Volunteer’s Eye View of a Writer’s Conference

I’ve spent the last four days volunteering at the San Francisco Writers Conference. It was an amazing experience that came with many perks along with lots of responsibilities.

First, I want to answer why I decided to volunteer. I attended SFWC in 2012 and 2013 and felt like I’d already done the conference as an attendee. I wanted to participate as someone who soaks in the creative atmosphere and knowledge without having the pressure that I will make the right connection that leads to a book deal. I was interested in being part of the team, an insider who helps make SFWC a really fabulous event.

I got all that and more. As part of my responsibilities, either as timekeeper or host, I was able to sit in on some great workshops. I also worked as a wrangler who kept the crowds moving during the Speed Dating with Agents sessions. These are the sessions where writers have 3 minutes to pitch their work to agents. That was really exhausting for everyone involved: writers, agents and volunteers. It was also fascinating to witness all the different personal styles and the reactions of the agents.

I can tell you what made the best impression: being personable, prepared, and ready to listen. Steamrolling the agent with a 3-minute ramble was a waste of time and energy. You should be able to recite your pitch in under a minute and spend the rest of the time answering the agent’s questions.

I was a timekeeper during the freelance editor sessions, where writers could seek 8-minute consultations with freelance editors. This was actually an okay place to ramble a bit if you just wanted to approach someone with your idea, but it was still really important to listen. The people who got the most out of it were the ones who came prepared with their pitch and the first few pages of their manuscript.

When you are pitching to an agent or editor, you are making a valuable first impression. You want to be someone they want to work with. It’s okay to be nervous. They expect that. Along with being nervous, you can also bring your A game. That’s what makes the best impression.

Keep in mind that the most important people at the conference are the attendees. It’s funny, but that’s what I learned as a volunteer. The agents, editors and presenters are there for you, the attendee, not for themselves. They really want to impart information and make connections.

Most of the agents, editors, presenters, organizers and volunteers are writers as well. During the conference, there was a strong sense that we are all in this together. Presenters also attended sessions and keynote speeches, eager to learn.

Speaking of the sessions, you may be interested to know that the SFWC has generously made the session handouts available online. While it’s not the same as attending, you can still glean a lot of valuable information from these handouts.

You can download the handouts here: Presenters Handouts: 2014 List of Presenters Handouts for Download.

San Francisco Writers Conference 2014

San Francisco Writers Conference

The last couple of years I have gone to the San Francisco Writers Conference as an attendee. This year will be different. I’ll be participating as a volunteer. I’m super excited about this opportunity.

I belonged to several different writers groups in Boulder and I miss being part of that network. Volunteering seems like a great way to meet local writers and find out what groups are looking for new members.

The conference itself is always awesome and I’m happy to be able to give back after all I got from the past couple of years. As always, there are going to be some great keynote speakers and awesome breakout sessions. I am particularly stoked that Barry Eisler will be there. I’m a big John Rain fangirl. There’s something about a gentleman assassin that makes a girl’s heart flutter. 😉

The conference runs from Thursday, February 13 through Sunday, February 16 and, amazingly, it hasn’t sold out yet. If you can’t attend the entire conference, keep in mind that low cost writing classes are open to the public on Thursday and Monday.

There are also several events open to the public for free, including book signings, poetry readings and, for fans of Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series, a Faery Market. The Faery Market has room for a limited number of people, so if you’re interested be sure to RSVP here.

Check out the conference website for more information.

J.K. Rowling and Writer’s Regret

Harry Potter OTP

J.K. Rowling, author of “Harry Potter” series, just opened a Hagrid-sized can of worms by admitting she wishes she’d paired Hermione with Harry rather than Ron.

I hesitate to call the canon pairing a mistake. The series is completed. Hermione and Ron as a couple have a solid fan base. Most authors are tormented by second thoughts and the what-ifs of their worlds. Once a road is committed to and books are already published, it’s hard to double back and say, “Whoops! Actually…” All the writer can do now is regret and carry on.

Or maybe not.

J.K. Rowling still thinks about and frets over her characters. In her mind, their stories are not done. If she thinks Ron and Hermione don’t belong together, she probably feels the same way about Harry and Ginny. She now realizes that the story’s OTP (one true pairing) should have been the two powerful, confident characters.

What to do?

Why not write that book? No, don’t rewrite history. Write these characters as adults, realizing they’ve made mistakes. Talk about drama. Harry and Ron are best friends. Ginny is Ron’s sister. This could cause a vast schism that would deeply affect their children, not to mention the wizarding world.

Hmm. Sounds like a new series to me.

