I’m not usually a big celebrator of Valentine’s Day, but this week I received a few special treats that brought a big smile to my face.
On Wednesday, the elementary school where I work part time as library clerk showed their appreciation for me with breakfast from Torchy’s and a gift card from BookPeople. Books and tacos? Um, yes please! What a great way to make someone feel special! Then on Thursday, the love continued when Nerdy Book Club, one of my favorite blogs, shared my review of Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, one of my favorite books. It was an honor to guest post for them!
On Friday, my long-time Valentine celebrated a big birthday. Gink, panther extraordinaire, turned sixteen years old. We commemorated the occasion with cuddles, tuna, and looking down our noses at the other members of the household. (Gink’s a bit conceited, but I love him.)
And today, I spent the morning at a workshop offered by the Writers’ League of Texas. “Finding the Write One: Wooing a Great Critique Partner and Being One Yourself” by Nikki Loftin, author of Nightingale’s Nest and the soon-to-debut Wish Girl, was the perfect way to start off my Valentine’s Day. Not only did I learn the good, the bad, and the ugly of critique partner relationships, but I also made some great connections with other local writers.
Now I get to spend the rest of the day with my awesome husband, who listens to my stories, encourages my writing, and shares my love of books, cats, and breakfast tacos. (Breakfast tacos most of all.) It’s been a lovely week indeed. 🙂
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!
(If you have a comment about my Stargirl review, please post it on the Nerdy Book Club site.
Otherwise you can share your thoughts here.)
I’m sorry about my recent lack of posts. It’s been a big couple of weeks here in my little writing world. Grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and settle in. I’ll tell you all about it.
I was determined to finish my middle grade novel by mid-June. (That was, of course, after I had been determined to finish it by the end of May and by the beginning of May and by the end of 2013. But, you know, things happen.) I was working really hard, but at the end of each day there was always still more to do—more chapters to finish, more scenes to write, more words to put on the page.
Finally, on Thursday, June 19th (which is totally still considered mid-June, definitely, just like how at thirty-seven-and-a-half I am totally still in my mid-thirties) I had the feeling that it was THE DAY. I worked all morning at one of my favorite coffee shops (#4 actually) with my friend Lori. In the afternoon, when my brain was fuzzy, I decided to head home for a change of scenery and then I was going to FINISH MY NOVEL, all caps.
I wanted a change of scenery and I got it.
When I came home, my dog and I found a snake in our backyard. A HUGE snake. At first I freaked out, thinking it might be a rattler. I grabbed Uno by the collar and put him inside. Then, I went back out to investigate from a safe distance. (In my flip flops.)
My racing heart calmed down a bit when I determined two things: 1) This was not a rattle snake or any type of venomous snake and 2) it couldn’t bite me anyway because it currently had another snake in its mouth. (!!!) The eater (from here on referred to as Snake #1) was, we think, a coachwhip and it was about six feet long. The eatee (from here on referred to as Snake #2) was probably a checkered garter snake and may have once been up to three feet long, but I never got to see it in its entirety. The sight was so gruesome/ interesting/ horrifying/ cool/ creepy I had to get my camera. (Still in my flip flops.)
I was taking pictures of the awesomeness of nature happening in my backyard, feeling proud of myself for my bravery and my lack of fear of non-venomous snakes when Snake #3 arrived. (!!!) It was another coachwhip, also close to six feet long. This one was moving fast and had nothing in its mouth to prevent it from biting. And that’s when I flipped out and ran screaming back to the house. (Flip flops flying.)
I eventually calmed down enough to venture out again (this time in cowboy boots) but by that time, the snakes were leaving. Snake #1 and Snake #3 slithered through my back fence into the greenbelt area behind our house and curled up together. “Cuddled” is really the best word to describe it. Snake #3 protected Snake #1 while he/she digested Snake #2, and then they left. They don’t, presumably, live in my yard, but had just come here to dine.
What Does This Have to Do With Your Novel?
Right… my novel. Nothing. Snakes have nothing to do with my middle grade novel about a quirky boy who starts a game club at his school. Nothing at all. And that’s why I was unable to finish my novel on June 19th, because if I had, it would have ended with, “AND THEN THREE GIANT SNAKES CAME AND DEVOURED EVERYBODY!” and while that is indisputably a great ending for a book, it was not the right ending for my book.
On June 20th, with no snakes in sight, I finished my novel. The Legacy of Bamboo Bilski was complete.
