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10 Tips For Taking Notes at a Writer’s Conference  

September 21, 2014

by Jennie Jarvis

Jarvis, JennieLet’s face it: in the 21st Century, everyone is doing their part to save the trees (and the planet) by going paperless. Mortgages can be paid online. Statements can be emailed. And writer’s conferences are cutting down on the number of handouts they provide to their attendees.

The Florida Writers Association is just one of the many organizations “going green.” This year, we’ve made several steps towards using less paper, and you are going to notice one of those changes at this year’s Annual Conference in October: a reduced number of handouts.

This year, instead of requiring our faculty to provide a handout to go along with their various workshops, we gave them a choice. You’ll notice that many of the workshops you attend won’t have a corresponding handout available because some of our Agents, Editors, Filmmakers, New York Times Bestsellers and other Feature Faculty made the decision to “go green” and not have a paper handout.

This means, you will need to do things a little differently to take notes that will serve you long after the conference has ended. Here are Ten Quick Tips to be the best note-taker possible:


  1. Sit in the front of the room.

Don’t worry. No one will think you are “brown-noser” because you sit up front. The front is the best place because you can hear the speaker better and see the slides from their PowerPoint presentation more clearly.

  1. Bring an extra pen or pencil.

You never know when you are going to run out of ink. Always have a minimum of 2-3 pens to take notes with and pull them all out before the session starts. This way, if your pen runs out of ink, you can grab the next one and go without missing a beat.

  1. Don’t try to write down everything.

If you try to write down everything, your hand will fall off by lunchtime on the first day. Write down only the most important points the writer brings up. If you feel like you need more information than you were able to write down, ask the presenter if you can get a copy of their PowerPoint slides emailed to you after the presentation is over.

  1. Bring paper with you specifically for taking notes

The best way to take notes is by using a spiral notebook dedicated to that specific conference. Don’t use the tiny, odd shaped notepads the hotel gives you. Those are easily lost. And don’t expect any conference to have enough paper for you to use. Again, people are “going green” so make sure you bring the supplies you need to succeed.

  1. Think Before You Write

Don’t just copy down what people say because they are saying it. Process the information a moment and ask if you really need that tidbit of knowledge. If yes, then write it down. If not, then keep listening and thinking.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up

If a speaker says something that stands out to you, don’t be afraid to say, “I’m sorry, but could you say that again?” Sometimes, they won’t remember what they just said, but many times they will. Having them repeat it will make it easier for you to write it down.

  1. Establish a Note-Taking Structure

If, as you listen to a speaker, you realize the workshop is being conducted off an outline, try to write your notes as an outline. Look for larger points and then smaller facts or details that support those larger points. Writing it out like a novel will make it impossible for you to keep up, so really analyze the structure of what’s being taught in order to copy down the structure on the page.

  1. Organize to Prioritize

Label each section of your notes using the name of the workshop. Use lines across the page to separate thoughts or use asterisks to highlight important points. If all your notes run together, it will make it harder to keep your thoughts straight later on. Remember, you aren’t taking notes for now. You are taking them for the future.

  1. Date and Notate

Always put a date on your notes so you will remember where you first heard the information. Also, go back through your notes and clarify any points or rewrite words that made have been sloppily written while you were taking notes. Think of these as “notes to your future self.”

10. Review Your Notes After the Session

As soon as the workshop ends and the break begins, take a moment before you run off to get your cookie and soda to review your notes. Did you write down everything you wanted to remember? Is there anything you missed? Your memory will never be as strong as it is the moment the session ends, so review your notes right away and make any additions needed.

We here at FWA are working hard to create the best writing conference we have ever had, and we can’t wait to share it with you. We know getting used to fewer handouts might require some adjustment, but in this age of laptops, netbooks, and iPads, our notes can be the best organized ever. Going green means leaving a legacy behind for future generations to enjoy our stories for centuries to come.

My Argument for Cloning

September 19, 2014

By Anne Hawkinson

Anne Hawkinson - PhotoWriting is a solitary endeavor, at least for me. I spend hours alone in my office, at my computer, creating worlds that don’t exist for people who aren’t real. I challenge my characters, put roadblocks in their way, and fill their world with conflict and struggle. It’s a monumental undertaking, and takes more time, effort, and brain-wrangling than most people understand or would be willing to undertake. Such is my fate. I can’t help it. I’m a writer.

Gone are the days where a publisher promotes and publicizes an author (unless you’re one of the biggies, and even the biggies didn’t start out that way). A potential publisher wants to know all about you before you’re published and they want you to have lots of followers (Pied Piper, anyone?). So, while you’re pounding away at your keyboard, you’re also expected to be blogging, tweeting, maintaining your internet presence, and who knows what else. I attend writer’s conferences where it’s all laid out in front of me. My eyes glaze over and the miniscule section of my brain that knows anything about technology shuts down.

