6 Lessons I Learned from the RWA

I joined the RWA (Romance Writers of America) a year ago, and if I had to compress my experience into one phrase or face vampires, or some other gruesome variety of death it would be: I fell through a portal and was immersed in a writer’s world, full of  engaging storytellers spinning tales and teaching craft. It’s been an amazing year.

It began when I wandered into a local chapter meeting (i.e., VIC – Vancouver Island Chapter). It was August  so the attendance was low, but the panel discussion given by two writers was so  phenomenal it pulled the earth beneath my feet from under me. Really.

First, Lee McKenzie (multi-published author with Harlequin) spoke about developing characters using archetypes. Then, Bonnie Edwards (multi-published, Hqn Blaze and others) explained  the craft of developing “scene and sequel” in a story. They talked about other things too, but I was so blown away with these two topics that I didn’t get it all. I left with pages of notes, a decision to join the RWA , and an aching desire to write.

…and the learning didn’t stop there. I’ve attended at least one workshop a month with our local chapter, taken on-line courses and traveled to Vancouver for a workshop. I’m a bit overwhelmed with all the information I’ve been given, but I can see it slowly taking root in my writing and I’m thrilled. I entered an in-house contest and four of our chapter published authors spent hours reviewing my work and commenting. I reworked my wip and sent it out…and so far its finalled in two contests: the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and the Golden Claddagh Contest. It’s been a heady adventure and I can’t wait to see where my writing will take me next year.

As I’m coming up to a one year anniversary for me and the RWA, I decided to reflect on the first six lessons I learned:

One – POV (Point of View)

I like to get into all my character’s heads, and I’m learning to stick to one POV at a time. No more head hopping.

Two – Active Verbs

If I had a dime for ever time I’ve edited passive verbs out of my wips I’d be rich. I seem to get particularly stuck on “had”. She had seen that, rather than She saw that.

Three – Character Development

I start writing a story by developing two strong characters and then work out their conflicts. (References: Lee McKenzie’s workshop and The Complete Writer’s Guide To Heroes and Heroines by Tami D. Coiwden, Caro LaFever, Sue Viders)

Four – Scene and Sequel

This refers to the craft of developing a scene (action) followed by a sequel (reflection and decision to move on to the next action/scene). It may sound simple, but when done well it makes the plot crystal clear. (Reference: Bonnie Edwards on-line workshop)

Five – Nixing Dialogue Tags

Instead of adding dailogue tags like, “‘What’s going on,’ he said,” I’m working on having dialogue stand alone beside action. For example: “He slammed the door. ‘What’s going on.'”

Six – GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict)

When developing my story I constantly keep in mind my character’s goals, motivation and conflicts. (References: Debra Dixon GMC, and Nancy Warren’s DOG plotting process)

And then…there’s the camaraderie, the critique sessions and the on-going support… It’s been a great year.

For anyone out there interested in writing (in any genre) I highly recommend joining the RWA to learn writing craft, meet writers and move forward. I can’t wait to see what my top 6 lessons in my second year will be.

14 thoughts on “6 Lessons I Learned from the RWA

  1. Oh, wow! The second writer I’ve heard from in two weeks who applied what Lee and I talked about that day. How cool is this? Very cool, I say.

    There’s nothing more rewarding than hearing that my sharing truly helped a writer move along on the journey.

    I’m blown away…thanks so much for letting me know, JoAnn…Cheers!

    • Bonnie
      It was an amazing panel discussion in August. … and don’t get me started on how useful your silly word list is. Your generosity of spirit humbles me, and is, I believe, the fundamental reason why the RWA works so well. It’s about talented writers sharing their time and expertise with the rest of us.
      So…you are most welcome, and again, thank you.

  2. Jo-Ann, thank you so much for your kind words. I’m thrilled you discovered RWA, and delighted to say that VIC is richer for having such a talented writer in its midst. Good luck with your contest finals, and have a wonderful time in Anaheim!

    • Lee
      Wow! Talk about kind words. Thank you. Your comment touches my heart. I’m going to post it by my computer for motivation.
      I wonder if you realize how much of a difference you make for us beginning writers. Your workshops are excellent sources of information, but its more than that. You give hours of your time setting up programs, judging our contest, answering our newbie questions…the list is endless. I know that you bumped my writing up several notches from where it was a year ago, and I’m not the only one.
      So again…thank you.
      Anaheim, here I come. I can’t wait.

    • Christine
      Maybe we can swap stories over a glass of wine:) I love your wine stories.
      It’s a great organization.
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing.
      Best Wishes
      Jo-Ann

  3. Happy Anniversary! :-) You’re ahead of where I was after my 1st year. I didn’t get Scene & Sequel until after about 10 years. I LOVE the 16 archetypes of heroes & heroines book. Can’t wait to see what you do in your next year!

    • Alexa
      Thank you. I’m reluctant to say I “got S&S” but I understand the concept, LOL.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
      Best Wishes
      Jo-Ann

  4. Wow, Jo-Ann. I’m blown away with how much you’ve grasped in one year. I’ve been at this 5 years and just got what my CPs and judges were saying to me about emotion–thanks to Margie Lawson’s packets, I’m learning how to add that. And I’m still hanging out there on the scene and sequal–have an online class scheduled to happen next spring. I think I’m a slow learner. LOL But no matter. I’m learning, and every year the writing gets better.
    I agree about the importance of RWA to learning and relationships. I’m fortunate to have a strong active chapter. Hey there North Texas RWA. Super supportive folks willing to share their knowledge and experience. I love my on line groups and blog relationships. Valuable to me and much more so to folks who don’t live near a regualr chapter.
    So congrats on your first year, Jo-Ann and super good luck to you with the Daphne. I’m pulling for you.

    • Marsha
      Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. Your support means a lot to me.
      One of the things I love about writing is there is so much for me to learn. Each time I master a new skill, it adds richness, texture and clarity to my prose. It’s like having Christmas morning several times a year.
      Happy writing
      Jo-Ann

  5. Thanks so much for sharing this, Jo-Ann. I’m debating on joining RWA because my books aren’t really romance heavy, and my closest local chapter is two hours away. But I do think it adds some professionalism to your resume, so to speak.

    • Hi Stacy
      I’m not sure about the cv aspect, but I highly recommend the RWA for camaraderie (i.e., no one understands a writer who lives in a cave better than another writer who….) and affordable workshops on craft. Every second month I have to travel 1 1/2 hours for a meeting because our meetings alternate between the town I live in and another town on our island. But I never regret the ride.
      Thanks for stopping by and adding to the dialogue.
      Happy Writing
      Jo-Ann

  6. Just one more comment about Scene and Sequel…I’ve been teaching it for years…and I STILL learn more all the time. It is an ongoing journey and one I’m fascinated with.

    Cheers to all who dedicate so much to learning craft!

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