Colorado Gold Nuggets: Writing Workshop Insights, Part I

Before the Colorado Gold conference, RMFW offered a series of tips to get the most out of the experience. One suggestion that stood out to me was, “Attend the workshops.”

Apparently, for many people, going to conferences is all about the networking and socializing. I get it. Okay, I don’t really get it, but I’m willing to accept that it’s true. Me, though? I’m all about the workshops. I’ve always been way happier in a classroom than in a bar, and that’s probably never going to change.

I know I can’t be the only one, because just about every session I attended last weekend was packed to the gills. All in all, I sat in on eleven different workshops and panels, plus the three keynote speeches and my one-on-one pitch coaching session.

That’s a lot to take in over the course of three days, and it wouldn’t be fair to the presenters to regurgitate it all here, but I thought it would be fun to share just one or two nuggets from each session. I split my time between workshops on craft and those on the publishing industry, so I’ll post half my tidbits today and the other half tomorrow.

Ready? Let’s start with the craft workshops!

  • From “It’s Not What You Say: Body Language for Writers,” with Cassiel Knight: Only 7% of communication is conveyed with words. The rest comes from vocal tone/inflection and nonverbal body language. Surprisingly, the feet are the most honest part of the body. They’re furthest from our awareness and, thus, the least likely to be consciously controlled.
  • From “Dying to Be Here: Techniques of Murder and Mayhem,” with Mario Acevedo and Harriet Hamilton: You’re way, way more likely to be killed in a love triangle than by a pimp or prostitute. Also, poisonings are not nearly as common as Dame Agatha would have you believe.
  • From “Brain Sex,” with Jax Daniels: Men think linearly, women think holistically. This means that men are more likely to be plagued with tunnel vision, while women are more likely to be distracted by superfluous information. Writers can use this to create conflict between characters.
  • From “Deep-six the Stereotypes: Writing Characters from Another Culture,” with Rudy Ch. Garcia and Mario Acevedo: Brown does not equal brown, so try to find beta readers who closely match the profiles of characters you’re trying to write. You wouldn’t ask a Norwegian to confirm your characterization of a German, so don’t expect a Mexican to understand your Puerto Rican character.
  • From “From Here to There: An Alternative to Outlining,” with Carol Berg: You can write a tight and well-plotted story without knowing everything that happens before you start writing. The key is starting each scene with fleshed-out characters, a firm point of view, a starting point (here), and an ending destination (there).
  • From “The Joy of Writing Great Sex,” with Andrea Catalano: To write a great sex scene, craft it as if you’re writing to someone you want to seduce. Avoid shocking readers and taking them out of the story by writing to the expectations of your genre.

I know these tips are sort of all over the place, but that’s very much what it’s like to go from workshop to workshop at a conference. It’s a lot of information at once, all filed away to be sorted and integrated later. And there’s still more! Tomorrow, I’ll be back with some teasers from the industry panels I attended.

In the meantime, let me know what piqued your interest most in the comments!

11 Twitter Tips For Writing Conferences

11 Twitter Tips For Writing ConferencesMy people are the ones whose smartphones live in their hands, not their pockets. My people know usernames better than real names. My people have an innate sense of what will fit into 140 characters. My people put jokes in hashtags, because, somehow, they’re funnier that way. My people are the Twitter people.

At the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference this past weekend, I met a lot of my people. As is often the case, I also met a lot more people who spoke that oh-so-familiar refrain: I just don’t get Twitter.

For those of you in the latter category, here’s the secret you don’t know. The people on Facebook are your mom and your best friend from high school and your great-aunt Mary and your break buddy from three jobs ago. The people on Twitter are your tribe.

Tweet: The people on FB are your mom & your best friend from high school. The people on Twitter are your tribe. http://ctt.ec/L1d9F+ @jhtatroeThe people on FB are your mom & your best friend from high school. The people on Twitter are your tribe.

