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A Fall Conference Recap by Abigail Portell

Appalachian State University student and bookstagrammer Abigail Portell attended her first NCWN Fall Conference the weekend before last. Here, she reflects on her experience.

By Abigail Portell

This was my first time attending a NCWN event. I enjoyed being able to pick and choose from several different sessions at the Fall Conference.

My first class was “Setting the Scene” with Wiley Cash. He was a fantastic speaker, and I learned the importance of using the five senses when writing. In addition, he provided several examples from his writing and other authors’. He was also incredibly generous with his time, and I had the privilege of speaking to him a bit afterward about writing. He gave me great insight into craft and motivated me in a way I didn’t realize I needed. Being a young writer and aspiring author comes with challenges, especially concerning imposter syndrome. I often struggle with not feeling adequate as a writer due to my age, but Wiley encouraged me to continue writing despite not having any publications yet.

My second session was “The Fundamentals of Building a Novel” with Jason Mott. I had heard him speak for the first time during the Keynote on the first evening of the conference and decided to purchase his book soon afterward. Jason Mott has a fantastic way with words, which translates into his public speaking. He talked about books having three acts and the importance of having an outline when plotting a book. He walked us through his revision process and reassured us that it’s alright to have multiple revisions. I am already a plotter in writing, but I enjoyed hearing about his writing process. He aspires to have fifteen chapters and three important events per chapter; each chapter is twenty pages. Jason encouraged us to strive for that number because it typically hits the sweet spot of 90,000 words and roughly 300 pages, the standard novel length. I have my way of outlining, but I’m excited to try Jason’s and see how it works.

My third session was “Write Like an Editor” with Michelle Donahue. This was one of my favorites because Michelle’s session was interactive and exciting. She gave us time to write and work on our craft during half of the session while supporting us. She was the first one to explain what literary fiction was to me, which I appreciated a ton. Being a nutrition major, I’m still learning all of the jargon of the MFA and writing world, so I will always appreciate someone who breaks down the literary language for me. I began writing my third novel in this session and hope to complete the manuscript by May 2023. Michelle was also incredibly generous with her time, and I spoke with her after the session about my ideas for my book. Again, she was accommodating and encouraging.

My fourth session was “Preparing for Your Debut Book” with Emily Louise Smith. At the end of the session, I mentioned to her that she made me want to transfer to UNCW, and I meant it! I would if I wasn’t so close to finishing my degree in Dietetics. Her session was another of my favorites, and I appreciated the information and insight she gave us into the publishing world. Before coming to the conference, I researched querying, agents, and publishing, but it helped me hear about the process from someone who works in it daily. I wish she taught classes online because I would 100% sign up for them; she is a fantastic speaker and educator.

My last session was “Writing Opening Pages that Hook Your Readers…And Never Let Them Go” with Emily Colin. I loved how she was the first to talk about writing as something other than literary fiction. I don’t read much literary fiction, and I write genre fiction, specifically fantasy, young-adult, and contemporary romance. Hearing Emily talk about writing was a breath of fresh air. I also appreciated how she sent us the PowerPoint and notes after the session because it allowed me to focus on the session rather than jotting down notes quickly. She is another fantastic public speaker, and I’m excited to read her books. Afterward, I had the privilege to talk to her briefly, and she provided insight into self-publication. She was the first one during this conference to destigmatize self-publication, and I admired her for that. I’d love to see more sessions like Emily’s.

A few more things I enjoyed while at the conference include the agents and editors panel on Sunday morning, the open mic sessions on Saturday evening, and the beach walk on Friday afternoon. Every one of those events allowed me to connect with others, whether it was another writer or an agent/editor. Because of this conference, I know I have made potential life-long friends, and I am forever grateful. Having writer friends is special. I never knew how much I needed them until this past weekend. I have plenty of reader friends where I live, but none of them write, unfortunately, so having the opportunity to make writer friends during the Fall Conference was my favorite part of the weekend.

I loved attending the Fall Conference and am excited about the Spring Conference. I am excited to meet the friends I met this weekend and hear about the sessions provided in April. I especially look forward to “Slush Pile Live” and would love it if it became a possibility for the Fall Conference.

One last thing: a massive thank you to the NC Writers’ Network faculty and staff. I was attending this conference on scholarship, and I am so grateful for the opportunity and chance to be part of the Network. I was initially recommended to join by a professor at Appalachian State University, and I will be forever grateful to her for introducing me to this community. It truly is unique, and I look forward to seeing everyone in April.