The First Writer's Digest Editor's Intensive (And a Boy's First Snowman)

Today’s guest post is by the generous Darrelyn Saloom, who has brought numerous new readers to my blog. I thank her and I thank you. Follow Darrelyn on Twitter.

Imagine writing a book (any genre, fiction or nonfiction),
typing away for ages and then opening an e-mail that says Writer’s Digest (a magazine you’ve enjoyed for years) is having an
event (their first) called the Writer’s Digest Editor’s Intensive. And, if you
attend, an editor will read fifty pages of your manuscript—
fifty pages!—to be read by a professional, not your mother, or
sister who stopped answering her phone.

Excited to receive such an e-mail, I wanted to go. But did I
want to fly to Ohio in December? It gets cold in Ohio, and I live in the South.
So far south it only snows once every five years—at the most. And rarely sticks
to the ground. The cold sort of scared me. And the name of the event scared me,
too: An Editor’s Intensive. I imagined a
group of editors, squinting at manuscripts, lines etched between brows, faces frozen
in frowns.

But fifty pages of manuscript! For the past two years I’d
been working with boxing champion, Deirdre Gogarty, on her memoir. And in those (inevitable?) moments of
doubt, we had questions: Are we headed in the right direction? Or wasting our
time? We wanted answers. And if Deirdre and I both signed up, we could submit a
hundred pages!

So we signed up online. And the first thing I did was buy a
Michelin-Man coat. Down-filled and puffy. And warm—make that hot, worn indoors
made me sweat—a lot. I bought gloves and socks, a scarf and wool cap, while
Deirdre (who packed a light jacket) found someone to feed her two cats.

And then we flew to Cincinnati (actually to Kentucky but on
the state line). Into a taxi to Hannaford Suites, no need to rent a car. Okay,
we needed a car. But managed just fine (thank you Sharon Pielemeier and Barbara
Weibel for the rides!). After the first day, Chuck, Jane, and Alice left us
wiser than wise (and their faces were not frozen in frowns or squinting

We learned
about Facebook and Twitter, WordPress and blogging, platform and publishing.
And made the kind of friends you keep for life: Other writers from around the
country who were as nervous as Deirdre and I. For the next day was Sunday, the
day of our appointed critique. So Saturday night, a group of us went out to

And then we
searched for bookstores, which closed by nine. So we pressed our noses to the
windows and visualized: the books of Barbara Weibel, Sean Miller, Kent Ostby,
Caitlin O’Sullivan, Amber Gardner, Mark Benedict, Deirdre Gogarty, and mine. It
was magical, really. Bonded by a desire to publish stories we write. And by
doubts, questions, and obstacles that plague a writer’s life.

On Sunday, we huddled together and waited our turn. We discussed
our manuscripts and scanned faces of fellow writers as they emerged. And every one I talked to went in
nervous but left satisfied. Some were sobered by reality, others floated on
cloud-nine. But questions were answered, and manuscripts were marked with
professional advice: Valuable information that defied any price.

Never wore the down-filled coat at the conference. Turned out Deirdre was right to pack
only a light jacket (though I brought one of those, too). I’ve only worn my
Michelin-Man coat once since I bought it last year.  A short time later, the magic I found in Cincinnati seemed
to follow me home—and it snowed. So I bundled up and played outside. And my
grandson, Milas, built the first real snowman of his life.

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14 thoughts on “The First Writer's Digest Editor's Intensive (And a Boy's First Snowman)

  1. Amber J. Gardner

    (Sorry this comes so late, my life definitely took a dive for a week or two, but I’m back now!)

    I’ll never forget that conference. While it was great experience where I learned lots about the publishing world and met some great friends I hope to keep for life, it was also a big turning point in my life. One, it made me realize just how many great people there are out there (and how much I want to move and live in the States because of this lol) and Two, it caused a mentality shift from hobbyist writer to professional author.

    I don’t think I really took myself serious until I was at the conference and actually felt like I was a real writer, that this could actually happen and I was doing the things needed to make it so.

    It was a great experience and I’m glad you wrote about it. It reminds me of the passion I’ve lost somewhat with the passing months. My novel hasn’t improved much since then, but I haven’t given up and eventually it (or another) will be in that window display at Borders or Barnes & Noble besides yours! I have faith in that.