If you’re not on Twitter already, a conference is actually a great time to start. It’s a ready-made community to ease you into the platform. Over the weekend, I jotted down some notes about how to get the most out of Twitter during a writing conference. Here are seven tips for conference attendees, and, as a bonus, four more for organizers and presenters.

Tips for Attendees

  1. Use the conference tag. Most conferences have one official hashtag to help attendees find each other and follow along. Put it at the end of every conference-related tweet you post, and search for it to find other conference-goers. (The hashtag for this year’s RMFW Colorado Gold conference was #RMFW2014.)
  2. Retweet and follow other attendees. As soon as you know the conference hashtag, start searching for it. Some users will begin using the tag early as they plan and prepare for the actual event. That’s a great time to begin following your fellow attendees and getting to know them, even before the conference starts. If someone posts something that resonates with you or that you think your followers will enjoy, retweet it. Continue following and retweeting other attendees once the conference gets underway. They will notice and appreciate it.
  3. Put your Twitter username on your badge. If it’s not on there already, write your Twitter username clearly on your badge. It will help others find and recognize you.
  4. Find the quotable quotes. When you’re in workshops or keynotes, listen for the speakers’ most direct, concise statements. If the quotes are funny or surprising, all the better. You’ll learn to recognize the gems that fit within the 140-character limit. Those are what you should be tweeting.
  5. Attribute speakers. When you quote someone, make sure you include their name or Twitter username in your quote. Give credit where credit is due.
  6. Tweet things that will be useful to people outside the conference. Twitter is great for getting to know people within a conference, but the majority of your followers probably aren’t fellow attendees. Try to keep your tweets interesting and informative, even for people who aren’t at the event with you. It’s better to share a nugget of wisdom from a great presenter than to tweet something like, “Super-awesome talk in the Cottonwood Room. Check it out!”
  7. Turn off your ringer. This is a given, right? No one wants to hear your key clicks or the notification bings from your retweets.

Tips for Organizers and Presenters

  1. Promote the conference hashtag. Put your conference hashtag on your website before the event. Put it on the front of your on-site booklets. Put it on a sign at registration. Don’t leave attendees confused about what hashtag to use. Help us help you promote.
  2. Print usernames on badges by default. Ask for Twitter info during registration and print usernames on badges. Twitter is the best tool out there right now for real-time discussion and interaction, so make it easy for us to use it!
  3. Offer your username at the start of presentations. When Twitter users share quotes from your workshops or speeches, they’re promoting you. Make sure you get the full benefit of that by providing your username up front. It’ll make it easier for you to look afterward to see what resonated with attendees. It’ll also make it easier for non-attendees to find out more about you.
  4. Assume smartphone users are engaged, not bored. Once upon a time, if people were fiddling with their phones during your speech, it meant they weren’t interested in what you were saying. That’s not true anymore. Sure, the person typing on their phone in the back row might be texting their friend about lunch, but it’s more likely they’re your biggest promoter. Don’t be offended when the phones come out during your presentation. At RMFW this weekend, I almost invariably saw the mad typing begin only after the most wonderful of lines.

Tweet: 11 Twitter Tips for Conference-Goers (and Organizers Too!) http://ctt.ec/a7_Z111 Twitter Tips for Conference-Goers (and Organizers Too!) from @jhtatroe

Have you ever tweeted a conference? Tell me about your experiences in the comments! Or, if you want, follow me on Twitter @jhtatroe.

True Confessions of an Introvert at a Writing Conference

True Confessions of an Introvert at a Writing ConferenceIf you happened to see a crazy woman driving an orange Subaru north on I-25 and bawling her eyes out yesterday, that was probably me.

The 2014 RMFW conference is over. I’ll be updating the blog every day this week to tell you about it, but it won’t be enough.

On my first day there, I sat down with a few writers in the hotel lobby and one of them looked at my “First Time Attendee” badge.

