Why It’s So Hard to Create During a Lockdown

Creative people often work in solitude, and they need time to work. So why can’t I work?

You don’t have to be creative to relate, especially right now. Productivity waxes and wanes. At any given time, some or all of the following have been in play.

Stress from being unemployed

Long-term unemployment is not the same as a vacation or a sabbatical. Not having an income involves a lot of stressful emotions — worry about bills, despair that one will never work again, a sense of inadequacy at the lack of response to your efforts.

Before mine, which predated the pandemic, I lamented the lack of time in which to write. If only I could do it full time, I thought, I’d have so much more content out there.

Now, the time I have to write is filled with job applications, scouring pages of listings, seeking just the turns of phrase to make a potential employer realize that failing in a job no longer suitable for me did not make me a failure. That being unemployed did not make me unemployable.

advice on writing a cover letter--briefly inhabit the persona of a high elf who thinks they are hot shit and cannot imagine why any of their experience would be less than impressive
This is GREAT advice, tbh.

Too much unstructured time

At first, productivity remained untouched. I restructured one novel and wrote another. I published a short story collection. I started making a conlang. I dipped back into my blog.

But I soon discovered that limits on my creativity actually hone my concentration. If I had an hour to write, say at lunch, my brain knew it had to make the best use of that hour. Too much time can be as bad as not enough. In short, I’ve become so used to working around other things that when I have no things to work around, it’s harder to work.

Professional artists treat their art as a job, with dedication, discipline, and determination. After all, talent means nothing if you do nothing. Schedules are important. Having little to do all day can really mess with your sense of time.

Venn diagram - one circle is time, one is writing, and at their intersection, it says  eating all the things

Lack of privacy

As if that weren’t bad enough, we’re now tentatively emerging (too early, IMO) from a nationwide lockdown due to the novel coronavirus, perhaps the first of many. Countless workers have lost their jobs. Others are able to telecommute but find their productivity lacking. To buckle down when other members of the household demand your attention or ignore the presence of another person toiling in close proximity requires mental effort most people aren’t used to.

I can relate to this; in my own house, I was alone. Now I’m in someone else’s space. Their constant footfalls, muffled phone conversations, and occasional forays into the space they carved out for me are distracting as hell.

Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd as portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter, leaning over a table and looking up
And we don’t even have a barber shop in here to generate a little extra inventory—I mean, income.

Physical discomfort

Basements tend toward chilly no matter the weather outside. My hands are constantly stiff, the fingers icy. The drugstore hand/wrist supports I use when typing for long stretches of time don’t help. Thanks to the virus, any other working space, such as a library or coffee shop (noisy and distracting themselves) are off-limits.

Also, it’s dark in here. A bright space tends to feel warmer, the sunlight pouring in and warming not only the room but the mind. Windows or not, it seems perpetually dreary compared to my old city.

The cure will undoubtedly involve more exercise when parks feel safe again. It’s very unpleasant to walk in the neighborhood, plus it keeps raining. If nothing else, I can get on the floor and stretch.

orange and white cat lying upside down on a stone patio stretching its front legs, mouth wide open in a yawn
Perhaps not as cutely as this, but the facial expression will be the same.

Image by s02cf8 from Pixabay

Mental discomfort

I don’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be in my old city either, but I especially don’t want to be here.

If I’d found a job that was (heavy air quotes) “good enough,” I might have stayed a bit longer. (I definitely would have if I’d known the ‘rona was coming.) I had friends, a spiritual group of like-minded practitioners, personal service providers I respected and liked, and a sense of community even as I despised the limitations of that community:

  • Depreciating job market — low pay, little growth, few means to escape
  • Cultural isolation — lack of diversity, a dearth of entertainment options
  • Bigoted politics and an evangelical religious majority (the less said about this, the better)
gif of Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars saying "It's a trap!"
The Admiral said it best.

I want to leave the state entirely. The weather can be extreme and often violent. The economy here is depressed thanks to years of conservative rule. Salaries are below average.

It’s no wonder writing is tough right now.

What’s a writer to do? One thing that can really help is to pivot your creativity. Exercise that muscle, but in a different way.