  2. Debra Marrs

    Aren’t writing intensives and the feedback process the BEST? I mean, you get to feel the whole spectrum of emotions: from giddiness at getting to go in the first place, to tentativeness at meeting new folks who become best friends. From the strong desire to learn, understand, and extrapolate to the overwhelm of ‘it’s all too much!’ Never mind what to wear.

    Your personal experience at the Writer’s Digest Editor’s Intensive, Darrelyn, captures that frailest of emotions of whether we’re good enough as writers, whether our manuscripts meet the criteria of publishable, and whether we have what it takes to stick to it. I can feel the trepidation in the room, feel it in those writers before they enter into the sacred chamber, and likewise feel their writerly growth spurt upon exiting. Makes me think of the American Idol wannabes who run out of the audition room with their yellow passports.

    When writers step up for professional feedback, they show they’re truly ready to do what it takes to publish. Aren’t you glad you did it?

  3. Kent Ostby

    9 months later and all of the feedback from the great Writers Digest staff is incorporated and it’s time to move on to the next step of finding an agent.

    I will say that the conference was worth every penny.

    Kent Ostby

  4. Deirdre Gogarty

    The conference was a wonderful experience! I went there expecting the harsh reality that our baby was not as beautiful as we thought. Instead, we recieved encouraging and invaluable expert advice. I recommend anyone serious about writing to take the leap, and you may find wind beneath your wings!

  5. Jackie Mok

    Thanks, Darrelyn! I know some people who could really use this; of course MY writing is already perfect though! To be honest, I’ve always shied away from such conventions (you mean they read my writing AND I have to meet new people?!) You’ve made it sound fun, though. If you are ever attending this again, please announce it; I’d love to meet you.

  6. Jenny Kane

    Thank you for another inspiring post Darrelyn! I can’t say it any better than Sally G above. : ) I continue to look forward to your posts because they are so honest and real.

    I can’t wait to sit down someday to read the completed memoir that started with these fifty pages, when your visualization becomes reality! And I can look through the window of the bookstore & imagine my book next to yours.

    What a fun day you ended up having in your new coat with your grandson!

    Jenny Kane

  7. Sally G

    These bits and pieces of Darrelyn, scattered throughout the Internet. They’re so tantalizing, these bits of insecurity and pieces of courage, that we trail behind them, picking them up to mold, bend and shape them to fit our own perception of what we dream of becoming, of aspiring to be. She inspires and we love her.

  8. Dave Malone

    Lovely, Darrelyn. And inspirational. There are pay-offs from what I call, "Joyfully Doing the Work," and this is certainly one of them. Another reminder that part of being a writer is being brave enough to take that second step toward publication, which doesn’t have to be scary, but is often a route paved with some wonderful editors and folks who repond in their own joyful way to our pages. 🙂

  9. George LaCas

    Sounds like a wonderful conference, and one of these days I’m going to go to a big one like you describe in your guest blog (which is great, by the way!).

    I could use the energy and impetus of whole rooms full of writers, editors and publishers. Not the same as working by e-mail and PDF file.

    Great post!

  10. Mary

    I would love to attend that conference one of these days. And must admit the thought of going can be a bit "scary." I am glad to hear I’m not the only one afraid to meet editors. And I’m relieved to hear it turned out to be fine.

  11. Gay Walker

    It was a great conference, wasn’t it? The advice I received was also great, and the connections I made have been lasting–three strong ones that I turn to for advice and encouragement, and four or five casual FB friends. Not to mention all I learned from Jane and Alice about FB and Twitter (I already had a FB account, but I was far from using it to its fullest potential).

    I wish I could add a photo here–we do snowmen a bit differently in San Diego. Oh, well. If you’d really like to see, go to bit dot ly slash 2PnxOR (replace dot with . and slash with / and remove spaces–had to do it to get past the html restriction-it’s a shortened URL for Flickr).

  12. Barbara Weibel

    Oh my! I had forgotten about that magical moment when we pressed our noses to the window of the darkened bookstore and visualized our best selling novels featured front and center. As you know, I have been trapped in the mire over my book and unable to write for months, but this memory has re-energized me. It is time to get back to work. Thank you!!!!!

  13. Jillian

    Since I was nowhere near ready to attend the conference, I am happy to read about your experience.

    I hope that one day, I will feel that I am eligible to present a fifty page manuscript.

    Maybe I should buy your Michelin coat from you. I would wear it in my freezing house as I write into the wee hours of the morning. Oh to live in the South! My travel bug is getting worse as the temps drop.