The Writer Unboxed UnConference, 2023: ALL IN

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The Writer Unboxed UnConference, 2023: ALL IN

After a 4-year hiatus, the Writer Unboxed UnConference is back! Go ALL IN on the craft of fiction with our intimate and immersive event.

By Therese Walsh

When and where

Date and time

November 6 · 12pm - November 10 · 11:30pm EST


Salem Waterfront Hotel 225 Derby St Salem, MA 01970

Refund Policy

Contact the organizer to request a refund.
Eventbrite's fee is nonrefundable.

About this event

  • 4 days 11 hours
  • Mobile eTicket

The Writer Unboxed UnConference is unique. 

Part symposium. Part interactive workshop. Part networking affair. Part retreat.

Unlike other conferences, our hybrid event will not include sessions on the business of writing. Instead, we'll spend that time going deeper into areas you can better control: advancing your craft, strengthening your resolve, and helping you make meaningful connections with other writers. In other words, we'll lean on the qualities that have made Writer Unboxed a strong online community and website for novelists—one of the best for 17 years straight, according to Writer's Digest.

We're going to empower you, but this time we're going to empower you in person.

The 2023 UnConference, Unboxed

The Writer Unboxed UnConference will kick off on Monday, November 6th in Salem, Massachusetts, and span the week with in-depth, interactive conversations and workshops led by trusted WU contributors, craft gurus, professional editors, and bestselling authors.

As has been the case in the past, this is a limited-space event. Capping tickets at ~120 helps us to maintain the intimate feel of the UnConference and foster connections between attendees.

A Week With an Arc of Its Own

This year's UnConference, ALL IN, was built to drive divergent thinking from day one. Expect to develop fresh ideas and solutions for your specific craft challenges throughout the week and to emerge with a clear path forward.

The Cadence of Our Days


If you love quiet writing time as part of a group, join your fellow attendees beginning as early as 6 a.m. (T-F) for Morning Pages in the ballroom at the Salem Waterfront Hotel.

Planned programming with session leaders will begin between 8:30-9 a.m. in the same location and is meant for all attendees.


Afternoon sessions will be offered along two general tracks: Track 1 [T1] caters more to first-draft issues while Track 2 [T2] sessions consider challenges that often emerge in later drafts.

You're welcome to move between these tracks, which will be held in either the ballroom at the Salem Waterfront Hotel or the meeting space in the historic House of the Seven Gables, a brief walk from the hotel. Time to move between afternoon sessions has been built into the schedule.


In the evenings, connect with other writers during our more relaxed "UnConference" programming—guided discussions on the writing life, the process of writing, storytelling problems, and more.

Our Agenda



Registration (12-5 pm)

Please bring your ID for registration, then settle in, explore Salem, and/or mingle with other attendees throughout the afternoon.

Scrivener Office Hours, with Gwen Hernandez (3-5 pm)

Need help with Scrivener? Have a burning question about setting it up for you latest project, adding the fun bells and whistles, using it to support your process, or exporting your manuscript? Whatever your Scrivener question, visit the author of Scrivener For Dummies, Gwen Hernandez, during the hours of 3-5 in the UnCon registration area to find answers. Feel free to bring your laptop for personalized assistance!

Genre Meetup / Cocktail Hour with cash bar (5-7 pm)

A popular staple of the WU UnConference, meet others who speak your genre's singular language as we begin our week together.

Welcome Dinner (7 pm)



Morning Pages (6-9 am)

Writing. Coffee. Sometimes our morning needs are just that simple. Space for quiet writing before sessions begin provided--along with coffee.

Good Chaos: a Provocation and Invitation, with Therese Walsh (9-1030 am)

Chaos is the root of all evil. Or is it? An opening to the ways disruption can propel character, story, and even you as a writer forward as we begin our week together.

Anger, Anguish, and Authenticity: Bring Yourself to the Page, with Donald Maass (1030 am-1230 pm)

This hands-on workshop reveals a different approach to writing authentically, proceeding from personal experience directly to story situations. The key to vivid story is your own life, so bring writing materials, your story—and yourself.

[T1] Stress-test Your Brainstorms, with Greer Macallister (2-3 pm)

In this workshop, Greer Macallister will talk you through how to stress-test your best ideas by putting plot and character through their paces in just a few days time. By doing this, you'll quickly see which skeletons are worth fleshing out--and even have the bony beginnings of your first draft.

[T2] Get Emotion on the Page in a Way Your Reader Can Feel, with Susan DeFreitas (2-3 pm)

Learn what it takes to get emotion on the page in a way readers can feel—and in a way that makes them care about the protagonist’s story—at three levels: story structure, storytelling, and prose. You will leave with sturdy tools for creating that most magical, ephemeral effect of fiction, emotion in the reader.

