Wednesday, April 24, 2013

My First Conference Experience

This year, I've decided to try and get out of my comfort zone more often when it pertains to my writing career. The first step I took was to join Twitter. Yes, I know that sounds silly, but I've been stuck in Facebook Land for so long that I wasn't even sure how to get started. (Micro blogging? What the heck is that?) But I actually had to get on Twitter for one of my clients, and I found I really enjoy it. It's a fabulous networking tool, I get to stay on top of my love of celebrity gossip, get expert writing advice and see which agents are looking for new material. Score!

Next, I decided to attend my very first writing conference. I've been freelancing for years now and have attended a few workshops here and there, but have never braved a conference. I vowed to stick to my new resolution of advancing my career so I registered for the Write Now! Conference put on by the Triangle Area Freelancers in Raleigh, N.C. It was extremely affordable and my family and I had an excuse to take a fun weekend trip. The husband and kids dropped me off at the conference bright and early this past Saturday morning and then hit the museums. Here's what my schedule looked like:

8:00 to 9:00 a.m. - Registration and breakfast
9:00 to 9:50 a.m. - Keynote address, "Santa Claus, Small-Town Murder and $10,000 Restaurant Tab: 10 Stories that Taught Me (Almost) Everything I Know About Writing Non-Fiction," given by Zac Petit, managing editor of Writer's Digest.
10:00-10:50 a.m. - Freelance Writing for Beginners
11:00-11:50 a.m. - The Good, The Bad and the Nightmare Query
12:00-12:50 p.m. - Lunch
1:00-1:50 p.m. - Strategies for Simplifying Your Writing
2:00-2:50 p.m. - Write Like a Renegade: Breaking the Rules for Freelance Success
3:00-4:00 p.m. - Ask the Freelancers Roundtable

As you can see, it was an action-packed day. I was hesitant to attend the Freelance Writing for Beginners session, but I'm glad I did. Don Vaughan gave an excellent talk and I picked up a few ideas for developing stories. Conference attendees chose from two tracks during each hour and I opted not to attend sessions on taxes, memoir writing, copyright and legal questions and writing for religious and spiritual markets. However, each attendee received a CD with handouts from every single session, which I found to be a great bonus! My packet also included a list of tips for making the most of the conference, which I thought was a nice addition.

I also groaned when I walked into the "Strategies for Simplifying Your Writing" seminar and received a handout with grammar exercises, but as it turns out, I needed a refresher in active and static verbs, intensifiers, adverbs and the like. My writing definitely needs to be freshened up from time to time. One of the highlights of the conference was the chance to play "fan girl" and introduce myself to Linda Formichelli, co-author of The Renegade Writer. She gave a great presentation and I'm glad I got the chance to let her know how much I love her book.

All in all, I had a great time geeking out at my first conference. I passed out a few business cards, chatted with some fellow writers, picked up a horror novel from a local author, took away some valuable tips and scribbled pages and pages of article and blog post ideas throughout the course of the day. I didn't let myself drown in fear.

What have you done lately to get out of your writer comfort zone?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review: The Shy Writer: Reborn

I picked up the book The Shy Writer: Reborn because, for the most part, I consider myself an introverted writer, especially when it comes to writing fiction. I've had to take a long, hard look at my career in the past six months and I came to a realization--I could be doing so much more!

I've admired author C. Hope Clark for quite awhile. I subscribe to her weekly newsletter, FundsforWriters, and have even sold a few articles to Hope for use in the newsletter. I was curious to find out more about the self-proclaimed "introverted" writer and how she found success, all while handling the minute details of a writing career, such as pitching and querying agents, presenting at conferences and handling publicity for her mystery book series.

Here's a synopsis of the book:

As an introvert and a writer, you feel stretched to choose between the lesser of two evils – marketing to people who’ll most likely criticize you, or putting your writing on the back burner. Introverts have strengths that make them marketable, creative, and successful. Forget those people who tell you to change, to put on a different personality, to dance like a monkey before crowds. Here is the support to be a writer and remain who you care to be . . . genuine.

I've personally worked as a successful freelancer for more than 10 years, but fear has kept me from cracking many of the national markets, querying a host of agents and publishing houses with my projects and attending large-scale writing conferences. The Shy Writer: Reborn has helpful advice for  writers in all genres, whether you are a seasoned writer struggling with making personal appearances or a writer trying to pitch your first article to a magazine or newspaper. I found the chapters on "Passion and Platform," "Priorities, Preparation and Promotion," and "Blogging" especially helpful. I even finally had an epiphany about what I should use as my platform!

I've been slowly getting braver with my work (there are days when even hitting the "publish" button on this blog terrifies me!) but I know there are steps I need to take if I want to become a published author. This book helped push me to revamp my blog and website, register for my first writer's conference and make the decision to sign up for an online class/critique group so I can get feedback on my YA novel. I would highly recommend this book for any writer (not just the introverted) trying to determine what the next step in her career should be.

Thanks, Hope!

Friday, April 12, 2013

"I Never Had Any Friends Later On Like the Ones I Had When I Was Twelve . . ."

Having grown up in the 1980s, I have always loved the movie Stand By Me, and the Stephen King short story "The Body" that inspired the film. I've memorized the dialogue of the entire movie, and I never tire of watching it.

