A Time for Thanks

Regardless of what you believe or how you choose to celebrate, taking a moment once a year to take stock and say thanks is a wonderful thing. And after spending the last few months caring for a sick family member, it’s a good time for me to reflect on the wonderful things in my life.
I’m thankful for…
1) All the projects I’ve been able to draft, revise, and complete (in some cases all three!) especially since my writing time of late has been drastically reduced. I’ve started or completed five short stories, and tinkered with a few more that haven’t found homes. My short stories routinely make it to the second round at markets, which has built up my confidence in my work even though it doesn’t always translate into sales.
2) The fact my story “Resonance” found a home in The Future Embodied anthology. Should be out sometime next year, and I can’t wait!
3) My growing community of writers. I went to Worldcon this year and was thrilled to catch up with some of my friends from Taos Toolbox and meet new ones. I also just got back from Paradise Icon, a neo-pro writing workshop in Cedar Rapids (which you can read more about here), where I met more talented writers. The workshop was a great break from my caregiving obligations and provided me with some much-needed inspiration. If you are looking to expand your own community of writers, applications to the 2014 Taos Toolbox workshop open December 1st.
4) That my latest novel project will be in this year’s Baker’s Dozen Auction on the Miss Snark’s First Victim’s blog. Cross your fingers for me and see if you can guess which entry is mine!
5) My husband for supporting me in everything I do.
What are you thankful for this year? Happy Thanksgiving!

Humble Pie

With the exception of certain universal life experiences, no other process has been quite as humbling as learning how to write well.

Knowledge is proud that it knows so much; wisdom is humble that it knows no more. William Cowper

For one thing, everyone thinks they’re an expert on writing, by virtue of the high literacy rates in our society and the sophisticated narratives that populate our entertainment, our news, even our interactions with one another. Add to this the critique process that is often necessary to strengthen a writer’s craft and their work—a necessary evil but one that often shakes the resolve of many beginning writers (as well as those at every stage of their career).

Image courtesy of Jaypeg on Flickr

Criticism can be brutal, confusing, and sometimes even helpful, but I believe only a humble writer can learn something from it. You have to be open to the process, and that means you need to set your ego aside.

Then there’s the whole rejection thing, and how you’ll probably accumulate dozens or more rejections for every acceptance you get.

Success is not a good teacher, failure makes you humble. Shahrukh Khan

I’ve wrestled before with the idea of the arrogant writer, and still believe that writers are guided by the hope that our words have meaning rather than the expectation that they do simply because they’ve been recorded.

I’ve never had a humble opinion. If you’ve got an opinion, why be humble about it? Joan Baez

After all, our first amendment right to write is a privilege not every one in this world enjoys. To have the time to indulge in writing is another privilege not everyone has.

I know that writing has humbled me. Not only in what I do and do not know, but also in the knowledge that the odds are so very great. Each and every time someone further along in their career takes a moment to reach out to me, I am humbled.

Am I alone in feeling this way? What is it about writing that has made you humble?

How to Survive Your First Worldcon, Part One

Over Labor Day weekend, I attended my first Worldcon in San Antonio, Texas. I decided to go for a lot of reasons, but I think the most important one was to slowly increase my visibility in the field by networking with my writing colleagues.

The view from my hotel balcony.

I had no idea what to expect, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned so you’ll be better prepared if you plan to attend an event like this in the future.

1. Never Take Off Your Nametag

This could be my own issue, but I’ve never been a fan of nametags. Whether it was the first day of school, my work as a waitress back in the day, or attending work conferences, my initial impulse was always to whip off the tag as soon as possible.

Do not do this. The whole point of conventions is to meet like-minded people, right? But unless you already know someone’s a writer, it can be tough to spot one out in the wild. At a convention, if you see a nametag, you can be reasonably sure they’re a serious SFF fan or writer or both, whether you are crossing the street between the hotel and the conference space, hunkering down in the hotel lobby for the free internet, or getting a drink or a bite to eat in the hotel lounge. So this is one of the few times where it’s okay to let your freak flag fly.

The nametag also makes introductions easier and seeing a printed name (as opposed to just hearing it) can reinforce retention.

That said….

2. Be Prepared to Reintroduce Yourself A Lot

You will be meeting a lot of people. And just as you will have difficulty keeping everyone straight, the people you meet will also have trouble putting the name to the face. If they don’t remember you, don’t take it personally. Be gracious, and if the opportunity presents itself, remind them that you met them the night before at a party or last year at another event or that you share a TOC together… whatever it is that will help jog their memory and put you into context.

 

You want them to remember your face, your name, and something pleasant about you—not how you gave them a hard time for not remembering who you are from a 15-second introduction. That just makes them feel guilty, and they will then avoid you to avoid experiencing that negative emotion again.

3. Dress to Impress

I’m not talking business casual. Personal hygiene is important to handle (especially in Texas in August). As Mary Robinette Kowal said in a panel on schmoozing, you want to be the best possible version of yourself—whatever that means to you.

For me, that meant wearing clothes that had a consistent feel, styling my hair in a similar way, and wearing the same necklace and bracelet combo across the days at the convention so that people would recognize me, even if they didn’t know my name. Think of it as professional branding.