[T1] Why Are Your Characters the Way They Are? Home in on Character Essentials, with Tiffany Yates Martin (4-530 pm)

Who your characters are, what they want, and why they do what they do is rooted in who they have been and what they have done—in other words, backstory. But backstory is not the story, and not everything that makes up a character’s past and current life outside the story is relevant to it. This session will explore how to determine which threads in the fabric of your characters’ lives are essential to your story and how to mine those areas to create rich, believable, fully fleshed, cohesive characters.

[T2] Incite Your Protagonist to Go the Distance, with Kathryn Craft (4-530 pm)

When stories flag halfway through, it’s often because the protagonist didn’t start their journey with enough fuel in the story tank. That fuel comes from a well-fed inciting incident, which can be trickier to construct than you first realize. We’ll analyze important aspects of craft that feed energy to this all-important story event and send the protagonist on his way.

Community Conversation: Your Inner Rebel Asks the Question, with Therese Ann Fowler (7 pm)

Writers are often advised to cultivate their unique voice. Yet when it comes to getting an agent or book deal, the literary culture often rewards conformity foremost. This dissonance can stifle, discourage, or even paralyze a writer. Let's talk about how to access creative power when conventional ideals may not apply to or benefit our work.



Morning Pages (6-9 am)

Writing. Coffee. Sometimes our morning needs are just that simple. Space for quiet writing before sessions begin provided--along with coffee.

Hone Your (Character’s) Voice, with Susan DeFreitas (9-1050 am)

In this workshop, author, editor, and book coach Susan DeFreitas will lead you through a succession of exercises designed to unlock the mysteries of voice in fiction—and clarify what it is that makes each of our POV characters unique, at the level of diction, syntax, and storytelling. You will leave with iterative techniques designed to make your writing feel unique, personal, and alive on the page—and an understanding of the key role this plays in capturing readers’ attention.

Heart: Make Your Story Memorable, with Donald Maass (11 am-1230 pm)

This hands-on workshop explores the factors that cause readers—and agents and editors—to connect with your story. Develop the story moments that matter the most: insights that transform, inner truths found, crossroads that change everything, and more.

[T1] Spread Your Story's Impact, with Kathryn Craft (2-330 pm)

Your story may have profound importance for your protagonist, but consider why your reader should care. With each additional character affected, your story will feel more important. In this hands-on session, we’ll look at ways to generate story movement by making the protagonist’s personal consequences into public stakes.

[T2] Reinvent Your Writer's Toolbox, with Heather Webb (2-330 pm)

You've written novels before but this book is trying to kill you. Every time you approach it, you flounder. Maybe it's the words, maybe it's the characters, maybe it's the structure, but something is very wrong. You're beginning to wonder if you're broken. It isn't broken and neither are you. It's all about evolving your process. Heather Webb will help you test the tools in your writer's toolbox and discuss how to build new tools that you may need to finish your novel-in-progress.

[T1] Anatomy of the Novel: Create a Novel Blueprint in 4 (Mostly Easy) Steps, with Susan DeFreitas (4-530 pm)

Three-act structure, Story Grid, Save the Cat, The Hero’s Journey—with so many different structures out there, which one should you pick? In this workshop, Susan shares her novel blueprint process, which honors the essential spirit of all of these structures while allowing for maximum creativity on the part of the author. You will leave with the Anatomy of the Novel workbook, which you can use to create a sturdy, moving, marketable structure for your WIP.

[T2] Rescue Your Novel's Sagging Middle, with Tiffany Yates Martin (4-530 pm)

When a manuscript loses its momentum, generally the issue is one of several culprits: The plot has lost its cohesion, the characters aren’t progressing on their arcs, the story stakes have deflated, or tension and suspense have lagged. These problems are almost always fixable. This session will offer techniques for diagnosing what may be derailing a story, and specific, actionable ways to get things back on track.

Community Conversation: Process Therapy, with Gwen Hernandez (7 pm)

Are You Should'ing On Your Process? Consider how you listen to and lean into your creative instinct. During this community conversation guided by author Gwen Hernandez, we'll discuss the ways we write, including the wide range of choices between Plotter and Pantser, as we help you discover your unique approach to creating a story.



Morning Pages (6-830 am)

Writing. Coffee. Sometimes our morning needs are just that simple. Space for quiet writing before sessions begin provided--along with coffee.

Your Story is Our Story: Create a Universal World, with Donald Maass (830 -10 am)

Even in stories set in times, places and/or cultures far from our own, there are elements that cause us to see ourselves in a story world. In this hands-on workshop, discover what those elements are and how to use them.

