My First Writer’s Conference

This weekend I attended my first ever writer’s conference. It was an excellent experience and this blog is my way of sharing it all with you!

Summary of Event


Keynote speaker Nancy Carlson

The 11th Annual Bloomington Writer’s Festival and Book Fair took place at the Theatre and Art Center in Bloomington, Minn. The keynote address was given by Nancy Carlson, a children’s author and illustrator who has more than 60 children’s books. Carlson was one of 25 speakers who presented throughout the day and one of 75+ authors who were marketing and selling their books in the lobby. Twenty-two 1-hour classes and panels were offered throughout the day. The classes covered subjects such as writing techniques and trends, marketing and publishing, fiction and nonfiction as well as writing for children and were led by local authors, editors and other authorities in the field. Twenty-one authors were also chosen to read 10-minute excerpts from their published works.

Although the festival was not extremely large, there was a lot to get involved in. One could easily stay busy and entertained throughout the entire 8-hour event.

My Class: Every Good Story Contains a Mystery


The most luring part of event for me was the classes. Ranging from $13-26, any writer could find a class that fit their interests. I attended a class titled “Every Good Story Contains a Mystery” led by Mike Kalmbach, an author, freelance editor and creative coach located out of Rochester, Minn. Kalmbach argued that any piece of prose should implement mystery (small or large) to keep their reader attentive and interested. He suggested things as simple as describing a closed door or a concealed box in your story, leaving the reader to wonder what lies inside. Reveal something surprising about a character’s past without revealing how or why or when it happened.

Throughout the hour, Kalmbach gave the class writing prompts to write about for a few minutes. For one of these exercises, he showed us a picture of an old door in a large, stone archway and asked us to write for a few minutes about what we might see when we open the door. One of the participants who volunteered to read their writing from this exercise stuck with me. Paraphrasing from memory, this is part of what she wrote:

Behind the door, six people sat around a green felt-covered table playing poker. The four men and two women were playing for large stakes, hundreds of dollars worth of chips piled high in the center of the table. One of them was a murderer.

When stakes run that high, so do emotions. If the murder happens to be one of the players that loses everything, the tension is sure to build. But who is the murderer? That question will be at the forefront of every reader’s mind until the mystery is solved. It is a brilliant technique.

More noteworthy comments from the class:

 In good stories, each character should have…

  • Different perspectives
  • Different reactions and opinions to the events of the story
  • Unique goals
  • Unique skills

Writing prompts can help writers relax and focus their creativity. At times, working on the same piece day after day after day can become draining. Sparking your creativity with an unrelated writing prompt can get the juices flowing again and help you think differently about your main piece.

Ways to improve a slow scene:

  • Add surprising elements to it
  • Add details that hint at something bigger to come
  • Add an interesting train-of-thought from the character
  • Add a powerful emotion to the otherwise dull actions of the characters
  • Rewrite the scene in brief summary to get to more interesting parts quicker (sometimes you simply have to cut it)
  • (Kalmbach shared an excellent writing exercise for this that I plan to share in a future blog)

Story Endings…

  • Should always fit the overall plot
  • Should reflect something from the beginning
  • Don’t want things to end too perfect for the characters

Having a character sacrifice themselves in some way can be an excellent way to raise the stakes. If one character sacrifices themselves, something bigger and better should be yet to come, and the reader will anticipate that.

Book Fair

It was an interesting experience to see authors market and sell their books. Some sat casually behind their table and waited for participants to approach them; others stood in front of the table and actively drew people in to discuss their books. Many handed out bookmarks promoting their published work. I found it interesting how individual authors would summarize their books. Most focused on the plot of the book but other’s focused on genre or the audience they imagined it for. Some of the non-fiction authors discussed what inspired the writings and one of the children’s authors I talked to focused on the illustrations.


I was surprised by how poorly attended the readings were. For a few, I was the only person in attendance besides the volunteers and individuals who videotaped the sessions. If I had been in involved in the event management, I would have put the readings in a larger and more open area to encourage more participation.

Of the handful of readings I sat in on, all but one simply introduced themselves and read excerpts from their book or books. The other reader, an editor of a collection of stories about individuals who survived polio as children, did not read any except from her book. She discussed her interest in the area and her process of collecting the stories. Her explanation seemed to drag on and repeat itself and even though her excitement was evident, it lacked interest for me and I assume the same for others who lack a personal interest in the subject. I would have preferred her to read one of the more inspiring/interesting stories from her book.


The writer’s festival was an excellent experience and the perfect size for my first event of the type. I plan to attend many similar events in my future and look forward to each and every one. No matter what you’re interests, finding a way to be involved in a community of like-minded people is a very valuable experience.

To see more about the event, visit the Bloomington Theater and Art Center’s website. 

I made the rookie mistake of not taking photos at the event, I hope you’ll forgive me.

About Sarah JS

Aspiring writer, lover of words, book nerd, working editor, and permanent student of the world

Posted on March 22, 2014, in A Writer's Life and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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