shot of enthusiasm once in a while no matter how fabulous their profession. Conferences always give me a boost, and RMFW does it better than anyone. From the first time I attended, they’ve always made me feel welcome, and they continue to offer respect and support to writers at every level. There’s no “us and them” division at an RMFW conference; best-selling authors, editors and agents are eager to share their knowledge with aspiring writers who have nothiing but fifty pages and a dream.

Craft workshops always remind me of the writing rules I’ve forgotten, and it’s a privilege to listen to writers I admire explaining how they get the words on the page. Margie Lawson fit so much information into a two-hour workshop on scene writing that I thought my head might explode before I got to my second workshop. But I managed to absorb “The Art of Developing Great Conflict” from Sharon Mignery (one of my favorite presenters) and learned about the publishing business from the Editor Panel. I “Jumpstarted my Rewrite” with Trai Cartwright, who taught me a new favorite new term: “vomit draft,” which perfectly describes that first draft where you throw your thoughts on the paper without self-editing.

RMFW Writer of the Year Carol Berg and “Kop” series author  Warren Hammond gave a great workshop on the topic of violence in fiction – when to use it, how it can define your characters, and how to tell when you’ve gone too far. (Vomit draft: good. Vomiting readers: not so good.) Kay Bergstrom told “The Inside Story” about character arcs, and Robin Owens explained the art of writing a series, which was exactly what I needed to learn about as I embark on my first trilogy.

Best of all, I got to learn about “Developing Characters Who Walk Off the Page” from Jodi Thomas, one of my favorite authors and a genius at creating compelling, sympathetic characters. One of the highlights of my career was finding out she’d read and loved Cowboy Fever, so  I was pleased to spend some time with her (although I still have a million questions for her about how she works her magic!). She also gave a wonderfully entertaining and inspiring speech at our Saturday night banquet. Her inimitable Texas accent is a pleasure to listen to, and her tales of her own struggle to succeed gave us all hope that someday we’ll be New York Times bestsellers, too.

All this learning, networking and friendship is made possible by a group of people who give generously of their time–and time is the most valuable commodity a writer has. We never have enough time, so I’m grateful to people like RMFW president Mark Stevens, conference chair Susan Brooks, and all the other talented writers who tear their hands from the keyboard and come out from behind their desks to help the rest of us succeed.

If you’re interested in joining a writing group, this is a great one. And if your’e thinking about going to a conference someday, do it. Conferences like this one changed me from someone who wanted to write a book to someone who actually gets to write books for a living. You’ll make new friends and get to hang out with favorite authors while you learn enough to make your head explode. In a good way.