Analyze Like an Editor + Live Edits, with Tiffany Yates Martin (10 am - 1230 pm)

Analyzing other people’s stories allows you to see and evaluate only what’s there and what may need strengthening or further developing—a crucial skill for writing and editing your own work. This session offers specific techniques to deepen your mastery of story craft and make you a stronger, more skilled editor and writer—without ever touching the keyboard.
Live Edits: Using pages of participants' WIPs, we'll discuss what’s coming across on the page, whether it’s effective and serving the story, and how to address areas where it might not be. This hands-on approach allows authors to see how to edit and revise their own writing by assessing others’ work, and to witness techniques in action.

[T1] Character Arc = Character Complexity: Develop Depth and Nuance, with Susan DeFreitas (2-330 pm)

In this workshop, you'll explore one of the most vital components of your protagonist’s complexity--their character arc. By digging into the backstory that underlies their arc, revealing the protagonist in the process of being challenged to grow and change, and, ultimately, dramatizing them in the midst of a genuine transformation, you can create a powerful sense of depth and nuance in the character who matters most in your novel, the protagonist.

[T2] Point Beyond the End: Consider Your Story's Resonance, with Kathryn Craft (2-330 pm)

We’ll identify the structural elements that contribute to a satisfying ending so you can make sure that your project delivers—and continues to resonate once the back cover is closed. After all, when recommending a story, you may well have said, "This story starts slow but hang in there, it all comes together in the end." But who would purchase the book if told, "You'll love this—it starts with a bang then fizzles out altogether"?

[T1] Action! Learn Powerful Storytelling Techniques from the World of Film, with Desmond Hall (4-530 pm)

The movie world offers numerous techniques for powerful storytelling, and Desmond Hall has picked up many of them over the years, from working with the great director/screenwriter Spike Lee, and to taking classes with late director Mike Nichols and screenwriting guru, Robert McKee. During this session, he’ll share some of these techniques and lead a discussion about ways writers can integrate methods from the world of film into the novel-writing process.

[T2] Bring Characters to Life on the Page, with Tiffany Yates Martin (4-530 pm)

It's not an exaggeration to suggest that every detail in your story can be used intentionally to create and convey character. In this session we’ll explore how you can use every preference, behavior, action, reaction, thought, habit, interaction, etc., as a deliberate brushstroke in painting a memorable portrait of characters who spring off the page with texture, depth, and dimension.

Community Conversation: Book Therapy, with Desmond Hall and Heather Webb (7 pm)

Book Therapy has become a staple of UnCon. Bring your troubled plot points, characters, structure considerations, etc., and let's troubleshoot them as a group.



Morning Pages (6-9 am)

Writing. Coffee. Sometimes our morning needs are just that simple. Space for quiet writing before sessions begin provided--along with coffee.

Pleasure > Discipline: Center Your Creative Practice, with Susan DeFreitas (9 -10 am)

Explode the myth of discipline in writing and explore the revolutionary, transformative power of centering pleasure in your creative practice. Drawing from her own work as a writer and a book coach, as well as the latest findings in the neuroscience of habit formation, Susan’s final presentation for the UnConference will leave you equipped and galvanized to take your writing practice to the next level.

Write With the Freedom of Mastery, with Donald Maass (10 am - 1130 am)

Has your fire for your fiction faded over time? This hands-on workshop will inspire you to write like you are at the peak of your mastery: all skills honed, nothing left to prove, total freedom yours. You are writing now for yourself alone, and so what will you do with it? We'll explore tales illuminating eternal mysteries, the essential human condition, what no one has ever said before, and more.

Catch It as You Can: Center Now, Produce Later, with Therese Walsh (1130 am)

Suggestions for how to sort though notes and hit the ground running after the event has ended.

Know Your “Why” and Your “Enough” with Tiffany Yates Martin (130-230 pm)

Choosing the writing life can mean facing uncertainty, self-doubt, setbacks, the vagaries of the marketplace, low pay, and daunting odds. It’s a career path where often the creator is the person with the least amount of control over its trajectory. Yet we can still create fulfilling, meaningful writing careers despite all these challenges by defining two key elements of our creative lives: What drives us to do it at the most foundational level, and what constitutes “success” for ourselves in our writing. Join this discussion to help you define these two core aspects of your creative path so you can build and sustain joy and satisfaction in your writing career—no matter what shape it may take—throughout your life.

Remember the Power of You, with Donald Maass(245-430 pm)

Conferences are inspiring but facing the keyboard afterward can be deflating. It may seem there is too much to do and too little confidence with which to do it. This workshop empowers you to use what you’ve learned this week every time you sit down to type, and to make every page the best you will ever write. Impossible? Not if every page and story moment belongs to you. The more it does, without barriers or fear, the more your story can belong to all of us.

Hold Tight to That Thing We Do, with Therese Walsh (430 pm)

Closing thoughts.

