Sunday, May 22, 2016

Having a Life Goal

I used to say that I was so jealous of people who had a goal for their life. The ones who knew that they wanted to be a doctor or a teacher or whatever. Me? I would shake my 20-something head and say with a laugh that I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. But that isn't the truth, is it? Because I've always known. Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to be an author. Alongside fleeting notions of being a ballerina or, at one point, my life's ambition to be a lifeguard, it was constant. I would draw pictures of the books I would write someday. I came up with lists of titles and wrote fake obituaries about myself and my body of work (okay, to be slightly less morbid, that was a class assignment in middle school!). I daydreamed of pen names and genres.

Which is to say, I have always known exactly what I wanted to be when I grow up. But it isn't a "real" dream, it isn't a practical one like being a doctor or a teacher. It's more like wanting to become a movie star. Honey, it probably ain't gonna happen, and you better get real good at waiting tables in the mean time.

I suppose in one way I am lucky that it is the writing bug that bit me. Writing is probably one of the artistic pursuits that is most amenable to having a day job. I don't have to be flexible to attend auditions on short notice. I don't need to time the light just right or try to get all the paint out from underneath my fingernails. I don't need to spend a lot of money on fancy gadgets. I just have to write. And so I can pretend to be a good, honest, upstanding citizen from 9 to 5 while I spin tales of folly and fantasy on nights, weekends, and lunch breaks. I don't even have to live in poverty!

But it still takes its toll. I try to set goals for myself that are within my own control. Write X amount of hours or words. Read this book or try this writing exercise. Send X number of queries. Let the externalities come when (and if) they will. But there is no denying that my real goal--the deep, burning hope for my life--is to be a full-time, published author. It is for people to read my books far and wide. It gives me motivation and fire, it forces me to be better, to strive, but it also sets me up for endless disappointment. I can't just go to medical school and come out the other end with my certificate. There is so much luck and timing and talent and skill that all have to come together. Some of it is in my control, some of it is not. I may never achieve my life's goal. I might die a disappointment to myself.

I guess that is the risk of having a life goal!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

My First Writing Conference In Review

Well, Las Vegas is in my rearview mirror and along with it the 2016 Las Vegas Writer's Conference.

I had a great time, and I am very glad that I went through with it. I am particularly glad that I got to meet, pitch, and learn from real-life literary agents. I am at that point in my writing career where I am sort of hyper-focused on landing an agent. Yes, I know there are next levels after that, but for now I can't worry about those. And when almost all of my interaction with agents is through sending queries and receiving form rejections or silence in reply, it feels like trying to read tea leaves. Getting to hear things straight from the horse's mouth was invaluable.

As far as the craft workshops, they were good. I think they would have been super helpful for me like 4-5 years ago. As it was, they were mostly just refreshers of stuff that I've seen elsewhere. And so I am still in the position of trying to figure out the how of craft rather than the what. But that's a lifelong journey, no?

I got up at 6 AM on Thursday for the 5-hour drive to Vegas. After checking in, I hit up Edit Yourself into Print (give by an agent, one of my favorites of the conference), How to Write a Blurb that Sells, and Before You Jump into Self-Publishing (a sobering look at the harsh reality of self-pub). Then there was a happy hour and ice breaker event. Which was good, but also really long. By the time 7 PM rolled around, I was desperate for some alone time! Had to hit up the gym for my training plan, and by the time I got out of the shower at 9:30 PM or so, I was done for the day. Gotta love the light and music show outside my window at 10 PM as I was trying to sleep!

Friday was an all-day affair at the conference. Breakfast with some words from an indie author on the faculty, then 14 Things to Revise in Your Manuscript, my first pitch session, and The Art of Pacing and Tension. Lunch had a first page panel (5 of the faculty read first pages in front of everyone and pointed out where they would stop reading and why). Then Getting Sassy with Subtext, Story Engineering, and Write Dialogue Like a Playwright. Dinner had another first page panel. These panels were some of the best info I got the entire weekend. I only wish my pages would have been drawn!