Make something. I did make a wicked new book trailer for Tunerville, however. Huge thanks to my friend John Hutch for the excellent voiceover. He did a fantastic job (and yes, I did pay him). That took a whole different set of skills.

I’ve also been making masks for the family from an Instructable. I’m getting good at them; I can whack one out in an hour. Sewing sucks, but now that it’s mostly an automatic process, I can let my mind wander while I stitch.

Try a different kind of writing. I’m taking a screenplay class. I’m writing a screenplay! I have software! The same kind Rian Johnson uses!

Read something. Not only does reading rest your mind, but it can inspire you, especially if you’re stuck. Or watch a movie. Pay attention to the storytelling, or just relax.

By the way, writing a screenplay is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from writing a novel. It deserves its own post. I really wish I had my own space; I like to exercise my dialogue out loud (even for prose), and I can’t comfortably do that here.

Regardless, it’s not time to give up yet. I will find a job, have a place of my own again, and Book 2 will come out. I’m not giving up.

Aileen Quinn as the title character in the musical Annie, singing "The Sun'll Come Out Tomorrow"

Shut the f**k up, kid. I’m workin’ here!

Check out the new book trailer here.


‘Rona Is a Huge Bitch

QUARANTINE SPECIAL!

Through April 30, “The Shiny Folk and other stories” is absolutely FREE! You can download it here.


Hello, all you lovely fellow quarantiners. My golly gosh, we’re in a little bit of a jam, aren’t we? Well, let’s just make the best of thin—

Nah, this sucks.

At least there are tons of memes coming out of this. The internet does not disappoint.

As you know, I’ve been job hunting, but thanks to that bitch ‘Rona, everything’s on hold. There are jobs listed, but larger companies have posts that have been up for at least a month. I figure they’re in a hiring freeze right now. One employer for whom I did a pre-employment assessment contacted me three weeks ago and said they decided to delay hiring. They’re not the only ones, I’m sure.

The rest are roles like scientist, electrical engineer, supply chain manager with ten years’ experience, that sort of thing. I keep looking and applying. The governor just extended this state’s stay-at-home order to May 3. I was really hoping to be employed and in my own place before my birthday at the end of May. Then I can stock up properly for the next emergency.

All I want is my fair share.

Image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay

I’ve been trying to stay productive even though I’m not working. So I’ve done the following:

  • Made a new book trailer for Tunerville, as the first one was super dumb
  • Hired a voiceover actor for the trailer
  • Started a screenwriting class on Coursera (meh)
  • Wrote a treatment for said screenplay
  • About to dive into the restructure of Book 2
  • Planning a serial fiction project; not sure how or when that will come out

We shall see. I’m very lucky I have a place to stay, although I really want to get out of here.

Personally, I’ve been staying home and bingewatching Dark Shadows on Hulu. I hope they don’t ditch it; I’m almost caught up to where I left off when it vanished from Netflix. I’m also having a lot of fun with screenshots.

Barnabas, you done screwed up.

And Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’d forgotten how funny this show is, and how heartbreaking.

I’m off for TV time now. Stay safe, follow social distancing rules, and don’t forget to take time for self-care. And don’t forget to wash your hands!

NaNoWriMo 2019: Going Dark

This isn’t working, folks. Not the book, but blogging the process. I keep thinking about what I’m going to say here rather than there. I’ve barely begun and already it’s tanking my concentration.

The story is a bit more complicated, and it’s a new genre for me. So for now, I think I need to go dark on blogging about it. That does NOT mean I won’t pop in here to let you know how it’s going, or if I wrestle a writing-related bear and want to discuss it. Or if anything else happens.

It’s been a few days now since the big move. I feel much better than before. The brain fog was real, and the extra pressure of word counts did not help at all. I didn’t just move; I upheaved my entire life.

I don’t know if doing this will be very very good, or very very bad, but it had to be done. Trying something new is scary.

Kinda feels like this, with no net.

Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay

So NaNoWriMo 2019 is done, and I’m just gonna write. See ya later.

NaNoWriMo 2019: Harry Potter and the Writer Who Tried to Do Too Much

It’s NaNoWriMo time again, campers!

Yes, I’m taking a stab at it. This year, it’s going to be a bit harder, as I have a LOT going on.

