Guest Blog: Nisi Shawl on Where Writers Live

The amazing Nisi Shawl wraps up my guest blog extravaganza with this entry. Her post here deals with how writers can find the perfect personal setting for living their creative lives.  Nisi’s story “Promised” will be appearing in Steampunk World

 

Location, Location, Location.

Where’s the best place for a writer like you to live?

An April 2014 list I spotted online says St. Louis.  Because of favorable experiences with the nearby Hedgebrook retreat and the Clarion West Writers Workshop, I picked Seattle, which squeaks into that post’s top ten at number nine.

When I moved to Seattle from Michigan, a local author offered his advice on where to live.  But his list of “fixer-uppers” wasn’t what I wanted.  In this man’s mind affordability trumped every other consideration, but I told him I’d rather spend my valuable time writing than sanding floors and painting drywall.

Different authors write different stories, and we want and need different living situations, too.  But we do have common points to consider when deciding where we want to be when hearing our Muses’ calls.  Below are some very specific questions to ask yourself; they’ll help you figure out if a particular place is what and where you’re looking for.

*How close will your family be to your new home?*  Too close?  Too far?  A day’s drive away?  A direct flight?  The ideal answers will likely change during your span of days; when I moved to the Northwest one of its pluses, in my view, was the way it put a couple thousand miles between me and all my relatives.  Now I’m in my tenth year of campaigning hard for my mother to come here and share my household.  And I was overjoyed when, before she died last year, my sister told me she planned to move here because of Washington’s liberal pot laws.  Which brings me to the political and other social aspects of the setting you’re pondering.

*What sort of community will you be joining?*  Do you have any idea who else lives where you’re considering going?  Other artists?  What sort of artists–performers?  Professionals?  Will you be setting up housekeeping in the midst of potential audience members and supporters?  And are you opting for a monoculture or for heterogeneity?  Will you share your new neighbors’ racial backgrounds, their sexual preferences?  Will those around you have similar physical, mental, and emotional abilities?  Will they be members of the same age group?  Or will you be the lone 50-something white cis man–and is that how you like things?

*How much is living there going to cost you?*  Though low rent was not my biggest concern when choosing where I’d wind up, I did have a budget.  You should, too.  Also, when adding up the price of living somewhere, factor in not just whatever rent’s being advertised or however much of a mortgage payment the bank demands, but other expenditures as well: taxes, maintenance fees, charges for utilities and parking spaces, and other ponderables.

*What’s great about the place?*  Typically called “amenities,” the features of a given neighborhood deemed nonessential-yet-nice will need to be weighed with your personal preferences in mind.  Is it possible to walk to a bakery or bookstore or coffee shop?  How far will you need to go to get groceries?  Is public transit available, and is it convenient and affordable?  Are there clinics nearby that will provide the medical services you’ll need?  A hospital?  Schools for you and/or your children?  What’s the area’s internet connection like?

Most of the so-called amenities mentioned above would count as essentials in my opinion.  There are other elements such as scenery and nightlife which seem much less crucial to me.  _Those_ are what I would call amenities.  YMMV, of course, as it will for most of these questions.  The same goes for the answer to my penultimate one.

*What’s the climate like?*  Seattle’s famously rainy.  I don’t mind.  Maybe you would, though.  I _do_ mind the Northwest’s shortened winter days, with sunsets around 3:30 in the afternoon, so I have technological fixes I apply.  And I also mind the way the region’s damp weather has made it impossible for some of my writing friends to stay here.  Cynthia Ward, co-author of _Writing the Other: A Practical Approach_, has seen a huge improvement in her arthritis since moving to the sunny Southwest.  The great and brave Joanna Russ, who began teaching writing at the University of Washington in 1977, lived out her final years in Tucson, Arizona, to the dismay of her former neighbors but the relief of her chronic health conditions.  Find out what you can ahead of time about what sort of weather patterns to expect in a given place, but know that direct experience will tell you more than the wisest informant about which conditions you can and can’t assimilate to.

Finally, ask yourself about a variable that “10 Best Cities” post saw as the most important: *How are you going to earn a living there?*  The list I’m referring to gave higher rankings to places where there were jobs to be had writing stuff.  Writers don’t always want or need a day job doing the same thing they do when pursuing their true careers, though.  Octavia E. Butler, for instance, went for manual labor that left her mind free for plotting and planning and thinking through the situations into which she would thrust her characters when she got home.  On the other hand, Ted Chiang is a tech writer for Microsoft.

