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The Top 14 Writing Tips from the Legendary Santa Barbara Writers Conference

Author J.C. Farmer signing his novel COUNTERFEIT LOVER at Barnes & Noble
Author J.C. Farmer signs his novel COUNTERFEIT LOVER at Barnes & Noble

The prestigious Santa Barbara Writers Conference just wrapped up its 51 st conference, where it once again gave writers the incredible opportunity to learn from some of the best minds in the literary world. Acorn Publishing author, J. C. Farmer, had the honor of attending this world-class conference and he came back with some invaluable advice for both budding and seasoned writers.

Here are the top 14 writing tips he gleaned from his sessions:

1. In the Specific Lies the Universal

Details are crucial. By focusing on specific, tangible elements in your story, you can tap into universal truths and emotions that resonate deeply with readers.

2. Constantly Ask: What Would Make This Scene Matter More?

Always push yourself to enhance the significance of each scene. Whether through heightened stakes, deeper emotional connections, or unexpected twists, ensure every scene counts.

3. Ignore Your Family’s and Friends’ Advice on the First Draft

The first draft is your space to explore and create without constraints. While loved ones mean well, their feedback can sometimes stifle your initial creative flow.

4. If You’re Going to Physically Describe Your Characters, Do It Right Away

Set the stage early. Physical descriptions should come before readers form their own mental images, helping to anchor your characters in their minds.

5. There Is No “Right Answer” to Any Writing Decision

Writing is an art, not a science. Embrace the ambiguity and trust your instincts. Different choices can lead to equally compelling outcomes.

6. Listen to All Critiques but Only Act on Comments That Are Repeated or Resonate in Your Mind

Critiques are invaluable, but not all feedback is created equal. Pay attention to recurring themes or feedback that strikes a chord with you and ignore the rest.

7. Let Your Reader Know What the Journey Is About or They Will Lose Interest

Clarity of purpose is key. Ensure your readers understand the central journey or quest of your story to maintain their engagement.

8. Avoid Having Characters Agree in Dialogue

Agreement can be boring to readers while conflict drives interest. Dialogue is best when it reflects differing perspectives and tensions to keep interactions dynamic and engaging.

9. Every Dialogue Should Be Like Eavesdropping on an Interesting Conversation

Make your dialogue natural and compelling. Readers should feel like they are overhearing a fascinating conversation they can’t tear themselves away from.

10. Reveal Backstory in Small Pieces

Pacing is everything. Reveal backstory gradually, allowing readers to piece together information over time rather than overwhelming them with exposition.

11. Leave Unanswered Questions Sprinkled Throughout the Book

Mystery keeps readers hooked. By leaving some questions unanswered, you encourage readers to keep turning the pages in search of resolutions.

12. Don’t Have a Character Cry, Unless Absolutely Necessary. It Is More Dramatic to Hold Back Tears

Restraint can amplify emotional impact, making the moments when tears do fall all the more powerful.

13. Every Villain Needs a Soft Spot; Every Hero Needs a Weakness

Complexity breeds relatability. Give your villains redeeming qualities and your heroes flaws to create multi-dimensional, compelling characters.

14. Read Your Dialogue Out Loud

Hearing your characters' conversations spoken aloud can help you identify awkward phrasing, unnatural speech patterns, and areas where the dialogue might need more punch or clarity. This practice ensures that your dialogue flows smoothly and sounds authentic.

These top 14 writing tips can reshape our approach to writing. Whether you're just starting out or are deep into your writing journey, incorporating these insights can elevate your storytelling and deepen your connection with readers. Happy writing!

J.C. Farmer is the author of the romantic thriller Counterfeit Lover and the children’s book Santa’s Dashboard. Writing combines his love for adventure, invention and exploration. When he is not traveling, J.C. lives in Solana Beach, CA.

Acorn Publishing logo with an image of an acorn and their mission statement "Helping talented writers publish exceptional books"
Acorn Publishing logo with an image of an acorn and their mission statement "Helping talented writers publish exceptional books"


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