What’s Going On?

I’m moving

Hallelujah, I’m finally getting out of the town I’ve been stuck in for-fricking-ever. I’ve been job hunting forever, and there is no growth here. Plus, I’ve priced myself out of the small market. So what I need is a bigger market.

My crappy house has sold, and I’ll be able to move anywhere, though it will probably have to be within Nearby BiggerCity for now. I don’t really want to be there, either. However, the universe has been throwing favorable signs at me, and I’ve thrown a bucket of wishes at it, so we’ll see.

Since I won’t make enough profit to move somewhere cool and then get a job, I will be the literal nerd in her mother’s basement. It’s just temporary, however, until I find something. If I find work out of state, Oliver and I can just tootle away. I can come back for my stored stuff later.

Small silver four door car under a big tree
My little tootlin’ buddy. Hopefully not my future home.

Photo: Elizabeth West

Closing is November 7 and I have to move 200 miles and two locations away before then, so this is going to take some organization.

I’m packing

Since I’ve no clue where I’m going to end up or what I’ll need, the new homeowner, a younger person starting out whose grandparents are buying the house for him (aww), is purchasing some of my furniture. I’ve sold a lot of the rest on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Only a few things are going with me; the rest will be in storage.

Yes, I’ll have to move twice, unless something happens between now and then. The next two weeks will be key. It’s a little difficult to pack while you’re still actually using the things you need to pack.

I submitted Tunerville to Pitch Wars

This may not even happen, but if I’m chosen as a mentee, I will be revising one book at the same time I’m writing another. Gah!

There’s a new idea floating around in my head, though I might actually write Book 3 just to get it out and done. If nothing comes of Pitch Wars, then I can take my time with the conlang and revision of Books 2 and 3. It’s possible to publish earlier works later after you’ve broken through (please, universe, let me break through).  

I’m still job hunting

The less said about this, the better.

an iPad with a job application on it
Please let me give you all my private information so you can ignore me and send a rejection six months later! I love that!

Image by Gerd Altmann at Pixabay

NaNoWriMo Prep

Several tasks remain before I’m ready to dive into this year’s project.

An outline

Book 3 is already outlined in my head and has plenty of notes. New Idea is currently nothing but a blurb I wrote while practicing query letters. Regardless of which I choose, I should at least hit the high points to keep myself on track.

Music to write by

Last year’s Writing Music playlist will suffice. If I make a new one, I’ll share. I still have loads of albums to pick from.

A routine

I don’t mean a schedule, but the way I prepare and how I get into each session. Since I’m trying to cultivate a better writing habit, I’ve spent some time thinking about what works best for me.

  • Sitting in one place at basically the same time of day (usually evening, especially if I’m working)
  • Reading a little where I left off (this only works if I’m writing from start to finish, which, as you know, I don’t always do)
  • Throat-clearing

I want to talk about that last one. Sometimes, when you sit down to write, it’s hard to get started. Long ago, when I was stuck once, I did an email workshop called Daily Writes, created by Shery Arrieta Russ. I discovered that it helped to free-write for a few minutes about what I intended to accomplish that day. After finishing the workshop, I kept the habit as a way to unblock myself when I couldn’t seem to get started. All the blah-de-blah can be deleted later and doesn’t affect my word count.

I don’t expect to get all the way through Book 3 (or whatever) in November, but last year, I finished Book 2 the following month. Since I’ll be in a new city with no money (until I find a job) and no life, I reckon I’ll have lots of time.

Read more about NaNoWriMo:

A First Timer’s Guide to Prepping for NaNoWriMo | NY Book Editors

The Pitfalls of NaNoWriMo | LitReactor

NaNoWriMo 2019: How to FINALLY Write Your 30-Day Novel | reedsy blog

NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 14: Harry Potter and the Amazingly Shitty Day

Thank the universe I’m still on track; I only managed around 710 words today. I’m not sure I trust this counter, either. Feels like it should be more. Oh well. 

Started the day by forgetting to set the alarm and oversleeping. The neighbor’s carer has been bringing her dogs to work, but they didn’t bark like apocalyptic car alarms this morning, thus letting me stay in bed far longer than I wanted to. How dare they.