Or Rowling can simply live with her regrets and imagine what she will. After all, they are her characters.

Lessons learned for writers? Choose your OTP wisely, yes, but also don’t think that the last period at the end of the book is really the end of the story.

NaNoWriMo Fun and Useful Resources

With NaNoWriMo almost upon us, I thought I’d post a few links to some fun and useful resources.

Designer David Seah has made available a printable NaNoWriMo word count calendar for 2013. It can be downloaded in PDF format on his website.

NaNoToons is a daily web comic about NaNoWriMo. You’ll recognize yourself and fellow writers in the characters.

Author Chuck Wendig offers solid NaNoWriMo advice along with the usual hilarious dose of snark on his blog “Terrible Minds.”

Not satisfied with your word processor as a novel writing tool? Literature & Latte is offering NaNoWriMo participants an extended free trial of their writing software Scrivener. As an added incentive, NaNoWriMo winners will receive a 50% discount off the purchase of the software.

Still don’t know what to write? TV Tropes has created a couple of hilarious, yet oddly useful generators with endless story ideas from their huge inventory of tropes and media lists.

The story generator does just that, generates story ideas.

The pitch generator comes up with high concept pitches for your next agent meeting. My favorite was “A Charlie Brown Christmas” meets “Say Yes to the Dress.”

Useful? Well, I gave the above pitch a little thought and came up with this idea for a romance.

Chuck Brown, an injured placekicker with the Minnesota Vikings, returns home for the holidays and his upcoming New Year’s Eve wedding to psychiatrist Lucy van Pelt. However Lucy seems to have gone crazy in her quest for the ultimate wedding gown. She’s even signed up for a reality TV show. Chuck suspects this might be a ruse for Lucy to take one last shot at her old flame, the show’s musical director, Schroeder. After his fussbudget fiance flies to New York for the show, Chuck takes refuge in Christmas preparations. Can his loyal dog and a red-haired beauty stranded in the snow help him see the red flags and have a truly happy New Year?

Fun, though not necessarily a story I’d like to write. Nonetheless, it did get my creative juices flowing. You never know what trope might lead to your own original story.

Good luck to all who are participating in NaNoWriMo this year!

NaNoWriMo Rebellion

You want to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, but you can’t follow the one basic rule: write a 50K novel from word one. Maybe you’re not a fiction writer. Maybe you have a work in progress that you can’t just drop in favor of a new novel. This might make you feel like there’s a huge writers’ party and you’re not invited. And you’d be wrong.

All writers are welcome to participate, regardless of what they are writing. If you don’t follow the rule, you aren’t a cheater: you’re a NaNo Rebel.

A NanNo Rebel is anyone not writing a brand spanking new 50K novel. This includes nonfiction, memoir, short stories, graphic novels, poetry, plays, etc. Editing last year’s NaNo novel? Writing a 30K novella? Feel free to join the rebel ranks.

NaNoWriMo is an event that generates an enormous amount of creative energy. The organizers realize this and they don’t want anyone to feel left out. They have created a forum especially for nonconformists: NaNo Rebels

Here you can find out more about what it takes to be a rebel. The moderators discuss the conditions of being a rebel and whether or not to validate your word count at the end of the month. You can also find your fellow dissidents here and discuss your alternative works.

Full disclosure: I am going the rebel route this year for a big reason. My husband and I are moving from Colorado to California at the beginning of November. Yeah, timing is everything. With all that’s going on, I can’t commit to a new novel, but I can continue to edit my current WIP and work toward a personal goal.

NaNoWriMo is a contest, a 30-day sprint with a finish line and shiny prizes for the winners. However, the most important goal is the one you set for yourself. Whether you write 1,000 words or 100,000 words in 30 days, those are words you hadn’t written before and that right there is winning.

NaNoWriMo: Inspiration Before Perspiration Part 4

So, maybe you’re thinking “I’d really like to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, but I don’t have a clue what to write.”

The solution is surprisingly simple. You don’t have to pull a story out of thin air. Consider these sources of endless inspiration: fairy tales, Shakespeare, pastiche and fan fiction.

Putting a modern twist on a classic fairy tale is a great way to use an existing plot and characters to tell a fresh story. The popularity of television’s “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm” attests to a wide audience eager for these stories.

The same is true for Shakespeare’s plays. For example, the movie, “10 Things I Hate About You” is a retelling of “The Taming of the Shrew.” The musical “West Side Story” replaces Verona with New York City and places Romeo and Juliet in rival gangs.

