Conferring on Conferences

 

 

Okay, so I promised two weeks ago that last week we’d be talking about writing conferences. Then my squirrel brain shouted “I do what I want!” and flicked its squirrel brain tail and stole some nuts and ran off on a tangent.

 

Adult Sarah remembers. So without further prodding, let’s get into the meaty goodness of writers conferences and why you should strive to attend at least one a year.

If you’ve never been before or even if you are old-hat in the world of conferences, here are a few tips on how to choose the right one for you, how to get the most out of it, and how to not feel completely overwhelmed in the process.

 

How do you choose which one to attend?

 

  • If you are anything like me, you’re wealthy in creativity but strapped for cash. One of the biggest deciding factors, for me, is the cost of the conference (including travel and accommodation expenses) against what classes, speakers, and agents will be there. Getting to pitch to an agent, or multiple agents for publishers specific to your genre is a boon. Classes that are not just interesting but will help expand your craft are also good factors to consider.

 

  • Some conferences are genre specific and if you are a comfort-hugging archetype who doesn’t flirt around outside your style and subject matter, then definitely consider something specifically geared to your genre. The Romance Writers of America is hosting its annual conference in New York City this year…but, as my first bullet point states, it’s a little too much expense for my budget. Plus, I like to flirt… (outside of my genre, that is *wink)

 

  • If you’re stuck deciding between two, look at the courses offered, the speakers presenting, and if they are offering pitch sessions, especially agents suited to your work. Pick the one that gives you the most opportunity for growth and stretches your creative and ambitious goals.

 

 

How do I get the most out of my conference?

 

  • Here’s what I’ve learned. Plan ahead but be flexible. Conferences don’t just start the minute you pin that snazzy name badge on your seldom-used dress clothes. They start the year before, during writing when you (hopefully) self-reflect on the issues you have with your WIP, your style, your grammar, or even the steps you want to take next. If you have trouble with dialogue but are a whiz at plotting out the perfect story arc, then use your conference to build up your weak points. Even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Which leads me to my next point:

 

  • Sit it on at least one session that is outside of your genre, comfort zone, or even interest. Look, conferences can be amazing experiences but if you’ve been through sixteen hours of various takes on the query letter, trying to perfect your memoir pitches, you’re not growing as much as you could be. “But Sarah, why do I need to grow as a writer? I’m practically perfect as is!” Of course you are…but I ask you this: why does an athlete cross train? Why does an engineering major still have to take social science classes? Because learning about the realm outside yourself will make you better. Try a sci-fi world-building class or screenwriting. I guarantee, you will get something new out of it that will help your project and your craft.

 

  • Push your limits. Talk to people you wouldn’t normally, share your story, your success, and your pitfalls. This is an awesome opportunity (I’m talking to you little introvert from up there) to commiserate, vent, and rejoice in the craft you love so much. Pitch your novel, article, or story. Talk to the larger-than-life keynote speaker (here’s a hint: every single one of them I’ve had the pleasure to meet has been the kindest, most down-to-Earth and supportive writer). Come away feeling like the weekend/day was an experience that has changed you in some fundamental way.

 

How do I not get overwhelmed?

 

  • For goddess’ sake, take a break in the midst of it all. I’m the worst at this. I paid the money and I’m going to hit every single class. I will volunteer, pitch, hit up the speakers at the dinner table, and stuff every bit of information into my head until explodes! Then by day two, nothing makes sense in my mind, words are blurry, I’m not sure what my name is, and I’m crying into my mashed-potato tower, while wearing Underoos on my head that clearly are not my own. Take the breaks between sessions or even forgo a session and find a quiet corner or go for a walk outside. You need it to recharge, allow time to absorb the information and be refreshed for the next round.

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  • If you are pitching to an agent or editor, polish the shit out of that thing. Take your pitch to your critique group, your friends, random people on the street before the conference and learn how to deliver it with confidence and clarity. Know your story, your characters, and your plot, inside and out. That first page should sing the sweetest siren’s song anyone has ever heart and lure the tepid agent from the afternoon lunch lull into something exciting they want to read more of. The more you practice your pitch, the more it will feel like a conversation with a good friend instead of an interview.

 

  • If you are pitching, don’t be intimidated by the agent or editor. Remember they are people. They are there, specifically, to talk to you. To hear your story. To find the next big thing. Most of them are also just like you…they may even be wearing Underoos and like mashed potatoes. The point is, it’s okay to be nervous, but don’t go in assuming they relish the idea of shooting you down. Be polite and always thank them for their time and any advice they have to give.

 

  • Sleep before. Sleep after. Eat nutritious food, take walks outside whenever you can, and watch the caffeine and the booze. Free coffee stations are like crack for me (okay, I’ve never been addicted to nor have I ever even tried crack but…you get the idea) and cash bars are a tempting mistress at the end of a long, people-filled day. But you have things to do tomorrow and Underoos stay safely tucked in if you can avoid that third cocktail.

