VerseDay 7-25-19

Today’s featured poet, sid sibo, is an immensely talented writer and poet, currently living and working as an environmental analyst on the western slope of the Rockies. sid shares an amazing connection to the land and is quite possibly one of the most profound poets I’ve been blessed to meet.

You can find more inspiration and writing at their website: sid sibo

Please enjoy this delicious gem.

 

Rendezvous
Rime dampens leaf crackle;
your boots lift peppered scent.
Hunt camp disappears behind
cedar bog.
Squat. Touch fungus. Listen.
Other
footsteps pause and proceed,
pause and advance and
through breathing balsam
thrusts midnight wolf, eyes
intrepid suns,
nose lifted to strange reek.
Three strides apart;
you ingest each other.
Raven calls out.
But wolf ears—steep
mountains—focus
only on mystery.
Onyx lips open to glacier grin.
Ferned plume of tail
spins past.
Ancient air pours through you
and you sink like
rain into the duff.
Wait. Lichened greenstone
on trembling tongue.
Knowledge, basaltic,
rises along your backbone.
Footsteps circle around,
returning.
Deep forest dark together,
Gold fever curious.
Exchange breaths, learning.

Because A Dog Can’t Eat Your Virtual Homework…

All right, friends and neighbors, the homework I assigned last week is only due for me. You can send me your 0-1000 word story/poem from the prompt: “Write about something you left behind by accident and/or Write about something you left behind on purpose” anytime between now and September 1st.

Remember, you not only get featured on the blog, you get a free set of my steamy romance novels signed by me and braggin’ rights. So get me those entries, send them to the contact info on this site.

In the spirit of being a good example, I’m including not only a flash fiction piece but also a poem. Because prompts are expandable, remember I said that. Be creative. Hell, you know what? If you have a photo that you feel might fit with this prompt, send that in too! I’d love to see it…In fact, today’s photo was a result of said inspiration.

Get out there, get writing. Here’s my homework (you’re welcome to print it out and grab a red pen but you can’t send it back…)

 

Hyde-Park-London

Hyde Park

 

I left your scarf on a park bench

The sun came out

It was too warm

 

I pulled at it, slipped it down one side of my neck,

Set it beside my tea

And went back to the newspaper

 

The orb blazed brighter

Dropping my mind

into a haze of preoccupation

 

I tossed my cup in the bin

Tucked the paper under my arm

Fled the barrage of summer

 

And came home

Without your memory

hanging around my throat

 

That’s how you finally forget,

I suppose

Letting go happens when you’re least expecting

 

In the heat of a Tuesday afternoon,

On a bench in Hyde park

With a mind full of other things

 

Besides the tender hands that first placed it

In a sodden field,

blanketed with rain

 

The sun came out

It was too warm

I left you on a park bench.

 

Part The Second: The flashing fiction bit…

 

Diamond Trees Don’t Root Like Potatoes

So finely honed was the veiled disappointment in her face that I didn’t even need to look to know it was there.

“I’m sorry,” I shrugged over the potato peeler and the growing pile of gritty brown scraps beneath it.

“I just can’t believe you lost it!” her pitch rose and startled me.

My mom’s passive aggressiveness was legendary. She didn’t wield a battle-axe; she used a scalpel. She didn’t say outright what she meant; she kept the grudge seething for decades. That’s how the poison worked in our family. The curse of material prestige, the “what we owned” owning us. The things handed down like shackles being snapped into place.

“I said I was sorry,” I muttered. “It was an accident.”

In the way digging a hole and burying something akin to nuclear waste beneath an old billboard welcoming folks to Beautiful Bonnie Bay, Minnesota was an accident. Oops, I tripped and fell into a purposeful purge. Maybe a black little tree of greed would grow up from the seed. The idea was both ridiculous and frightening.

“She told me not to leave it to you until you were older! I should have held on to it,” she wiped the sweat from her forehead, and resumed her agitated pacing from pot to oven.

“No, you shouldn’t have,” I whispered.

“What?” Pacing stopped. “What did you say?”

Her new direct approach was something I attributed to the magic of the hated object lying beneath three feet of dirt and unable to inflict its venom. It could’ve been that she was just really…really pissed. That was okay, because at least she was being honest.

“I said,” I turned wielding the starchy peeler like an accusing finger. “That you shouldn’t hold on to it. To any of it, Mom.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“She spent years holding all these ‘treasures’ over your head, just like her mother did to her and probably hers before…making sure you stayed in line if you wanted to inherit–”

“That’s not true!” she shouted.

