Nekudat Mifneh 2: Enjoyable Writers' Conference

What an unimaginative title for a blog post about creative writing! From a person who used to be a copywriter, to boot. Couldn't I think of anything niftier?
- Sure I could. But, quite a while back, I decide to avoid unwarranted wisecracks, and concentrate on making my message plain and simple. So here's my message: The writers' conference I attended on November 11th, 2015 at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv, was a huge success: well planned and executed, well attended, enjoyable, and helpful. That's the bottom line; now for the details.

People got there bright and early, considering the heavy traffic into Tel Aviv in the morning. I got there at 08:30 as recommended, and dozens were already milling around, drinking coffee and helping themselves to a neat collection of cute cookies. (Yes, they were as tasty as they were cute-looking.)

In her opening words, Racheli Lavi commented on how gratifying it is to see so many faces -- about 180 of them -- about twice as many as last year, at the first conference. The name Nekudat Mifneh, meaning turning point, is a forward-looking, optimistic choice, communicating a positive and encouraging attitude. Racheli hopes (I'm not quoting her, this is my impression) that this conference will make a difference in aspiring-writers' lives, infusing them hope, belief in themselves, and determination. Her approach does not rely on "New-Age" motivational techniques; it is down-to-earth, practical, accessible, and as clear as a coloful elephant. Which is an allusion to those time- and energy-guzzling tasks we undertake just because we don't know how to say No.
Racheli Lavi on stage. Photo by Peleg Alkalai
Next was keynote speaker Meirav Oz, who recounted her own experience of writing and publishing a book. In her case, she came from the advertising world, and had helpful connections. But Meirav's creativity, her relentless drive, organizational skills, and sheer spunk and determination are the force that got her where she wanted. Her romantic-comedy novel, One Wrong Move, was translated into English and is available on Amazon, in case you're interested. Though this talk was interesting and entertaining, I can't say it encouraged me. It made me feel you must be a veritable bulldozer to translate your ideas into a published novel and see the project through.

Coffee break, followed by difficult choices. Track 1 offered 2 talks: How to attract kids to poetry; and advanced writing techniques. Track 2 was a workshop on creating [fictional] worlds. Track 3 offered two talks focusing on the process of publishing a book. Actually, Track 3 interested me the most, even though I know a thing or two about the process, thanks to a few friends who've been through it and shared their experiences with me. However, sadly, it's just not relevant to me at this point, since I have no manuscript ready for publication. On the other hand, I'd heard about Roni Gelbish the writer and workshop leader, who presented, or rather led,  Track 2. But the subject matter sounded daunting. After all, to write a fantasy or sci-fi novel, one had to use one's imagination. And I was pretty sure I had none. Nonetheless, this is the workshop I attended. And am glad I did.
Roni Gelbish's workshop. Photo by Peleg Alkalai
Roni described a few basic guidelines on how to approach such a novel, encouraged everyone to add their 2 cents' worth, then gave us a few short writing assignments which we completed on the spot, read out loud, and received feedback. (Yes, I know that's how a workshop works; it's just that it's been a long time since I attended or led one.) Roni's feedback was positive and encouraging, and helped us zero in on the essence of our ideas; she sort of pointed her flashlight at the possibilities inherent in them. The atmosphere in "class" was easygoing and non-competitive, and though not everyone took the opportunity to speak up, those who did were pleased with the response. As for me -- I discovered that I wasn't a total washout when it came to imagination. What a relief for a would-be writer!

Lunch break. I chose not to leave the building and just got a sandwich and coffee at the small upstairs bar. That turned into a good opportunity to talk to and get to know a few people. See, at ITA conferences I know many of the regulars. But here, I hardly knew a soul.

Lunch break is also the time to confront difficult decisions: there were three tracks, each with two separate lectures. Track 1 offered a talk about "the emotional truth" in writing, whatever that meant; and a talk about the [indisputable!] value of editing and re-writing. Track 2 included a talk about enjoyable horror (i.e. how to write a horror-thriller); and how to write a seven-volume saga. Track 3 tried to answer the elusive question of how to find time for our writing; and Jumpstarter - raising funds for art & cultural projects, and more.

