Getting Ready for Your First Writing Conference

Welcome to another installment of GPF. Today we welcome Ru from And Then She Was Like Blah Blah Blah. Her blog deals with a variety of aspects to her life, so if you want a unique view of a writer’s goings-on, head over there and say hi.

So this is what it’s like getting ready for your first-ever writing conference:

1. First, you’re going to wonder why you decided to [buy a house, get a dog, change jobs, agree to coach kids’ soccer, plant a garden, join a new gym, etc.] in the months beforehand, because jeez-louise, didn’t you intend to have a lot more writing done before the big day? But alas, you made your life choices, and now you are stuck with them.

(I once got the advice that if you want to start a brand new project, no matter what it is, give yourself 90 uninterrupted days to do it. Don’t plan vacations in that time, don’t make sweeping life-changing decisions. Just focus on your new project for 90 days.

Now I have given you that advice, and you will ruefully remember it when are staring down the barrel of, “Oh gosh, that conference is in two weeks, isn’t it?” just like I am now. Circle of life, friends.)

2. Second, you’re going to remember that pretty much everyone who is a “writer” instead of an “author” is in the same boat you are, unless they’re independently wealthy (damn them). So really, it’s going to be ok. We all have houses that need buying and soccer that needs coachin!

3. Third, you’re going to have a flashback to the first day of high school (or worse, junior high) and wonder, “Who will I eat lunch with?” “Why didn’t I consult anyone else I knew before signing up for this conference?” and “What will I wear?”

I have no advice on this score, other than having attended a lot of conferences in hotels, I’ve found that they tend to run cold. Pack a sweater. One that looks nice with slacks, because you’re not a hobo.

4. Fourth, you’re going to re-research the staff of the conference. Now, I know you did this when you signed up, but everyone needs a refresher. Remember which authors, which agents, which editors, etc. are going to be at this conference. Telling yourself, “I am the intellectual equal of everyone here” goes a long way, but knowing something about the people you might be talking to helps you from awkwardly blurting out, “Do you know where the toilets are?” when pressed for information.

5. Fifth, you’re going to review your own pitch, query, and synopsis of anything you have written or are writing. I like to think of every conversation as an opportunity to give a really awful job interview. AVOID THAT OPPORTUNITY.

It’s a writing conference, folks–people just like yourself are going to be asking you, “So what do you write?” Have an answer. Don’t stumble around like I did (and sometimes do), finally muttering something about, “My mom really likes it.” And then you’re back to Step 3, awkwardly eating your boxed lunch alone as you pretend to read old text messages.

C’mon, the words, “Contemporary young adult” aren’t really that hard to blurt out, are they? Let’s all practice with something easy to build our confidence. “Humorous commercial women’s fiction.” “Dystopian thriller.” “Memoir.” “Epic fantasy.” “Oh gosh, I thought this conference was on weather patterns, bye!” (Always give yourself an out.)

6. Sixth, you’re going to think to yourself, “Gosh, should I be bringing business cards?” And then you’re going to say, “Of course not, why would I do something so pompous?” And then you’re going to say, “Is it pompousness, or is it professionalism?” And then you’re going to google the answer and then decide how much weight to give to that answer, because it is just the internet, after all, and really, do you have time to go to Office Max? No, you don’t.

7. Seventh, you’re going to just embrace the fact that when it comes to things like this, you’re kind of just not going to know what you’re doing. So pack a swimming suit along with that sweater and remember — most conferences end by 9pm, but hotel hot tubs are forever.

Thanks so much for these useful tips, Ru.

Anyone else have some interesting conference tips?

Take three hammers

This was going to be a completely different post, but as I went searching for the original quote, I stumbled across this one:

“A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.”
William Faulkner

If I could borrow Stephen King’s toolbox analogy (for those of you going “huh?!” go read On Writing), I’d say experience, observation and imagination make up three hammers in our tool kit. Why hammers?

Well… I’m a firm believer in the following: If the thing you’re fixing isn’t working, get a bigger hammer. 

On the other hand, I also believe that a hammer’s a hammer. If I keep knocking away, I will achieve what I want, regardless of the hammer I used.

It’s sort of like that when we write.

