What I Learned at the Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference

This is how I looked the day after the conference. I had so many new ideas my hair exploded!


It is easy to be intimidated by conferences, pitches and critiques. The reason I signed up for the conference was to absorb new ideas and improve my craft. Since I’m only three years in, my sponge-like brain was ready to sop it all up.

From Chuck Wendig, I learned to “not care too much.” By that he means don’t get so wrapped up in one manuscript that you become afraid of rejections and are paralyzed. He is a great example of the opposite. He published his first novel, Blackbirds, only three years ago and cranks out books like some people bake cookies. Okay, not that fast, but he makes it look easy. Although that book crossed too many genres for traditional publishers, he has sold tens of thousands of copies. Long live Miriam Black! He has written books about writing for his beloved Penmonkeys along with a variety of fantasy novels. He blogs on TerribleMinds.com and his books can be found there as well.

Chuck Wendig and me


From Gail Carriger, I learned that writing can be like breathing. It is something we have to do in order to be happy. But sometimes we have to make choices. We can’t do it all. Gail had a career in archeology. Typing all day for work and writing her novel at night became too painful. She chose to write novels since it is her oxygen. She has a slew of humorous fantasy books on the New York Times and USA Today Best Seller lists, so I would say that was a very good choice! The first book of the Parasol Protectorate series called Soulless was published in 2009. She’s at GailCarriger.com and her books are here.

gail carriger

From Jim C. Hines, I learned that we all have an opportunity to include diversity in our books. We can write characters of any race and sexual orientation, and can include strong women protagonists. We can give our readers someone other than white heterosexual males to root for. His first book Goldfish Dreams was published in 2009 and is told from a young woman’s point of view. Go Jim! He has written three fantasy series since then. He can be found JimCHines.com and his books can be found here.

jim c hines

From Hank Phillipa Ryan, an investigative reporter for NBC’s Boston Affiliate, I learned to ask questions like, “Will anyone care? Do I care?” She encouraged us to work even when it’s hard since we’ll always feel a sense of accomplishment. She taught us that it’s never too late to start writing novels. She wrote her first book, Prime Time, after being a reporter for nearly forty years. It won an Agatha Award for best new novelist. Hank is my hero. She can be found at HankPhillipiRyan.com and her books are here.

hank phillipi ryan

The theme I heard all weekend was, “Writer’s write.” Authors don’t get stuck on one book, they continue to stretch and grow and learn about their craft by producing many more. We all have a voice and whether it’s heard by a few or by thousands it is still important to just write it down.

Are you writing a book?

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91 responses to “What I Learned at the Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference

  1. My second stab at literary greatness is stuck in development hell,but I’ll never retreat or surrender, Susie.
    I’m glad you had a blast.
    Lord knows, you’ve earned it….

  2. Sounds like this was a worthwhile conference. As long as you take something constructive away from it them the time was well spent. Plus, you looked fabulous in that outfit and hat!

  3. Coincidentally, I’m on my way to a writer’s conference this weekend. I feel exactly the same way you do afterwards – head stuffed to overflowing, full of ideas and enthusiasm. Though, I don’t look nearly as good when my hair blows up! :)

  4. Sounds an awesome conference. Interesting & such a good way to network. We don’t have them here in NZ (well, not ones I get invited to anyway…). Apropos am I writing a book? Absolutely. Three, right this moment, all in various states of publication. I have to finish my effort, as author, to fix the botched proof-edit an upcoming pop-sci book I’ve written suffered & simultaneously make massive inroads into reviewing the proof-edited text of my next tome, also stacked up with the publisher. Another is waiting in the wings (also being proof-edited). I have never quite been this busy in all the years I’ve been writing. Eventually I’ll get to breathe…

  5. Sounds like you had a great time and met some inspiring authors. Where do you get your energy, Susie?

    I’ve got a rough outline, but haven’t the faintest idea of how to actually write a book. I guess the first thing would be to just sit down and start writing, eh?

