Beating the Post Conference Blues

Are you home from the ACFW conference?  Finally unpacked?  I hope you came home filled with encouragement and new ideas on how to make your writing breathtaking.

Now what? 

Conferences can be overwhelming, between the requests for proposals or full manuscripts, new story ideas, craft lessons, marketing epiphanies and loads of new friends.  Where and how do you start to process all this information?

  1. Organize your contacts: Sit down a make a list of everyone you met, from editors to fellow authors, to newbies. I always have a bazillion biz cards, and I just take a moment to input those into my outlook contacts.


  1. Reach out.If there are editors or agents who gave you their time, even in an elevator to listen to your proposal, thank them.  If they asked you for a submission, thank them and tell them that you’ll be sending it. Thank the new authors you met who spent time with you.  If you’ve met someone just beginning their journey, reaching out to encourage them is a way to remind yourself of where you’ve been.  This is how you build connections.


  1. Start a “Huddle” or Craft Group. This is not a critique group, but a group of writers committed to learning together. One of the best things that Rachel Hauck and I do is compare notes on similar books. We’ll both read a book and then talk about the craft we learned in it. Or she reads a book and tells me what she learned, and I read a book and mention what I learned. Working together you can start to apply what you learned at conference.


  1. Organize your plan of action. No doubt you’ll have come home with something you’d like to work on in your story.  If it is something you are going to weave into the plot or the first three chapters, knuckle down and do this immediately before you send in your proposal. If you have a list of new teaching tips to add into your ms, then make a list, and apply these, step by step in to your story. Don’t try and tackle it all at once – get one element down, then move to the next.


  1. Respond to those requests for proposals. If you’ve received a request to send in a proposal, or a full, then, Yay! and Oh Boy, because now you have an open door that you want to use wisely.


Now that you’ve attended the conference, you may want to hold off submitting until you have applied changes to your MS. If you have quick revisions, go ahead and apply them, easiest to hardest, to the synopsis and first three chapters. Your can fix the rest of the book while the agent/editor is reading over my proposal.


However: if it is a full book rewrite, write to them and tell them you’ll contact them when it is finished. You don’t want an agent to read your proposal, be excited about it, only to have you say…sorry, it’ll be six months before I get the rest to you.


The key is to keep communicating.  If it takes you until mid-November to rewrite, then simply send your agent/editor a Christmas note giving them an update on the story.  I promise they’re not waiting by the computer for your submission, but it’s courtesy to let them know what’s going on.

My advice: Follow up on every proposal request with the appropriate information:

  1. A Thank you and your ready proposal
  2. A Thank you, and an update on when you’ll send it.
  3. A Thank you and an “I’m not ready yet, but can I contact you later when I am” request.


Conferences are a great boost to your writing journey – but the key is to beat the Post-Conference Blues and get to work!


Then– Go! Write Something Brilliant!

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You Don’t Have To Do It Alone – Brainstorming Help!

As writer’s we are constantly learning new things to improve our craft. That being said, brainstorming is one of the harder aspects of the writing journey for me. It’s amazing, I can help other writers with plotting but when it comes to mine, I get stuck. I was astounded (and greatly relieved) to find out I could get help.

Last week I met with my craft buddies and we had a fantastic time brainstorming. Not only did we flesh out our next novel but Gabrielle Meyer was an awesome hostess. She planned the schedule and created the perfect atmosphere of brainstorming and relaxing. For the most part, we worked in the mornings and played in the afternoons. Listen, if I didn’t love where I lived, I would move to Little Falls Minnesota. Thank you Gabrielle!

If you want to brainstorm with a group, here are a few tips.

  1. Have Clear Expectations. Like anything else, you want to go into a project with clear expectations and communication.Time is precious and you want to maximize it.
  2. Set a schedule. You want to make sure everyone gets equal time. We scheduled about three hours per person to brainstorm.
  3. Voice Recorder. Utilize a voice recorder or the recorder on your smart phone. I promise you won’t be able to type notes quick enough. Ideas can come fast and furious and they can change just as quick. A recorder ensures that you catch it all.
  4. Be flexible. Remember, you are brainstorming with people who have different perspectives and experiences. Listen to the ideas; you never know what may come from it. One idea leads to another and before you know it you’ve hit upon something that works!
  5. Speak the same lingo. The group of people you brainstorm with should speak the same writing lingo as you. Translated? If you follow the Lindy Hop, then they should know exactly what that means. If they follow a three act structure, you should know what that means. It helps ensure all needs are met.

These are just a few benefits I receive from our craft group.

  • Perspective. Each person has different talents and experiences. In our group alone we have a copy editor, a journalist/reporter, a grant writer and a historian. Throw the four of us together and we came up with awesome goals, disappointments and absolutely awesome love stories to write.
  • Lindy Hop. We utilized the My Book Therapy’s framework to plot a book and we were able to walk away with our next story almost complete. After I get home I plug everything into an Excel chart and then review it with The Book Buddy. Use whatever works for you, but I’ve found these two tools help ensure I haven’t missed any key points in plotting.
  • Friendships. We’ve developed awesome friendships because of our common passion of Jesus and writing. What a blessing to call these ladies my friends.

What about you, what experiences have you had with brainstorming?

When Is It Time To Have A Craft Partner Review Your Manuscript?

I’m so thankful for friends like Beth Vogt and Edie Melson who took the time to answer my “newbie writer” questions on craft/critique partners.