Sometimes, experience is exactly what we need. That’s probably what they meant with “Write what you know”. I think we writers are ingenious enough to fake it by using a mixture of observation and imagination. Think of all of the crime writers out there? Are all of them coroners or cops? No? There you go then.

Sometimes imagination in the right amounts would be the perfect tool for the job. I’m thinking of genres like fantasy and sci fi. Still, powers of observation and/or experience can lower the need for an imagination in hyper drive. For example, using observation of people around you to make the story more character driven

Observation lacking? If you read or write a lot, you can use that experience to fill the gaps. You can even *shiver* stick to writing about what you know so that you don’t have to learn anything new. Or you can use your imagination. Not everyone has two parent families (in fact these are becoming more and more rare), but writers can use what they’ve read to imagine what it’s like. Or… they can avoid writing about two parent families.

All this makes me really happy, because I’m young and lack a lot of life experience. It really doesn’t matter. I can observe and imagine. Just so, some of you might have felt constrained because you’re unobservant. So what? Use what you have and make the most of it. That’s why you have it, after all.

Do you have all three the hammers? Or do you compensate with the one or two that you do have? Which ones do you have and how do you use them in your genre?

Opportunity Knocks

Funny how opportunities just happen when you least expect it.

The other day, I impulsively decided to let my tweets post to Facebook as well, thinking that I might as well, as I wouldn’t actually have to *ahem* spend any time on that irritating waste of web space.

And… well, for one thing, people are suddenly much more interested in my writing progress now. Maybe because everything’s being posted as I go. But that’s not really the news.

I was merrily going my way, finding the increase in responses interesting, but not really thinking about it a lot, when an old schoolfriend contacts me. Now when I say old, I mean ancient (by my standards). We went to primary school together.

So imagine my surprise when said friend leaves me a message stating that she’s now a graphical designer for a company that needs a writer for one of their projects…

Yep! I’m super excited about it, because I’ll be making good extra money doing something I love. Unfortunately I can’t really tell you more about what exactly I’ll be doing, as that would be unprofessional, but I just couldn’t hold the news back any longer.

So it just goes to show you that no matter how much you hate certain websites, they might still result in extra money…

Got any surprise opportunities lately?


There’s something that I struggle with when I write that annoy both me and my crit partners.

I leave the reader in a haze.

Actions are taking place, but sometimes I don’t ground them correctly. So instead of going where it’s supposed to (i.e. where I want it to be), my reader’s imagination goes in another direction. The imagination fills in the gaps that I leave.

Not necessarily a bad thing. It’s one way to draw the reader into the story. On the other hand, if the progression of my writing leads to the reader having to erase the filling he/she had created to fill it with what I’ve written, there’s a problem. That re-evaluation is enough to yank anyone out of the story.

Does this mean that everything has to be written before the main action takes place? No. For one thing, the reader might just skip over the block of description.

Instead, it’s necessary to make sure that the information is available to the reader by the time it’s needed. For example:

My heart raced as I ran. Behind me, a gunman struggled to catch up. A curse and a dull thud signalled the man’s fall. I grabbed the opportunity sped up before hiding behind a tree.

Now these short sentences look fine on their own, but if they were a start of a chapter or story, there might be a problem. The tree. Firstly, the tree seems to have jumped up from nowhere. Also… I’m guessing that you’re imagining a single tree.

If later on it turns out to be a tree the MC picked out in a forest, the reader will have a hey wait! moment. That’s the last thing you as writer will want.

Same thing with the gunman’s fall. Why? Did he trip? Because most people would assume that one tree will imply even ground for some distance.

So, to make less of a problem:

The forest loomed ahead as I ran. My heart raced my feet to the massive oak in the center. If I could lose the gunman behind me, the oak would be my safe haven. I flicked my eyes down as the forest’s shadows greeted me. My eyes roved the ground for holes and bumps as I sped up. Sure, the forest was where I could hide, but it was also where the gunman could kill me if he could take a shot. I ducked to the right, sensing, more than seeing a hole splintering in a nearby pine tree. Then two sweet sounds reached my ear: a curse and a dull thud. The idiot should have kept his focus on his feet. My lungs burned as I sped up to put more distance between us. When I squeezed into my oaken sanctuary, the buzz in my ears was the only thing I could hear….

