Just spending time with other authors you can learn a lot, especially the ways other writers do things (which will almost always give you ideas about your own work). But here are a few more tips I picked up from the scheduled presentations at this year’s Canadian Authors Association conference.

These days, you need to develop an online presence in every way you can, but before you do, make sure you understand your personal brand: who you are, what you do, and what makes you unique. Then stamp that brand everywhere you can on the web. (Thanks to Dawn Boshcoff.)

Read and follow a publisher’s submission guidelines to the letter, every time. Otherwise you’re asking to be rejected—they’re too busy to bend their own rules. Along with your publishing credits, publishers do want to know that you belong to professional organizations (like the C.A.A.) and smaller writing circles—it shows you work at your craft and take it seriously. (Thanks to Anne Judd.)

When trying to create fresh, original, and authentic dialogue don’t use filler words like well, oh, like, or you know. But maybe do try the “Law & Order” dialogue style: when the L & O cops are interviewing witnesses, the witnesses carry on with what they’re doing, sometimes even with other conversations. That’s realistic and automatically prevents long speeches. Just don’t overdo it. (Thanks to Matt Bin.)

You don’t have to sell your poetry for $10 a crack, or even give it away. With some creative thought, you can find nearly endless ways to market it in the form of everything from bookmarks to fridge magnets to framed decorative photos. (Thanks to Jean Kay.)

When doing a public reading of your work, or giving a presentation, relaxation and vocal exercises beforehand can make a world of difference. And don’t be concerned about a case of the “butterflies”—they don’t represent stage fright, but excitement, and that adrenaline can be channeled to make for a vibrant and compelling performance. (Thanks to Ben Nuttall-Smith.)

And last of all (for now) every serious writer acknowledges that, above all, you need to put your butt in the chair and keep it there. Eliminate all distractions and do the work. That’s the way, the only way, to succeed in this crazy business.


Lots of writers are members of writing groups or larger organizations. Based on my own experience, relatively few attend annual conferences, retreats, and extended workshops. After all, once you factor in the registration fees, accommodation, food, and travel costs, they can be expensive. And they may require you to take time off from your ‘day job’. All good excuses to beg off and stay at home. So why should you go to a writers conference?

This past weekend, I took in the Canadian Authors Association’s annual CanWrite conference in Grand Bend, Ontario. Although I wasn’t there for the full retreat (a new element this year), the participants benefitted from the wisdom of award-winning short-story writer Sandi Plewis and highly-successful novelist Barbara Kyle in half-day workshops, plus shorter seminars from the likes of New Media specialist Dawn Boshcoff, writer/trainer Lynne M. Smelser, and freelance editor Jodie Renner. They heard the perspective of small press publisher Anne Judd, and independent bookstore owner Mary Brown. They picked up tips from fellow CAA members like Ben Nuttall-Smith, Jean Kay, Robert W. Mackay, Bernice Lever, Anthony Dalton, and Matthew Bin. And that’s just the organized presentations. So obviously one reason to attend conferences is the number and variety of educational opportunities they offer. Every writer wants to improve their craft. I don’t plan to stop learning until the day I die (in fact, hopefully the next level of existence will be really interesting, too!)

But equally important and valuable is the companionship conferences offer. I think every writer needs to regularly spend time surrounded by other writers, if only to keep our sanity. No-one else has a clue about the writing experience: the heartaches and the joys, the madness and the inspiration. Not friends; not family. Only other writers can really give you the encouragement and support you need to continue in such a daunting path—and it’s just plain enjoyable to be around them.

A third reason is to support organizations (like the CAA) that support you and your career, with information and a broad range of services. They also give a strong voice to the writing community, something that certainly becomes important when big issues come up (like the Copyright Bill C-32).

Let’s not forget that most writers have other jobs and hectic lives, and a retreat or conference can kick-start your creative juices again—think of it as life-giving medicine for your career, ignored at your peril. But a getaway like that can also be a reward, and you deserve it. Writing is a lonely and difficult pursuit. In the case of this weekend’s conference, Grand Bend is a beautiful spot, and the people at the Pine Dale Motor Inn were terrific hosts, highly recommended.

Start out small, if you have to—find a conference or retreat or multi-day workshop close to home and try it out. Your career will thank you. You might even be able to say goodbye to your shrink.