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Archive for the ‘Conferences’ Category

Some believe extroverts* have it easy.  Especially in the writing world where 85% of writers are introverts.  (Where did I get that statistic?  Some chick said it over drinks at the writing conference I attended a couple weeks ago and I’m going with it.  Very scientific.)  Sometimes people link being an extrovert with having it easy in talking to strangers.  I’m here to prove them all wrong by showing how awkward an extrovert can actually be.

During one of our Willamette Writers Conference lunches, director/screenwriter Gordy Hoffman spoke about his adventure in working towards being a writer.  OMG, was he fantastic.  I’d even go so far as to use Hubs new breakout term “fucktastic.”  The ease he had in telling his funny stories with straight forward honesty made me think we could be best friends forever.   About two hours later, Mr. Hoffman was getting off the elevator as I was getting on.  It took a couple seconds for my brain to register “YES!  That’s the lunch speaker. Say something cool.”

I guess those seconds are precious for extroverts.  We don’t have the problem deciding whether to say something or not.  We also don’t drop eye contact and hope we disappear into the side wall.  We are extroverts.  We’re confident we can say something interesting.  I discovered we must also use those few precious seconds telling ourselves the normal intro is something easy like “hello”.   Since I’d already given up the time trying to confirm his identity, the only words to escape my mouth came out in shouted spurts like this:  “You were great…really great…” He turned to acknowledge he did hear something although he probably couldn’t make it out.  He continued his stride with the knowledge he can’t get away fast enough.  With my chance to be cool quickly slipping away, I end with a last loud shout of “…Entertaining!” right before the elevator doors close.

Maybe the extrovert would be more comfortable after cocktail hour?  Nerves relax with some liquid courage and the large group setting is our natural habitat.  Last year, I was fortunate to meet Awesome Agent in this setting.  Luckily she came back this year and we were able to chat late into Friday night.  Just about perfect.  Now fast forward to Saturday night and add alcohol.  The extrovert’s motto “the more the merrier” amplifies.  I see a solo writer dining alone and deem she must be welcomed into my writer-friendly group.  I decide I’m going out on my own to invite her to our table.  It just so happens Awesome Agent is in a small group a few feet away prepping to leave the area for a dinner date.  As I walk up, one of her clients, and an author who’s class I attended earlier in the day, says “hi” so I walk to their group.

That moment is an extrovert’s worst nightmare.  By crashing her party I’ve entered weirdo land.  I’m making what I think is good conversation, but the entire time I’m stressing about being the uninvited guest.  The whole thing comes to a head when the fourth to their party shows up and now I’m getting introduced like I should be there.  My brain explodes.  I say my good-byes and start to back away right before I do the worst thing possible.  I apologize for making the scene awkward.  What. The. Fuck?  Of course Awesome Agent and all her cool friends try to say I didn’t, which only makes it a thousand times more awkward.  Really, is there anything worse than people trying to convince a person she isn’t lame?

In true extrovert style I invited Solo Writer to my little group and drowned my awkwardness in more cocktails.  I recovered from the horror by chatting up all the other wannabe authors.  The comfort in not being intimidated grew and by the night’s end I’d stopped several speakers I’d seen that day to thank them with the natural ease extroverts have in large crowds.  Then I offered to buy them all drinks.  (A typical MO for an extrovert with the more the merrier motto.)

While there is truth extroverts may have it easier in public, it comes with the reality of being uncoordinated around those you admire.  Lacking confidence can turn any well intended interaction into a clumsy shouting trainwreck.  I hope my humiliation has put this myth to rest.  There is such a thing as an awkward extrovert.

This guy wasn't scared talking to me.  Maybe just a little.

This guy wasn’t scared talking to me. Maybe just a little.

More talented writers

These people have books.

This is what a writers conference looks like at night.  Lots of people in the bar.  And in towels.

This is what a writers conference looks like at night. Lots of people in the bar. And wearing towels.

*Disclaimer:  When I say extroverts in the “we” sense, I really mean me and anyone else who agrees it applies to them.