“She poisoned you!” I blurted out into the room still ringing with the echo of her voice. “She poisoned you into believing all those things were your worth! That they were her love. And you had to earn them, and that she could take them away just like that!” The snap of my fingers startled her like a coma patient waking.

“I don’t… know what–” she sputtered and took hold of the counter with fingers clenching.

“You deserved loved from her. You deserved better! You are worth so much more than a broach, or a set of dishes, or a closetful of linens. And you’ll always have my love, no matter what you give me, even if it’s just the time you spend yelling at me over a piece of cut rock. I’ll love you! ‘N you never have to buy it, or earn it. It’s just there.”

It would have been customary for one or both of us to turn away or huff off to a different room where we’d place the grudge dutifully on our shoulders. But she came to stand beside me, facing out into the kitchen and catching her breath, slowing into calm.

I picked up the half-naked potato and finished his delicate undressing so he could join his skinny-dipping friends in the pot.

Mom sighed while her eyes closed out the room and her mind reread every cursive note attached to every object filling the boxes in the attic.

I leaned the warmth of my hip against hers and listened to the jangle of sharp metal over thick skin. Finding the white tenderness, separate from all the dirt, gave me appreciation for the rugged beauty of rooted things, and the glimmer of hope for a barren ground above the broach’s final resting place.

 

Kats n’ Dogs: The Importance of Conflict In Writing

I live in a veritable menagerie of animal and child chaos. Now, we’re down by one basset just this last year and it’s been more quiet without our Bailey girl, but her brother still manages a good ugly face when the cat garners more attention than he thinks she should. Yet she keeps insisting that he enjoys her arching-cat rub beneath his saggy jowls, calico tail flicking into his cataract plagued eyes.

He secretly does.

Until he sees us watching.

Then he’s all bark and tiny overbite snaps at the air above her.

“Knock it off, I don’t like it. I don’t like you.”

But we know better.

It got me thinking about conflict and what makes it work in our novels and stories.

We all know the basics of conflict as it pertains to our writing. That it needs to be between our main character and some other source (i.e. a person, technology, the weather, the government, their past etc.). That it drives the character to escape, succeed, fail, run (to or from) all important story climax points that keep the reader engaged.

But when I think of this kind of conflict, I think about writing romance.

Ok, look away and or stop reading if you think this has nothing to do with your historical fiction on the Prussian War…but I’ve only got a few more words left and it may give you a little insight.

Sometimes the conflict comes in the not wanting to want what we want. It comes when two characters rub each other the wrong way, precisely because it’s kind of the right way and they both hate admitting it. Two characters (leads in your story, no matter what their gender or sexual orientation) who get riled up by the other are usually, in some way, riled up about how much they don’t hate them despite knowing they should.

patrick and kat2

One of the best examples of this is Kat’s final speech in 10 Things I Hate About You. (I GET that its from a teenage snippy version of ‘Taming The Shrew’ but bear with me because that movie is actually quite brilliant and the principal is a romance novelist who spends a great deal of the movie looking for synonyms to the word “penis”).

It is a play on the beloved Shakespearean 141st Sonnet, beginning with “In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes…” and underscores this principle of why not wanting to love someone can be the most powerful motivator of behavior and conflict.

“I hate the way you talk to me
And the way you cut your hair
I hate the way you drive my car
I hate it when you stare

I hate your big dumb combat boots
And the way you read my mind
I hate you so much that it makes me sick
It even makes me rhyme

I hate the way you’re always right
I hate it when you lie
I hate it when you make me laugh
Even worse when you make me cry

I hate the way you’re not around
And the fact that you didn’t call
But mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you
Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.”

It’s in the breaching of walls, the naked vulnerability, and the human exposition that binds us as readers to the character, and makes us fall just as hard as they do.

You may not have swooning shirtless people with wind machines in the background, mussing their perfectly golden locks, while they embrace ecstatically, but I bet that you have a character that you want your reader to root for. And that means creating conflict that resonates with the deeper tendrils of human emotion hidden beneath the layers of caustic comebacks and snide remarks.

Your conflict doesn’t have to drive your character into the arms of their reluctant beloved, it just has to drive them into the hungry hands of your readers.

Happy Writing!

The Power of A Flat Character

Hey kids! Today’s blog is all about writing, specifically pinpointing a very prevalent problem novelists face.

Flat characters.