When I moved to Seattle I did so as a transfer from one branch of a now-extinct retail chain to another.  Being employed certainly made it easier for me to find an apartment.  If you have a marketable skill, take time before you pull up stakes to learn the market for it in your potential new location.

There are many, many online rankings of possible homes for writers.  They collate figures and compare categories that their compilers sincerely believe matter.  In the end, though, it’s up to you what to ask, and what to do with the answers you find.

**

Nisi Shawl, a 2009 James Tiptree, Jr. Award-winner, contributed “Promised,” an excerpt from her forthcoming Belgian Congo steampunk novel, to Steampunk World. It’s the first time we’ve seen a steampunk story in that setting. She’s also active on Facebook, and tweets as @NisiShawl.

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Guest Blog: Graham Storrs on The Joys of Prompt Writing

Today’s guest post is from Graham Storrs, a writer from Down Under whose story “After the Party” appeared in my editorial debut, Sidekicks! Graham’s post is about prompt writing and how it has shaped his career. 

The very first time I attended a tutorial on writing, the tutor opened a newspaper and said, “This is what I use for writing prompts.” It seems he scans the headlines until one catches his fancy. It could be anything. In today’s news, for instance, I see, “Doctor’s Reject Work Contracts,” a story about 3,000 public sector doctors being forced by the State government onto very disadvantageous employment contracts. Having picked your story, the writer went on, you turn it into a “What if..?” question. “What if all those doctors decided to up stakes and leave the State?” Finally, you look at how your hypothetical would affect an individual, one of the doctors, perhaps, or a member of their family, the nurse who’s in love with her, a patient, a member of the patient’s family, and so on. I’ve never used this formula, but it’s easy to see how it could work. He claims to have based several best-selling novels on the technique.

At the time of the tutorial, I had never come across the notion of writing prompts – phrases, ideas, pictures, or whatever, intended to stimulate the imagination and kickstart the process of story creation. Yet, I realised, my very first book had been written as a result of one of them. I was a child of ten or eleven years and a creative writing exercise in a school textbook asked us to take a paragraph presented there and to continue the story, which I did, spinning it out across several notebooks into a fast-paced adventure story involving a couple of kids my age who had found an alien creature and were trying to keep it safe from the authorities – and that was a long time before E.T., I’m pleased to say.

For many writers, having ideas is not the hard part. The difficulty lies in evaluating the ideas and selecting the one that can be developed into a short story or even a novel. Yet, for many, the creative muscle needs a poke with a stick to get it twitching. Loads of websites exist to stimulate writers in this way, offering daily writing prompts or collections of writing prompts. Take a trawl through Writing Prompts, Daily Writing Prompts, Writer’s Digest’s Creative Writing Prompts, and a hundred others like them to see what’s on offer. But don’t do it just yet. I know how stimulating these things can be and I’d rather you finished reading this before you’re driven to your laptop in a frenzy of inspiration.

One of the most effective sources of writing prompts I’ve ever come across is the call for submissions to a themed anthology. The beauty of such a prompt is that, if it does inspire you, there is a market for your story, ready and waiting. Some I’ve written for in the past few years include Sidekicks! (the theme being the perspective of the great hero’s sidekick), In Situ (archeological finds), From Stage Door Shadows (the lyrics of the Elton John song, Tiny Dancer) and Masques (masks and masques). The same goes for themed writing competitions and themed magazine issues – which have also paid off in prizes and publications.

But inspiration may strike at any time from any direction. I’ve written two fat space operas based on a glimpse of a young starlet in a TV ad, and two sci-fi thrillers based on a drawing of a robot I saw on DeviantArt. I suppose the take-home message from those two examples is that, when you’re in a receptive frame of mind, just about anything and everything becomes a writing prompt.

OK. You can go and look at all those great sites now. But, before you go, why not leave a comment to share your favourite source of writing prompts?

**

Graham Storrs has released three novels since Sidekicks! came out. Two of these, Timesplash and True Path, are set in the same world as “After the Party” and were published by Pan Macmillan/Momentum. The third is a near-future thriller about the perils of augmented reality called Heaven is a Place on Earth.

Guest Blog: LaShawn M. Wanak on Making Time to Write (When You’re Out of Time)

LaShawn M. Wanak is another writer whose work I have not yet had the pleasure of publishing. I’ve long admired her work, however, and I’m very excited to have her here for the Guest Blog series to talk about time management for writers. 