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There are many posts telling writers how to prep for their writing conference experience.  I have even dabbled in giving advice and sharing experiences here, here, here and here.  This year, I’m trying something new.  I’m making cookies, of course.  Nothing says writing like cookies in the shape of… oh wait a second, you’re going to have to wait for that.

What this prep means is that I have not made time for my Monday blog post until now.  (This is my new structure to keep the writing going while I power through my doubt.)  Instead, I’ve replaced my five hundred words with cookies.  These cookies represent what I plan to do at my writers conference.  Enjoy.

lemondrops

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Summer camp in my adolescence was always a mixed bag.  Some years I looked forward to being away from home and trying my hand at independence.  Other times I dreaded hauling my duffel bag to the place where a rope swing taunted my huge butt and weak arms for five days straight.  One of the sacrifices of growing is taking away this unknown.  Or so I thought.  What I found in my life as a writer is summer camp transformed itself and now goes by the name Writers Conference.

My first year at a writers conference was similar to being shipped off to Campfire Girls’ camp when no one else in your troop decided to go.  You eat alone, you walk around with your eyes to the ground, and hope someone will take enough pity on you to share a couple of words to confirm your voice still works.  While I was able to learn a lot last year about the craft of writing, I didn’t pick up the benefit of leaving the isolated world of writing.  I called foul to all those writers who said a conference was a great time to meet up with kindred folks.  I watched them from the table on the edge of the convention and wondered how they made so many friends.

When I committed to returning this year, I vowed it would be different.  I was going to be fearless.  It paid off.  My first night I met Yoga Mom and Maverick.  We enjoyed cocktails and joked about the Speedo-girth of the Olympic Greek swim team.  We talked writing, agents, and craft.  The warmth of acceptance washed over and I didn’t want the night to end.  (Not surprising if you know me and my motto of “never letting a good time die.”)  The next morning I searched the breakfast area for my friendly twosome with no luck and ate alone a plate of fruit hoping the good times weren’t over.

That night Yoga Girl and Maverick met up with me for the cocktail hour.  With bravery running down my throat in the form of a gin and tonic, we invited more people into the circle.  Maverick was a veteran to the conference and seemed to have contacts everywhere.  He even scored free drink cards when he realized his debit card was missing.  Well played, Maverick.  Our circle grew bigger with a meeting of a girl who happened to keep up with me in the bar line, Bar Girl, and a succesful self-pub guy named Orange Shirt who Yoga Mom chatted up.  By the end of the night, there was a table full of people talking all sorts about writing.

Saturday led to more fun, more gin and tonics, and more confidence.  It became a blur of which helped the most feeling like myself.  It didn’t matter because I finally understood what other writers meant when they said you make great friends at writing conferences.  When the three days ended, sadness about not seeing them again clinched the same way it did when everyone signed the good-bye books with KITs (Keep In Touch) when I was ten.  We talked about keeping up with each other on Twitter and daydreamed about a conference reunion we hoped would happen as we parted ways.

The hard reality I learned in sixth grade remains the same today,  summer camp must come to an end.  The probability is real life will take over and our promises of being friends forever may vanish.  The texting, emails, and retweets will slow down as we hide back into our isolated shells of being writers.  We’ll pound away on our craft and remember the fun time of connecting with others just like us.  And in that moment, there will be the flicker of hope.  The hope everyone will return next year and we can pick up where we left off like we never parted ways at all.  Because that’s the magic of summer camp.

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I Was Fearless

When I drove home in the glow of what a great time I had at the Willamette Writers Conference, I realized it all came from being fearless the first night.  I thought about how when I was younger fear wasn’t something considered when making decisions.  One of the lectures taught nostalgia as a plot device being the biggest draw for people in their thirties.  (I’ll let you believe now that I barely made it into the thirty tier since I’m obviously 29.)  I guess it’s true because I spent the next hour cycling through stories of my younger self storming headstrong into ridiculous situations.  I loved them.  And then I wondered when it had changed.

