The Sickie Posts

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 06:26 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
No sooner do I get Chapter 2 moving in something that feels like it might possibly be the right direction, than I come down with the Cold From Heck. Not Hell; I've felt worse, but my nose is aspiring to emulate Victoria Falls and I'm definitely running a fever. My ambition for anything beyond lying on the couch with a paperback I've read before is decidedly curtailed. Though I did somehow manage to pick up whole wheat instead of white when I was at the store for supplies the other day, so maybe I'm sicker than I thought. ;-)

In other news, I neglected to mention here that I tried out a new writers group last week. It's through the local library, and seems to have potential; at least, it's using a methodology I prefer (distribute & mark-up in advance, free-ish discussion in person). And they're open to genre, for all that the two pieces up for critique were both lit-fic. I didn't exactly find myself among my tribe, but there were some intelligent things being said. (There was also some gender-essentialism on the topic of writing characters whose plumbing doesn't match the author's, but I decided not to die on that hill when I hadn't read the piece under discussion. And what might be an established-writer-tells-how-to-write vibe, but it was mild enough that I'm willing to see how it plays out long-term.) Anyway, I figure I'll give it a try for a few months and see how it goes.

Assuming I'm ever well enough to leave the house again. Ghah, where's the kleenex?
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I'm not doing NaNo, but I am taking November (and a bit of December) as an opportunity to write up some observations from doing it last year. Any verb-tense weirdness is due to this sitting half-written on my laptop since they were current; I did mention I write slow. This is the third and probably final installment.

NaNoWriMo is a bit of a Thing in the writing world. You do it, or you don't do it, and you proselytize the doing/not doing... or maybe you are one of the quiet voices who says that it's fine if that sort of thing works for you, but it doesn't work for everybody and could we all just stop trying to declare the One True Way for everybody to write.

NaNo last year worked for me in the sense that I got my 50,000 words (and finished the book shortly thereafter). It did not work for me in several other ways, and that's what this post is about. Fair warning: if you are sailing happily along in the "NaNo is awesome!" glow, you might not want to Read on )

I am damn proud of the book I got out of NaNo. Not just that it's done; it's also good, IMNSHO. I'm glad that I did NaNo last year, both for ...And The Kitchen Sink's existence and for the NaNo experiment itself. I may even do it again some year, if the right project comes along. But you won't catch me proselytizing NaNoWriMo, and I think NaNoWriMo could benefit from a lot less proselytizing itself.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Fortunately I've been better at doing it than I have at writing it up. ;-)

So, Saturday I went to a gathering organized by a local writing group, with possibly the only literary agent who lives in my state. (Hub of the publishing universe, we are not.) Part of the program was that folks could bring query letters and she would read and comment on them, so I figured even if she wasn't a good match for me, I might get some useful feedback. Sustained by the little bits of cheese I kept finding in random corners, I eventually made my way through the local college campus to the meeting room, where there was a turnout just exactly equal to what the room could reasonably accommodate. So far so good.

Then I sat through Remedial Queries For The Clueless. I can't blame the agent for this; most of the attendees were taking notes assiduously, and from some of the questions it seemed they really needed the primer. But -- seriously, people, fifteen minutes with Google? You're going to an event where an agent has offered to critique query letters, and it doesn't occur to you to maybe look up what a query letter is?

I practiced my nodding and smiling, and we moved on to the meat of the gathering. The queries themselves were surprisingly decent; there were a few obvious beginner mistakes, but most of them were generally on the right track. (There were about 2/3 as many queries as attendees; how this correlates with half of the audience evidently needing Remedial Queries, I have no explanation.) My own left the agent rather confused (though this may have been because it was the last one, and she was hurrying before the library shut down on us); I managed to squeeze in a quick question about it afterward, and I'm glad I did, because the sentence she pointed to as the source of her trouble was the last thing I would ever have thought to look at. (Not sure how much I want to revise based on a single data point, but at least I know.)

