Fiction and Fantasy

Top 5 Things I Learned at Realm Makers 2018 from Tosca Lee

I’d been to all of one writer’s conference before, and it was probably the furthest out of my comfort zone I’d ever been. It was a small conference at a camp a good three- to four-hour drive away from my home state. Three days to spend with approximately forty strangers. I knew no one; I was wholly on my own. It was tough to be so out of my comfort zone, but it really grew me.

When I signed up for the Realm Makers writers conference, I thought I knew exactly what I was getting into. It was just another conference, right? I’d be in a nice little room with about 40-50 people. No big deal.

I probably should have expected the culture shock the minute I learned that my favorite Christian author, Ted Dekker, had been a key speaker at Realm Makers previously. Or when I saw that Tosca Lee was teaching a pre-conference workshop this year.

But I was clueless. I eagerly signed up for Tosca’s conference, having no idea what I was getting into.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived at a towering conference center, watched the volunteers helping with sign-in’s rifle through dozens and dozens of nametags, and saw at least twenty-five booths of published authors set up in just one of the many rooms we’d be using.

Wow, I thought to myself. This is so different from the other conference I went to.

I didn’t know the half of it.

The workshop was being held in a large dining hall, maybe seating a hundred people. And since I’m a studious dork—I was that over-achieving classmate everyone hates in highschool—I sat near the front of the room. This gave me a great view of the people filing in. And table after table kept getting filled. Soon there were a bazillion people here, grinning and greeting each other.

Holy cow, I thought as the minutes ticked down to the beginning of the workshop. The room fit for one hundred was nearly full. And this is only the pre-conference workshop! How many people are going to be at the actual thing?!

A lot more, I was soon to find out.

That weekend, I found my intensely introverted self swimming in a sea of 350 people. My mild pre-conference anticipation/anxiety had swelled into sheer terror. But I rode that wave as best I could. And, just like the conference before, it grew me in ways and places I never would have expected.

Tosca’s workshop helped tremendously. Not just to help me deal with the culture shock, but also with getting the most out of the conference. Her workshop inspired me and rejuvenated me, sparking my desire to write even more. These were the Top 5 things I took away from her lecture.

Top 5 Things I Learned at Realm Makers from Tosca Lee

#1: You’re Not Alone in Your Fear and Doubt

It’s so easy to get overwhelmed as a writer. You’re working on a story largely in isolation. Sometimes, you’re creating entire worlds from scratch. There’s so many things that could go wrong. It’s inevitable you’re going to fall into self-doubt, especially without a good support base. “Can I really do this?” “Is this story any good?” “Am I actually a bad writer?”

Photo by George Gvasalia on Unsplash

That fear is normal, Tosca reminded us; all writers go through it. So even when you’re petrified by fear, you’re not alone! Tosca even assured us that we will always struggle with a lack of confidence in some capacity, even after we’re published!

But we don’t have to let the fear cripple us. Tosca gave us some tools to use to help combat the fears that keep us from writing.

#2: Murphy’s Law

Think about the absolute worst that could happen. Dig deep down to those fears. What could go wrong? What are you afraid will happen? Go all-out. You’ll see how ridiculous some of those fears are… and how much some of the real fears are affecting you.

Once you have your list, Tosca said, write them all down, tear apart that paper, and throw it away. It doesn’t define you. Don’t let it.

#3: Self-Evaluation – Why Do You Want to Write?

When you’re an artist and you’re not creating, it may be because of fear. And what does fear hate? For the truth to come to light.

Analyze why you want to write. Why do you do it? Write it stream-of-conscious. Be open and honest. No one else has to see your answers!

Why is this important? Because this is what keeps you writing even on the hard days, Tosca said.

So what drives you to be a writer? Do you have a story burning inside you that no one else has told? Does it make you come alive? Could you spend hours getting lost in the process on the good days?

#4: Self-Evaluation – Why Do You Secretly Want to Write?

Oh, but Tosca didn’t stop there. The real scary question was yet to come: “Why do you secretly want to write?”

Time to really let it all out! What are the reasons you’re ashamed of?

Yes, Tosca said, it really is okay if you want to write for money; the important thing is to be honest with yourself about it. (Though she was also quick to point out, there’s not usually a lot of money in the writing world. So, if you want to do it to become a Best-Selling millionaire, you might want to rethink your career choice. :P)

#5: How Do You Stay True to Yourself?

The self-evaluation reiterated why we wanted to write, but another scary thing about writing is the dichotomy Tosca highlighted: we need to write what we want so it’s authentic and unique, but we also need to sell books to keep writing! Writers need readers, or our stories will never really be told. How do we find the right balance? How do we stay true to ourselves while delivering something to someone else?

Tosca’s solution? Think about the reasons you read!

If your favorite stories are your favorites because of their great characters, interesting premises, confident storytelling, and unique voice, then write stories that have those characteristics! Write stories you’d want to read.

Tosca reminded us that we read speculative fiction to escape, whether that be to flee a boring normal life or a terrible one, or just to visit places we’d never be able to go to otherwise. This is the main job of an entertainer: to entertain! And that entertaining—telling a good story, taking the reader for a ride in a fantastic setting—is incredibly valuable and powerful, Tosca said.

If you tell your story well, it can become a part of someone’s life. It can help people who are struggling to get through a hard time. It can help people who have undergone trauma to know they’re not alone. It can help people who feel isolated to know there are others like them somewhere.

Be honest about your reasons for writing and stay true to them… but find where those reasons intersect with why the reader wants to read. Write the kinds of great stories you want to read. Write for that ideal audience that loves the same stuff you do.

That’s what produces stories that are honest, the ones that resonate with people. And it’s the best way to fight back against the fear that tries to keep you from telling your stories.

From Him, To Him


  1. Those sound like good reasons to write!

  2. I know, right? It was so liberating to hear someone affirm that writing for entertainment purposes MATTERS. I've known for a long time that I'm not a didactic writer with messages to push; those stories honestly usually turn me off completely, and I don't want to do that to readers. I want to make stories that make people happy. So it was wonderful to hear that affirmation that those kinds of stories are just as important.

  3. Of course. I want to make entertaining stories, but I want to recontextualize important issues to add on to that.

  4. They may not be stories that resonate with me, but there are many people who need to hear those kinds of stories too! I'm glad that there are just as many kinds of writers as there are readers. Otherwise, all our stories would sound the same!

  5. Understandable. I just hope I'm not preachy in my methods of bringing up some messages or issues. I do agree that all stories shouldn't be the same.

  6. I apologize if it seemed like my comment was directed at your stories. That was certainly not my intention!

  7. I figured it was just in general, but I really wasn't offended.

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