“Your head is going to explode,” she said. “You’re going to learn so much that your head will explode.”

After three days, my head, thankfully, remains intact, but I’m still trying to process the conference experience as a whole. If I had to describe it in one word, I’d say: overwhelming.

Tweet: If I had to describe the conference  in one word, I’d say: overwhelming. http://ctt.ec/vuhtd+If I had to describe the conference in one word, I’d say: overwhelming.

When I set foot in the Westin hotel on Friday, I’d met exactly one person there previously, and I’d spoken to her for a grand total of about ten minutes. I knew a few other attendees from Twitter but, for the most part, I was completely on my own. I’m a gamer who regularly attends gaming conventions, so I’m not unfamiliar with crowded conference center hallways filled with people I don’t know. I’m also not shy, so I’m perfectly okay with holding out my hand and introducing myself to whatever stranger is standing next to me.

But (and this is a big but), I’m also an introvert.

I can offer a smile and a handshake, but that gesture costs me something each time I do it. It’s an emotional drain, a pull of power from my battery, a draw from whatever internal well sustains me over the course of a day of human interaction.

Usually, when I go to a gaming convention—or any social event with a lot of strangers, really—I have a safety net. Not all interactions cost the same amount. There are some people I know so well that being with them doesn’t cost me anything at all. Spending time with them is like stopping at base in a game of tag. It’s a chance to feel safe while I catch my breath. It’s not that the running around part of tag isn’t fun. It’s just nice to know that going back to base is an option.

RMFW was organized in a way that made meeting people easy. Everyone I spoke to was friendly and kind. I’m glad I went. But I had no “base” at RMFW, and it was so much harder than I expected.

I’ve heard that some yoga practitioners find themselves crying spontaneously in the middle of a practice. No rhyme or reason to it, some internal wall just comes down and emotions flood out. Maybe that’s why I felt tears threatening as I walked out of the hotel yesterday afternoon. I wasn’t sad the conference was over or upset about the way it had gone. I simply had no walls left to hold anything in. The crying weren’t a good thing or a bad thing, it just was, and once it passed, I was completely emptied out.

I think it will be a few days before I’m filled up again, before I can “go forth and write.” That’s okay. Every internal resource I spent, I gained back in another form. In knowledge. In inspiration. In community. In Starwood Preferred Guest points.

Tweet: Every internal resource I spent, I gained back in another form. In knowledge. In inspiration. In community.Every internal resource I spent, I gained back in another form. In knowledge. In inspiration. In community.

Maybe more of the first three than that last one.

It was all worth it.

What To Pack For a Writers’ Conference

What To Pack For a Writing Conference

The real answer, of course, is I have no idea, but Colorado Gold starts tomorrow, so I’m figuring it out.

Here’s what’s in my bag:

  • Clothes, shoes, and toiletries. Dress code is business casual, so I have slacks and skirts, along with something to work out in, because I always have the best of intentions. I’m bringing heels and flats and running shoes. I have a whole suitcase to myself, so ALL THE SHOES.
  • Business cards. I love my new cards, which have both my personal info and my shop URL. If I’m going to be following Susan Spann’s Twitter challenge of meeting and remembering at least three new people a day, I’m going to need them.Writer Business Cards
  • A notebook and pens. I always have a notebook and pens, but these, specifically, are for note-taking during conference sessions.
  • The first chapter of my novel, printed out. I didn’t bring the whole novel, except on my laptop, but I thought it might be handy to have Chapter 1 in hard copy.
  • Books. Sure, it’s going to be a full weekend, but books.
  • My annotated schedule and session handouts. No wifi in the conference center and many of the sessions have digital-only handouts.
  • Healthy snacks. I started getting shipments from graze.com last week and they come in handy, single-serving packets, perfect for afternoon pick-me-ups.
  • Laptop. I’m kind of using it right now, but I’ll bring it.
  • Water bottle. Here in Colorado, we carry water bottles everywhere. It’s a thing.
  • Phone and earbuds. Always.