Then, a job rejection. After which I went on Twitter, which actually made me feel worse, because stupid people, oh my damn. 

I wanted to take a walk because I haven’t done it for days, but it started to drizzle. I have cold weather gear but no wet gear so that killed that. 

Sat down to write and mentally felt like this little constipated cloud from the Rocko’s Modern Life Christmas special. 

Image: Nickelodeon / Christmas Special Reviews

Now there’s a mysterious pain in my back and I might be getting a migraine, yay. I already gave my protagonist one; it’s only fitting. 

Still, I got some writing done. It’s frustrating when it doesn’t just slide smoothly out of your head onto the page, but that’s the nature of this beast. Sometimes it bounds out happily to meet you and sometimes you have to drag it along. 

What a good bad boi. <3

If you’d like to help victims of the California wildfires, this Slate article has some advice on donating, including links. 

How to Get Past the Feeling That Your Writing Sucks

I started re-reading IT and I’m in despair over how poor my writing is in comparison to Stephen King’s. I know I shouldn’t do that; IT was his thirteenth novel and Tunerville is only my fourth, so I don’t have as much practice as he did when he wrote it. But it’s so hard not to, especially now that I can read books and see the mechanics that went into writing them.

Mel Gibson allegedly said about directing, “I can’t watch movies anymore. I can see the strings.”  Yeah, mentally ill or not, Mel kind of sucks, but this quote illustrates very well the phenomenon that happens when you begin to see how your craft actually works.

I feel exactly like that now–I can not only see the elements that make up the whole, I can understand WHY they don’t or do work. It’s akin to watching figure skating before and after I learned to skate.

Tara Lipinski, 1998 Winter Olympics. This is a combination triple loop jump followed by a double loop. Very difficult.

Image: popsugar.com

At the time Lipinski performed this program, her elements made no sense to me. I could not see a jump coming and had no idea what it even was until she did it and the commentator remarked on it. Watching a figure skating program  then was an experience in surprises—stroke stroke BOOM! stroke stroke BOOM!

After fifteen years of skating myself, I can see the jump setup. I notice many more technical details that I didn’t before, such as whether the edge is good, shorted rotations, etc. I can even tell if someone jumping is likely to fall (sometimes they manage to save it when I think they can’t, so I’m not totally accurate). Even if I can’t perform all the elements Lipinski did, I recognize them. I can watch the jump and know with at least some certainty whether the judges will mark it as well executed.

Of course, you don’t have to be a skater to know these things. If you have a keen eye for observation and have been watching for many years, it’s possible to understand and analyze a sport with great accuracy. Many people who enjoy American football have never played it, but they can look at the formation during a game on TV and tell you exactly what’s about to happen. 

Whoop, didn’t see THAT coming! #herpaderp

Image: buzzfeed.com

Doing an activity, however, provides you with a deeper understanding of its execution. That doesn’t make you an expert unless you’ve put in the hours and practice to become one. However, it does give you just enough information to be dangerous…

…to your self-esteem.

Writing is, in its nature, a solitary activity. You must enter the cavern of your mind and search for treasures there, then haul them out and attempt to convey them–and the quest for them–in a way that resonates with the reader, so he or she will buy your work.

But one man’s treasure is another’s trash. And a clumsy attempt at presentation will sell no merchandise. In your solitude, you can lose your objectivity regarding the quality of your presentation. When you run into a master’s-level piece, you may feel your work is just a sad little flea market tchotchke.

We know it’s all too easy to measure ourselves against others, and we shouldn’t. A quote attributed to David B. Schlosser has been going around on the internet lately:

Image: taaonline.netE

Easier said than done when you’re confronted with the exquisite reality of a more seasoned writer’s technique. It’s enough to make you swear off writing. Hell, it’s enough to make you want to quit reading.

Since we are artists and we must create or die, we have to use these moments not as cudgels with which to beat ourselves, but as tools to sharpen our ability. You simply cannot write effectively if you don’t read.

But Elizabeth, you say, reading in an analytical manner spoils the story for me. Yes, it can. However, you will not know if the jump is good unless you watch it. I “headit” when I’m reading, and yes, it can spoil a poorly executed story–all my attention is on how I would fix this sentence or that phrase or what was this idiot thinking that is not how a semi-colon works.