In fact this agent would not a good match for me, so I won't be formally querying her. (Though it was extremely kind of her to give her time & input to the local writing community like this; she gets major kudos for that.) However, I definitely think the event counts as that seven-days' querying effort.

Ah, well.

Thursday, May 16th, 2013 06:36 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I tried out another writing group Tuesday night. This one involved writing exercises & general talk about writing, as well as reading one's work if one were so inclined. Responses were limited to a general yay-I-liked-it sort of thing, no real feedback. It was definitely geared toward teenagers/beginning writers and encouragement, not critique. Very much not what I'm looking for, though I'll grant that if I'd found it ten years ago, it might have been quite the thing.

I will say, the fact that I made words left me feeling far happier that evening, even if it was only a throw-away writing exercise. I generally avoid writing exercises because the last thing I need is more ideas, but I should remember this for future.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Something that I realized from Bouchercon (which I will do the rest of the write-up on, I swear, Real Soon Now) is that "finished" has a wide range of definitions when talking about a novel. Enough times that I've lost count, someone would ask if I was a writer (this is arguably Bouchercon-code for "are you worth talking to"), and I'd mention that I'd finished my first novel, and they'd respond with something about "Oh, good; now you need to polish it / revise it / get an editor/beta/whatever."

This inevitably led to me blinking in quiet bafflement, because the conversation had just veered far enough off the track that I couldn't parse it in real-time. And as is usually the case when that happens, by the time I figured out where the point of divergence was, the conversation had moved on and the moment was lost.

You see, when I say my novel is "finished", I mean finished; not just written, but reviewed and revised and brought as fully as I'm able to the point where it's fit to be published -- or at least as close as I can get it until somebody with a contract in hand says otherwise. (Long-time readers of this journal might recall me musing about the definition of "done" when it comes to novels. There's the "done" that means you've typed THE END, with all the bits before that filled in; there's the "done" that means you've addressed all the tape-flags or whatever your method is for marking the stuff you've got to go back and fact-check or find better words for; there's the "done" that means the betas have come back with their reports on the last chapter, and you've addressed those; there's the "done" that happens after you get somebody, probably yourself but hopefully others too, to sit down and read the whole behemoth as a unit and see what still needs work; and so on, and on and on.*)

The default assumption among everyone I talked to, however, seemed to be that I was the stereotypical newbie writer who thinks the only step between typing the last word and being as rich as JK Rowling is to slide the still-warm MS under the bathroom stall door while some unsuspecting editor is trying to pee. I suppose there must be novice writers who fit that stereotype; stereotypes often are based on some grain of truth. But I don't know any of them; if anything, the novice writers I'm aware of err far, far to the other side, revising long past the point of return on investment, rewriting their opening chapters 20 times, throwing out completed manuscripts and writing them again from scratch, etc., etc. Perhaps it's simply that anyone who actually does finish a novel is assumed to be the opposite end of the spectrum, since the endlessly-revising folks rarely actually finish anything.

They thought "finished" meant "came out of the printer in one piece", and responded accordingly. I sat there bewildered as to why they were talking about something I'd plainly already said I'd done. Clearly, I'm going to have to install a conditional override for these conversations: If "finished" => "now revise", run subroutine "define finished".

*And at that, I revise less than most writers I know; even with the 15,000 extra words of "surprise revision", the first draft of the first novel is about an 80% match to the currently-final version. (Note that I can't even type "final version" seriously; I know better than to taunt the fates like that.)

lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Status: You know how I said I was coming down with something? Progressive tense no longer required. I feel like microwaved death, and am being careful not to venture beyond arm's reach of the kleenex box.

So, on Saturday I went to another writing conference, the Spring Fling Writing Thing put on by Peninsula Writers.