    • Actually there is a formula I just became aware of. I could have bought “Save the Cat” two years ago and it would have saved me a lot of time, pain and agony. It gives the break down and structure all books need.
      Go for it, Peg!!!

  6. Hi Susie! What a great post! Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Wow, what an awesome conference. A Wild Ride indeed! I certainly hope you get that mop under control girl. If you get the wind that we’ve had over the last couple of days, forget about it. lol. So did I read this right? You’ve only been writing for three years? If that’s true, we have something in common. I feel like I’m so behind everyone. I’m still trying to catch up with all the craft stuff. But, I’m not in a race. Best wishes to you! :)

    • Hey Karen! I can barely hear you over the wind! Whoooosh! It’s been insane for days.
      I used to feel behind, but when you read about the authors in this article, they all had other jobs before becoming an author.
      I finally turned a huge corner with the whole process. It took a while to understand structure. The next book will be CAKE or like baking cookies, right Chuck?
      Thank you!

  7. Good and necessary things for a writer to learn and yes, I am writing a book. This is my fifth.

  8. I have a book in my head, but not ready to come out yet – ha! I wish there were more conferences like this here, but may just have to go to another State on the West Coast and attend one. Thanks for sharing what you learned :) Happy Hump Day!

  9. Fun Susie! Plus, a new metaphor for over the top inspiration: exploding hair!

  10. That sounds like a very productive conference Susie and now you’re more inspired than ever. Excellent! As you know, it’s been almost a year since I published my worst seller. I’m still in recovery from that experience.

  11. I have now added one of Gail Carriger’s books to my goodreads queue.

    How cool you got to meet Chuck Wendig! I love writers conferences because they do energize you to keep going. I took copious notes at the Madison one earlier this month. Thanks for sharing all the tips you learned with us, Susie. Good motivation to get back to it!

    • Chuck is a riot and so very nice!
      I have tons of notes and want to buy the CD for all the classes I missed! What these conferences do for me is fill in the blanks. Even though I’ve always been a storyteller, I just started writing three years ago and had a ton to learn. I’ve got to motivate to get away from my keyboard. :)
      Thanks Jess!

  12. Nothings better – and more energizing than a good conference. Yes, write! It never goes out of style. (great pix!)

    • Thanks Phil! It really gave me confidence that my story will be read. Hopefully soon… :) I really connected with the people at this conference. You’re right. It was energizing!

  13. Wow, what a wonderful conference, Susie! (I love alliteration, even though it’s frowned upon!) I can tell you’re all pumped up. That’s what I love about conferences. How cool that you got your pic taken with Chuck Wendig. That photo of you with your hair exploding is hilarious!

    • I have no shame Lynn! It was cool to meet the authors!
      They were very approachable, supportive and willing to share what they know about the craft.
      I was exhausted on Monday from sensory and brain overload!!! It took me a while to digest everything I learned. *burp* Sorry, I couldn’t resist!
      I may be coming your way soon!

  14. I think I should be…or so I have been told. :)

  15. It sounds like you got a whole lot of nourishment for the writer in you. Sometimes these kinds of conferences can provide just the push you need to do what you want to do. You can put me on your pre-order list for your novel.

    • AWWW!! You made my day! You’ll be first in line. Thank you!
      I can’t wait. This witting journey has been crazy with all kinds of twists and turns, but I can finally see the finish line up ahead…

  16. Writers conferences are THE BEST! Thanks for sharing this one with us! I stopped in Charleston SC for a 3-day conf on the drive north from FL and it was fabulous too and I’m going to a Chuck Wendig workshop here in Toronto next week before I head to France. I’ll say hi to him for you! Susie, I just read your open letter to your boobs too! You are a rock star, no question!

    • Definitely say hi to Chuck for me! You will love him!
      Thanks Patricia! It seems my Ride is always Wild…. :)
      I think there is something very special about conferences. We are with “our people,” everyone is interested in what we are doing, and they speak our language. It is such an upper!

