Friday, March 25, 2016

A Newbie's Guide to Preparing for a Writer's Conference

Last year I attended my first writer’s conference. With no clue as what to really expect, I went to more experienced writers for their advice. Their suggestions helped me get the most out of the conference. I learned something new every day, met some great people, and had a ton of fun over the three days. As we are drawing near to the 2016 Write Stuff Writers Conference, I figured it was time to dust off that list and add a few things that I learned on my own. I hope it helps you as much as it did me.

  • Have a list of things you want to achieve and try to check at least one off the list each day.
  • You're all there for the same reason. That gives you something to talk about that's not your work in progress. Don't be a wallflower and don't talk about your book.
  • Do take business cards with current contact info (even if you have to print them up yourself).
  • Bring a netbook computer, laptop or smart phone. You might want to look up information about a presenter or subject and having immediate access to the internet will make it easier.
  • Bring a camera. Take pictures.
  • Bring a recording device. Record what you can.
  • Bring a notebook and five pens.
  • Bring $20 per day earmarked "beer money" or “soda money” (the best stuff happens at the bar)
  • Sign up for a pitch with a potential agent. Even if you're not quite ready, the experience is invaluable.
  • Don't pitch a potential agent while she/he is in the bathroom! That may bring you unwanted visibility.
  • If you are pitching an agent include a photo with your materials.
  • Try to meet three new people who are interesting enough that you want to stay in touch after the conference is over.
  • Find one idea that you can use.
  • Find one idea that you have no idea how to use but it's interesting enough that you want to keep track of it.
  • When you see a group of fellow attendees in the bar, asking "Can I join you?" is a good idea. Usually they'll say "Sure!" Do it.
  • Find somebody who's attended before. Tell them it's your first con and ask what's good to do.
  • When you are ready to get a meal, invite somebody to join you. Eat alone only as a last resort. Breaking bread is one of the oldest forms of hospitality and socialization. Use it.
  • Look at the program to see if there there's somebody on a panel that you admire. Prep a question or two for that person on the topic of that panel. Often the panels have a Q&A session and you can ask it.
  • You're at the con to be with people. Do that. Don't spend the time in your room unless you're (a) sleeping, (b) showering, or (c) you are so burned out that your throat is raw and your eyes won't focus. You can rest when you get home.
  • If you can get a signed copy of a presenter’s book, do it. Even if you don’t read the book it’s a great keepsake.
  • Have fun

Monday, December 28, 2015

13 Tips to Write Faster

Do you want to write faster? Are you struggling with completing your novel, or are you working on the sequel and it's taking you twice as long as the first book to finish?

I'm always looking for ways to get more out of my writing time, and recently I discovered "13 Things I Learned About Writing Faster" by Veronica Sicoe. It's a great starting place.

What follows is her list shuffled into my order with a few additional thoughts added.

  • Make writing your Top Priority 
  • Writing first thing in the morning is HUGELY helpful
  • Life doesn’t care about your writing time
This doesn't mean shun your family. It does mean treating your writing like a business even if you have a regular 9 to 5 job. Set a schedule and do your best to stick with it, but be prepared for distractions.  The earlier in the day that you can start working toward your writing goal, the more likely you are to meet it.

  • Having a great outline is half the victory
  • Your first outline isn’t necessarily a great outline
  • Separating decision-making from typing does the trick
  • Conversational tone is the fastest to write and the easiest to read
Before you sit down and begin writing for the day, have an idea of where you want to end.  Work that out in your downtime between writing.  I start with a outline so basic that it hardly deserves to be called one. It just gives me a focus for the beginning, middle and ending of the story. As the story progresses, I flesh out each part.  It's like planning a trip to Disney World. You want to make all of the major decisions before the first day of vacation begins so that you can enjoy the trip.

Stick with what works best for you. Everyone has heard "Write what you know," and that applies here. If you are going to stretch your boundaries (and you should), do the research before you sit down to write.

  • [Placeholders] are your [friends]
  • Social media isn’t [your friend]
  • Perfectionism is the death of creativity
In the words of Gold Five from Star Wars, "Stay on target."  Your writing time is for writing, not for research, watching videos of cats or editing.  If you need to remind yourself to double check something later, then stick a placeholder in and leave a comment.  I use [XXX comment XXX], but you can use anything you want. Just make it unique enough that it is easy to search for.

  • What gets measured gets managed
  • Celebrating progress is VITAL 
  • Knowing “it can be done” is a great motivator
Record your progress each time you write. I like to track words and time spent. Some people prefer to track scenes. The key is to decide on a goal and then track whatever you need to measure to make sure you reach that goal. Commit to meeting those goals. Make yourself accountable if only to yourself.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to keep yourself motivated.  The first thing to remember is that it can be done.  There are authors with 9 to 5 jobs, who take care of their family and have a social life that can finish a couple of books a year. Once you start tracking your efforts, you'll see that you can do it too.

To see Veronica's original list, check out her post at

Monday, September 7, 2015

Critiquing the Critique Group

At some point in your writing career you'll probably end up in a critique group.  Whether the group meets at the local coffee shop where everyone knows each other on sight or is hosted on an online forum where you only know the others by their avatars they all have a similar goal: to help improve each others work.

Unfortunately, not all critique groups are created equally, and it's not always easy for a new writer approaching their first critique group to separate the helpful from the harmful.

A good place to start is to read Anne R Allen's Beware Groupthink: 10 Red Flags to Watch For When Choosing a Critique Group. I've listed the bullet items here.

10 Things that Can make a Critique Group go Sour
  1. Dogmatic PC/Religious Policepersons.
  2. Misinformed and outdated "writing rules"
  3. Unenforced Rules (or None) 
  4. No moderator (or a bad one.)
  5. The grammar militia
  6. Power-trippers and divas
  7. Praiseaholics.
  8. Co-Authors.
  9. Know-it-Alls (Who Don't)
  10. The Empathy-Challenged