Ten years ago, I made the decision to become a professional writer. Not that I wasn’t a writer before; when I was in college, I did a lot of fanfic writing, and I was working on my first novel (of course, I’m still working on that first novel, but that’s besides the point). The reason I did this was because, being a stay at home mom, I needed something to fill up the time besides endless episodes of Teletubbies and Little Einstein (which I was disturbingly hooked onto). So I wrote, and submitted, and got published.

Later, when my son was older, I did work part-time. It was perfect. I’d work four hours, pick up my son from school, write while he did his homework, cooked dinner, then write in the evenings. Then my inlaws moved into our house, and things got even better: my mother-in law did the cooking on weekdays, which meant I could spend even more time writing. It was awesome. For three and a half years, I had what I’d considered the perfect creative schedule.

Naturally, of course it didn’t last.

Now, I’ve gone back to being employed full-time, which I haven’t been in ten years. A couple of weeks ago, my inlaws moved out after living with us for three and a half years. That’s a lot of change in a short time. It’s a drastic change.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not griping. These were necessary, positive changes. How many times I’ve griped about my inlaws bickering and just wishing I had a quiet house for once? Or being frustrated at all the work I had to do but not being able to finish it because I was part-time? All the changes that happened this year are good, and I don’t want to give them up.

But still, change is change. And having the normal routine being shaken up is hard. I have become spoiled from having so much time in my life. Time to run errands, time to take care of my son…and time to write. Now, I have less time to do things, and I have to figure out how to balance writing, which is the soul of my life, into it.

There was a period of time when I stopped writing. It was right after I graduated from college, got married, and started working at a new job. Remember the fanfic writing I mentioned at the beginning of this post? That stopped. And so did work on my novel. I wanted to write, needed to write. But life had become so crazy busy that by the time I came home from work, I was so exhausted, I had no headspace left to even contemplate working on fanfic, let alone write.

One day, on my way to work, I checked my watch. It was one of those watches that had a tiny window that showed a sun during the day,  a moon at night. With my watch, the mechanism had jammed, so the sun and the moon were both stuck in the window, perpetually stuck between dawn…or dusk, if you prefer.

And the most depressing thought popped into my head:  there’s a story in that. I don’t know what, but I want to make up a story about that. But when? I have so much to do…I don’t have time. And what would I write anyway? I can’t think of anything now. All sorts of ideas would come into my head. But now, I got nothing.

I went to work. I didn’t write anything down. And I felt miserable. I didn’t have writer’s block. It was more writer’s constipation.

Now that I’m writing and publishing my work, I never want to experience that again. So I do what it takes to keep it going.

On Monday night, I finally bit the bullet and set my alarm for 5:30am to get up and write. I’m a night person, so I didn’t think it would be possible, but I was already so tired from running around and catching up on things, I was glad to crash.

Tuesday moring, at 5:30am, I woke up. The house was dark. Very quiet. I wandered the rooms with a cup of hot tea, wondering if I could do this, if I could really do this.

Then I opened my laptop and wrote.

Writing’s a crack habit. I suffer from withdrawal symptoms when I don’t do it. It’s the best bad habit one could have. I love writing because it takes me places I’ve never been before, whether if I’m doing it for an audience of one (me), or hundreds of people I will never see. And writing changes you, makes you into something you’d never thought possible.

As I am writing this, I am watching the world gradually brighten into being through my window. Outside the sun is rising, though in the west, the moon is still there, shining bright. Outside, it looks like dawn.  It also looks like dusk.

There’s a story in that somewhere. Think it’s time to write it.

***

LaShawn M. Wanak is a graduate of Viable Paradise XV and has been published in Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction,  and Ideomancer. Writing stories keeps her sane. Well, that and pie. Find links to her stories at her blog, The Café in the Woods.

Guest Blog: Addie J. King on Conference Etiquette

I have not yet had the pleasure of publishing a story by today’s guest blogger, but I have had the pleasure of sharing a table with the delightful Addie J. King at conventions. She’s the best table-mate a writer could wish for, a cheerful and easygoing person who makes the three-day grind of table-sitting into something enjoyable. She’s also the perfect person to talk about convention etiquette, something she has mastered. 

The Golden (Conference) Rule(s)

Or not so much golden. Maybe silver. Or Bronze.

Anyway, I’ve written on my blog about conferences before. I’ve written about going to a conference on a budget. (CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE). I’ve written about finding conferences (CLICK HERE). I’ve written about preparing for conferences. (CLICK HERE). I’ve written about attending them (CLICK HERE), and I’ve written about what to do after you’ve been to one. (CLICK HERE).