So…what have I forgotten? (Or just stay tuned next week for the inevitable “What I Wished I’d Packed For a Writers’ Conference.”)

Wake Up Call

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“Billy Goat Gruff by Danie Ware, CC BY 2.0

There are four days left until the start of the RMFW Colorado Gold conference. Four. Days. In between frantically polishing my manuscript, worrying about my hair (PRIORITIES), and watching the mailbox for my shipment of business cards, I’ll be spending the time I have left trying to perfect my pitch for those precious ten minutes when I get to sit down with a literary agent and talk about my novel.

This is hard. I’ve spent so long intentionally not divulging much about my book that it’s difficult to get into the habit of talking about it. When asked what I’m writing, I usually just say, “It’s an urban fantasy novel” or, if I’m in a talkative mood, “It’s an urban fantasy novel about the daughter of Sleeping Beauty.” It seemed like delving too deeply into the details might jinx the writing of it.

Starting four days from now, that time is over. When someone asks me what my book is about, I need an answer. A real answer. So here it is. This is my novel, Wake Up Call.

Penelope Wakefield thinks she knows everything there is to know about the Folk, the fairy-tale creatures who live unseen amongst us. Aside from helping out an old school pal with the occasional relocation job, she’s content to ignore them in favor of her bike, her iPhone, and her job at a Denver record shop.

Avoidance works pretty well until Pen’s father, one of the last human mages, dies, and Pen travels to the mysterious mountain town of her birth for the funeral. Before the casseroles are even finished, Pen’s mother, a legendary sleeping beauty, disappears into the forest. When Pen teams up with a surly klabauterman, two of the three Gruff brothers, and her father’s hunky apprentice to find her, it quickly becomes apparent that more than just one life is at stake. Family secrets start to fly, and Pen learns that her life is more entangled with the stuff of fairy tales than she could have imagined. Revelations about Pen’s parents and about Pen, herself, threaten three hundred years of peace amongst the Folk.

It’s up to Penelope to get her mother back, return the Folk world to equilibrium, and (this is the hardest part) learn to survive in a town with no cell service.

So, there you have it. And I have four more days. Someone hold me.

Places to Write, Part 4

At the library that's a different library from my regular library.
At the library that’s a different library from my regular library.

Where are you writing today?

Urban Fantasy Autumn Reads

I’ve almost made it through my stack of summer reading…and just in time. The new crop of autumn urban fantasy releases starts hitting shelves in about a week and boy, oh boy, are there some books I’m excited to read.

A whopping five of my favorite series have new titles coming out in the next three months. Here’s what’s in the queue:

Shifting ShadowsMercy Thompson. Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson is one of my favorite heroines. She’s a tattooed, martial artist, Volkswagen mechanic, who also happens to be a Native American coyote shapeshifter. Briggs has built a nuanced world for Mercy—an alternative American West, filled with werewolves, Fae, shamans, and witches. Regardless of any individual book’s plot, the realistic politics and complex relationships in Mercy’s life make the whole series worth reading. The upcoming installment, Shifting Shadows, is a short story collection, including four never-before-published pieces. It’ll be out September 2.

The Winter LongOctober Daye. Seanan Mcguire’s coffee-guzzling changeling, Toby Daye, straddles two worlds—a modern, fae-infused San Francisco and the classical, storybook kingdoms of Faerie. Mcguire’s characterization and world-building are impeccable. I binge-read the first seven books in this series without so much as a pause, and then promptly sought out the rest of her books, as well. The eighth Toby Daye book, The Winter Long, comes out on September 2.