  17. marcymckay

    Love, love, LOVED meeting you. You’re beyond fabulous & I want to stay in touch during our writing journeys! xo!

  18. I write for work and maybe a little on the side for therapy, lol, but I’m not interested in writing a book. But reading and book collecting is a passion, so I definitely wish you well in honing your craft and moving forward towards your writing goals. I’m sure the conference was a step in that direction!

    • I’ve found writing to be very therapeutic too. It’s a place to escape when life gets a little too intense. Thank you so much! This first book has been such a learning experience. It seemed like I was playing a game, but didn’t know the rules. The second should be a cinch in comparison!

  19. Thanks so much for sharing these valuable tidbits from the writers’ conference. It seems like it was a great conference. What a star-studded panel. You are so bold and brave! My introverted nature tends to make me very nervous at these conferences.
    How did your one-on-one meeting go?

    • I had my moments, but everyone was so friendly. An outsider wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between the writers, editors and agents. Everyone was super approachable and they all mingled!
      My 2 page critique went really well and I did get a request for three chapters! Fingers crossed… Thanks for asking!

  20. Just the sort of things I need to be hearing. My next goal is to get writing again. Thanks for sharing your conference take-aways. Even if I wasn’t there, I love to read the bits of inspiration.

    • This was a very small part of what I learned when they spoke as Keynotes for the conference. They also taught classes and discussed issues in panels along with many other professionals for three days. You can see by my hair all the new info was simmering in my cranium on Monday. :)

  21. I’m working on my first book, a series of humorous essays. What I’m really encouraged by is the fact that several of the authors you met at the conference switched careers to become writers. It’s too easy to think that people have always just been writers. Know what I mean?? I like the fact that they felt called to this career and went for it!

    • Exactly! I am a very late bloomer and graduated with a BS in art, but I learned that it makes no difference when you start. If you have a story to tell, write it down!
      Congrats on your collection!

  22. I don’t believe I could focus on one thing long enough to write a book – of course I am kidding. I’ve wanted to write a book but I just don’t sit down and start working – I have an idea and I let it die. My dad wrote a book – I remember how long it took – he’d work and work and work -it was a technical book about oil refining and my mom did the illustrations or tech drawings for him – that 40 years ago before the PC and it was all on a typewriter and by hand. How far we’ve come. If I look closely at my blog there is a book there – in the meantime, I enjoy reading and writing my post when I can. Congrats on your conference it sounds like you tool away a lot from the presenters. Have a great day!

    • Your dad knew the meaning of perseverance. Your mom was so cool to pitch in! It wasn’t easy back in the day before word processors. You have enough to keep you busy. Thanks so much Clay!

  23. Sounds like a great opportunity, Susie.

    Yes, I am writing a book–a memoir about growing up in an organized crime family–as I think you may already know.

    I attended a writing workshop here in Cuenca yesterday, which was pretty awesome!

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    • That is so ironic! Good luck with your book. I would love to read it when it comes out in print. I know from my own experience, the first one is the hardest to wrap up!

  24. Great advice. No I`m not writing a book Susie. I`m too busy with technical writing to consider more writing to be a fun thing to do in my limited free time. I am currently studying and perfecting the art and science of doing nothing at all and enjoying every idle moment. ;)

    • NICE!!!! Enjoy your relaxation time. :) Great to “see” you!
      I found all of it enriched my knowledge about writing books. There were 5 classes at a time all day for 2 1/2 days, so it makes me wonder what I missed! Must buy tape of classes….

  25. Very cool conference. I love that you were able to get the insight you needed and came away being a better writer :) I love it when that happens, whether it’s at an book reading, meet and greet or a conference. I like that we can absorb this stuff and it inspires us to keep going. I’m loving Chuck’s and Hank’s advice…definitely inspirational.

    • Yep! It was all good and very inspirational! I will be working my little fingers to the bone refining my WIP. I also met some incredible people. Pike’s Peak is known as the friendliest conference and it’s true! :)

  26. Love this advice. I’ve never been to a writing conference, but seeing what you gleaned from the experience I think that I need to get myself to one. Thanks for sharing.