I’ve been going to conferences for seven years, both as an aspiring writer and avid reader (i.e., to learn and to network), and now as a professional (in the sense that I get paid for my writing, and I’m going to network and promote my own works).

There are some rules…or maybe I should say, practical pieces of advice, which I can give to people heading to a writers conference for the first time. These are also good reminders for non-newbie conference attendees.

1) Be yourself. Unless you are a sucky, boring, mean, obnoxious person. Then be nice, interesting, and pleasant.

Don’t be a creeper. Period.

It’s one thing to go fan-girl, or fan-boy, on your favorite author. They do like to see it from time to time. It’s kinda cool to have someone come up and gush about one’s work.

Remember, though, that they aren’t there to be gushed over for the whole weekend by one fan. They want to talk to lots of cool people. They want to meet you. They want to know what you liked about their stuff. But they also want to know that from the three hundred people in line behind you. Or the three people in line behind you. They’re also there to talk to agents and editors and publishers and other authors. They’re there to do business.

Some of the coolest things I’ve gotten to do have been because I was in the right place at the right time with the right people, and I got to do more because I didn’t completely wig out, interrupt, and basically ruin everyone else’s day. I’ve been in a conversation with an agent at a conference about marketing and promotion, and she introduced me to one of her clients, a writer whose work I’m a fan of. I’ve gotten to do a reading and appear on panels with one of my absolute favorite authors, and the conversations themselves were memorable, rather than just OHMYGODFANGIRLSQUEEENSUES (That happened later. My husband is still laughing at that one). I’ve gotten to have long chats with agents and authors and editors and publishers because not only did I keep a lid on my excitement and be a pleasant person, but I’ve made friends all over the place…and some of THOSE friends have actually pitched my own work to professionals FOR ME. I’ve gotten leads on conferences from friends I’ve met, invitations to submit to anthologies…and the invitation to write for this blog…from people I’ve met and made friends with at conferences.

That’s not a guarantee that being the good guy will get you hearts and flowers and publishing contracts. It will, however, help you build a GOOD reputation. And a reputation for being a normal person, with a sense for business, does more to help you than being a jerk. Don’t be a jerk.

2) No Business in the Bathrooms.

There’s an urban legend out there about some neophyte writer following an editor or an agent into the bathroom conference and slipping their manuscript under the stall door.

Only it’s not an urban legend. I’ve actually talked to publishing professionals, and more than one, who’ve had it happen.

DO. NOT. EVER. DO. THIS. For any reason. Ever. NOT COOL.

Don’t pitch your work in the bathroom, either. There is absolutely no business so important that it can’t wait, not only until after the flush, but until after they’ve washed their hands and walked out of the bathroom. Do you really want them to mentally link you and your work to whatever they were just doing in that stall? I don’t.

3) Don’t Get Drunk.

Most people gravitate towards the hotel bar at a conference. Nothing wrong with having a drink or two, relaxing, meeting up with friends you only see a couple of times a year, and talking life, writing, the business, politics, pets, and whatever else blows your skirt up.

Agents, publishers, editors, and other publishing professionals do the same thing at conferences.

Have a drink. Know your limit. Stay well below your limit.Puking on your dream editor or agent, or favorite author is not how you want to be remembered. Ditto with slipping them your room key, or dancing topless on their table. Can’t have a drink without doing this? Don’t drink. This isn’t about singling out alcoholics. I have a writer friend who does not drink, ever. She’s not an alcoholic, just doesn’t like it. It’s not a big deal. She and I will network at a conference together and separately, and while I might have a glass of wine in my hand, she probably has a Diet Coke. No one cares. Don’t drink to impress someone, but also know that if you want to have a bit, it’s okay as long as you remember that you’re there to be a professional…even if you haven’t signed a contract yet.

And if your dream agent or editor or your favorite author is sitting there, sipping a glass of wine, it is okay to go up, introduce yourself, and ask if you can join them. It’s okay to ask if you can pick their brain if you buy the next round, but then keep it to learning about the business. Don’t bring up your own work unless they ask. If you’re smart, articulate, and pleasant to talk to, there’s a high chance that they’re going to think you’d be good to work with, and they’ll ask for a pitch or some pages on their own.

They’re trying to unwind, too. Ask them about something about the conference. Ask them about their favorite conference to go to. Ask them about the current state of the industry. Ask about promotional strategies, marketing, etc. Engage them, and learn from them. DON’T INTERRUPT an already going conversation.