Now, most of my novels are character driven. That is to say, I begin with a person. A beautifully flawed and imperfect hero who has a problem. Hopefully a big problem. (If they don’t have a reason to cry, by God, I’ll give them one!) And normally, not to pat myself on the back, I can write a pretty interesting character. Someone readers want to follow through the ups and downs of plot arcs.

And yet…

When I found myself mired in yet another round of editing my latest novel, wondering why nothing was working and everything seemed so boring and flat in nearly all of my scenes, I realized the story was trying to support dead weight. That is…my character was not providing any sort of flame to heat the story. They were just being pulled along by their circumstances. She was the equivalent of a wet blanket draped across a closeline, pulling both ends of it down in the middle.

I started this novel many years ago around a situation. And the situation was driving the plot. Instead of my character driving the story, she was just a passenger. Not only does that make everything in writing your novel a struggle, it also makes it less interesting for your readers. No one wants to know about the girl sitting complacently in the back seat. They want to know who in the hell is driving the car and how close it is to the cliff.

All the rounds of editing were wasted in trying to make the scenes and plot more vibrant but it never seemed to be enough. Because it couldn’t carry itself and her lazy ass too. A flat character, lacking depth, quirks, a solid core of values or lack thereof, is like an empty billboard in the middle of a field. Taking up the view without contributing to it.

So I’m back to the drawing board and today, I’m going to start it right. I’m starting with a detailed account of just who this girl is and what drives her. If it’s not interesting enough then I’m going to try out some weird shit until that awe inspiring ‘ah-ha’ hits me between the eyes. And then I’ll re examine every page of her story to see if she’s behaving the way she would and saying the things she should. The story will change, scenes will change, her interaction with others and the direction they head will change. I’ve got a ton of work ahead of me.

It’s going to be like starting over and I’m a little disheartened by that. But if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right and I’m not ready to give up on her just yet.

After all, she does know how to shoot, bakes the best biscuits in the county, and can shear an angora goat in under a minute-thirty.

(By the way, the world record for sheep shearing is 37.9 seconds. Goats take longer, because they’re feisty and require a more careful ‘clipping’ technique.)

more you know

Don’t be lazy. In the same way certain Robin Hood actors wouldn’t learn a British accent (ooo, Kevin Costner BURN!) don’t half-ass your main character. They should carry the story, not drag it down.

What are some of your favorite character development tools?

Old Stomping Grounds and New Crossroads

How does the song by Dylan go?

You can go back, but you can’t go back all the way.

Last weekend I was able to attend a writers conference in my home state of Wyoming. I graduated from the University of Wyoming many moons ago. Long enough for them to completely move my Anthropology Department home into a brand-spanking new building and rearrange so many other departments that my morning run through campus was surreal.

Things change.

The world keeps spinning around us, and the evidence of it is magnified when we’ve been away.

The conference goers came from all corners of the state, Colorado, and even Florida. It was a small group but friendly and supportive. I enjoyed meeting everyone and getting a chance to speak about publishing options to a crowd of over thirty (I managed not to vomit, so let’s all take a moment in recognition of that).

I couldn’t help but notice, however, that during some of the talks about trying to bring more diversity into the state and the writing group, dissent from a few gentlemen at my table.

Eye rolls and curses, crossed arms and head shakes.

Psh…Diversity. Libtard Bullshit.

Some things don’t change.

And the evidence of it is magnified when we’ve grown into more decent humans, while our past stays stagnant.

Sometimes you move on while the world you once knew stands still. The world that raised you and built you; the world you want to be proud of coming from, remains encapsulated in a time and space that relies on fear and old beliefs to such a degree that you almost want to slink away and change your own story.

My sister and I have discussed this. She said she could never move back, that the minds were too small. And I agree. There are some pretty petty, tiny minds there.

But this weekend I also saw a lot of open and gracious minds. I met “typical” rancher types who wrote magnificently about the importance of land stewardship and the quintessential diversity and equality of hearts. I met people who shared poetry and thought even though it was hard for them, who took outsiders into their arms and world and accepted them. I saw the stirrings of change.

So I can’t agree with her.

The potential for something better is like a river being stopped up by a long-left beaver dam. If we refuse to take out the dam and just leave the stagnant pools lie, then we leave entire worlds and cultures isolated enough to breed their own hate and misconception. The more people start moving the wood, start letting the fresh water in, start encouraging the current, the faster and cleaner that river will flow. The more good and open hearts we put into a place, the more good and open it will become.

