Midwest Writers Workshop 2017: Top 10 Things I Learned This Year

notes-macbook-study-conference.jpgMidwest Writers Workshop 2017 has come to an end all too soon but it was a very successful [and sold out] workshop. Faculty and writers come from all over the country to attend annually.

Three days of learning, networking, and eating. During downtime, the air is abuzz with laughter, pitch practices, advice, book signings, photo-taking, and excited writers talking about the new contacts they’ve made and the reviews they’ve received.

MWW has such amazing faculty each year that it’s difficult to pick which classes to attend. This year I left with a new mentor, a publisher who’s interested in my manuscript, and made a few new writer friends to boot! I always learn so much but here is a list of my top 10!

  1. Enter the scene as late as you can and get out as soon as you can. –Matthew Clemens
  2. Titles: It’s part of your sales pitch. Keep it short, three words or less. Keep it honest to content. Make it memorable. -Holly Miller
  3. Evernote: A digital media tool. It organizes your projects, lists, notes, and syncs across all your devices. It has a chat/meeting feature as well. –Jane Friedman
  4. Find your weakness in your writing and focus on it until it’s your strength. –Jessica Strawser
  5. Turn off your spell check and grammar check in your first draft so you’re not distracted by those colored lines that make you want to edit. –Mike Mullin
  6. Research: time yourself. Set a timer for 15 minutes so you get in and get out without being sucked down the rabbit hole of the internet! –Matthew Clemens
  7. Every chapter should have a title. -Holly Miller
  8. Before bed, you should work on or think about your next scene. Your subconscious will keep working on it while you sleep. –Mike Mullin
  9. Publishers are looking for books with shelf life, movie potential, and series potential. They are looking for writers with platforms. -Holly Miller
  10. Career vs Hobby. If you’re not writing every day, it’s a hobby. You have to decide what writing means to you. You must be able to produce a book a year. –Matthew Clemens

Filter Words

There’s more to bad writing than passive verbs and adverbs. There are filter words. These words put distance between the reader and your characters. Instead of being in the story watching things unfold, the reader is far away and only hearing about it. A good analogy of this is someone telling you about a movie they saw instead of you watching the movie yourself.


Like passive verbs (was, were, etc) and adverbs (generally words that end in -ly), filter words are easy to identify.

Here’s an example of common filter words: look and thought.

She looked at the man and thought he was scared.

Rather vague. What did she see?

He burst into the lobby, panting. He chose a dark corner and sank into the shadows.

Now you see him. You’re right there watching him, not watching her watching him.

Here’s a list of common filter words. Search for them in Scrivener or Word by using the “search” feature. I’ll start by naming the five senses because they’re easy to remember. If these are showing up in your draft, you’re telling, not showing.

  • look, saw, see, seen, watch, observe, notice
  • touch, feel, felt
  • hear, heard, sound
  • taste
  • smell

Here are some more and they’re mostly along the lines of your character’s thinking. These words are vague and again, the reader is on the outside.

  • seem
  • appear
  • think, thought
  • believe
  • realize
  • wonder
  • want
  • know, knew
  • understand, understood
  • remember
  • assume
  • decide
  • note

A few more to add to your list.

  • could, would
  • able
  • allow
  • had

The word could is frequently attached to a filter word. She could understand, She could remember, She could smell.

Watch for words had, to, and that. These buggers are frequently, but not always, attached to filter words. She had decided to, She decided to, She decided that. 

Filter words are traps for redundancies. She looked at him as he ran into the lobby. Again, we are watching her watching him. He ran into the lobby gives the same information in less words. It’s immediate and active even though it’s a simple sentence.

This is not a complete list of filter words. I’m not sure one exists because many words can be filter words, but these are the most common offenders. Once you become aware of filter words, you will start noticing them. It takes a bit of thinking to rewrite sentences without using them but you will see the pay off immediately.

Know of more filter words or more ways of spotting them? Add them in the comments!

#deep-pov, #filter-words, #writing-fiction