But I can still pick up books and lose myself completely before I remember I’m actually reading and not crawling around inside another person’s head in a land far, far away.  A skilled writer can employ these techniques so well that a reader will remain unaware of them.

Book’s so good the kid doesn’t even notice he’s stuck in a damn attic all night.

Image: dvdactive.com

Pay attention to the techniques you see–do they work? Why? Why not? If you’ve read the book before and you don’t remember how the author used them, go back and read it again. This time, watch and learn.

Sometimes we can’t see what isn’t working. We’re too close. In that case, we can put our work in front of another person’s eyes. Beta readers and writing groups can provide helpful feedback.

If you have the money, consider hiring a professional editor to give you an in-depth analysis. Work can change; it can be improved. Someone with industry experience can help you not only make your story better but in the process, help you become a better writer. 

I decided to pursue professional editing for TunervilleI have little money; this is going to hurt financially, but I’ve reached an impasse. After countless rejections and two with the same critique, it’s time to admit I might need some help.

It feels a bit like I’m sending my baby off to war. Maybe I’ll find I just need more time and more practice before I get there. Maybe this will actually help me get the book published. I will not know until I give it a chance.

Don’t dwell on YOU when you read for analysis or solicit feedback. Think about your WORK and if the techniques you see can help it or not. Your personality and self-esteem are not the focus here. This isn’t therapy; it’s called improving your craft.

If you need help, ask for it. And be nice to yourself. You probably don’t suck as much as you think.

Related:  10 Things Your Freelance Editor Might Not Tell You But Should

I Missed Camp NaNoWriMo 2017 So I’m Doing My Own

So I’ve been busy/not busy.

You might know (or not) that I’m still not working at the moment. Most of my time has been spent job hunting, and while that’s not entirely a full-time job, it does occupy a lot of head space.

Assuming your head is this big.

Image: superheroes.wikia.com

July is a Camp NaNoWriMo month (also April), the summer version of NaNoWriMo. Since I’ve been scouring job listings and writing cover letters until my face bleeds, I missed it. My intention was to use it for something, but that did not happen. I tend to actually work better when I have something else going on. Like you know, a job.

I’ve got five queries out for Tunerville at the moment. A couple of them don’t look like they’ll garner any results, but you never know. The period for a no reply = no isn’t up quite yet. Should someone decide they want to represent me, one of the first questions they’ll ask is “What else are you working on?”

I realized I have no answer for that question.

Secret Book is finished, but it’s such a hot mess that it could take me years to work it out. Not only would I have to do a ton of research I’m not ready to do, but I screwed up so badly that it requires an extensive rewrite. That’s okay; it happens. The book failed in its first iteration, but even if I can’t salvage it as a whole, it contains a ton of well-written prose I can cannibalize for something else.

That’s how you learn, grasshopper.

Image: imdb.com

Rose’s Hostage is so old I don’t know if I can even sell it. I’d like to, but it probably needs another edit. I don’t have time for it right now.

Tunerville’s first full manuscript was rejected in September and I was so disappointed, but I received a (rare!) critique. I’ve done some revision and I’m editing it now to reduce the word count again and clean it up a little more. I thought it could be a stand-alone or the start of a trilogy.

In keeping with the great maestro Ludwig van Beethoven, I thought of a really cool way to carry the trilogy idea forward while on a daily walk. Beethoven was big on taking long walks, but of course he had the Vienna Woods for that. I get to walk among discarded liquor shots and condemned houses.

That’s the only thing we have in common, as Ludwig was a genius and I am decidedly not. (Confession time–I used to have an ENORMOUS crush on the guy.)

You know what they say about musicians.  ;)

Image: allmusic.com

The entire month of August, I will be writing. In between job hunting, interviews, studying, and a total eclipse of the sun for which I have a front-row seat, Book Two is going to blast out of my computer. First drafts suck, I hate writing them, and sustained torture seems to be the only way I can do so.

Should I bother? I don’t know if anyone will ever publish Tunerville. People have told me they’d like to read it.  People who have read it liked it. Industry folks have said I’m very close. Either way, I’m a writer and that’s what I do. I won’t get any better at it if I sit on my arse and click hearts underneath pictures of cats on Twitter all day.