I’ve come to many cross roads in my life, I’ve had challenges both self created and imposed upon me, and it’s taken years of experience to know that growth comes with great discomfort. And choosing a road doesn’t always mean you’ll stay on it. And quite often we’re lost in the boonies…but it doesn’t mean we should stay stagnant, or allow others to stay stagnant when their potential is for something much greater.

Challenge yourself this week writer. Step forward into paths that scare you, take chances with your writing and your ideas. Join that critique group, invite an outsider in, always work on the side of fairness, equality, and love. IF we all choose that road, this life will be a much more beautiful place to travel in for all of us.

 

Writer; Know Thyself

Today’s blog comes to you from a second-floor hotel room after a full and productive day of classes at the 2019 Northern Colorado Writers Conference. The second floor is also hosting the attendees of the Brewery Collectable Club of America, so this humble blogger has witnessed some interesting trade deals in the world of rare Colt 45 paraphernalia.

On to my point:

For every year I attend the NCW Conference, I add a layer to the writer in me. That is to say, through the people I meet, the classes I take, and the lectures I attend, I learn more about the craft. How, and when, and why, and what, and all the technical attributes that come along with the delicate balance of creativity and grammatical science. But more than just the sum of these limitless parts, I learn a greater whole.

 

The whole that is me as a writer.

 

And in doing so, I’ve learned how to enjoy myself more at these kinds of functions by listening to my body, my brain, and my growing years of experience.

 

Back in the day, I would be hand-cramping from the steady stream of notes at each session. I would be tumbling from one class to the next, chugging down coffee between in hopes to keep my energy up so I wouldn’t miss a thing. I would strategically place myself at the agent’s table who I wanted to garner the literary affections of. I would, in essence, be the adult version of my grade-school, brown-nosing self.

 

Then…Something happened last year, when I drug myself to the meet and greet “networking” event, long past my emotional and mental boundary and crossing all lines of my introvert nature, to garner the attention of at least a few more experts in the field, I stood on very shaky ground. I spilled my drink, I felt like crying,

 

I didn’t want to be there.

 

I hated that I hated being around other writers. Which seems a terrible thing to say, but bear with me.

 

I didn’t know I had a limit to writing.

 

I thought I could talk it all day, learn it all day, do it all day. I could go to class for days!!! Nerding on a pro-level is a quintessential part of who I am. I loved hearing about other projects much more than I like talking about my own and reveled in the creativity and ingenuity of my fellow conference goers.

 

But…the more stories I heard the more I questioned if I was doing enough. The less sure I became of my ability. The more tired I got, the more flustered I became, the wearier my mind, the less information I could process.

 

Until everything was just noise and words.

 

Then I learned a secret.

 

(come closer…closer…)

 

You don’t have to throw yourself under a bus to catch it.

 

Knowing your limits is not just useful in this particular scenario. Knowing your limits is useful for all humans in many aspects of our lives. It comes with age and the ability to let go of unrealistic expectations.

 

During a few of my sessions, even as I listened to the speaker, I listened to myself. If I was inspired to write; I let myself write. If \the iron was hot, I struck while in the moment, abandoning the mad scribble of notes for the mad scribble of thoughts.

Did I miss some parts of the presentations? Sure, but in the midst of other brilliant minds and the energy they impart, in the middle of shutting out the rest of the world, the heart and brain start to do this funny little dance and learn to play again.

Inspiration doesn’t always happen at the opportune times. You have to write when the words are ready and when the heart is open. And the presenters this year gave me more than a notebook full of query-letter tips or copy-editing tricks. They gave my heart a doorway, an acceptance into writing what often builds up behind all my carefully constructed walls. And in stumbling and unorganized prose/poetry form I filled over ten pages of free-form when it was all said and done.

In years past, I’ve forced myself to jump the hurdles of social interaction and witty conversation until late hours, when all I really wanted was to wander off to a quiet room and take a nap.

So this year, after a relaxing dinner and a fabulous keynote speaker, I said goodbyes to new and dear friends and retired to my room for quality pajama time and a little writing.

I reserved a room, not so I wouldn’t have to drive the five miles home, but because I knew I would need quiet alone time to decompress after a long day of people and ideas, and focus on my own personal craft and projects I love.

I know when my mind is best, and after 8 pm is not that time. That’s my repose time. I had to make that OK for myself in order to get the most out of my time.

Conferences, classes, and meet ups like these open pathways, but only when we’re not too busy or overwhelmed to see them. If we are embroiled in getting the most out of every single planned moment of the time, then we may miss the real lesson. Creativity is like a river and if you fully submerged, yourself, you’ll easily drown. You’ll miss the beauty of the ride, the view, and the sounds.