One week after finishing my book, I attended my first big writing conference, the Writer’s League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference here in Austin. If anyone is considering attending next year, I highly recommend it. The WLT staff did an excellent job organizing the event. It was easy to navigate, even for a first time attendee, and the speeches and panel discussions and presentations were all interesting, relevant, and inspiring.
Plus, the faculty was amazing. There were agents, editors, and publishers from Folio Literary, Sterling Lord, The Gernert Company, ICM, Dystel & Goderich, Polis Books, Scholastic, Henry Holt & Company, Carol Mann Agency, Foreward Literary, and more, as well as several local authors. The conference was set up in a way so that there was plenty of time to talk to these leaders in the business both formally and socially. (My favorite part was listening to them talk about the BBQ they ate for lunch. For the first-time visitors to Texas, I think it was an eye-opener!)
During the weekend, I pitched my novel to three different agents and editors and received positive responses and good feedback. One agent (superstition keeps me from revealing who) was very excited about my idea and asked me to send her pages, which was, of course, extremely exciting. (I’ll be working on that query right after I post this!) For me, this is the beginning of another exciting step on my road to publishing—sending my work out into the world. I hope the world is kind to it.
It wasn’t just the industry professionals that I enjoyed meeting. The conference gave me a chance to get to know other writers of all genres and backgrounds and stages in the writing process. I came home with business cards from several local writers who I can’t wait to connect with again.
If you do plan on attending the WLT conference, get your tickets and consultations early because this year they sold out of everything—conference tickets, keynote tickets, 10-minute consultations—EVERYTHING. Take advantage of their early-bird offers if you can.
Finishing my novel was a huge accomplishment, and I celebrated it accordingly, with beer and horror movie sequels. (I’m saving the champagne and party for when I get it published.) But even while flinching at the scares in Insidious 2, I knew that this was really less of an ending and more like the start of the middle, because my work is far from done.
As I think about the revising that lies ahead of me, my mind keeps coming back to that image of the snake. As I dive into the inevitable cutting and chopping and rearranging of my story, I picture myself as Snake #1. Deleting text or characters will likely feel a bit like devouring one of my own. While each “bite” I take out of my novel will hopefully make it stronger, I imagine that the process will leave me feeling a bit helpless. Luckily, I’ve got good friends like Snake #3 who I know will support me along the way.
(Did I seriously just turn that creepy snake-eating-snake photo into a sweet/cheesy metaphor about writing? Why, yes I did. As Jason Pinter, founder of Polis Books, said after making a “meat cake” metaphor in his presentation about publishing, “I stand by it.”)
Historically, writing is said to be a lonely business. We’re all supposed to be depressed, nocturnal addicts angrily slaving away at our typewriters and dying early deaths. Or something like that. Except for the nocturnal part, it all sounds like a giant drag to me.
In my opinion, these days if you’re a lonely writer it’s because you’re choosing to be lonely, because the thing is, you’re not alone. At all. The reason why it’s so hard to get published is because there are SO MANY OF US out there trying to get published! Writers are not scarce. They’re not rare. They’re not exclusive. They’re not unique. Recently on a train, I asked a stranger what he did for a living. He told me he was a patent lawyer. I nodded and smiled, thinking, That sounds boring. Then he asked what I do, and I smiled even bigger and told him I was a writer. He said, “Oh yeah? I wrote a novel a few years ago. It never got published.”
WE. ARE. EVERYWHERE.
Wait! Wait. Don’t go jump off a bridge. Instead, embrace it! We are living in the age of connectivity, so connect! Find other writers and talk to them! Hang out with them! Write with them! Yes, building your own little writing community will destroy that image of yourself as a unique little writer snowflake, BUT it also makes the writing life less lonely and opens the door to all sorts of new opportunities for learning and growing in your craft.
Where to start? Well, there’s… social media, critique groups, blogs, organizations, discussion boards, meet-ups, hang-outs, play-dates, and stalking industry professionals in coffee shops. Wait, don’t do that last one.
There are so many opportunities to connect with other writers that it’s kind of overwhelming. Instead of trying to give you an overview of all the options, I’ll just tell you what my personal writing community looks like. My support groups include: two meet-ups that I attend regularly, membership in three writing organizations, participation in social media, and writer friends who I communicate with either in person or via email on a regular basis.
Know that this web didn’t happen overnight. It’s the result of two years of venturing out of my writing cave and sending threads out into the world. Just like in Tip #1, I suggest you start small and find the appropriate groups and level of participation for your current situation.