After Party, with Your Dancing Shoes (8-1159 pm)

Our Session Leaders

Kathryn Craft is the award-winning author of two novels, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy, as well as chapters in Author in Progress and The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing from Writers Digest Books. Her 17 years as a freelance developmental editor at follows a 19-year career as a dance critic. Kathryn leads writing workshops and retreats, has mentored novelists through her Your Novel Year program and Drexel University’s MFA program, and served as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s 2020 Guiding Scribe. She is a regular contributor to our favorite writing blog, Writer Unboxed.

Susan DeFreitas is the author of the novel Hot Season, which won a Gold IPPY Award, and the editor of Dispatches from Anarres: Tales in Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin, a finalist for the Foreword INDIES. Her work has been featured in the Writer’s Chronicle, LitHub, Story, the Huffington Post, Daily Science Fiction, Oregon Humanities, and elsewhere. An independent editor and book coach, she is a Founding Coach with Author Accelerator, as well as a regular contributor to, and holds an MFA from Pacific University. She divides her time between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Portland, Oregon.

Therese Anne Fowler is the New York Times, IndieBound, and USA Today bestselling author of multiple novels including Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, which was adapted for television starring Christina Ricci. She has been a finalist for the Goodreads Choice Awards and the Southern Book Prize for fiction. Her articles and essays have appeared in The Week, Harper’s Bazaar, the Telegraph, and more. Therese earned a BA in sociology/cultural anthropology and an MFA in creative writing, both from NC State University. She lives in Raleigh, NC, with her husband, author John Kessel.

Desmond Hall, author of Your Corner Dark, has worked as both a high school biology teacher and English teacher, counseled at-risk teens, and served as Spike Lee’s creative director at SpikeDDB. Named one of Variety Magazine’s 50 creatives to watch, he’s also written and directed the HBO movie, A Day In Black and White, which was nominated for the Gordon Parks Award. He’s written and directed the award-winning theater play, Stockholm, Brooklyn. He’s served on the board of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, and was a judge for the Addys, and the Downtown Urban Arts Film Festival.

Gwen Hernandez is the author of seven romantic suspense novels and Scrivener For Dummies. She’s spent the last several years unlearning everything she was taught about how to write, and has rediscovered the joy and freedom of trusting her creative instincts. When she’s not teaching or writing amid a jungle of houseplants, she likes to travel, read, run along the beach, practice tree pose, and explore her current home of Southern California.

Donald Maass founded the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York in 1980. He is the author of The Career Novelist (1996), Writing the Breakout Novel (2001), Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (2004), The Fire in Fiction (2009), The Breakout Novelist (2011), Writing 21st Century Fiction (2012) and The Emotional Craft of Fiction (2019). He has presented hundreds of workshops around the world and is a past president of the American Association of Literary Agents (formerly AAR).

Greer Macallister earned her MFA in creative writing from American University. Her historical novels have been named Book of the Month, Indie Next, LibraryReads, Target Book Club, and Amazon Best Book of the Month picks and optioned for film and television. She is a bestselling novelist and a regular contributor to Writer Unboxed and the Chicago Review of Books.

Tiffany Yates Martin has spent thirty years as an editor in the publishing industry, working with major publishers and New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling and award-winning authors as well as indie and newer writers. Founder of FoxPrint Editorial and author of Intuitive Editing: A Creative and Practical Guide to Revising Your Writing, Tiffany also leads seminars and workshops around the country and is a regular contributor to outlets like Writer's Digest, Jane Friedman, and of course Writer Unboxed.

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006 and is the site’s editorial director. She is the author of two novels, three self-help books, and hundreds of articles. She is the editor of a craft book for novelists, Author in Progress, which was written with the team from Writer Unboxed and published by Writer’s Digest. She has worked with bestselling novelists as a developmental editor. This event marks her sixth managed conference—her fifth for Writer Unboxed.

Heather Webb is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction. As a freelance editor and an adjunct in a MFA in Creative Writing program, Heather has helped many writers sign with agents and go on to sell at market. When not writing, she feeds her cookbook addiction, geeks out on history and pop culture, and looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world. To date, her books have been translated to seventeen languages.

We hope you're able to join us for WU's fourth in-person UnConference. Until then, write on!

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About the organizer

Organized by
Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006, and is the site's editorial director. She orchestrated the first live gathering of the WU community in 2014 in Salem, MA--part UNtraditional conference, part intensive craft event, part networking affair--and very much enjoys picking up the baton every 2-3 years for an encore. Therese, author of two novels (The Moon Sisters, The Last Will of Moira Leahy), was also the architect and co-editor of Author in Progress (Writer’s Digest, 2016), a book that guides authors in progress through writing a novel, with tips on how to reach key craft milestones and clear psychological hurdles. A symphonic group effort, Author in Progress features essays by ~50 Writer Unboxed contributors and industry pros.