Gems of Wisdom from Life, the Universe, and Everything


For the past twenty-two years I’ve lived in the shadow of my alma mater, BYU (part of that time I was a student there), right here in Provo, Utah. For eleven of those years, I’ve been serious about writing. Yet last weekend was the first time I’ve ever attended the annual sci-fi/fantasy writing symposium, Life the Universe, and Everything, that’s been held at BYU for the past twenty-nine years.

All those other years of missed opportunity . . . Definitely my loss.

A few hours there, in the auditorium and conference rooms packed with about eight hundred other writers, and I was feeling motivated, inspired and—a little on overload, so great was the quantity of excellent information being crammed into my brain. Fortunately, a lot of that information made it to my laptop to be more thoroughly digested later. For those not able to attend, here are a few gems of wisdom I gleaned from the fabulous presenters and classes.

From Plotstorming with Paul Genesse—

“‘Writers who write great plots have really good books.'”

“‘Writers who write great characters have really good careers.'”

“‘Our primary focus as a writer should be to make readers connect emotionally with our characters.'”

This one I loved (no pun intended). The favorite story type is . . .

1. Boy meets girl.

Yes, romance rocks!

From Rewriting to Greatness with Dave Farland—

It was both inspiring and depressing to learn that Dave does 6-7 edits on every book he writes! On one hand, I feel a little better about my own tedious editing process. On the other hand, it looks like I won’t necessarily get any faster at this. But I loved that he titled the class, “Editing to Greatness.” That’s really what it is all about. A lot of people can write a story, but taking the time, going through the necessary steps of cutting and rewriting and adding and rewriting what you added, just putting the work in to make a story great is really what being a master storyteller is all about.

ONE of the SIX edits Dave does is a syllabic edit. This edit involves taking a good look at word choice and syllable length in action or other intense, fast-paced scenes. Using words with less syllables in those scenes makes for a quick, easy read, and therefore makes the scene feel more immediate and tense.

Wow, is all I could think of as he explained this process. I never would have thought of that one on my own. And now I’m wondering . . . for those slower, emotionally packed, highly romantic scenes, should I be searching for words with many syllables? Probably not :)

From Charisma is not a dump stat with Jake Black, Howard Tayler, and Tracy Hickman—

First, I have to say that this was a fun class. It’s also a class I needed, and I probably still need several more like it. I’m pretty content at home in a mom t-shirt (meaning that there is a good chance someone has wiped something on my shirt throughout the day) and jeans, sitting at the computer with my hair in a messy ponytail and wearing little to no make-up. That’s the real author look, isn’t it?

According to these guys, not so. We need to figure out what our uniform is (based on who our audience is) and then wear that out in public, because “clothes matter!”

As the panel was discussing this, I glanced at the shoulder of my white sweater where, on my way out the door that morning, I’d noticed a dried glob of some unidentified kid goo (cereal, mashed banana, snot?). I’d done my best to scrub it off with a baby wipe, but it was still there. Nice uniform, Michele.

If that wasn’t bad enough, I’d been unable to find socks—without holes—that matched my pants, so I’d borrowed a pair of my husband’s (socks, not pants). His foot is a size 12; mine is a 7. You see the problem. I saw it clearly too whenever I sat down. Nothing like a big, puckery wad of sock heel sticking out from your shoe to scream professionalism.

As I said, I needed this class.

Aside from discussing wardrobe choices, these guys also did a great job of emphasizing the importance of each and every interaction we have. “Everyone is someone important, so treat them that way,” is advice you can’t go wrong with. I sincerely hope to be as genuine and helpful as these guys were in each and every step of my writing path.

Both my computer and composition book are filled with fabulous notes, like the sampling above, from LTUE. I can’t share them all, but I do want to mention one more wonderful, out-of-this world, chock-full-of-awesome-advice class. It was taught by Elana Johnson, author of the upcoming YA novel, Possession. She taught a class on pitching to agents that was INCREDIBLE in it’s wealth of detail and practical advice and instruction. If you happen to be going to the ANWA conference this weekend, go to her class! You won’t regret it. Plus, she brought chocolate šŸ˜€ Thanks, Elana, for the great advice and for emailing your entire presentation. If your book is half as fabulous as you were, it should sell great!

Happy writing, everyone. I hope you enjoyed my ramblings on life, the universe, and Everything.