My god, what a waste of time. Read more... )

I suppose I can be said to have gotten my money's worth, since the conference was free. And don't get me wrong; everyone was very nice. (Arguably too much so....) But they all seemed to already know one another, and weren't looking for new acquaintances, let alone critique partners. And as an unpublished-but-serious-dammit writer, somebody who honestly wants to improve my craft, who's bothered to learn how the biz works and fully intends to see my name on a spine where the "real" books are shelved, it was clear that I was not among my peer group.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Status, as they say on Blogger: I seem to be on the edge of coming down with something. I feel just lousy enough to not be up to doing anything, but not quite lousy enough to justify curling up on the couch under a blankie and not doing anything. Very annoying; would almost rather be really sick.

So, a couple weekends ago I went to A Rally of Writers, a local writing conference. Everybody says you should go to writing conferences to further your career; this one had the merits of being practically next door, only one day long, and by conference standards, relatively cheap. So why not give it a try?

Unfortunately, the only way to find out if these things are worth going to is to go to them. So I basically figured I was shelling out $85 to find out if it was worth shelling out $85. And I did, and... it wasn't. I'm not sorry I went; it was worth the investment just for the finding out. And don't get me wrong; it was fun. The environment was very welcoming, the food was good, and I had several interesting conversations.

But, you know, I can have interesting conversations without paying $85 for the privilege. I was hoping for a bit more than that.

The keynote speaker, Loren D. Estleman, arrived a couple of hours late. Fortunately he's a better writer than he is a navigator. He's also an enjoyable speaker, with a very laid-back style such that you don't realize how much fun you're having until you notice you're smiling a lot. And the conference organizers deserve kudos for rescheduling on the fly to accommodate his delayed arrival with minimal disruption and without having to cut anything else too short.

Estleman's session on "addressing markets" was fun, if not particularly practically applicable. I also attended sessions on the "nuts and bolts" of selling your work, "voice in the personal essay" (which was more personal essay than voice, unfortunately), and "avoiding cliches", as well as the lunchtime speech on "getting published the hard way". All the presenters were entertaining to listen to; had I just been there for entertainment, I would have been quite content.

One thing the conference lacked was professional networking opportunities. There were no pitch sessions; in fact, there were no agents in attendance at all, or if there were they were keeping very low profiles. Now, I knew about the lack of pitch sessions going in; the advance info about the conference was pretty minimalist, but it did include the schedule. But the only attendees who made a profession of anything writing-related seemed to be (a) working writers, and (b) creative writing teachers.

This may to some extent be a function of the size of the conference; with about 100+ attendees expected, and only one day, it makes sense that it couldn't offer the same attractions as the big conferences like Backspace. Also, Michigan is very far from the heart of the publishing world. But it still seemed like this was an aspect of a "writers conference" that was entirely overlooked.

Another thing lacking, and this was more disappointing because the schedule hinted that it might exist, was serious professional development workshops. The nuts-and-bolts "workshop" on preparing and submitting manuscripts, queries, and etc. turned out to be simply a presentation, and that mostly on formatting rather than content. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Steven Piziks is a very popular teacher at his day job, because he managed to make an hour-long lecture about fonts and margin sizes engaging and entertaining. However, the actual information was nothing that I couldn't find in fifteen minutes with Google. (And I have. Quite some time ago.) And yet, half the audience were taking copious notes and asking questions; clearly it was news to them.

Lest it seem that I'm being too hard on newbie writers, I should mention that I'd spoken to quite a few of these folks, and none of them were newbies. In fact, almost everyone I talked to had been attending this conference for three years, five years, even ten years or more. When Piziks asked how many of the sizable audience (I'd guess about 40 people) considered themselves writers, almost every hand went up. But when he asked how many had finished something, I believe mine was one of only three hands in the air. And I think one of them may have gone down when he asked who'd submitted something for publication.

It seems to me that there is a whole subculture of people who've made "wanting to be a writer" into a social activity. And that's another post, which it seems I don't have the brain for right now.

Tomorrow, I'm off to another writing conference. This one has the merit of being free. I don't have high expectations, not least because the schedule doesn't have much that I'm jumping up and down about. But for no investment beyond a bit of driving, it seems worth a try. Maybe I'll find some fellow disillusioned cantankerous cranks lurking in the back corners. ;-)




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