Tag Archives: Writing Conferences

5 Must-Read Writing Guides from PNWA 2013

Posted by July 31st, 2013

5 Must-Read Writing Guides

As things were winding down at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference last Saturday afternoon, I took a spin through the on-site PNWA bookstore that had been set up by staff of the University Bookstore in Bellevue, Washington. The table that I spent the most time oohing and aahing over was the “Writing Guides.” There were so many, and what surprised me the most was how many I hadn’t read yet. It’s moments like this that remind me of the amazing work that booksellers do: curating displays like these, making sure that interested readers will easily find the books they really, really need.

Here are the 5 books from the University Bookstore display that I plan to read ASAP!

BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott

My dad actually gave me a copy of this book when I was fifteen, and spending most of my time obsessively recording my teenage thoughts into one of many spiral-bound journals. I adore Anne Lamott’s other work, in particular her essays about faith, but I shame-facedly admit that I never read the copy of BIRD BY BIRD my dad gave me all those years ago. Must remedy!


I’ve not yet read his work, but Walter Mosley strikes me as a wise, wise man. This book is safety orange and very slim, the combination of which tells me that it urgently needs to be read, and soon.

ON WRITING by Stephen King

The University Bookstore staffers told me that every year, they bring a ton of copies of this book to the PNWA Conference. Invariably, one of the panelists will mention this book in a conference session, and immediately after, everyone will race down the hall to the bookstore to pick up a copy.

WRITING DOWN THE BONES by Natalie Goldberg

Okay, I’ll be honest: I actually have read this, and fairly recently. But when I saw the familiar cover at PNWA, I felt a longing to read it again. Goldberg’s is an almost yogic approach to the writing life: she calls her method a “writing practice.” This is a book to be read again and again (and again).


There’s my real life as a writer (think pajamas until five pm, hourly breaks to post my word count on Facebook, etc.). Then there’s my fantasy life as a writer, which includes a Woody Allen-style Manhattan apartment stocked to the gills with books just like this anthology edited by the brilliant longtime New Yorker writer. When I imagine myself sitting down with this book, I suddenly look just like Diane Keaton in 1978, and when I’ve finished, my writing will be witty, incisive, and immensely intellectual. If that doesn’t happen, at least I’ll have spent some quality time in the hands of one of America’s great contemporary thinkers.

So, now I’m wondering: Who in the Book Country community has read these books, and which should I read first?


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Live from the #PNWA 2013 Annual Summer Conference!

Posted by July 28th, 2013

Big writing conferences are always held in nondescript conference centers. You know the type I mean: beige walls, mild, unoffensive curtains and carpeting, everything designed to fade into the background. Unlike bookstores, which are wild with color, or libraries that ooze character and history, these conference centers feel at odds with what we know to be wonderful about literature: a memorable voice, striking imagery, attention-grabbing details. Conference centers are specifically designed to act like a blank canvas to keep the focus on the subject of the conference. We understand what makes these places functional. But at first, these environments feel like they can never match richness of our literary imaginations. “Am I in the right place?” we ask ourselves as we make our way from the parking lot to the registration desk. “Is this really the place where I’m going to learn how to make my book the best it can be?” Continue reading

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