So I’m gonna sit on my arse and write. I’ll try to stay up-to-date on social media (I have to, as a member of the #Resistance) and keep you informed here as much as I can. Don’t expect any word count posts. I’ve placed a widget on the main page, at the top right. I’m shooting for 80,000 words or until I’m finished, whatever comes first.

Do expect eclipse photos and video, assuming it’s not cloudy that day. If you need anything, follow me on Twitter at @DameWritesalot; that’s the best place to catch me.

*sigh*
*deep breath*

And here we go.

My First Writer’s Conference! ShowMe Writers Masterclass

I’ve tried to write this post a couple of times in the last two weeks, but with a big rejection, the election, and losing my job a couple of days afterward, it’s been a little tense around here.

I suspect the Q Continuum may be involved.

I suspect the Q Continuum may be involved.

Image:  Rex Features / telegraph.co.uk

So, the weekend of November 5 and 6, I went to my first writing conference ever, the ShowMe Writers MasterClass.  Put on by the Columbia chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild and Mizzou Publishing, it took place at the University of Missouri.

It wasn’t Worldcon or anything, but I live within driving distance, so I went for it.  (And got lost — thank the universe I allowed extra travel time!)

The conference attendees ranged from college-aged folks all the way through senior citizens (for some reason, I noticed a LOT of seniors).  Some were published, either self or small press; many were not.  Everyone I spoke to was very nice–each of us had the same goal, to improve our work and get it published.

The dream.

The dream.

Image:  blurppy.com

About the Masterclass

Featured speakers included Chuck Sambuchino, freelance editor, the editor of Guide to Literary Agents and the blog of the same name, and author of the humor book How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack: Defend Yourself When the Lawn Warriors Strike (And They Will).  Chuck spoke on various topics including social media marketing, getting an agent, and publishing itself.

Chuck is funny, knowledgeable, and confident.  He knows how to keep a Q&A session moving.  If he doesn’t know the answer to a question, he doesn’t bullshit you; he says so.  You got it wrong?  He’ll let you know bluntly but respectfully.  He talks very fast, so you have to pay attention.  And trust me, you don’t want to miss a thing.

He’ll probably kill me for posting this, but he also moves fast, so it was hard to catch a better pic of him.

chuck-s-at-writers-masterclass

Like shooting wildlife.  BAM!

Photo: Elizabeth West

Listening to Chuck talk about traditional publishing, I realized I’m on track to get there eventually (I hope).  That was a good feeling.

Mary Buckham, a fantasy author who also has a couple of books out on writing, gave a talk and taught some craft sessions on setting and hooks.  She is hilarious and cool and I loved her.  I bought her book A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting: How to Enhance Your Fiction with More Descriptive, Dynamic Settings.  I’m considering taking Tunerville’s characters a little bit out of their time and space.   Judging by all the great information she presented in that session, I felt it would be a worthwhile investment.   I haven’t read any of her fiction.  This must be remedied ASAP.

Mary is also a delightful person and she loves helping other writers. She peppered her talks and lessons with a sharp humor; we laughed as much as we learned.

I know she looks serious here, but trust me.

I know she looks serious here, but trust me.

Photo:  Elizabeth West

Recently, an agent I queried re Tunerville requested a full manuscript and sadly, they rejected it.  BUT–I received a critique, which is the gold standard of rejections.  Agents have so much to read they rarely bother to tell you why you were rejected, but this one was very specific regarding what worked and what didn’t.  It was so nice and kind that I sent a thank-you email.

Mary told me that if I’m getting those kinds of rejections, I’m very close to publication.  I hope she’s right; I don’t want to give up on Tunerville just yet.  It pains me to move on from a book when I have expansive plans for sequels, etc.

However, we writers know it’s best to keep working.  When that call comes, the question will arise:  “What else are you working on?” And we need to have an answer ready!