In the above paragraph, the forest exists in the reader’s mind before the necessity of the oak is known. The need to focus on the ground is known before the gunman falls. Now the reader can work out he tripped and when the MC makes it to the oak, it’s easy to understand why hiding in the tree would make sense, because how will the Gunman pick out where the MC is hiding? As supposed to one tree in a seemingly flat landscape.

The paragraph makes more sense in this:

than this:

So it’s your job as writer to make sure that if something happens in photo one, it has to be made clear from the start. Otherwise it might look as if it happens in photo two and readers will find it strange when something happens to imply otherwise.

How do you make sure that your scenes are grounded?

Yet another dilemma…

Warning! Gratuitous Cute Kitty Picture to follow…

There is a reason though. Two, actually.

One is that I finished WiP2 this weekend. So… Those thousands of errors I conveniently pushed aside for later? Uhm… yeah… I’m talking rewrites. AND research. Of course, I’m loving the latter, but I’m not sure if I should be taking it on right now.

See, my Doorways crits are coming in. So far I’ve gotten two back. My courage flagged at the sight of the amount of work I’d need to do for round 2.

If I want to be finished with edits any time soon, I’m not sure that embarking on WiP2 rewrites will be the smartest thing. Especially when my time is sort of a rare commodity until the very end of October.

Of course, there’s NaNo, but I think it will be better applied to writing another rough draft (WiP3), so WiP2 won’t be happening then either.

So now here’s the million dollar question: When will I be able to do it?

Innovate, Experiment, and Don’t Let Your Mojo Die

Hi all! Today I welcome Neil Vogler to My First Book. He blogs at A Writer, He Muttered on his life as a writer, the industry and on writing tips. So if you’re looking for another POV, Neil’s your guy. Anyway, here he is on a post drawn from various posts on his own blog… (Makes a good sample, don’t you think?)

Innovate, Experiment, and Don’t Let Your Mojo Die(NB: select sections of this post have appeared before on my own blog).

I’d like to doff my cap in gratitude to Misha for giving me the chance to guest on her blog. I’m very impressed with how upbeat and supportive Misha is of the community that hangs around these parts, and how responsive and positive those that read this blog are in return. Good job, everyone. Now please don’t flay me alive in the comments…

I’ve been around the block a few times as a writer, but I have real sympathy for people who are new to the scene, and to the culture that surrounds it. I consider right now to be a very difficult time if you’re a new writer — ie you’re literally just awakening to the possibility that you are someone who wants and/or needs to write. If you’re thinking about writing a novel and struggling to find your voice, this must be a frankly bewildering age to live in.

Firstly you have the awesome gravity of the internet pulling at you every minute of the day, which reminds you time and again that there are millions of other voices out there and that they, depending on your mood and confidence level when you read them, have probably already got better-developed voices and far better prospects than you. Added to that, there are endless sites and articles and blogs about how to write out there (hey, including mine, sometimes!). New and aspiring writers could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed and giving up before they even start.

The information deluge is fierce, and its effects can be potent — and in some cases, insidious. It seems that everybody and their mother’s mother has an opinion regarding how you should write and what constitutes “good” writing. There is a kind of “accepted industry knowledge model” prevalent out there regarding what is “good writing” and what isn’t, largely propagated by the huge amount of agent and publishing-insider blogs. And whilst all that advice is undeniably useful in short bursts and in the relevant context, in the long term you start to realise that not only is a lot of the advice contradictory and confusing, it’s off-putting and can absolutely drain you of all creative motivation.

As a new writer taking tentative steps on the internet you rapidly learn, for example, that adverbs are plain evil, that adjectives make your style look weak, that there are effectively innumerable rules that you should follow to be “good”, to be “publishable”, to be a “real writer”.

I plead with you: don’t let that stuff kill your mojo. Let your mojo kill that stuff.

The truth about writing as I see it is simply this: ultimately, there are no rules. In the hands of real talent, anything goes. Anything. All that matters is you’re writing a compelling story that succeeds on its own terms and makes the reader want – no, need — to keep turning those pages.