4) Know when to walk away.

You’ve had a good conversation with a publishing professional, but they didn’t ask for pages, or a pitch. They might have asked for it, and then told you it wasn’t for them.

THAT’S OKAY. You know why? It’s practice for the next time you meet someone else. You might have made a good impression on them that they’ll pass on down the road. The five bucks you paid for their beer? It’s an investment in networking, and establishing a reputation for yourself as a professional. If you’re lucky, they’ve told you why it doesn’t work for them, or given you some advice, which is priceless.

There’s an editor out there who has never read my writing, and yet she’s approached me and asked if I had ANYTHING in the genre that she edits. You know why? She says she wants to work with me. Because we’ve been at the same conference multiple times, and we’ve talked business, conferences, anthologies, editing, submissions, etc., ad nauseum.

The sad part is that I don’t have anything in her genre at the moment. She told me specifically what she wants, and right now it’s not anything that’s on my plate, because I have contracts and deadlines for other things. That said, I have a project simmering in the back of my brain that I think she might be interested in. I haven’t seen her for a couple of years, but the minute I have the chance to get that project whipped into shape, she’s the first one on my list to send it to. I’d love to work with her. Both of us know ahead of time that we’d be a good fit…if we had the right project.

THAT CAN HELP YOU DOWN THE ROAD AS WELL. A no today might not be a no tomorrow ON A DIFFERENT PROJECT, and you want to be professional and courteous and business-like enough to leave a good impression.

And yet, I had to walk away from that conversation, because I wasn’t going to get a yes from it. I might someday turn it into a yes, but it wasn’t going to happen that day.

 

Publishing is a fairly small world. Word gets out pretty quickly about who is hard to work with, and who gets along with whom. I met the head of my current publishing house two years before she offered me contracts for four books. We had breakfast together, and talked about publishing and small presses. When I asked her later, she remembered the conversation and the conference, and she’s been awesome to work with. In fact, my impressions of her from the breakfast convinced me to submit to her (admittedly new at the time) publishing house.

Basically it boils down to being polite, being professional, and not being a jerk. If you are someone who doesn’t do well at networking, work on it. Go to events in your hometown and see how many people you can meet. Go to a wine tasting. Go to a book signing. Go to a local fundraiser (pick something that you actually care about), and get involved. Introduce yourself as a writer. And see if people ask about what you write. Learn how to meet people and make a good impression without being pushy. 

Guest Blog: S.J. Chambers on The Writer’s Impulse

I met the fabulous S.J. Chambers at WorldCon in 2012. Her fabulously strange story “The Şehrazatın Diyoraması Tour”  appears in Steampunk World.

Originally, this post was going to be an appreciation of the underrated film The Rum Diary, but, nigh on my deadline to Sarah, I’ve changed my mind on doing that because I’ve come to realize that what I wanted to discuss isn’t something I learned solely from the film, but something I have been learning on my own over the past ten years as a writer. You hear from most scribe-sages that you’ve got to find your voice or style, but I have personally never heard much about gaining experience.  If you have found your preferred syntax and have a grab bag of your favorite mellifluous words, great, but if you don’t have anything to write about, then basically you are playing scrabble. You also have to find your impulse, a word I’ve started using to describe the drive that makes a writer not just a skilled word-slinger but a poet in the mystical sense of the term.

Everyone’s impulse is unique and is hard-earned from experience and experience alone. Impulse takes time and can be elusive, and for those who are eager to write but have yet to find what to write about, this journey can become one full of fear, disillusionment, discouragement, and writer’s block, if not complete abandonment of one’s talent and dreams. Gaining experience doesn’t sound like a difficult thing to do, but I have seen too many people miss the rare occurrence of a double rainbow in the sky or dolphins hunting a beach shore because they are staring at their phone worrying over keeping up with the Facebook Joneses. Even among the older unplugged folk, I know people in my Florida hometown who have never seen the ocean, although the Gulf is only forty minutes away west, and the Atlantic just a few hours more east. So, I don’t think being open to or even appreciating opportunity and experience is natural to everyone.

It wasn’t for me, anyway. The first time I left the South was when I got a museum scholarship to New York City. I was 22 years old and had never traveled anywhere alone, much less been to a metropolis. There was immense culture shock, a lot of money spent, some friendships severed, and slight trauma induced, but after all that, I came back with unknown sights seen, conversations with diverse strangers spoken, thoughts never thought, and an all-around broaden horizon that made me begin to understand more of myself and glean more meaning from the art and literature I assiduously studied.  Most of all, I realized the power of a posteriori over a priori learning and wanted more.