Here’s the first question for this segment. Click the link if you want to watch it. Alena Blog segment 3.

(AAT) Now we’ve got this fast draft and we have a craft partner. We have an established relationship with a craft partner. When is a good time for someone to look at your work-in-progress?

(BKV) When I fast draft I usually like to set it aside for a couple of weeks. I’m usually worn out and it’s good to give distance for a couple of weeks. Then when I get together with my craft partner, I usually let them know what I’m looking for.

As far as I’m concerned there’s two ways to critique a book.

You can be looking for big picture edits. You just want to know; Is this scene working or are you feeling the emotions? Or you can be looking at fine-line edits, where you are really trying to polish a scene. You have to let your critique partner know what you are looking for. There have been times where I’ve gone into a critique group and said, “Your welcome to read this scene. I want you to know I’ve had a rough week, and I really don’t want feedback from you all.” I have been that honest with them, because I couldn’t even handle them telling me a word was misspelled. It was just that bad of a week. I think that in a really good critique group you can be that honest with them.  They’ve gone ahead and read it and said, “Loved every word of it Beth.” They just left me alone for that week.

(EM) I like to be able to brainstorm before I start a book and get things laid out. I generally have an idea and it sparks my creativity to do that. When I’m in a midst of a first draft, its not a time I want craft partners chiming in. I have to have a big picture of the whole book before I start listening to other people’s suggestion, even good suggestions. I need to get my arms around it first. I do what Beth does and let it sit for a couple of weeks before I go back in. Yes, there have been times where I’ve said. “Look guys, if you can’t say something nice don’t anything at all.

(AAT) Do you think you should have two partners, one person to help brainstorm your plot and someone to help with critiquing? What does your process look like?

(BKV) I’m and editor. Edie is an editor. Often when we think of critiquing, we are thinking of editing and were thinking of grammar, punctuation and spelling. Believe me that is an important part of polishing your manuscript. But quite honestly that is the final phase of editing your manuscript. It cannot be overlooked. If you are a lousy speller, find an editor. Make sure you hand that manuscript up. You can’t ignore that and say, “I’m a lousy speller.” You have to do everything you can to make your manuscript the best possible manuscript before you pitch it to an agent or turn it into a publisher.

There is more to a critique than grammar, punctuation and spelling. Like I said, it’s the final phase. There’s craft. One of the things Edie mentioned, it can be brainstorming. Walking in and saying, I’m stalled out on a scene. Help me figure this out or ask for some options on what can happen next. It could be, help me layer in the emotion, or I need a symbol for this scene. Just some of the things we talk about at My Book Therapy.

There are so many other things you can talk about with your craft partner besides spelling, punctuation and grammar. We have to remember that when we think about craft partners. When we talk about editing, what we are really talking about is helping one another as we re-write our manuscript.

(EM) I agree completely. I think it’s so important to make sure we are with a group or partner who comes from the same viewpoint. It would not do for me to find a fiction critique/craft partner who doesn’t understand the My Book Therapy lingo because that’s the way I put together a book. If I have to explain what I’m trying to say or try and define words, it wastes time. There are a lot of different ways to put together a book out there.  There is a lot of different verbiage to make a book come together well. I think it’s so important to pick your favorite language and find a group that speaks that language.

What makes your editing process goes smoothly?

The Next Step: Writing & Family Obligations, Quick Meal Ideas

Do you ever find yourself lost in the world of your wip only to hear the call of your family obligations?  You know, simple things like picking up your kids from school and dinner?

I do. I’ve been revising my fast draft and it’s been quite a challenge with end of school year activities.

While my characters were going through great emotional angst, my kids were going through abandonment issues.

“Mom, where are you? Are you picking us up?”

Hmmm.  This was not good.

Praise God I only live 10 minutes away, but still.

When kids get home, what’s the first question you hear?

“What’s there to eat?”

While I can be pretty inventive when I need to be, I’m no magician.

So how do you solve this?

Plan.  On every trip to the grocery store stock up on at least two meals for those moments when you just don’t have the time to cook. This way when you are racing through your wip, you won’t have to stop for long.

Here are some options for quick meals.  These meals are so easy my ten-year-old daughter makes them.


2 Packages Frozen Ravioli (1 Cheese, 1 Beef)

1 Bottle Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti seasoning to taste

Follow the directions on the back of the package to cook the ravioli.

Simultaneously heat the spaghetti sauce, adding seasoning to taste.

Let simmer for about 10 minutes.

Then add the ravioli, mix into the sauce and serve.

Serve with salad and garlic bread.


Meatball Sandwiches

Frozen meatballs from the frozen section in your local grocery store. They have turkey and beef.  Choose whichever you like the best.

1 pkg. Frozen Meatballs

1 bottle Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti seasoning to taste

1 pkg. French bread or sub bread

1 pkg. Mozzarella Cheese (about 2 cups)

Cook the meatballs according to the package directions.

Simultaneously heat the spaghetti sauce, adding seasoning to taste.

Heat oven to 375. Spray a pan with Pam.

Cut the sub bread open lengthwise

Add the cooked meatballs to the bread.

Pour spaghetti sauce over the meatballs and then layer mozzarella cheese over the sauce.

Place the tray into the oven until the cheese melts.

What about you, what are some of your favorite time-saving meals and how do you balance writing and family obligations?


A romance novel addict, Alena juggles life in the family business while mothering four zany kids. She ponders the beginning aspects of a writer’s life while enjoying real life with her family.