So, know yourself, Writer. Do the things that you know work for you. Let the river of creativity, carry you, but always leave yourself plenty of breathing room to be inspired.

 

 

VerseDay 4-25-19

Mornin’ kids. I hope your Thursday is starting off sweet and slow.

No matter what your plans are or how many ‘to-do’s’ you’ve packed into this day, carve out some time to get outside and find your quiet.

Haze

 

Gray cascades of fogged memory

Blanket the distance

And everything seems so much closer now

Kinetic in wait.

 

The world was never so quiet

Nor so still.

Even as rain needles pierce my neck

And trace frozen rivulets down the valley of my shoulder blades.

More pleasant a day I have not lived.

 

Here in the stillness.

The quiet and uncomfortable

The shivering slip of feet and

Icy hands

Scuffed against granite and lichen

In search for hold.

 

How we’ve come to fear being alone.

How we shy from homegrown reflections,

And shudder at the thought

Of being solitary amid the rain and rock.

 

We don’t even know to mourn

The tremendous loss

of keeping our own company.

 

Perhaps the gray residing in our hearts would be lessened,

The stormy mind;

Hurricane of worry and doubt, would dissipate

If we more often paroled our bodies to the rough beauty of nature

The purity of what is real might bring us back ’round.

Clarity borne from the muddled haze.

IMG_0008

The Giant But

Nope. I didn’t miss a “t”. And this isn’t a self-reflective rant about the aging spread going on behind me. Today’s blog is about excuses, dare I even say… self-imposed limits.

I believe I’ve talked about the dangerous ‘but’ in terms of how we love one another, and how we limit feelings by making excuses from perceived imperfections. However, today’s talk is more about the detrimental “but” that gets between us and our dreams.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from friends, colleagues, and even acquaintances the exact phrase:

“I’d love to write a _______ but…”

But…I have no time. But…I just can’t get started. But…I’m not very good. But…It’s hard to publish these days. But…people may not like it.

 

No.

Nope.

Stop it, no.

Nuh uh.

Not valid (and who cares if they like it?)

 

Article done! BAM!  Shortest blog ever. Happy writing!

 

Okay…I’m kidding.

Those big buts up there don’t lie. They are all valid excuses. Excuses that we build like walls in front of our potential. Walls of excuses to keep us from even attempting the loving art of writing because it also keeps us safe. Safe from rejection, safe from the work, safe from the expectation. Safe from failing. Safe from succeeding.

But is a wall builder.

But builds walls based on fear and hatred and not scientific, psychologically proven facts.

(Maybe I am missing a couple of T’s up there and a title…like President Butt…ahem. *Awkward throat clear*…back on topic.)

Same principle.

But keeps you away from ever having to actually start.

Now I’m sure there are people out there saying they want to write a novel to make me feel like I’m not so strange, all wholed-up in my pajamas, afraid of the general public. Maybe people tell me they’d “love” to write more, to make polite conversation.

This blog isn’t for those small-talkers (but bless your heart for trying to make me feel comfortable about my chosen/driven profession despite its financial drawbacks).

This blog is for those whose eyes shine with longing when they talk about that book they want to, need to, would love to write. This is your permission slip to the great unknown outside your stuffy, self-imposed safety.

No more buts.

Try this:

Say it outloud…softly “I would like to write a book.”

Little bit louder now: “I would love to write a book!”

Say it like you mean it!: “I want to write a book!”

So the people in the back can hear!!: “I WILL WRITE A BOOK!”

Deep breath you crazy loon.

And rejoice in not using the but.

You will write that book.

Stop looking at the world as a place of excuses waiting to trip you up and make you fail and start looking it as the beautiful, messy experiment that has no wrong turns, only lessons.

Need help starting? Great! Let’s strike while your fire is hot!

If you have an idea for your novel, or article, or short story, write it down. Loose outlines are great but if you are a type-A outliner, then give yourself an hour or two to adequately plot it down. There are some great computer programs if you’re that kinda nerd. Or if your MY kind of nerd, post-it notes on a wall or story board are awesome.

Chances are if you’ve been thinking about a book then you already have some characters in mind. Spend twenty minutes (or whatever you can spare at kid’s practices or boring meetings) writing down your main and sub characters’ physical attributes, their strengths, their weaknesses. Write about their childhood, their friends, their parents…none of which needs to go into the book, but it will help you understand their motivation so that when you write the story, they behave in ways coherent with their core.

