Blair Thornburgh shares her insight on “writing while working.” Blair wrote her YA romantic comedy Who’s That Girl, as well as the forthcoming picture book SKULLS!, while working as an editor at Quirk Books. She also received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. Learn more about “Writing Retreat in a Box,” her upcoming workshop at PWC here. We caught up with Blair about her return to PWC.
This is your first time at PWC as an instructor, but you’ve been with us several times before as an editor at the pitch sessions. What do you wish writers pitching at a conference knew?
Not to be shy! I know, easy to say, hard to do. It feels like there’s so much riding on pitching your project, which is why I’d say not to treat it like a hard sell and to approach it more like a conversation. Even if an editor or agent declines your project, you can get that all-valuable industry insight from them about what is or isn’t working in the piece. And making a good impression can pay off in the long run—as an editor, I’ve signed three authors I met through PWC!
You’re our first millennial instructor. How do you think you approach teaching differently (if so) as a millennial? What do you think millennial writers can get out of a conference that they can’t get from online writing spaces?
Person-to-person contact! There is nothing like speaking (IRL) to other writers, and bonding that way. The internet has made it so easy to find and connect with people who share our passion (like writing), but I’ve found that it’s even more rewarding to have those conversations in person—you find out that all the weird and frustrating and joyful moments of your process are the same way for a lot of other people! Plus, going to a conference is a sign that you’re taking your career seriously. You’re devoting a weekend’s worth of time to JUST writing and craft, and nothing else. In the rest of life, especially on the internet, there’s just so much else competing for your attention. Give yourself the gift of some real writing dedication!
You wrote your novel while also working at a full-time job. You even tell a charming story of finishing it by holing up in a yurt in Québec for a week. While keeping in mind that we can’t necessarily get away from it all when inspiration strikes, what’s your best advice for getting writing done besides “just do it”?
Build a yurt. No, I kid. My philosophy is that even when your fingers aren’t on a keyboard (or holding a pen), you can be working on your story. After all, we all know that feeling of sitting down to write and simply not getting the words out fast enough (even if it rarely happens). Your “writing” process when you’re pressed for time and can’t sit down at your desk can help fuel that kind of productivity. Thinking about your story, pressing yourself to find “what ifs” and solutions to plot snafus, and even reminding yourself why your art—your writing career and this project in particular—matters can all give you the boost you need to get pages done when you do sit down.
What’s the best thing about being a writer in Philadelphia (as opposed to any other city)?
Bookstores, excellent cafés to write in, a killer literary scene (seriously, where else can you go to poetry readings in a graffiti-sprayed dive bar), and a real community of writers. And the cost of living is not “sleep in a cardboard box” impoverishing, unlike some other quote-unquote literary cities (lookin’ at you, NYC).
If you could tell conference attendees to go out and see one Philly cultural institution (during a break, of course), what would you recommend?
Reading Terminal Market! No question. Eat an Amish soft pretzel and be forever changed. (And hit up a La Colombe for a draft latte while you’re at it.)
Do you want to learn Blair’s tips and tricks for writing productivity at her “Writing Retreat in a Box” class? Register for the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference here!