Tip #4: Go to a Festival or Conference… TWICE
I remember the first time I rode the Texas Giant roller coaster (back when it was still wooden) at Arlington’s Six Flags Over Texas when I was in middle school. The wait must have been at least forty-five minutes long, plenty of time to chew off all ten of my fingernails, consider chickening out a half a dozen times, and ask my friends just exactly how scary it was about, oh, every fifteen seconds. I remember how terrified I felt on that slow click, click, click ascent to the top of the first enormous drop. I remember worrying I might cry or pee myself or fall out and die (the last of which actually happened to a woman last July—I encourage you NOT to read the horrific details if you want to continue riding roller coasters). I remember my terror quickly transforming into terror-ific thrill as I made it down that first hill and experienced the rest of the fast falls, stomach-lurching turns, and bone-rattling excitement that the Giant had to offer. I remember exiting the car—legs shaking, stupid grin plastered to my face, friends bouncing circles around me—and doing what every middle schooler does after their first big roller coaster ride. Get back in line. The next forty-five minute wait was completely different. As my stomach both settled down and churned with anticipation, I stood proudly, knowingly, and when the youngsters behind me bit their fingernails down to nubs and asked their dad, “Does it go really fast?” I chuckled and rolled my eyes and thought, Amateurs.
Joining the writing clubs and organizations available to you is only the first step. Next you actually have to participate. Read the newsletters, go to the meetings, attend the workshops and conferences. You’re not in high school anymore. (Unless you are, in which case, go do your homework.) This isn’t like joining the Honor Society just so it will look good on your college applications. If you’re going to be a part of something, then be a part of it. Get involved. (Wow, I’m suddenly sounding a lot like the mom in my middle grade novel.)
The first time you attend a conference or festival, you get to know interesting people, learn more about the topics presented, and come home with journals full of notes, new friends, ideas, and to do lists, all of which you can’t wait to start reading, contacting, drafting, and implementing.
But, as inspiring as conferences and festivals can be, they can also be confusing, humbling experiences. You don’t know where to park. You go to the wrong room. You realize you were supposed to bring a draft to work on (which you didn’t) or you notice that yours is the only laptop in a room full of moleskin notebooks and fountain pens. You nod and smile and ask “Who?” a lot. People around you hug and inquire about each other’s lives, calling children and novels drafts by first name. They say things like, “This is a nice space,” and, “Well it couldn’t really get worse than last year!” Everyone laughs and you nod and smile.
More than once during my first festival appearance, I thought to myself, Why don’t they make this easier on new attendees? And, Yes, yes, you’re best friends, I get that, but could someone just tell me where the closest coffee pot is? And, I am NEVER going to act so cliquish at a conference, EVER!
Still, the benefits far outweighed the annoyances, so the next year, I went back.
I parked my car in the free garage, knowing that they never check stickers on Saturdays. I interrupted my advice to a newbie about how to sign up for poetry readings to squeal and hug a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. And, when someone commented that the sound system made it a little difficult to hear, I caught the eye of a festival veteran like myself and burst into laughter, thinking of the rattling air conditioner that drowned out half the speakers in the venue the previous year. Then I noticed the blank look on the newbie’s face, stopped myself, and blushed.
I didn’t mean to make anyone feel left out. My actions weren’t malicious at all. I was just comfortable, confident in my surroundings and at ease about how the event would progress. I had a good time the first year, but the next year, I was in my element. That’s how it feels when you’re in the club.
So don’t be afraid to attend festivals and events. And if things don’t flow as smoothly as you’d hoped, don’t be afraid to go back. The second time you’ll be able to anticipate all the drops and turns and sharp corners, and it will be an even more enjoyable ride.
Advice for Event Attendees:
Get as much info as you can about the location and schedule beforehand. If possible, ask someone who has attended the event what to expect.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Start by saying, “This is my first festival” or “I’m new here” and people will be nice to you.
When in Rome… follow the social parameters of the event. If several other people are taking notes on laptops, go for it! If not, don’t be the only laptop geek. Come prepared with various materials so you can adapt to any environment, regardless of internet access, wall outlets, or available seats.
Find other newbies and band together. Safety in numbers!
Advice for Event Organizers:
Provide a detailed FAQ page on your website.
On maps and schedules, avoid phrases like “same place as last year” and “the usual parking area.”
Ask someone who has never attended the event to look over the website/information and provide feedback on omissions and areas of confusion.
At the end of the event, ask for feedback from attendees about improvements that could be made for the future.
[Note: This June, I’ll be attending the Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference for the first time. If you have attended and have any advice for me, please leave a note in the comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!]