The Witch With No NameThe Hollows. I almost can’t think of this release without crying. For twelve books, I’ve been following Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan on her voyage of self-discovery through a magic-broken Cincinnati. Even her sidekicks (Ivy, a sexually-charged living vampire, and Jenks, a high-strung and smartass pixie) have grown and changed over the course of the series, with story arcs almost as big and important as Rachel’s own. Harrison’s Witch With No Name, out September 9, will be the last Hollows book. It’s time to say goodbye, and I’m so not ready.

Broken SoulJane Yellowrock. Jane is a vampire-hunter working for vampires in post-Katrina New Orleans. It’s not so hard to wrap your mind around. In Jane’s world, the vampires police their own, just as humans police other humans. Of course, vampire justice is a bit more swift than its human counterpart. Jane also has an advantage when it comes to bounty-hunting. Not only does she have her own, ancient shape-changing magic, she shares her body with the soul of a real mountain lion. I love Jane Yellowrock and all her motorcycle-riding badassness. And, book after book, the master plot keeps getting more satisfying. Book number eight, Broken Soul, comes out October 7.

Black WidowElemental Assassin. Jennifer Estep actually released another Elemental Assassin book over the summer, and I neglected to mention it, because I’d only just discovered the series. My bad. Seriously, Estep’s Gin Blanco is the ultimate anti-heroine. She’s a retired assassin with elemental powers over ice and stone. The woman kicks five kinds of ass, knows what she’s good at, and is utterly unapologetic about it. And yet, there’s no question about whether to root for her, because from page one, I liked Gin. Let’s face it, my real life friends aren’t particularly nice either. I’m still not entirely caught up on the Elemental Assassin books, but you better bet I will be by the time Black Widow comes out November 25.

There’s already a nip in the morning air here in Colorado, and soon it’ll be high time to curl up with a cup of tea and get lost in a good book. What’s on your autumn list?

Five Ways to Trick Yourself Into Writing Word One

A few weeks ago, Beyond the Trope, a group of local writing podcasters asked about the hardest part of writing a novel. I didn’t even hesitate.

btt-tweet

I do have some tricks to get past that first word hurdle, though. Some days, it takes all of them to get going, but it’s worth it. The manuscript waters feel great once you get in. Here’s how to convince yourself to take the daily plunge.

  1. Learn to love the timer. Most days, the first step in my writing process is picking up my iPhone and telling Siri, “Set a timer for 25 minutes.” Siri usually responds with a list of movies vaguely related to timers, at which point I repeat the request louder and more clearly, and we’re off to the races. Telling myself I’m going to write for a specific amount of time works well to break through whatever resistance I have to getting started on my day’s work, and a lot of times I end up writing past when the timer goes off.
  2. Back up before you dive in. Whether I’m working on revisions or new material, I like to scroll back to the beginning of a scene at the start of a writing session. Inevitably, I find a few things to change, and those tweaks start the flow of words that will propel me through the rest of the day.
  3. Quit before you’re tapped out. It’s a lot easier to start on a new day’s writing if you know where you’re going. Some writers swear by stopping in the middle of a sentence, but that just frustrates me. Instead, I try to end each day at a spot with a clear view of the road ahead. It works really well to pack it in just after a question is asked. By the next morning, I can’t wait to type that answer!
  4. Two words: bribes and rewards. The first time I did Nanowrimo in 2001, The Sims had just come out for Mac and I was hopelessly addicted. Since the game required a CD to run, I had my husband hide the disc each morning before he left for work. He’d only give up the location once I made my daily word count. It worked a charm.
  5. Invite the shame. Okay, maybe not shame, but accountability for sure. I’m a big fan of Twitter for this. Even if you don’t have a regular writing partner, you can usually find a companion to cheer you on and hold you accountable there. When you tell Twitter you’re going to write, you’d better get your butt in the chair and write. I like the #1k1hr hashtag. Even if I rarely write that quickly, a thousand words in an hour is an achievable goal, and there’s a almost always a few writers there eager to sprint.

Tweet: “When you tell Twitter you’re going to write, you’d better get your butt in the chair and write.”

