Cape Cod Writers Conference: Nuggets of Wisdom Wash Up on Shore Like Sea Glass

One of my favorite things about Cape Cod is looking for sea glass,

those shards of broken glass lovingly smoothed by the ocean that wash up on the shore,

painstakingly sought after and plucked from the wet sand with as much glee as if spotting gold.

Karen L. Day (YA Author of: A Million Miles From Boston) wasn’t supposed to start my day with nuggets of knowledge, but she did it anyway.  Instead of combing the sand for sea glass, I was surprised to find that it just washed up into my shoe.

I’m attending the Cape Cod Writer’s Conference this week.  Cape Cod Writer’s Center of Osterville, MA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its conference, and they’re pulling out all the stops with thrilling keynote speakers (Joseph Finder, Amy Caldwell, and Andre Dubus III), literary agents, manuscript reviews, and a plethora of writing and publishing classes.

I showed up early to class, trying to avoid bridge traffic, and found to my dismay that the seats had already been filled.  I entered the eerily silent room and squeezed into a single empty seat between two people already poised with pen and paper at the ready.  The instructor at the front was primed with laser pointer in hand and eyed me up and down as I struggled, red-faced and breathless, to open my notebook.  Finally, the instructor smiled and said, “You know there’s only four minutes left in this 90 minute class?  Bridge traffic?” Yes, I’d stumbled into the class prior to the one I’d signed up for and butted in, mid-writing exercise. (UGH)  The group was lovely and invited me to stay for the last four minutes, and I must say, although the presenter, Karen Day, writes outside of my thriller genre, her insights into the writing process resonated with me throughout the rest of my day.  Sometimes, it’s a good thing to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Two of Karen Day’s insights that I gleaned from the four minutes of what must have been ninety amazing ones are:

1)  When you’re finished with the first draft, immediately sit back down and write another paragraph or scene.  Sometimes, some of those last fleeting thoughts are profound enough to reshape your ending, and make the story stronger.

2)  When you’re flushing out your characters’ traits, remember to dig deep, and determine what makes your characters vulnerable.  Readers relate to your protagonist’s, and antagonist’s, vulnerability, and that makes the story stronger.

Thank you, Ms. Day, and all the students in the the Writing for Children class who warmly accepted me as one of their own for four minutes.  I’ll relish your nuggets of wisdom from my visit to Cape Cod like the jar of sea glass I cherish on my writing desk.  By the way, the conference continues every day this week with a variety of classes and events.  Be sure to work this one into your writing calendar for next year!  Any brilliant pieces of sparkling wisdom plucked from the vast ocean of the writing realm that you’d like to share?


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