It's interesting how a film such as this one takes on more meaning the older you get. I remember being drawn to Wil Wheaton's character, "Gordie LaChance," from the very first time I saw the movie, but it is only now that I realize why I related to him.

Gordie was quiet, introverted, creative, and often teased for his daydreams and timid demeanor. In the movie, his brother Denny served as a buffer between Gordie and his overbearing and ambivalent father, but all that changed after Denny's death. I never had any siblings growing up, but often felt as if I had to stay in the background because I didn't have anyone my age I could relate my ideas and feelings to. Chris Chambers, played by the late River Phoenix, came from the wrong side of the tracks and carried the weight of his family's bad reputation on his shoulders. He had always been told he would never amount to much, and he believed it. I too, struggled with feelings of low self-worth all throughout my childhood, and still do from time to time.

An older Gordie, played by Richard Dreyfuss, actually narrates "Stand By Me," telling of the adventure the boys had when they went off in search of a young boy's dead body in the woods. I think that's one of the aspects of the movie that strikes me now, as I am working as a professional writer and am finally starting to consider opening up and telling some of stories from my own past.  I'm sure most of us have experienced the ebb and flow of various friendships, just like the four characters in the story did.

I find it haunting that as the film ends, and the older Gordie describes how he read about the death of Chris Chambers, the image of a young River Phoenix walking down the road fades. As we all know, River Phoenix passed away at the young age of 23.

We all have our own "coming of age" stories to tell, and this is the one I relate to most for some reason. There have been friends in my life that may not still be around, or that I don't talk to as often as I'd like, but they made a lasting impression on me during the time we spent together.

What part of "Stand By Me" resonates with you the most?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Writing Prompt: What is Your Most Memorable Road Trip?

Driving home from the beach the Sunday after spring break probably wasn't the smartest plan, considering the rest of the free world had the same idea. Luckily, I wasn't driving, but while sitting in gridlocked traffic on the highway yesterday afternoon I started thinking about road trips. They are a rite of passage. Most of us have some sort of memories tied up with a road trip (or two, or three, or four!) They also make great topics for books, short stories, essays, etc. There is a Tori Amos song called "A Sorta Fairytale," and for some reason it always makes me think of this one road trip in particular.

And I'm so sad
Like a good book I can't put this day back
A sorta fairytale with you . . .

It was my senior year of college, and a friend of mine who was a year younger invited me to spend the weekend at the beach at his fraternity's spring formal. At first I resisted. I myself wasn't involved in a sorority, and as an introvert at heart, the idea of spending a weekend with a bunch of people I didn't know (even if it was to take place in a large house right on the beach) struck me as a nightmare waiting to happen. But he insisted, and my last year of college had been pretty stressful, so I finally gave in. We went on a few dates before the formal, I bought a dress, some shoes, packed my bag, and hoped for the best. We drove to Charleston, S.C. with another couple and had an uneventful trip. The first night there the four of us played a fun game of mini-golf where, lo and behold, I emerged as the winner. I decided maybe the trip wouldn't be so bad after all, even if my shyness was still preventing me from feeling truly comfortable. It didn't help that at age 21, I was one of the oldest girls at the event.

The next day was low key, and we all went to dinner at a restaurant in downtown Charleston. My date, who was and still is a very extroverted guy, spent a lot of time socializing, dancing, and hanging out with his friends, which I expected. I passed the time hanging out with another couple, who sort of took me under their wing for the weekend. Unfortunately, by the time we got back to the house that evening, where the party continued well into the night, my date had decided to make advances on another girl at the party, so needless to say, I didn't see him the rest of the night. 

Finally, around 1 a.m.,  I managed to find a room to sleep in where a few other people had crashed. The next day, I didn't really see my date until it was time to drive home. I was pretty hurt by his actions and the car ride all the way back to the college was pretty awkward, since we were both sharing the backseat. I spent most of my time alternating between staring out the window and pretending to be asleep, and he pretty much did the same. 

That trip, which had started out with so much promise, proved to be the end of our ill-fated relationship. Years later, he actually apologized for the way he treated me at the time, and we are now friends. But that trip made a lasting impression on me for some reason, and I always think of it when I hear "A Sorta Fairytale."

So here's a writing prompt for you. What is the best or worst road trip you've ever taken? What made it so memorable? 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

You Can Turn Vacations into Assignments

The marina at Harbour Town at Hilton Head Island

I'm going to start this post off by saying that it has been WAY too long since I've had a vacation. One of the drawbacks of self employment is that the line between your personal life and work life often gets blurred. I'm not complaining, really. I love my life and am very happy to have a flexible schedule. But when you go six months without going any further than a short drive to visit relatives for a holiday meal, one can start to lose her mind.

So I am happy to report that later this week, I will be visiting a coastal town in Georgia that I've never been to before. I can taste the fruity drink with a tropical umbrella already! The rich history of Savannah also awaits. But that being said, because of my profession, I always try to take advantage of any fun trips we take because I can possibly cash in on them in the future. I hold on to all my receipts for the museums we visit and restaurants we eat it and always make sure to take my camera. I typically focus on looking at the "family-friendly" angle of a travel destination, and some examples of ways I've turned vacations into assignments are as follows:

So the next time you take a trip, even if it is just a visit to an aquarium with your children or a fun girls' getaway, take your camera and your notepad. I guarantee you'll be inspired by something, and might even be able to sell an assignment later that will pay for your entire trip!