“How do any of you get any writing done?” I wonder. Perhaps they don’t need to work full-time like I do. Perhaps they’re blessed like me in that I have a fantastically talented daughter who maintains my website (shameless plug inserted) for me. Without her, I’d have no internet presence and in today’s world, if you don’t have one, you really don’t exist.

Which brings me to my argument for cloning. If there were more than one of me (some would say that one of me is one too many), I could assign myself all the other jobs that need doing so that I could focus on my writing, such as: laundry, housework, full-time job, yard maintenance, shopping for clothes (shopping for anything, really), errand-running, and car maintenance.

Then I need another me for the tweeting, blogging, and website maintenance (my daughter, dedicated as she is, has better things to do). I need someone to market me so that I can spend whatever spare time I can find getting my story written. The challenging part of this extra me is that I still know little-to-nothing about technology or how it all works, and to be honest, I really don’t want to know. I just want to be out there somewhere so this story I’m working so hard on will have a fighting chance. That’s all.

Exercise Wednesday: Is that a gun in your purse or are you just happy to see me?

September 17, 2014

concealedCarryYou’re eating lunch with a friend, a kind-hearted soul–the type of person who tries to shoo the moths out of the house, rather than killing them. She’s dressed smartly in a green double-breasted suit jacket with a black blouse underneath.

As you eat, you’re catching up on old times–college, or maybe from when you worked together a job or two ago. You’re enjoying the conversation and you can tell she is, too, because there’s a certain spark in her eyes that’s re-enforced in the smile that seems to never leave her lips as she speaks and eats.

You’re just telling yourself that you can’t allow yourself to lose track of each other again, when her expression changes. The spark in her eyes is extinguished, replaced by a hard blackness you’d never seen there before, never noticed, even when she was angry.


You don’t get the question out. She’s slung her purse over her shoulder and started to stand.

“Stay here. If the opportunity arises, get out and run. And don’t come back.” Her voice is different, too. Hard and cold. And commanding in a way you never thought was possible for her.

You try again. “Wha–?”

But this time you aren’t cut off by her words, but by the gun she’s pulled from her purse.

“Stay down. And like I said, get out if you can.”

Even though she has a gun, you reach out and grab her arm. “What are you doing?”

As she looks down at you, the hardness in her eyes fades and the familiar easily comes back, mixed with sadness and maybe even dread and a little fear.

“I’m sorry this had to happen now.”

Your job–figure out what happens next. Why did she pull the gun? Why is she carrying one? What’s different about her than you knew and how does it affect you?

Time limit: 30 minutes for a quick story…forever if you want to work it into a larger story.

Rx from the Book Doctor: Never Give Up!

September 15, 2014

By Bobbie Christmas

b. christmasWe writers often hear discouraging information about rejection and frustration. Only once in a while do we hear a success story, and even more seldom does that story happen to someone close by. I’m here to change that situation for you.

Someone who has been a longstanding member of FWA has had a boom year. She sold two books to one of the country’s preeminent independent publishers of mystery, thriller, and suspense titles, and then she sold a third novel to a highly respected traditional publisher of fantasy novels. I point with pride to Susan Klaus, a client of mine who had three books launched within this past year. The first thriller, Secretariat Reborn (Oceanside Publishing), came out in 2013 and not only met with great reviews but also won the Florida Authors and Publishers Association Silver President’s Award for best Florida book, beating books in every genre. Two weeks after Oceanside signed a two-book deal with her thrillers, Tor snapped up her adult fantasy, Flight of the Golden Harpy, which it released in 2014. Again, the reviews were terrific. Most recently, on August 19, Oceanview released Shark Fin Soup, her second book in the Christian Roberts thriller series, and once again, great early reviews are pouring in. It’s also a finalist in the Royal Palm Literary Awards in the thriller category.

How did Susan achieve so much success overnight? Overnight? Ha! Susan has been my client for about seven years. Before she hired me, she had written two complete novels that I know about, but I’ll bet she had written more. After she used her time and talents to create the stories in the first place, she and I labored over her books, improving them with each iteration. She refined, revised, and submitted her books to many agents, publishers, and competitions. After her adult fantasy won a Royal Palm Literary Award for Best Unpublished Sci-Fi in 2010, she was able to land an agent, who eventually sold her book to Tor. It’s only a coincidence that two respectable publishers discovered her talents within months of each other, but the results are almost mind boggling.

Susan Klaus will be attending the FWA conference in October, and although she is not one of the speakers, I hope everyone reading this blog will seek her out and ask her about her path to success. Even if you don’t talk to her, be sure you pick up all three of her books at the conference bookstore or on Amazon.