 

Rarely a day goes by when I don’t need to employ a cunning ruse to force myself into writing. Luckily, I have a lot of them up my sleeve. What’s your best self-motivation trick?

Five Reasons Writers Need Other Writers – a guest post by Jamie Raintree


5 Reasons Writers Need Other Writers

In just a short two and a half weeks, I’ll be heading off to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference, a regional but well-established and well-recognized conference for writers. This will be my second time going and I’m looking forward to seeing Jennifer there, for her first time in attendance as I understand it. Last year was my first time ever attending a conference and now I’m addicted. Apparently, this is a common phenomenon in the writing world.

Last year was my first time and I met some people the that I’ve talked to on a daily basis since then, some weekly. A few of us formed a critique group that has since seen two of us go from unagented to agented, one of us have two successful book launches, and one of us even hit the New York Times Bestseller list.

I was lucky enough to meet Jennifer at a local book event and I have other local writer friends, as well as an innumerable amount online.

When I finally landed my agent, I sent so much loving thanks to all of them because I truly believe I wouldn’t have gotten here without them, regardless of how much time I spent writing or the quality of my storytelling.

Writing is no longer a lonely business now that we have access to thousands of other writers online and in our local communities and I’m thankful for that. In order to be successful writer in the current publishing world, it’s imperative to connect and lean on each other. Just like any successful business, no one thrives in a vacuum.

Here are some of the reasons I’ve come to depend on the writing community, and why you should too:

  1. Emotional Support. If for no other reason, here’s why you need writers in your life: when you talk about how hard this life is, and how frustrated you are, and how you’re not sure if all this work is worth it, only other writers can say “I understand” and actually mean it. They tell you we all feel that way, that it is worth it, and to keep going. And when you finally hit that goal you’ve been working toward, they’re the first to celebrate your achievement…and they’re often the loudest.
  2. Resources. I’m not sure if I would know what a query letter even was if I didn’t have other writers to point me in the right direction. Or how to outline. Or which book to read to learn how to outline. Spending time with writers who are at your stage in the process or further along are a great resource in themselves for knowing what the next steps are, and they’re always willing to share what they’ve learned to help you get there.
  3. Feedback. Because there is no substitute for getting specific and educated feedback on your writing itself. My prose and storytelling grew by leaps and bounds once I started having other writers read my work. Reading other writers’ work is beneficial too because we often see the mistakes we make in others’ work easier than in our own.
  4. Networking. Once you get to the point that you’re ready to put yourself out there, writers have already paved the way on blogs, with agents, with publishers, and with book stores. And they’re more than happy to team up with you on promotion or refer you to right people. In an industry that can often be intimidating to get into and hard to get your name out in, writer connections make it a lot easier.
  5. Friendship. Who else in the world can sit across from you while you’re on your laptop and she’s on hers, and though you’re not talking to each other, you feel completely fulfilled in her company? A writer, that’s who. There’s this thing about writers that only other writers understand and it’s our commitment to our life’s passion. Often times, people who don’t have a passion for what they do don’t quite understand why our entire lives revolve around writing, why it’s our job and our hobby, why it’s what we do during all our “free time.” But writers do. And they even let us talk about it as much as we want.

“There’s this thing about writers that only other writers understand…”

 

 

As the conference gets ever closer, I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones. These are the people who have pulled me up and cheered me on over the past ten years, and these are the people I know I can count on for the rest of my career. What does the writing community mean to you?

 

Jamie RaintreeJamie Raintree writes Women’s Fiction about women searching for truth in life and love. She is currently working on revisions of her first novel in preparation for submission to publishers. In the meantime, she blogs about her journey toward a well-balanced life and a career in publishing–her struggles and successes along the way. She lives in Northern Colorado with her husband and two young daughters and is a Workshop Coordinator for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She is represented by Claire Anderson-Wheeler of Regal Literary. Find Jamie online at http://jamieraintree.com.