Some Random Stuff I Learned at KWLS

San Carlos Institute, site of KWLS
San Carlos Institute, site of KWLS

My lofty intention this week was to summarize the Key West Literary Seminar, in 500 words or less.  I really had no idea before going just how impossible a task that would be.  I’m still trying to process it all myself.  So instead of giving you a blow by blow of all the panels, etc, I’m going to offer up just a few of the things I learned this past week.

1)      The cardinal sin in fiction is to bore the reader.  I honestly can’t remember who said it (it was on the first day, which seems so long ago) but it really resonated with me.  Sure, it should go without saying, but how many perfectly competent books have you started reading only to put them down after the first few pages because they couldn’t hold your interest?

2)      Don’t close off possibilities in the story from the beginning.  This is the main thing I took away from the workshop of my story with Robert Stone.  I need to challenge myself, make the story more difficult, so the opening doesn’t lead directly to the outcome.  In my story as currently written, there could be only one outcome, and this makes the story predictable and boring.  (see number 1)

3)      Writers can win readers over by their appearances on panels and in readings.  I knew absolutely nothing about Gary Shteyngart (Super Sad True Love Story) before Key West, but after hearing him read and discuss his work, I’ll be reading his book.  The same goes for Colson Whitehead (Zone One), even though his book has zombies in it and I’m not really into zombies.  The entire group of writers, really, blew me away.  You can hear them yourself once the KWLS podcasts are online.  (Make sure you listen to everything with Margaret Atwood.)  You’ll even be able to hear my reading, I think.

4)      All writers get a little nervous before an appearance.  Or maybe George Saunders just told me that to be kind.  But what he said (and he is a fabulous speaker, by the way) is that I should look at it as giving the audience a gift, as sharing something with them that no one else can give. I can’t say it made me less nervous, but I will never forget it.  Oh, and if you love short fiction, read George Saunders.  He’s a master.

5)      Go to everything you can at a conference, no matter how exhausting the schedule.  This includes readings, panels, workshops, and social events.  I pretty much did everything there was to do.  I heard some wonderful writers, got to know a great bunch of attendees, learned a lot about myself, and had a beautiful evening sailing on a schooner at sunset.  Yes, it can be tiring, but there’s always time to rest when you get home.

Thank you Key West Literary Seminar.  It was a magical week filled with people who are passionate about literature.  Now I need to get back to writing.  A week is a long time away from my characters, and I missed them.

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