  27. Sound advice from all of them Susie – just keep writing and practicing and practicing! Train stories nearing the final versions!

  28. I have three screenplays in the works.. Took a break

  29. Daya

    I’m ALWAYS writing…but you knew that already. :D

    I want to search for an agent, but I keep saying, “No, this isn’t something they’d pick up” and self-publish, instead. Nothing wrong with independent publishing (definitely no restrictions), but I feel like I’m missing out if I don’t go traditional.

    • If traditional is the dream, then go for it! Don’t waste any time. Write a query letter and synopsis and just do it! If it doesn’t work out, then self-publish. That way you can’t wonder, “What if.” :)

      • Daya

        Unfortunately, the one I’m working on right now is basically fanfic. Otherwise I would. (One of the ones I’m ignoring would be good, though.)

        I’ve also thought about trying Writer’s Relief, once I have something useable.

  30. Sounds like a fantastic experience! yay!

  31. Great, inspiring voices!
    I follow Chuck’s blog and I’ve read Blackbirds (it’s very good, by the way) but I hadn’t really heard of any of these others. Lots of new voices to check out!
    I’ve been hesitating on starting a new book, but I’m running out of excuses. My LAST excuse is to wait until Camp NanoWrimo’s second session next month.

    • Don’t wait! It takes time to develop, write, and polish. You can start outlining!
      I’ve read Blackbirds too and am really excited to read the other authors books along with Chuck’s Blue Blazes.
      Good Luck!

  32. Never gone to a conference, Susie, and I’m sure they are very informative and inspiring but have never found the time and there’s never been one close enough to attend. Sounds like you had a great time By the way…, the hat is YOU !

    • Thanks Paul! There was a costume party Friday night. I was amazed at the elaborate steampunk attire!
      There is something about being around people who speak your language. Instead of friends and acquaintances turning a deaf ear, the first question is almost always, “What do you write?”

  33. Great post! Thanks for sharing highlights with us. :) I am writing a book, and pretty much always am, though I go with my gut when it comes to which book that is.

    Love the hair explosion pic! LOL You’re too funny, Susie. Love ya for it!

  34. I agree.. do not dwelll on them. I write because I love to write. When books sell it is icing on the cake. I write and publish because it is in my soul. Just keep on trucking.
    Interesting tidbits here. I have the same hat only mine has veiling hahah– but I figured we would have a few same things.:)

    • I bet we have a lot in common, Linda! The top hat is from a Christmas party, but I added the feather for the steampunk dinner Friday night. The costumes were outrageous!

  35. Awesome, Susie! Looks like you had fun. Thanks for sharing these tidbits. I love what you said about whether it’s read by a few or by thousands.

  36. What great advice, Susie! Most importantly, I love your outfit and hat! Chic Susie! :) :)
    I’m in the beginning stages of book writing but it’s so overwhelming that I’m not quite there yet. :)

    • Thanks! Many writers steampunked out Friday night!
      I graduated with a BS in Art and never took an English class in college since I tested out. I have taken a lot of workshops, classes and read a ton on the internet to fill in the blanks!
      I found myself in a vortex of a huge learning curve when writing my first book. My second will be a breeze in comparison.

  37. Wow, that’s quite the collection of authors! Between my wife and I we’ve read most of them.

    Looking forward to your book joining the collection!

    • Awww! Won’t that be something. :)
      That is so cool that you are already familiar with their work.
      They are a super group of authors. Each was very approachable and open to sharing ideas in and out of the classroom!

  38. They sure are great for inspiring a writer.

  39. Writing conferences are great! I attended my first one a year ago and went with the same frame of mind as you — to soak up the experience and learn. So, so glad I went. If you keep your expectations in perspective, it can be very inspiring

    • I really enjoyed this conference. Everyone including he authors, agents, and editors were super friendly. All four keynote speakers taught classes too.
      Thanks for stopping by Gwen!

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