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Well, good luck out there writer. Go find you a conference and learn to mill about in the wealth of knowledge and inspiration. Leave any comments or helpful hints you’ve gained over the years here, or even your worst experiences. I can’t wait for you to jump into one and discover how decadent it feels to immerse yourself in the craft you love.

 

Turning Point

No one likes to be rejected. Well, I can’t generalize, maybe there are those that get a kick out of it. Maybe for some, it serves as a driving force to continue with even more fervor. Maybe they’ve never had a problem with self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy.

I’m not one of those people.

My rational brain knows that there’s nothing personal meant. My rational brain knows that it’s just one opinion in a sea of possibilities. But day after day, letter after letter, even the most devoted to their art have to ask…did I miss my calling as a waitress?

Or a forensic anthropologist, or an archaeologist, or a pilot, or a teacher, or an EMT, or…ANY other job that doesn’t require me to put my heart in the hands of someone else to be judged and weighed to justify doing what I love?

Wouldn’t it be nice to just go into a nine-to-five, perform some task that doesn’t have to have any of my heart in it, go home, and get a paycheck and possibly health insurance if I’m lucky?

Writers…man, we’re a strange breed.

Rising in the dark early hours, still up at dark late hours, scribbling on napkins and notebooks. Our mental faculties always distracted to some degree by the dialogue in our heads. We write, we pour out, we mull over, and edit, and form, and shape, and create. We fester and brood. And when it looks, to our over-thinking eye, that it might be something worth sharing we throw it out into a world that’s saturated with thousands of other ideas worth sharing.

And we wait. And we hope. And we fester some more.

So it should be a relief when we get the rejection…the thirtieth or first, because now we know. And It’s better to know.

Isn’t it?

So you can go back to the drawing board and change your heart all over again. Mold it into something someone wants to read…make it something that’s acceptable.

Sometimes, you do everything they ask and find you hardly recognize your own voice afterwards.

So one has to wonder; if we take our hearts and cut them to fit the trend of the market, how much of us are we really offering to the world? And is it worth selling out to get our name on the front cover? And what makes that any different than a nine-to-five, heartless job with dental?

Except there’s no dental…

So much time, effort, and tears spent trying to tell the world a story, or explain the feelings of our hearts only to be told it isn’t enough. That if we change our story, that if we change our hearts we might be able to garner a $2.50 royalty someday.

Sounds like madness to me.

Sounds like unchecked mental disease.

At some point, don’t we have to admit, that maybe, our thoughts, our stories, are just not good enough, and maybe it would be less painful to just stop trying.

After all, life’s plenty painful enough on its own.

Writer vs. Idioms

 

Biting the Dust and Chewing the Fat: A Word About Idioms

 

My daughter is learning about idioms in school. With new eyes on them, these expressions and figures of speech can range from all-out ridiculous to so over used that we barely notice them. Keep your eyes open, I’m about to idiom all over this place.

 

The conversation with my daughter got the ball rolling in my head, thinking about the idioms that pepper my own work. Writing coaches and how-to books tell you constantly to watch out for these little story killers, and with good reason. They dull your dialogues. They’re cliche, they’re drab, and boring and are the written word equivalent to a speaker saying ‘um’ and ‘uh’. Idioms are skipped over by the reader’s eye because they are so common as fixtures of language and culture. In other words, they’re time and space wasters.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Now, I don’t want to steal someone’s thunder or throw the baby out with the bathwater because sometimes idioms can be useful. Occasionally a specific phrase used in dialogue can denote or solidify where your character comes from or give us insight into their personality.

 

Saying ‘that dog won’t hunt’ or that someone ‘doesn’t know shit from Shinola’ (oh, and ‘please excuse my French’) are phrases one expects from a certain region or even generation. But unless it is something your character is at home saying, or that paints them in more vibrant colors to the reader, avoid them like the plague. After all, do we really need to swing a cat in a room to see if it’s big enough to do so?

 

It’s hard to cull the herd of idioms in our language; to make our work more precise and original, but it is part of fighting the good fight. When editing, ask yourself if the line has a double meaning. Ask if it’s the best possible way to say what you mean. If it’s an obvious idiom, what could you use instead? Does it contribute to the scene and charm of the moment, or distract from it?

 

So don’t beat around the bush or cry over spilt milk. When the ball is in your court and you’re back to the drawing board, remember; although idioms can be a cloud with a rare silver lining, it is always better to hit the nail on the head and kick overused phrases to the curb.

 

Now, if I can get the use of the Oxford comma right and stop double spacing after periods, I may just level the playing field.

 

If it’s not one thing…it’s another.

 

What are some of your common (or favorite) over-used expressions?