Join a writing group and take the classes they offer. Todd Mitchell (Todd’s Website) once offered an amazing four week class on writing a novel that covered everything from plotting, to dialogue, to genre, and story arcs. It was maybe the most profound and important class I’ve taken and I highly recommend you start with something like that if you are struggling at the start. Plus going to classes and joining groups helps to build the immensely important network of friends and cohorts who will help you along in your process.

Stock up your library. One of the first things I did after scribbling down a rough outline was lay in the fetal position in tears (well, not quite that dramatic but it makes for a better story) and wonder how someone actually created a functioning plot. Enter the Write Great Fiction Series. They’re some of my favorite resources and they offer everything from plot and structure, dialogue, character and viewpoint etc.

Final bit of advice. Don’t let the but come back into your process. (I’d love to edit my novel but the laundry needs doing– the vacuuming, the scope of work meeting notes, the kids fiftieth soccer game this month.)

Nope. Fuck that noise.

There is time in your life to write a novel. You just have to want it and learn to say no to buts.

giggle
Come on. It’s a but joke…

 

You have to make your word count your priority. And no cleaning for god’s sakes until your daily goal is met. No video games or puttering around either.

If you want the novel; if you want to unleash the story burning inside of you, then stop giving yourself the excuses to not write it.

Make the time. Make the novel. Banish your but(t)… to the chair.

To write your novel.

Go.

 

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.

 

Edit Somber

Nope, that’s not a typo. You’ve all heard the adage (or if you’re a writer worth their Peter DeVries salt you have…)

“Write drunk, Edit sober.”

I’m not going to recommend you write drunk. You can… It’s totally possible, and more often than not, highly amusing the morning after. Unlike the headache you’ll be nursing.

DeVries’ meaning was simpler. Write with abandon, in love, fervent and without inhibition. Lower your boundaries and kiss the words you wouldn’t normally, dance with phrases you’d been afraid to hold in your arms. Grab the lampshade of crazy plot twist and wear that son-of-a-bitch as a hat while you twirl through the story.

But in the morning…edit like you’re highly regretful and aiming to pinpoint every mistake you’d made the night before so as to never repeat the debauchery again. Be remorseful. Be judgemental, and like the Spanish Inquisition, show no mercy.

I’m in, let’s say the twelfth round of editing on my WIP. A round that was inspired by a recent submission editor’s advice. This time I’m proceeding with a more somber attitude, one that knows I wrote it, in part, like a drunken idiot and now have dropped my ego enough to be receptive to the advice.

Never before have I been so close to getting a traditional publishing contract for one of my books. Part of this is due to a more polished product (it’s not my first rodeo…or book kids), a more general genre and subject (why do people shy away from paranormal romances and hot ghost sex?), and, I like to think, a cute, relatable plot that’s just enough dark to be interesting.

So, I’m buckling down and doing what I was told to help get this baby off the ground. I’m about thirty pages in and catching some of the ‘problems’ that were brought to my attention. But as I work, I have a concern:

How much of myself and my voice am I taking out of this thing to appeal to the personal likes/dislikes of one editor.

So we come back to somber. Serious. Earnest. Grave. Unsmiling.

Sometimes there are hoops we have to jump through to get to where we want to go. Sometimes we have to shelve our pride and ego and be willing to see past what we love about our work to what could be better.

How do we make sure it’s not just some dime-store novella like the fifty other ones on the shelf? How do I make sure, with all the dead darlings lying beside my computer, that its still my story?

I don’t know those answers exactly, but I’ll tell you what I do know.

I know my characters and the way they react to situations and each other. And where my grammatical prowess may be lacking, I will always stay loyal to them first. When the critique is centered on prepositions or wordy description, I can be earnest in cutting it clean. And not only will my story be stronger, it will be easier to read…hopefully to the point where hands don’t want to let go of it until they finish “just one more chapter”.

So my advice for this week is this:

Take good advice from people in the industry who know when it comes to the technical mishaps of your work. Take the advice to tighten your writing from people who have to spend hours of their lives sifting through the slushiest of slush piles.

But always keep true to the drunken passion of your story that made your heart dance and giggle while it awkwardly pulled that plot line in for a kiss. Keep your story’s heart, but don’t be afraid to pluck it’s wayward eyebrows and wipe its nose.

Good luck, in whatever step you are of your process. Editing, writing, or contemplation of either.

Next week is my homage to writer’s conferences, with some good advice on how to spend your time and get the most bang for your buck.

Happy writing, kids!

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