Oh, a little of this, a little of that…

Oh, a little of this, a little of that…

Image:  mhpbooks.com

The conference broke writers into tracks inspired by famous Missouri writers:

  • Mark Twain (fiction)
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder (creative non-fiction)
  • Maya Angelou (poetry)
  • Tennessee Williams (play/screenplay writing)

Each track had sessions pertaining to marketing, craft, and mentoring so we got the most relevant information for our categories.  As much as it pained me to miss the screenwriting stuff (a thing in which I have interest), limited time and concurrent scheduling kept me from it.

I also would have liked to attend the visual storytelling session, led by presenter Cole Closser, a Will Eisner Comic Industry Award nominee whose art has a really cool 1940s vintage vibe.  Because a story is a story–but again, I had to pick between him and something else.  Eeny meeny miney mo.

Ain't nobody catching ME by the toe.

Ain’t nobody catching ME by the toe.

Image:  Brian Gratwicke / Wikimedia Commons

The mentoring sessions with some of their featured experts were set up as either one-on-one, which cost extra, or in small groups of the first six people to arrive.  During the character building session, which comprised an analysis of character elements in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, I think I hit on ways to fix Tunerville.  That was probably one of the most valuable bits of the conference for me.  Thanks to Gordon Sauer for lending his expertise.

You can also use these gatherings to network with other writers or even agents.  ShowMe Writers Masterclass also offered a pitchfest, which is an activity where writers can actually spend a few minutes with a real, live agent and tell him/her about their book (pitching it–this is like a mini-query, but in person).  See the link for more information.

This also cost extra, and none of the featured agents represented my work, so I skipped it.  But I did get to chat a bit with one of them at their table and took the agency’s business card, because who knows?

Things I Learned from the Masterclass

Aside from the craft and marketing stuff.

  1. You should know your preferred category of writing before you go. You should really know your category anyway.
  1. The website said to dress with comfort in mind, but don’t be a slob. If you’re meeting with an agent during a pitchfest, you’ll need to convey a professional image–no ratty shirts and holey jeans.  You will cover some ground during these things, so WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES.
  1. Take notes! Lots of them!  Don’t rely on your memory.  Our programs had a space for this–I used the handouts and a notebook.  I intended to use my computer, but lugging it around the first day sucked, so I just wrote them.
  1. Register early, as you can often get a discount on lodging through the conference. I had to wait to book a hotel and ended up at Howard Johnson’s, which wasn’t too bad and economical.
  1. Don’t be afraid to engage with presenters and instructors. Talk to them at their tables.  Give them some love!  Ask lots of questions–your purpose here is to learn as much as you can.

I had a great weekend, despite the driving.  Bonus; a chat room friend lives close by, so we got together for dinner and went to see Doctor Strange with her friends and her husband (it was awesome! Go see it!).

If you’ve never attended a event like this, I highly recommend it.  Google writing conferences in your area; you’re bound to find some.  Get out of your cave and mix and mingle.

5 Myths about Writers That Will Get You Smacked with a Book

I love being a writer.  I love talking about writing and its sometimes maddening accoutrements.  But I’ve discovered that you have to be careful with whom you discuss certain aspects of this most excellent and odd activity.

Odd? What a strange adjective. How could typing page after page of hallucinations for hours at a time be considered odd?

So many people subscribe to common myths about writing that I often find myself patiently (or not so patiently) debunking them, when I really want to knock them right out of people’s heads with a dictionary.  Common beliefs about writers include the following.

That we’re all drunks

Many, many, many people consume alcohol or use other substances for recreation, inspiration, or escape.  Why is this so persistent when people talk about writers?

Being an artist of any kind means you will spend most of your free time putting your innermost thoughts, dreams, ideas, and visions in tangible form for others to consume.  It has a personal element.  Rejection can hurt.  Self-doubt is rampant.  But a lot of us cope just fine with these issues and don’t need to self-medicate.

Except maybe with a little retail therapy.

Except maybe with a little retail therapy now and then.

Photo:  Elizabeth West

In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King says, “Hemingway and Fitzgerald didn’t drink because they were creative, alienated, or morally weak.  They drank because it’s what alkies are wired up to do.  Creative people probably do run a greater risk of alcoholism and addiction than those in some other jobs, but so what?  We all look pretty much the same when we’re puking in the gutter.”

Well said, Mr. King.