Friday night after dinner I escaped for some alone time on the Strip. Walked around for a couple hours, watched the fountains at the Bellagio, and ate a second dinner of burger, fries, and boozed-up milkshake. Totally worth it!

Saturday was the last day of the conference. Breakfast had another indie author from the faculty speaking, then World Building in Fiction, How to Hook an Agent, and my second agent pitch. I skipped out to go for a training run and check out of my hotel room, so I caught only the very end of the lunch panel, which was a couple agents talking about how to spot scams. Then the afternoon was The Agent/Client Relationship and Whose Story is This? That finished out the workshops, and then there was a dinner with a keynote address from Larry Brooks. After that, I had to head out, as I had another 5-hour drive!

As you can see, it was a super packed weekend. There were so many great faculty members, awesome fellow writers, and lots of good choices for the workshops. It was rather a whirlwind of a weekend, but in a good way!

Now to swallow my doubt and send out the requested materials...eek!

Reports from the conference and thoughts in the aftermath.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Taking the Writing Conference Plunge

One week from today, I will be in sunny Las Vegas at my very first writing conference! (Which would be the Las Vegas Writing Conference, of course.) I can hardly believe it. I have been toying with the idea of attending a conference for a while. I take my writing very seriously, in both the craft and business aspects, and I am always looking for ways to boost me to the next level. Networking, connecting with other writers, and meeting industry professionals sounds fantastic. (People who understand what I am talking about without a twenty-minute explanation of the querying process…!) Not to mention informational panels and inspirational stories. And, of course, the chance to pitch to a real live agent! I have to admit this last piece was the thing that finally lured me into registering. I have not had much luck with the cold querying process. As I embark on a new querying journey with novel 8 (I just sent my first five queries this week!), I want to give it the best chance possible in this rough publishing environment. And maybe having that face time could make the difference—it can’t hurt, right?

So after pondering all of this, earlier this month I decided to find a conference. It didn’t take long to discover that the LVWC was only a few weeks away, right when I was planning to start querying, and within striking distance of my home base in San Diego. (It won’t be the first time I’ve made that drive!) I thought about it for a day and then made the plunge and registered. It’s a lot of money to spend, but is it a lot of money to spend on something so important to me? And the answer to that was, obviously, no. Everything I have heard from other writers is that conferences are totally worth it. And it fit into my budget without requiring me to eat ramen for a month or anything, so it wasn’t too much of a reach.

Now, all the sudden, what seemed like plenty of time has rapidly dwindled to ONE WEEK AWAY! Eek! I’ve been researching conference attire, etiquette, best practice, etc., and trying not to freak myself out too much. I stayed up way too late last weekend designing business cards. Imagine that—me, with author business cards! I don’t even have business cards for my day job. I feel like such a Real Writer™ right now. I’m also trying to navigate the ins and outs of pitch sheets, what to bring, and how to plan out my schedule for maximum benefit from the experience.

I am so excited to be taking this step in my writerly career. I’m nervous as hell about pitching to an agent (especially one who has already form rejected me on previous projects), and talking to strangers is way outside my comfort zone, but who cares? I’m going to be at a professional event for writers, learning about what I love, figuring out how to be better, and being inspired to continue on what can be an arduous journey. Plus maybe a chance to sneak out to the Strip…

The last time I was in Vegas--definitely not for business!

I’ll be sure to report back on my very first writing conference experience!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Five Favorite Writing Quotes

5. “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” –Ernest Hemingway

This is a great quote for those days when writing feels hard and, because it feels hard, you start to question the entire edifice. Maybe you aren’t meant to be a writer, if writing is hard for you. Writing is easy for good writers, right? Well, some people think Mr. Hemingway was a pretty good writer…

I don’t think writing has to be a masochistic exercise of bleeding all over typewriter (or Scrivener, or whatever), but if it is, that is not unusual. It’s not the end of the world. It’s a normal feeling for writers of every skill level. So open up that vein, but don’t quit!