As a book editor, I read manuscripts day in and day out, but rarely do I spot one that sparkles with Susan’s strong ability to fabricate and slowly unravel gripping stories, no matter what genre she picks. From my viewpoint, the secret to her success is that she never gave up. She created powerful, complex stories, and she worked on them and reworked them until they were worthy of being published. She took the next steps and submitted her manuscripts to agents and publishers, and she never gave up her quest. Now she spends a large portion of her time promoting her books and traveling to book launches, signings, and conferences. She has the perfect formula for success: passion, commitment, determination, and a willingness to seek advice and revise and improve her stories.

If you have those skills, you won’t give up either. Keep writing, keep revising, keep submitting, keep pushing, and keep coming to conferences to learn more and make vital contacts within the publishing industry. Eventually you too can be an “overnight success.”


Yours in writing,

Bobbie Christmas

Owner, Zebra Communications

Excellent Editing for Maximum Marketability

Coordinator, FWA Editors Helping Writers

Contact Bobbie at

May I bring a guest to the annual conference? Writers and nonwriters alike can enjoy the Annual Florida Writers Conference weekend

September 14, 2014

For some, the conference is a change of pace—a way to get away from our routines and to focus on our passion: writing. And maybe we want to share the experience with our nonwriting friends.


No problem.


There’s plenty for nonwriters to do. Orlando is a great city, where they’ll find Disney World, Sea World, Cape Canaveral, Universal Studios, shopping galore, and several beaches. Some things are close to the hotel, and some require a little driving, but all are convenient. The hotel has a fitness center, swimming pool, free Wi-Fi, and other amenities. Guest Services can give you information on other destinations, as well. Your nonwriting guests will not be bored.


And if you want to see your nonwriting friends at meals, that’s doable, too. You may purchase individual guest meals at Registration and receive a badge your guest may use for admittance to whatever meal(s) you purchase. (To attend workshops, however, a guest would need to register for the conference. And, yes, it’s okay for them to register for one day.)

Flyer Color2 for Group leaders (1)

The big event, of course, is the Awards Banquet on Saturday, where among other things, we’ll announce the winners of the Royal Palm Literary Award competition. This is a gala event, which this year has a Hollywood theme, so it will be fun. And exciting.


There’s a catch, though. Seating for the Awards Banquet is limited, and tickets are selling quickly. Once capacity is reached (and we’re getting close), we will have to close the Banquet-only option on the shopping cart. We apologize for any inconvenience. The good news is that next year the conference will move to larger quarters and have a larger Banquet area.


We hope you and your guests enjoy the conference. Any questions, as always, can be directed to See you there!


“Stars of Florida Writers” Annual Conference

October 23-26

$355 for the entire weekend, which is from Friday to Sunday with all meals included. ($35 additional for Thursday evening workshops)

Registration details. Single-day registration is available. However, if you do want to come for the whole weekend, be sure to register before the costs rise on September 22.


Being a Multi-Genre Author

September 12, 2014

By CP Bialois

CP Author PhotoHello everyone!

Being a multi-genre author is a topic that’s been one of the most discussed topics in the writing groups I’m in, so I thought I’d throw my two cents in and share my thoughts.

As many of you know, I’m a multi-genre author. For me, it’s a simple choice since I have an interest in just about everything and anything. I love sci-fi and fantasy, action adventure and horror, so it’s easy for me to have ideas and stories in all of those that I want to explore and share.

Sounds simple, right? Not so fast.

There are many arguments against being multi-genre and some of the most vocalized cons of doing so I’ve heard are: “Your readers won’t know what to expect from you”, “You need to make it easy for your readers to find you”, and “It’s easier to brand your books if they’re in the same genre”.

Now, those are all good arguments to a certain extent. Let’s take the first one about our readers not knowing what to expect.

At first, this is a scary thought. I mean, we are all creatures of habit and stepping into the unknown can be scary and not everyone is up to taking such a step. But let me ask you this, if you’ve read other books by an author and enjoyed them and his/her style, what is there to be really scared about?

Think about it. The author is trusting in their readers to be comfortable enough with them to join them on a different adventure. We go to different places with our friends without too much quibbling, isn’t this really the same thing but on another level?

I’m one that enjoys discovering the unknown, but not everyone is and that’s fine. To each their own. Read more…

Exercise Wednesday: The last line needs to go BOOM!

September 10, 2014

I’d love to take credit for that, but it was actually one of the 33 Unusual Tips to Being a Better Writer, published recently on There’s valuable stuff there, so you should read it.

Tip number 21 is The last line needs to go BOOM!

In today’s exercise, I will write the last line for you:


The rest is up to you. After all, it’s all about the journey.

You could use one of your existing characters, yourself, or perhaps a new character that’s been bouncing around in your mind demanding to get out.

* — You can use a suitable other explosive statement if you want, but that’s where your last line needs to be.


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