4. Ribbons Ribbons Everywhere

As this was my first con, I didn’t realize there were special “ribbons” you could affix to your nametag. These little pieces of fabric were issued to people who had pub’d in certain magazines or talked to certain con personnel or supported a particular author or whatever. I later found out there was even a ribbon for attending your first Worldcon. Many people (though not everyone) had them. I even saw one kid walking around the convention hall with so many ribbons they dragged along after him.

As with the nametags, the ribbons provide quick visual reinforcement in identifying people in your “tribe” and often served as a source of small talk. Now, I’m not saying I was ignored because I didn’t have any ribbons—I wasn’t. But it did reinforce my newbie status because I had no idea how they worked.

The exception of course were the bright green ribbons identifying the panelists and invited guests to the convention. Which leads me to….

5. Pay Attention to the Social Hierarchy

At the con, I was pretty insignificant compared to the writers further along in their careers and the editors and agents that were there. And the ribbons often reinforced this.

Unlike other cons, there were no pitch appointments offered. The only way to get an agent or editor’s attention was to either get introduced by someone they respected or small talk your way into their hearts.

Both are hard to do and are extremely dependent on luck, your social abilities, and the kindness of your colleagues.

People can sense desperation. If someone powerful has a bad opinion of you, it could haunt you the rest of your career. So don’t be that person who stalks the important people all over the con or the person who turns into a squeeing mess the second you get to talk to your writing hero, dream agent, or whathaveyou.

Instead, be sure to act courteously, and if at all possible be interesting. You may not get an opportunity to talk about you or your work, and that’s okay. Take the long view. You want to leave people with a favorable impression no matter what because who knows what could happen the next time you meet them.

Stay tuned for Part Two next week!

Getting to “The End”

I’ve been swamped recently; hence, the blog silence last week. Part of it is I’m gearing up for another spate of travel. Part of it is juggling all the writing projects I have in the air, including getting to The End on my latest WIP.

How do you define “The End” ?

-When you first figure out the end of your story?

-When you finish that first draft?

-Or when you’ve polished until you can’t polish anymore?

For me, it’s the third option. I’ve sent this novel out to trusted readers once already. And I’m on the very last chapter in terms of implementing the changes that were raised in that round of criticism. As I gear up to send it out to another batch of readers, I’m feeling optimistic and impatient and a little nervous all that the same time.

And I realized I’ve felt different each time I’ve come to the end of a novel-length project (short stories are different in my experience).

My reactions have varied, from insecurity and nervousness (What if it’s not good enough?) to impatience (I just want to finish this story already) to relief and pride in a job well done. And in some cases, disappointment that the book didn’t measure up to what was in my head and I don’t know how to fix that.

But with this story, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. I’ve felt that way before of course, and to some extent, I think you need to feel that way about all your work at this stage to stay motivated, to keep pushing yourself, and to see things through the publishing process.

So, I’m very happy with what I’ve accomplished with the story. But that doesn’t mean I’m ready to call it a day. My work is just beginning. I just hope I have the stomach for it.

Happy writing!

Invisibility of Progress

Improvements in writing ability are often hard to detect. So much of what is “good” is contextual—dictated by a particular project, the audience you’re writing for, or even market trends.

I’ve talked before about How Do You Know if you are ready for publication. Although it’s related, that’s not exactly what I want to talk about today.
Instead I want to focus on all the invisible things writers do in the hopes of bettering their craft, expanding their professional network, and positioning themselves for success to the best of their ability.
Image courtesy of Penywise of Morgue Files
Objective measures of success in this field are pretty self-explanatory. You’re either published or you’re not (however you choose to define it). When you’re “not” published, chances are you’re doing a bunch of things other than writing in the hopes they will pay off in some small way in the future.
For example, I haven’t sold any short stories since last fall. If you are looking at my output objectively—well, there isn’t any by that definition. Instead, so much of what I’m doing these days is invisible. And I’m still trying to figure out what that means.
These invisible activities include:
Reading slush for Masque Books – Beyond occasional mentions here on the blog, it’s something I do to strengthen my ability to evaluate projects, diagnose writing problems, and gain insights into the editorial process. I won’t be able to learn these things overnight—this requires a commitment of months if not years to see the benefit from this type of activity.
Joining an invitation-only critique group – The meetings are intense and panic-inducing. I’m learning tons, making good connections, but as with any critique group, feedback is only as good as the projects I bring to them. Workshopping novels (and short stories to a lesser extent) can be a long process outside of development time.
Submitting to higher-tier markets – I have three in rotation right now that I truly believe in. And I’ve been aiming high. My sales last year gave me the confidence to target higher-tier markets. Personal rejections? Check. Second-round bumps? Check. Agonizing ‘You just missed the cut’ notices? Oh yeah. And the worst part is, all this means longer response times.
When non-writers ask me about my writing these days, it’s hard to explain how all these invisible activities fill up my time and contribute to my work. But they do mean something. They are valuable. They just go largely unseen because they don’t conform to objective measures of success.
I just have to believe they’ll add up to something that cannot be ignored one day.

What aspect of your writing life is invisible?

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