4. “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” –Stephen King

I know, I know. The last thing you need is another thing to fail at, another area where you aren’t doing what you need to. But sorry, I am going with Mr. King on this one. Reading is so integral to writing. It’s important on the business side. You need to know where your book fits into the market in order to pitch it, to market it, to sell it. And so you need to know the market, which is just a fancy way of saying read! But it’s also important on the craft side. Reading is some of the best writing education you can give yourself, especially critical reading. Look at how other authors create tension or dialogue that sparks right off the page. Look at how other authors make you check to see if the book is ever going to end and skim yet another section. Learn what you love and what you don’t. And for me, reading is the ultimate form of inspiration. Reading a good book makes my inner writer yearn to be set free and create. It replenishes the wells of creativity that I drain during writing.

3. “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” –Ernest Hemingway

I am a perfectionist. That isn’t always a bad thing. Striving for perfection can be a way to rise to the next level, to overcome obstacles. But for my own mental health, I have to remember that perfection is an illusion. There is always something else to learn, always some way that I could be better. I am still an apprentice. But! So is everyone else. We are all apprentices. There is no need to castigate myself for failure to achieve mastery, because that is impossible. I will keep learning, I will keep striving, and I will take pleasure in the process, not despair.

2. “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” –Ray Bradbury

Oh, this one. Cuts me right to the core with its truthiness. Writing as an industry is so, so hard. I’ve written for my entire life, and so far I don’t have much to show for it besides a pile of unpublished manuscripts. Querying is the epitome of soul-sucking. You have to find that inner source of joy, the intoxication of writing. Otherwise there are too many opportunities to give up. Too many ways to realize that the odds are very much against you. But writing is always there. It is always available to you. You are a writer, and you write, and that in itself must be enough to carry you through all the times (the many, many times) when everything else is going against you and your writing.

1. “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” –Dr. Seuss (or maybe Bernard Baruch?)

This isn’t necessarily a writing quote so much as it is a life quote. And it’s one that has resonated with me since the first time I heard it. I’ll be honest—I’m a bit of a strange duck. And I have social anxiety, so getting along with other people can feel like a monumental task. But when I’m getting down on myself for being awkward or weird or whatever, I just have to remember that those who truly care don’t care!

But beyond that, it is a writing quote too. It can be so easy to get caught up in the paralysis of what other people will think about your writing. Whether you are going to offend someone you care about it. If agents and editors will laugh at the premise before they even finish hearing your pitch. Whether it will be received well by readers. And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t consider the impact of your work and take that into account, but at the end of the day, if it’s something you need to write, then write it. Don’t let the paralysis win.

And if you want to hear me talk about all of this as well, today's post is also a video! It's two-for-one writing quote happiness!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Guilty Pleasures

As they like to say in my industry, I am going to put the bottom line up front: life is too short to feel guilty about enjoying things!

Yes, that is my take on guilty pleasures. We waste way too much time, energy, and effort on chastising ourselves or judging ourselves about the merits of what we enjoy. The only reason you should feel guilty about enjoying something is if it’s causing harm to someone else. If beating someone up is your guilty pleasure, then yes, you fucking well should feel guilty about it (also: stop doing that, and get some counseling!). Otherwise, please, just enjoy what you enjoy!

Is the prose in that book you’re devouring somewhat less than pristine? Who cares! It’s brought you hours of joy, swept you away from the dull pedestrianism of your daily life. Stop judging yourself for it! Is the acting in that series you’re glued to melodramatic? Who cares! Watching that with your SO next to you and a good glass of wine is the highlight of your week. Is the genre that you prefer looked down upon by those who “know better”? Yep, you guessed it—who cares! It’s what feels right and true for you.

So when people ask me what my guilty pleasures are, I shake my head. I know what they mean, that I ought to have reservations about the bodice ripper on my nightstand or the stash of chocolate in my desk, but I don’t. This life of mine is the only one I’ve got. My days and hours are limited, and the time I get to spend doing things for fun even more so. And so I shall continue to enjoy the things I enjoy without apology, without qualification, and most definitely without guilt.