 

Book Review: Kathryn Mattingly’s “The Tutor” Will Stun and Captivate

I was lucky enough to pre-read a wonderful new novel out by one of my favorite authors and an all-around amazing woman, Kathryn Mattingly. I just wanted to take a moment, on this site that expunges on the beautiful and chaotic journey’s our lives take, to promote “The Tutor“. A wonderful book to begin your Autumn reading list.

Here’s a little review:

Kathryn Mattingly’s newest novel, “The Tutor” delves into the dark underbelly of the horrifying international baby-trade business and the unscrupulous men who profit from it. This page-turning thriller captivates readers as it follows the story of one woman’s desperate escape from her controlling husband to save their traumatized son from being locked away.

Following Natalie Giovanni’s flight with her troubled and beloved only son, Matti, lands us across the globe, in the lush world of Roatan, Honduras and paints a striking difference between the world that Natalie is accustom to and her new life, hidden away.

In her trademark style, Mattingly paints a vibrant world of crystalline beaches, reefs teeming with life, colorful people, and a vivacious culture. The reader is offered an inside perspective from the men and women living on the island and becomes part of their day to day lives in striking detail.

Mattingly explores both the differences of life in the United States and life on the island and also the similarities in their systemic patriarchal controls. This contributes to the complex plot and journey Natalie takes in finding herself and in helping her son recover from the shock and trauma of witnessing his father’s unspeakable act of cruelty.

The dynamic between characters is complex and engaging and begs the reader’s investment in what will come with every turn of the page. Her dynamic heroine remains relatable and captivates the audience with the trials and transformations she faces on her path to self-reliance and helping Matti to heal.

As always, Mattingly is an artist at character development and gives the reader a thrilling adventure that offers a deeper theme of the heartening bravery it takes to do what is right and protect the ones we love.”

 

Find it here:

 The Tutor by Kathryn Mattingly

Cross-Writing

Today was my official first run on an abbreviated 10-week marathon training plan. Okay, that’s a little fictitious. I’ve been running. I trained for and completed a 200-mile relay race last weekend, surpassing my hopes to not die by not only surviving but actually enjoying the whole thing. But this morning I dusted off the old chart and began to slowly start building the mileage I’d need to not die again in October for the Blue Sky Trail Marathon.

runnerIt got me to thinking about different types of runners. Some would have started training much sooner than this. Some are going to show up on race day with minimal miles and legs full of ego. Some have calculated calories to the numbers, selected precise nutrients per ingestion, and are weighing their shoe laces. Some are probably going to drink the night before and show up with four-year old sneakers and a day-old bagel with green chili cream cheese for fuel. The rest of us will fall along the spectrum between.

We’re all in the race, we’ve all got different reasons why, and different motivations to pursue that finish line.

In the same way, there are many types of writers in the world.

Those that dabble only when the muse traipses through their line of sight. Those that succumb completely to the words, to the exclusion of all else in their lives. The researching non-fiction gurus and the world-building sci-fi pros. The haiku aficionados and epic scribblers. The plotters and pantsers. The pious and the pornographic.

We cover all the bases.

penThe one thing we shouldn’t be as writers, no matter if we’re outlining or winging it, is stagnant. Yes, we need periods of repose  where we can recoup our mental losses and rest the neurons. Just like runners need a resting season, writers should take breaks as needed. This doesn’t mean we sit still. We are always, in some way, in training. And sometimes, the best way to train is to diversify the hours we spend at our art.

My suggestion for today’s post is to make a plan with your writing.

HEY! Come back! Hear me out…sheesh…pantsers!

When I say plan, I’m not suggesting you go investing your hours in spreadsheets and calendars. I’m saying expand your repertoire. It’s one of the best ways to grow as a writer.

If all a runner does are long, slow-paced runs, they will only develop a certain set of muscles. If all a runner trains at, are speed drills around a track, the same thing occurs. Unless you’re an olympian in a specific event this is a waste of your potential and a recipe for injury.

Balance, writer. That’s what I’m talking about.

If you are a novelist, take a break and work on a short story (you can even make it about a side character or your main character thrown into an alternate universe). If you’re a flash fiction genius, take a couple minutes to start plot building a novella or research a topic for a non-fiction essay.

If you spend your writing hours researching and plugging away at your non-fiction novel about the long line of Fredricks ruling the Kingdom of Prussia in the eighteenth century, try giving your brain a break and write a noir short story set in 1920’s Chicago. Or, *gasp*, try your hand at a little poetry.

writingStretching your brain is just as important as stretching your training plan to incorporate different activities.

Just like miles for runners, words for writers are not a waste. It doesn’t matter if they’re on paved or dirt roads, up hellacious hills, or on even city streets…the miles are the work and the work makes you stronger for the bigger tests ahead. Your words, your writing, grows stronger and better with every method you use to stretch it.

So get to it.

Go out and do ten fartleks of sonnets and a long-day of article submissions to Knitter’s Weekly.

Get uncomfortable.

Get better.