That we’re crazy

Anyone who thinks outside the box or who has an imagination, or who is even slightly different from the accepted norm of whatever society or clique you’re talking about, is often branded with this label.  Okay yes, we enjoy looking up stuff like what sound it makes when you hit someone in the head with a hammer, but it’s research.

True mental illness is nothing to joke about.  There have been famous writers who suffered from various ailments.  But there also exist great works produced by artists with no discernible pathology.  Despite the Lord Byron quote at the end of the linked article, we’re not all crazy.

And as Chuck Wendig points out in this post, our lifestyle can make us look (and act) a little bit unusual.

That we have or will earn lots of money

Laughing Batman

Image:  knowyourmeme.com

Even Batman thinks that’s hilarious.

Writers can make a decent living if they keep more than one iron in the fire.  If you’re lucky enough to go viral, speaking fees or workshops can be quite lucrative.  Freelancers can work as independent contractors for corporations.  They can write for publications, do copywriting, grants, white papers, and proposals.

Creative writers, especially novelists, have it a bit harder.  Traditional publishing doesn’t pay very well, and most new writers don’t get million-dollar advances.  Indie authors can make more money overall these days (see this blog post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch for an illustrative breakdown of numbers), but it still takes a long time and a lot of work.  Almost every writer I know who has published one way or the other has a day job.

Acting is a good analogy.  Out of all the working actors in the entertainment business, the big moneymakers only comprise the tip of the pyramid.  And like writing, acting isn’t a steady job.  It’s freelance work.  Fame doesn’t last for most people, so you’re better off grabbing what you can get while you can get it.

It’s not easy being fabulous.

It’s not easy being fabulous.

So if you want to make money writing, diversify your income.

That we welcome advice from non-writers

Okay, here’s where I get bitchy (thanks, Vivien).  I figure skated for fifteen years.  I met tons of people during that time who had never been on the ice.  They came mostly from two camps:

  1. People who were really impressed that I skated, even though I wasn’t great at it, and who said things like, “I think it’s terrific that you do/did something so cool.”
  2. People who don’t skate but think they can coach you anyway.

Writers get number 2 a LOT.  If there is any phrase in the English language that will make me grind my teeth to nubs, it’s You know what you should do is….

Writing is a craft and it takes time to do it well.  Publishing is a complicated business.  I don’t know everything about it.  But I’ve tried to do my homework, and it chaps my britches when people who know next to nothing about it think I couldn’t possibly understand what I’m talking about.

Or that I’m being NEGATIVE when I say that a positive response to a query does not mean I’ll be able to fly first class to Europe next spring.  That’s not being negative; that’s being realistic.

If the advice is coming from someone in the actual field, then bring it on.  But someone whose aunt self-published, does not know what the word query means, or who has never written anything beyond an email is not qualified to tell you how to run your career.

I know what’s best for you, dear.  Let me handle it.

I know what’s best for you, dear.  Let me handle it.

 Image:  americanprofile.com

Family, friends, and even coworkers speak to you from a place of caring.  They want to help and show support.  Some of them cannot do this without trying to fix things or offer suggestions.  But remember, communication is a two-way street.  If you just want to vent, let them know this.  Say, “I’m not looking for advice; I just need to unload.  Can I have an ear?”

That writing isn’t work because we enjoy it

Writing a book is like doing the same homework assignment for six months.  It’s exhausting mentally because it requires intense concentration.  And physically because you’re sitting still and using your hands to perform a dexterous task (typing).

Sometimes writers have to work instead of come to the pub quiz or the girls’ night.  Sometimes they have to disappear for a few hours over the weekend or a holiday because they have a deadline or a client request or they just don’t want to lose momentum.

Yes, we love it.  We also hate it.  We want to have a drink and come eat birthday cake with you and wash dishes while drinking wine after the turkey or ham has been decimated (okay, no I don’t want to wash dishes, though I’ll take the wine).  But we have to work.

Writing

I could go on, but this post would never end and I’m sure you have things to do.  When you talk to writers about writing, ask questions.  We love to discuss what we do.  Listen to what we tell you.  If you’ve read our work, let us know you appreciate it and enjoy it.

And yes, if you’re so inclined and we are too, buy us a drink.