My freshman year of college represented my most fearless year.  My parents insisted I travel out of my small hometown to go to college.  This also meant leaving all my comforts, friends, and securities, too.  The first few weeks I holed up in my room and played on Prodigy because the internet wasn’t “a thing” yet.  (You’re probably recalculating my age assessment from before.)  One day I took a stand and reached out to my suite-mate.  I cast fear aside and put myself out there in hopes of better things.  She welcomed me into the group and I finally did more than listen to Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine for the millionth time.

Some of my best accomplishments came because of that first step to ditch fear.  I took a job as a concert security guard who had to travel to locations around southern California.  It never even occurred to me how unrealistic that was since I was a freshman without a car.  My resourceful self recruited dorm-mates to take on the same job and the carpool began.  Not seeing the boundaries allowed me to work one of my favorite jobs.  The lack of worry brought other adventures, such as an interview to intern with Capital Records (didn’t get it, but did get a tour of the building), inviting one of my favorite bands at the time to come stay in the dorms (no go, but did get a handwritten note back), endless photos of wild nights (they don’t see the light of day), and even the most gutsy move to fall in love (with my now husband).  That was one of my best years.

It doesn’t mean everything was gravy.  My grades weren’t the best, I watched a convenience store robbery go down, I enjoyed under-age extra curricular activities more than I should and I lost dear friendships.  But that was from being eighteen and thinking I knew everything.  Not the shallow defeat of fear telling me it wasn’t possible.

This weekend reinforced great things happen when your fear is in check.  The first night a choice presented itself.  A stranger made some innocent conversation.  My fear tried to seduce me to blow her off and go back to looking busy on my phone.  It took actual strength to stuff the phone back in my pocket and engage in normal interaction.  Once we started, my nerves calmed.  The real me entered the party.  Then another writer searched for a chair and I invited him over.  Three hours later, the three of us enjoyed several drinks and a helluva good time.  It set us up for having a wonderful time for the entire weekend, meeting many more people, and not melting down into a non-verbal mess when an agent sat down for a gin and tonic.

The whole thing reminded me how crippling fear can be; doubting if the novel is good enough to submit, despair in knowing thousands of hours of work doesn’t guarantee anything more than what I have, and self-loathing for not being better.  It will paralyze me on this road I’ve loved for the past four years; the time in my life where I feel like I’ve finally started doing what I was meant all along.

Life shouldn’t be calling up memories from twenty years ago to remember what it feels like to be fearless.  It should be living the fullest today like there is no tomorrow.

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…we’re heading to a workshop.

Last weekend, something cool finally happened to Southern Oregon.  No, it wasn’t The Airborne Toxic Event coming over to my house for a barbecue (even though I have my fingers crossed for summertime.)  Instead, Willamette’s Writer group had the awesome Bob Dugoni teach an all day workshop to novel hopefuls.  I first saw Mr. Dugoni at the conference last August.  After I heard him speak about query letters, I dropped my YA classes and went to listen to two more of his lectures.  He was engaging, funny, and detailed in helping to learn more of the craft.  I love his admission of his mistakes made and how he worked through them.  I’ve been giddy for weeks after signing up to get another lesson.

Let me be clear that this post is no way a reflection on his skill in a workshop.  I gained six pages of fantastic notes.  I’m overwhelmed and excited to dive back into the edit of my WIP.  Mr. Dugoni inspired that.  The rest of the class gave me one page of observations noted for this blog of what not to do at an all day workshop.  As with any good lesson plan, we’re going to bullet points:

  • Senior Center — There were about 60 attendees.  85% of them were over the age of 60.  This is an interesting trend I saw at the last conference.  My critique partner’s hypothesis is it’s the time in your life where you actually have time to sit down and write the novel of your dreams.  Not that I have an aversion to the elderly (my mother might tell you different) but they do distract in some ways.
  • Learn To Turn Off Your Cell Phone — There were three separate examples where the above fact about age came into play for this problem.  When the phones did go off at an outrageously loud volume, the owners had no idea how to shut it off.  As the pre-programmed ring tone played through its whole melody, the owner swatted at the screen or pressed it against their side in a weak attempt to strangle the noise.  In all these occurrences when the owner thought they were out of the distracting woods, the happy chirp of a voicemail echoed in the room.  If you are scared to turn it off because someone might call you with life changing news, then PLEASE learn how to turn it to vibrate.
  • Book Lovers — Just because you love books, it doesn’t mean you should write them.  This was a workshop on how to write a novel.  But person after person wanted to theorize about different authors.  Mr. Dugoni would give an example about one of his novels and a participant would come back with “But (insert author name) did this in (book title).”  I fought every urge to turn around and scream “Are you author name? No? Then shut the hell up.”  You might think I’m being a bit harsh, but these people would not let it die.  That question was just their opener.  Then they would go into some disposition about how that author used some fancy technique in contrast to what Mr. Dugoni said, implying he was wrong.  Now you’re with me, aren’t you?
  • That Guy — It never fails.  In school, at the office, or at a work shop, there is always that guy who knows everything.  In this class, he sat in the last row with a maroon turtle neck under a blue striped sweater with his khaki covered leg crossed over the other.  He scoffed at inappropriate times and wanted to argue every point.  He even had the nerve to barely take one note the entire class.  During a break, he leaned over to another woman and said, “I’ve been writing a long time.  I’ve got this all down.” (Serious quote.)  I’m still waiting for him to drop the name of his published book so I can find it on the NYT bestseller list.
  • WTF Random Stuff — 1)  Chick crocheted the whole time.  Seriously.  2) At every break, someone was in Mr. Dugoni’s face.  Even at lunch one chick slid over pages for him to read.  No, please, never mind he might want to go to the bathroom or get something to eat.  3)  People kept guessing what he was going to say.  Mr. Dugoni would build up a story and someone shouted out their guess at the ending.  Hey, this isn’t a choose your own adventure.  Slow your roll and learn from the class.  4)  A woman made a pretty good dirty joke in one of the exercises about re-writing the sentence “he was quick and small.”  Funnier part was she didn’t even know it even after the class burst out into laughter and Mr. Dugoni turned bright red.  5)  I’m still a sucky student.
  • Me = Awkward — This is a classic equation in my life.  It might be why I’m drawn to writing Young Adult.  But sure enough, as I scooted past a desk, the corner of my pocket caught perfectly on the sharp edge of the dry erase board.  (Please insert extra loud ripping noise)  I’m trying to play it off cool when Captain Obvious next to me screams out “sounds like something ripped.”  Uh yeah, no shit, I just gave my ass a sunroof.  I shimmied back to my seat, wrapped my jacket around my waist, and tweeted about it immediately.  Hubs couldn’t even console me because he was laughing too hard after receiving my text.  (Maybe this belonged under  the WTF category.)

These are the deets of what goes on at a workshop.  Do you feel prepared to attend one yourself now?  At least you have some ideas what not to do.  Turn off your cell phone, want to be a writer, don’t argue with the professional, don’t be a dick, and cover your ass.

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One of the best benefits from attending the Willamette Writers Conference in August was meeting Amy Isaman.  After running into each other numerous times between sessions and meals, we decided there was something behind it and introduced ourselves.  Even better, we agreed to be critique partners for each other when the time comes.  To me, this was super exciting because it was the one goal I set for myself when going to the conference.  By the third day, and after talking with a bunch of people I didn’t have a good connection with, I was getting a bit worried.  Then I met Amy.

Last week, she generously shared with me the Liebster Award.  It was a funny thing because I was reading her blog (as I always do every Monday and Thursday) when I saw she got the award.  As I was reading through the article, I was thinking how happy I was for her because it’s so cool.  Then, what a surprise when I got to her nominations and saw my little ole blog spelled out in her nomination of the Liebster Award. 

What is a Liebster Award?  Amy says:  It’s a fun way to “pay it forward” to other “newbie” bloggers out there and showcase a blog you think deserves merit and more followers.  (If you have more than 200 followers, you’re not eligible for this award.)