Yeah, I had so much fucking fun, look elsewhere for apologies!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Write Side of Life Greatest Hits: 2015 Edition

Well, here we are. December 30. About ready to close the book on 2015, and along with this ending comes an inevitable flood of “best of 2015” articles, lists, and yes, blog posts. So who am I to eschew a trend! With all the tradition of the end of the year, I bring you the top 5 most-read posts from The Write Side of Life this year:

In which I talk about my Process. I'm pleased to see one of my videos crack this list. I may not have the best production capabilities, but I do have fun with the videos, and it is nice to know that at least a few people are watching them!

In which I write about the decision to shelve a manuscript. It's a painful one, especially for novel 7, which I still think is a fantastic piece of fiction. Hard to revisit this one, knowing that I am probably approaching this moment in the next couple months for novel 6.

In which I write about the frustration of people trying to be helpful and instead making me feel worse. This is one of my favorite posts (it's something I think about a LOT), and I am glad to see that it resonated with some others too.

In which I share one of the pieces of (free!) software that I use for writing and worldbuilding. I am actually getting ready to put a novel 8 file together, I am still finding WikidPad useful!

In which I participate in a blog hop. I almost did not include this on the list, despite it being my most-viewed post. My argument was that it wasn't a "real" post, but that was mostly bullshit. It was because I am ashamed, because I never completed my part of the blog hop. I was supposed to critique 10 other entries, and I think I only did 2. Yep, I suck. I am really sorry to everyone who did not get my feedback!

Overall, I had 19 total posts this year. I hope to improve that number next year, but I won’t sweat it too much. I have a lot going on in my life, and this blog is a bonus for me. Hopefully you, my dear readers, enjoy it and stick around for the next arbitrary revolution around the sun!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Anatomy of a Writer's Desk

Let's pull back the curtain for a moment. I'd love to pretend that I'm a sort of romantic writer, penning stories at the fireside in my garret bedroom (I may have read the Emily of New Moon series too many times). The truth is, I do most of my writing on a laptop or my tablet. I sit at an IKEA desk surrounded by piles of items I mean to attend to, next to the dumbbells I use for working out. So I thought I would share with you just how my writing desk looks. This is entirely candid—I snapped this photo the other day without doing any cleaning or organizing beforehand. And here it is!

1. Super fancy printer that can push out manuscript pages with ease—and I can print to it from my couch or desk or toilet or wherever! This was a birthday gift from my boyfriend, who really Gets It when it comes to my passion for writing.

2. Printed out rejection letters that have not been filed into the rejection binder yet. Probably printed from the couch, which is way too far to get up and actually get things off the printer.

3. Writing notebook, buried under random papers (including the user manual for the fancy printer), that may occasionally be brought out to have snippets of dialogue, character descriptions, or story ideas added to it or to be mined for a current project.

4. Minnie Mouse ears from Disneyland. Of course.

5. Wall art from Target, appropriately themed for a writer.

6. A whiteboard built into the desk, perfect for the jotting down of quick notes! And actually used for once, two years ago, writing down my employee ID, and never erased.

7. A detailed schedule and checklist of everything that I plan to accomplish on a weekend day. Planned items could range from laundry and dishes to writing and editing to reading and watching Doctor Who.

8. Hand-drawn (okay, more like hand-scribbled) map for a now-defunct project. I think this one was NaNo 2014. Er, 2013. Yikes.

9. A handful of books related to writing and an autograph book for authors (so far with only N.K. Jemisin’s signature).

10. Proudly holding up the end is the dictionary I got for my 16th birthday. Not that I ever use it—it’s called the Internet!—but doesn’t it just feel writerly to have it there?

11. A pile of old cards and letters that I really, really mean to reply to. Someday.

12. This book was assigned to me by my therapist, before I dumped him for being unhelpful. It is a good book, though! I even have a highlighter and a pen hooked to the cover for notes.

13. A writing book that I swear I am going to read any day now.

14. This folder was used to hold some printed out rejections that need to be filed in the rejection binder. Those are really piling up…

So there you have it! A quick breakdown of where I do a lot of my writing, editing, and bemoaning. What does your space look like??