If fairy tales and the Bard don’t appeal to you, consider writing pastiche from public domain works. “Pride and Prejudice,” “Dracula” and Sherlock Holmes have been adapted countless times in a wide variety of genres and media. For that reason, you might want to find a less familiar, but equally powerful story to adapt. For example, the TV series “Revenge” is based on “The Count of Monte Cristo.”

Still not inspired? You may want to try your hand at fan fiction. This can be especially helpful for new writers. Working with familiar characters can help spread your wings and inspire you to create your own characters and situations. While you can’t legally publish this work or be paid for it, you can post it to fan fiction websites, where readers are eager for novel length works.

You can rewrite stories to fit almost any genre. “Something Rotten” by Alan M. Gratz turns “Hamlet” into a modern murder mystery set in the town of Denmark, Tennessee. “Cinder” by Marissa Meyer is a science fiction retelling of “Cinderella.”

Find a story or play that strongly appeals to you. This is key. You won’t sustain enough creative energy to write a novel if the original story doesn’t excite and engage you.

Check out these links for free resources on Shakespeare, fairy tales, public domain works and fan fiction.

NaNoWriMo: Inspiration Before Perspiration Part 3

A plot bunny is wonderful yet nefarious creature. It will hop into your brain and take your creative process on journeys that are amazing and/or terrifying. A plot bunny can also take you on a journey that leads to a dead end, and then turn around, smirk and say, “Yeah, that’s all I got.”

What is a plot bunny? It’s a story or plot idea that gnaws at your brain, demanding to be written down.  It can start out like Alice’s White Rabbit, but end up like Donnie Darko’s Frank. The concept inspired me to create this gif.

PlotBunnies

During the rest of the year, it’s pretty much fine to let the plot bunnies roam free. During NaNoWriMo, though, they can lead you astray to the point of becoming discouraged and dropping your story. Don’t let this happen!

During October, write down your novel ideas. Let one idea lead to another. If a plot bunny pops up and beckons you down its hole, chase after it and see where it leads. Be inspired by the bunny, but take control if the idea is going nowhere.

Of course, during NaNoWriMo, plot bunnies will persistently pop up. You don’t have to ignore them. A big part of NaNoWriMo is allowing your creativity to flow freely without critical restraint. Here’s what to do if a persistent bunny starts to nibble at your story.

Let’s say you’re writing a novel about vampires vs. fairies set in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Your main character is half-human, half-fairy and lives in an apartment building. A new neighbor moves in next door. For the purposes of the story, this neighbor should be a vampire or fairy. But, a plot bunny hops in and says, “Hey! The new neighbor is a professional chef and serial killer who uses poison on his victims.”

Follow that bunny. It could lead to an interesting plot twist and get your creative juices flowing. However, if the bunny leads nowhere, all you have to do it stop and go back. Don’t delete those words. Grey them out. The idea could still be useful. Go back and make the neighbor a fairy. Doesn’t work? Make the neighbor a vampire… a vampire chef who puts drugs in the food of his intended victims to knock them out. See, that bunny was useful after all.

You can read more about plot bunnies, including the different breed, in this amusing article on Wikiwrimo: Plot Bunny.

NaNoWriMo: Inspiration Before Perspiration Part 2

Writing a novel isn’t easy. Does that really need to be said? In the case of NaNoWriMo, it really does.

I’ve seen people walk away from NaNoWriMo because they thought they could start a novel-length work from scratch on day one. If you don’t care about story structure or character development and are basically writing a stream of consciousness piece, it’s possible, but in most cases it’s not. If you don’t know the basics of novel writing, chances are you’re going to get frustrated and stop far short of your goal.

There’s no reason for this to happen. You don’t need a creative writing MFA to write a novel, even in 30 days. You do need to understand the basics and do some preparation.

There are some great online resources to help both newbies and experienced writers succeed at writing a novel in 30 days.

If you are a newbie, I strongly suggest checking out the novel writing workbooks provided by NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers program. The link I’m providing is for the high school level workbook. Though some of the language is for younger readers, the information on novel writing is solid. The book includes lots of useful worksheets. It’s available free online in PDF format.

National Novel Writing Month’s Young Novelist Workbook

For more experienced writers, the Writer’s Digest website had made freely available nine worksheets from their publication, “Write Your Novel in 30 Days.” These include a Story Idea Map, an At-A-Glance Outline and a Character Sketch worksheet. All worksheets are in PDF format.

Novel in 30 Days Worksheet Index

These resources are meant to inspire your creativity. Don’t look at the worksheets as pieces of stone you’ve chiseled on. Print multiple copies. Write stuff down and scratch stuff out. Let your ideas flow freely. In other words, have fun!