I'm glad I chose Adi Meir Siso's talk, about how to make time for writing, or generally manage your time effectively. Don't roll your eyes at me! I know you think you've heard it all before. But I found Adi very persuasive, and have already implemented two of her suggestions. "If so," you might say, "how come this blog post has taken you a whole week to write and post?!"  - Well, what can I say. Better late than never?.. Last winter, after the 2015 ITA conference, I managed to post only about the first day out of three... I still have the first draft about the 2nd day, but didn't get even as far as a draft about the 3rd day. Isn't it lucky the ITA keeps precious info in their archives! By the way: For Hebrew readers, I recommend Adi's Hebrew website; the English one is accessible but not quite finished, as I write.

Next, I left the room and switched to the second part of Track 2, the one about writing a seven-volume series. Seems a bit pretentious for beginners? Possibly. But then it has the advantage of making use of an already-created world. Once you've put so much effort into creating something like Middle-Earth, Foundation, Hogwarts, or "just" a quirky county called Midsomer , why stop at one novel? Or two? Or three?...  I hope most listeners enjoyed the talk. I tried to listen, but couldn't figure out what the lecturer was talking about. His lecture was heavily based on A Song of Ice and Fire, which I haven't read, nor have I watched the series Game of Thrones. So I took a break until the penultimate session -- Problems in the writing process, with writer Eshkol Nevo. Nevo is a good speaker -- articulate, accessible, friendly. Makes you feel that, as difficult as writing is, it is an achievable feat. If he writes as well as he speaks, I think that's a good enough reason to actually get my hands on one of his novels. He spoke of the connection (and differences) between creative writing and real life; about planning one's story as opposed to improvising or letting the characters move the plot along; about dealing with writer's block; and about the inevitable writer's loneliness.

Unfortunately, I had to leave at the Questions & Answers stage. Grandmotherly duties and all that. And so I missed the last part of the conference -- the summing up and the freebies. Still -- it was a day well-spent. Stimulating, thought-provoking, inspiring, and helpful. Well done, Racheli Lavi. Looking forward to the next conference. Ta-ta for now.

A Writers' Conference in Tel Aviv

Yippee! There's a writers' conference in Tel Aviv next week, November 11, 2015, and it sounds terrific. This is the second year that Racheli Lavi is holding this conference, called Nekudat Mifneh, i.e., turning point. I couldn't attend the previous one, but I sure-as-hell am going to this one.

The conference is in Hebrew. So, no matter what language you write in -- Hebrew, English, Russian, French, Amharic, Klingon -- as long as you understand Hebrew, you'll be able to enjoy this get-together, and benefit from it.

Like many others who attend writers' workshops and other such get-togethers, I am a frustrated, would-be Writer. Yeah, I write. Always have written, and I am still a graphomaniac, still writing, but haven't published a single book. In theory I know a lot about creative writing. I even led a workshop on creative writing, years ago. At some point, I bravely sent a collection of my short stories to one (only one!) publisher. The stories were rejected. I didn't have the guts to submit them again; I just sulked at my desk. Now where would we be today, had Graham Greene (to name but one writer) sulked at the first rejection, rather than forged ahead, rewriting and resubmitting his manuscripts. Okay, so I'm no Graham Greene... but you get the point.

Besides -- I've been telling myself -- I simply have no imagination! I can blog to my heart's content about where I've been and what I've done. But actually inventing a plot and characters? Not to mention an entire new world? - Forget it; won't happen. Each year, NaNoWriMo comes along, and each year I say to myself -- Maybe next year...

But say you've had the sitzfleisch to complete your stories, or your novel. What next? How do you get the darn thing published? As a translator and an editor, I've seen many manuscripts -- both fiction and non-fiction -- at that intermediate stage. Some have seen the light of day via publishing houses; others have popped up on Amazon, having been published as an ebook by their authors, with a little help from experts; and some are still dormant on hard disks, "clouds", or good old-fashioned desk drawers. Publishing one's manuscript is a complex project, and most of us need advice, guidance, encouragement and virtual hand-holding. I think this guidance and encouragement is mainly what I'm looking for in this upcoming conference.

So, come Wednesday morning, Oct. 11th, meet me at the Turning Point conference, ZOA House, on the corner of 26, Ibn Gabirol and 1, Daniel Frisch streets. Ta-ta for now!

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See also Racheli's Facebook page about her Hebrew editing software, and about the conference:

נקודת מפנה 2 -- כנס הכותבים, 11 באוקטובר 2011, בית ציוני אמריקה, תל אביב.