Obviously, as a writer you have to understand the rules before you can break them, or in some cases throw them out completely. But that’s the best thing about the novel as a format — if it works for the story then it works, and structure be damned if structure is just getting in the way, or character be damned, or dialogue. Writers should not be afraid, especially at the beginning of their writing lives (and in my opinion, never at all) to experiment. Because it’s only when you experiment that you start to learn where your real limitations and boundaries are.

Like many others I write in quite a cinema-influenced fashion, I think, but I am very consciously trying to do things in a novel that are unique to the medium, ie things that would never make it into a film. With a novel, you can bring levels of depth and nuance to a story that no other medium can ever hope to achieve. A novel is the most luxuriant form of story there is, and as far as I’m concerned a good one immerses and engages you like no other medium can.

You read a lot about following trends. Write to market, the advisors say, look at what’s popular, figure out how you can tap into the current niche, etc etc. But no, people. That’s not fine. The status quo will not suffice; that way lies stagnation for artists, and for the industry and artform as a whole.

What fiction needs in all its genres is innovators, not followers. And what readers want in every genre is to have their minds blown by a great story.

So I say: follow your instincts. Be bold. Chase down the path that excites you, not what you think the market wants. And in the first instance, write only for yourself, for your own satisfaction. And when it’s all over, when the blood’s dried and the pound of flesh has been safely extracted, then figure out how to sell it. Because passion sells books, and passion sells stories. Don’t let the million rules that you think you should follow limit you; if they don’t suit you, figure out a way around them, or through them.

Publishing is changing beyond belief. There have never been more opportunities to get a book out there, no matter how weird, bizarre, or challenging it may be. There has never been a better time to advertise the fact that your story exists. Perhaps ultimately agents can’t sell it, and publishers won’t sell it. But you can, if you’re passionate and driven enough.

It’s all possible. That’s what I believe.

Here’s to freedom of experimentation… liberty of the mind… and the thrill of the new.

Thanks so much for this lovely and encouraging post!

Any new writers out there? What do you think about what Neil said? Old hands, any tips for the new writers?

Have a great weekend everyone!

One good reason why I write…

Hi all! I’m sort of winded now, after I wrote this post on TCoML. I was pretty much preaching to myself about how much I have to be thankful for and thought someone else might find value in it. So feel free to check it out. 🙂

As for my writing… I’m pretty frustrated right now. Which might or might not be the cause of my funk that made it necessary for me to write the above post.

See, if I EVER needed a reminder as to why I have to write every day, all I had to do is to prevent myself from writing when I really really want to. For example, by oversleeping twice in a row. >_<

My whole world outlook changes, because I can’t just recycle my more bleak thoughts and emotions into writing.

I really HATE having a black rainy cloud of doom and gloom spoiling my day, so I become cranky.

So cranky, in fact that I swear the contact of air against my skin grates my nerves.

Know the feeling?

Now, I’m never quite without that outlook I mentioned, but when I write, I work through it all and give my weird and very twisted sense of humor a chance to kick in. If I don’t, things just build up and they don’t look so funny any more.

What to do?

Well… first, Doc G prescribes an hour of singing, followed by hours of wild literary abandon, either in her own book or someone else’s. So that’s what I’ll do.

Does not writing make you cranky too? How do you deal with it when you absolutely cannot write?

Hello… old friend.

Just goes to show you. Even the best of intentions sometimes mean nothing. I was planning to not write anything new until my exam is done.

But you know when you’re on a diet and decided that you won’t eat chocolate? The more you insist on not thinking about eating it, the more it’s on your mind.

Same thing here. The clamor in my head from all the no-I-am-not-writing‘s are making such a lot of noise that the odds of being able to concentrate look pretty bleak.

On Sunday I decided to go back to my second WiP. It’s actually pretty horrible right now. After all, I started writing it while I was drafting Doorways, so I hadn’t learnt anything close to what I know now. Here’s a tip for those new to writing: Want to really know what good writing is about? Fix your own mistakes. But remember to make them first. 

Still, it’s nice to just mess around without any pressure or goals.

It’s actually not very far from the end, although I am seeing a looooooong rewrite in front of me. But that’s a tale for another day.

Have you ever returned to a book that you got distracted from ages ago? How did it turn out?