NaNoWriMo: Inspiration Before Perspiration Part 1

October is the month when many writers begin planning for their participation in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. It’s the time to plan and plot before the mad, creative dash that is November.

If you’re a plotter, you write an outline or synopsis, fill out character charts, index cards, timelines, etc. If you’re a pantser, you decide you’re going to write a story about fairies and demons set in Santa Fe, maybe.

Whatever your writing style, it’s best to do some prep work before beginning NaNoWriMo. Get your creative energy flowing now so you can ride the tide into November.

To win NaNoWriMo, that is, to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you need to know what it takes. A novel is not an easy thing to write and doing it in 30 days is just plain crazy, but it can be done. If I can do it, anyone can.

So here is the gem of advice I offer all NaNoWriMo newbies: this is your crappy first draft. Part of the creative process here is throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. Yes, you will have a hot mess at the end, but you will also have a first draft that you can edit.

A big part of the NaNoWriMo process is turning off your internal editor, that voice in your head that is never satisfied and wants every sentence you write to be spun with gold.

Turn. It. Off.

That is the only way to win NaNoWriMo.

Chris Baty, the man who started NaNoWriMo, best explains the process. Luckily, his book, “No Plot? No Problem!” is currently on sale for the Kindle for $1.99. If you’re planning to participate this November, I strongly suggest reading this book. It’s the best prep you can make for the coming month of madness.

  No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty
Chris Baty, motivator extraordinaire and instigator of a wildly successful writing revolution, spells out the secrets of writingand finishinga novel. Every fall, thousands of people sign up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which Baty founded, determined to (a) write that novel or (b) finish that novel in—kid you not—30 days. Now Baty puts pen to paper himself to share the secrets of success. With week-specific overviews, pep “talks,” and essential survival tips for today’s word warriors, this results-oriented, quick-fix strategy is perfect for people who want to nurture their inner artist and then hit print! Anecdotes and success stories from NaNoWriMo winners will inspire writers from the heralding you-can-do-it trumpet blasts of day one to the champagne toasts of day thirty.

Description provided by Amazon

Disclaimers and Disclosures

I found this book via Amazon’s Kindle eBooks store. Resources for free Kindle and other format eBooks are listed in my sidebar.

The quoted price is a limited time offer and there is no guarantee it will still be that price when you click on the link. Grab it sooner rather than later.

Harper Voyager Update for May

Hello, I’m back! Eurovision ended with a grand final competition on Saturday in Malmö, Sweden. Emmelie de Forest of Denmark won the top prize with her song “Only Teardrops.” Well done, Europe. This is a beautiful and haunting song, and Emmelie de Forest has a strong, impassioned voice. Take a look at her winning performance.

While I was busy (obsessed?) with Eurovision and my 12 Points To… blog, other things happened in the world. In particular, Harper Voyager came out with a new update. For those not in the know, back in October 2012 Harper Voyager opened a two week submission slot for unsolicited manuscripts. Those accepted would be published as part of a new digital imprint. If you are a speculative fiction author, this was a big deal.

Of course, they received thousands of submissions. They’ve been very good about keeping those authors updated via their website. Here is a quote from their latest update.

Another update on the digital submissions! As per the previous update post, we received 4500+ entries, and by early March we had responded to 2905 entries.

We have now reviewed all the submissions in our inbox and responded to 3595 submissions that were not right for our list. The remaining 948 are marked for further reading and consideration.

You can read the full update here.

I haven’t heard back yet, which means my novel “Fake” is one of those 948. This is very exciting and even flattering. Regardless of the outcome, I’m happy to be part of this group.

Submitting your manuscript is a nail chomping experience, but it is necessary if you want to be a professional writer. Even if you plan to go the indie route, it doesn’t hurt to submit a short story here and there. It gives you the experience of pulling together a professional manuscript. Rejections aren’t pleasant, but occasionally editors will include a nugget of invaluable critique.

If you are ready to submit a novel or short story, or even a piece of creative nonfiction, you really should subscribe to Cindi Myers’ Market News blog. It’s a (mostly) weekly blog that contains news on markets open to manuscript submission. Cindi has been doing this for years and she is a fabulous, generous person. While visiting her blog, you can check out her novels as well.

Hey readers, I haven’t forgotten about you. A tasty freebie by Neil Gaiman has been made available by HarperCollins. It can be downloaded for numerous eBook formats.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties By Neil Gaiman How to Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman
A short story from New York Times bestselling author, Neil Gaiman. Plus an excerpt from his new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Another Neil Gaiman freebie you can find online is his Sherlock Holmes/H.P. Lovecraft mash-up, A Study in Emerald. It is available in PDF format and is a short, fun read. Enjoy!