Thursday, May 22, 2014

Writing is Hard Work

To be a hard-working writer means not only to produce, but to improve.

For many people, trying to find the time to sit down and write a thousand words is a challenge. If you have a demanding job, if you have children, if you travel… We can each list some very reasonable things that keep us from finding the time.

Other times, excuses keep us from writing. Favourite TV shows, the weather is too nice, or the soul-sucking internet. (*Waves at you as you read this on the internet.*) We all need some down-time, right?

So what turns someone into a writer? The absolute NEED to write. That drive, that all-encompassing desire to get the idea down, trumps all other activities.

If you want to know how that energy feels, start an argument with someone online. (Because someone on the internet is wrong.) You can’t walk away, you have to make your point, your words have to be seen, you, you… HAVE TO settle this! And then an hour or two zips by. You get caught up, you have been completely engrossed, and the laundry is still sitting there. That’s what it feels like.

If you are someone who has to write and cannot escape it, you already know what I’m talking about. You get up early in the morning or stay up into the wee hours, you write at lunch, or while you eat dinner – however you make it happen, you put your ass in the chair and write like the wind.

And that’s awesome.

But you don’t want to spend the next ten years of your life writing crap. Although it might feel like waves of genius flowing forth from your muse, chances are, you were not born an award-winning author. You need to keep improving.

That’s when it gets hard.

I don’t mean just reading every book on the planet. And not only, “I got another rejection, but I’ve got a thick skin.” And I don’t mean that writing is a lonely, self-doubting activity. Those are all hard indeed, but not what I want to focus on today.

I’ve said it before and I will keep repeating, “The whole world needs an editor.” Even the best writers need a second set of eyes. Smart eyes. Not someone who loves you and adores that you write, eyes. A person who knows how to properly edit your work is priceless.

But you know that old saying about teaching a man to fish?

If you are making errors with comma placements (for example), you have a choice. You can fix the commas the editor pointed out to you in this one particular manuscript, or you can go and learn about correct comma usage. You’ve got some problems with dialogue? Don’t just fix what they circled for you. Go and study, not just by reading books that have dialogue, but study how to write effective dialogue. Some people take classes, workshops, or find lessons online, but you have to find your own training.

And I’m not going to give them to you. No list of sources, nothing to reference, no starting point. I don’t know what you need.

They are your problems to fix. Not your editor’s. The editor is there to tell you which fish you need, they’re not going to catch it for you. If you’re lucky, they might point you in the right direction. But the really hard work? That’s all yours.

So “writing” isn’t always about word count and your fingers flying across the keyboard. It’s not only coming up with the best ideas to ever rock the world. Sometimes it’s about soaking in a whole new lesson that will improve your work, and make your future projects more successful.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Going to a Writer’s Conference – Tips for Survival and Success – Part Three

Here we are at part three, and if you've missed the earlier posts full of tips for BEFORE and DURING the con, you might find it useful to go back and read those first:

So what's left? The con is over, you're bloody exhausted and possibly coming down with something. Mind spinning and feeling overwhelmed, excited and inspired, chances are you want to sleep for a week, and then write for another week solid.

After the Con:

Get your butt to work on Monday and drag yourself through the day. We’ve all been there. Drink a boatload of water, sleep a lot, and eat properly again. Vitamin C is your friend. Your coworkers may or may not want to hear about how you spent your weekend. Perhaps you'll even reconsider how you spend your days in the regular, mundane existence of employment. But trust me, keep your day job.

You know who will want to hear about your weekend? Everyone who reads your blog. Write about it, and make sure you include experiences that are unique to you. Who did you meet? What did you see? Were you there when that life-sized Dalek blew steam and scared the restaurant waiter? Post your pictures and put names to as many faces as you can, not only for your own future reference, but for others to put faces to names, as well. You might even include links to publishers and writers you met, as it will bring traffic to their sites as well. It's always nice to have a chance to promote others in a logical context.

Aaah...good job. But you're still not done.

The rest of the week will be spent doing some follow-up. Go through the business cards, bookmarks and flyers you picked up all weekend. If you had a conversation with the person, email them directly and say how nice it was to meet them, and mention something specific you might have talked about to help jiggle their memory of you. You don’t have to write a lot, just a couple of sentences. Light and polite. Under your closing salutations and name, make sure you include a signature that includes your website address. If you already have a newsletter, also provide a link for them to subscribe. (Website and subscribe links should be in your permanent signature anyway.) Don't be offended if you don't get a response right away, or at all. Most people are playing this catch-up game as well as keeping up with the regular day job, taking care of the kids, and fighting off sickness. Otherwise, look through the websites of businesses and people you didn't speak to in order to learn more about them, and how they fit into the grand picture. Everyone is connected in some way.

Hook up and find all of those people on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and whatever else you’re subscribed to. Your online rolodex is very valuable. Keep your initial connections alive and occasionally comment on or retweet something of theirs.

Back to the Message Boards. You want to stay top-of-mind. Continue to get to know to know people and become a part of the community by finding the related message boards, and hang out online. Some message boards are more...volatile than others. It's the Internet, put on your bid-kid pants and play nice. Everyone is connected in some way.

In the long run, if you find yourself reading things by authors/editors/publishers you've met, take the time to write a review. That could be posted on Amazon, Goodreads, and even your blog. Again, promoting others is always appreciated even if they don't see it personally. Others will see you boosting the signal.

Plan the next con! It's a vicious cycle, addictive, and necessary. Go back and read Part One to find out which cons are right for you, decide what you can afford and ask around about how you can save money at the next location. But there's a difference this time around, you've already met people! Send along a note or post on their wall/Tweet ahead of time to say that you're going and you hope to see them there. You'll know what to expect the second time around, and might even have ideas about what you'd like to do differently. It's possible that you also have more confidence as you see familiar faces in the hallways.

Perhaps you'll have something new to promote?

If only you had more time to write...but that's another (upcoming?) blog post.

Once again and as always, comments and your own stories are welcome!