Of course there is no obligation to take part, but if you’d like to show some Liebster Love, here are the rules:

1.  Link back to the blogger who awarded you.

2.  Tag 3-5 blogs to receive the award.

3.  Inform them of their nomination.

4.  Display the Liebster Award image on your blog.

It may seem like some kind of blog pyramid scheme, but who cares?  (Mom, that’s just a joke.  Blogs are not trying to steal your money or get you to unknowingly sign up for Facebook.)  I love the idea of paying it forward to other blogs.  We all know it’s tough to get followers and there is HUGE appreciation for a comment here and a subscription there.  Some writers may even check their blog stats religiously throughout the day like a junkie waiting for a fix.  (I’m not mentioning any names, ahem…me.)  So the thought of sharing followers and turning people on (hee hee) to someone else’s great work is a “win/win/win.”

Happiest Mommy on the Block:  Tara does a great job of mixing parenting, crafting, and decorating.  I’ve known Tara for years and her strive for perfection makes some pretty darn awesome creations.  She has a great way of reminding you to appreciate the simple things in life and enjoying every moment with your family.

Tragic Spinster:  What can I say?  I love her.  Spinster uses hilarious wit and awesome captioning to capture the aspects of her life.  She never ceases to amaze with the hilarity she creates.  I literally LOL every time I read her blog.

Speaking of Words and Quilts:  I would have chosen Amy’s blog even if she didn’t share the award.  I love her blog.  She uses the metaphor of quilting to discuss her experience with writing.  I find it fascinating to hear the components and history of quilting while picking up on all the little details of making something beautiful. 

Most of the other blogs I know have more than 200 followers and are not eligible for this award.  Sure, they have legions of fans who regularly comment, but they don’t have this award.  For today, it’s “YAY” for the little guy.

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It may have taken me a week to complete, but this is the final post recounting my experience at the Willamette Writers Conference.  The strongest theme running through the event from day one to day three was “Don’t Give Up.”  Writers must need this reassurance because each presenter spoke to it.  I found this extremely comforting since it’s the area of my insecurity.  Am I on the right path?  Should I continue?  Is it worth the sacrifice?  Am I wasting my time?  These are all questions that plague during my process.  Thankfully I discovered this is exactly what writers do.

The first speaker brought this up during a lunch presentation.  As hundreds of wanna be published writers munched on chicken fajitas and jicama slaw, a petite woman stood behind a huge podium and talked about the tenacity of her client.  She read the numerous rejections from editors and spoke to the endless re-writes her author was asked to do.  Some took them down the wrong path, but their gut brought them back on track to a road they saw for the book.  On what was going to be the last round of submissions before shelving the book forever, she was able to call the author with the good news someone had bought the book.

The second lunch lecture was accompanied by salad and baked potato.  Although the still hard potato disappointed, the speaker was outstanding.  He was a screenwriter, but could have been an actor with the ease and charisma in which he spoke.  He discounted the ideas of luck, knowing the right people, or only having talent.  With humor, he detailed his long struggle that had some encouraging breaks along the way.  Through the ups and downs, there was self-doubt and self-deprecating humor.  (My forte!)  The constant in his journey was the recalling of his mantra about the “three things you must have to reach success in this business–passion, openness to feedback, and perseverance.”  His words lit a fire because he made me believe it might be true. 

The authors at various lectures backed up these thoughts with their own experiences.  When one was asked by an eager newbie the age-old question “how long did it take to be published?”, she explained it was about fifteen years.  There was a collective gasp from all the freshmen in the room.  I relished in my accomplishment of not being surprised.  I’d at least learned in my experience for some it may take only a short six months, but for the majority it was a long fought battle.  I may have years of writing for pleasure under my belt, but I’ve barely joined the party when it comes to the business side of writing.

There were a lot of gems found at the Willamette conference.  There are pages of scribbles in my notebook detailing all the wonderful things learned and the useful advice of others’ successes.  The experience exceeded my expectations and was well-worth the time and money.  I took more from it than tips, tricks, and contacts.  The most surprising take-aways were the confidence in knowing more than I gave myself credit and the glimmer of hope success is around the corner if I keep the fortitude to get there.

Here are some great blogs about what others learned from the Willamette Writers Conference:

http://www.williamhertling.com/
http://erincolelive.blogspot.com/2011/08/2011-willamette-writers-conference.html
http://melaniesherman.blogspot.com/

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