So let’s go back to The Rum Diary. The Johnny Depp film is an adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel of the same name, and is something of a Hemingway-esque roman à clef of the Doctor’s time as a news reporter in San Juan during the 1960s. The main character, Paul Kemp, is a failed novelist who flees the states for a clean slate. In the middle of the film, after all of his prospects (including journalism) seem to have hit nothing but brick walls, he laments while reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner that Coleridge “…wrote this when he was 25. I’ve been dragging a typewriter around for 10, and I’ve written nothing.…I have no voice, I don’t know how to write like me.” He had the drive, but not the material until he meets several personalities who cast and reel in his life through a series of larks. In the end, he discovers that he has an extreme dislike for lying, corrupt, greedy people, and stumbles upon the impulse that opens the flood-gates to his writing.

When I saw The Rum Diary in 2011, Kemp’s melancholy admiration of Coleridge resonated with my own. At the time, I kind of felt like I had wasted my time after eight years of trying my hand at various modes of writing—from British jewelry copywriting to newspaper journalism to criticism to co-authoring a critically-acclaimed coffeetable book. I was dowsing in all directions and not digging any of it. I began to doubt I had didily to say. But when I saw The Rum Diary, I realized I was a late bloomer like Kemp, and  all of that dowsing was leading somewhere. I was gaining experience, and that experience was being (albeit slowly) digested and gestated into my impulse.

I haven’t written as much, or met certain benchmarks as I had hoped I would in ten years, but I have been traveling  and leaving the hotel, working odd jobs, and meeting and learning as much about people and their yearning and existential exigencies as possible. Publishing has become fast-paced, and feeling like a “slow writer” has given me a lot more anxiety about the whole thing than was really warranted. This is why I wanted to share this with people because I know how daunting it can seem when people are creating two or three finished products to your one, and how easy it can be to feel like you have to do more at the sacrifice of going out with friends, hopping in a car to go explore some hillbilly-guided caverns, or help out a sick family member, even though doing those things may do more for your writing in the end than sulking behind a computer screen. It is okay to mess around a little, and to live life and go out into the world. I have always believed that the whole point to writing is about living, and to do that you have to leave the hotel and send back postcards about what you have seen.

Many thanks to Sarah Hans for letting me send one to her and her readers today.

***

S. J. Chambers writes in Florida. Her fiction has appeared in anthologies like the Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities (Harper Voyager), Zombies: Shambling Through The Ages (Prime Books), The New Gothic with Jesse Bullington (Stone Skin Press), and in the forthcoming tomes: Steampunk World (Alliteration Ink), and Starry Wisdom Library (PS Publishing). Her lit fic series, Vintage Scenes, which are stories based on specific wines, will be running all year at Mungbeing.com. Also a non-fiction scribe, her essays have appeared at Tor.com, Strange Horizons, and Bookslut, and is co-author of the Hugo and World Fantasy nominated The Steampunk Bible. You can find her online at www.selenachambers.com.

Guest Blog: Bill Bodden on Networking for Writers

Bill Bodden brings us the second post in the guest blogging series, on the topic of networking. Bill is a great writer and a really splendid guy whose story “In The Shadow of His Glory” is the dark heart of my first anthology, Sidekicks! 

It would be no exaggeration to say that 90% of the writing work I’ve had in the last five years has come through networking. To paraphrase the old saw, (in my case, at least) it really is all about who you know. I’m writing this from a writer’s perspective; pretty much everything applies, with only slight variations, to illustrators, editors, graphic design/layout professionals, the whole gamut of folks involved with publishing books.

As a freelance writer, I scour the web for open calls for fiction, but in truth, I somehow miss most of the ones I would be interested in. As a no-name writer, I very rarely get invitations to submit stories to anthologies. Besides the depressing work of sending out stories and waiting for the rejection letters, I’ve found that I can keep my writing skills sharper if I continue to work as a freelancer.

I’ve recently finished work on a couple of different table-top RPG projects, one of which I was recommended for by a friend. After I completed my assignment, I was given more work by that firm, so I must have done an okay job. I know the developer of the second project personally, and he very graciously farmed some of the writing work for this book out to me.

So how does one get to know people in positions like that? Buy them a drink at a convention. Chat with them; strike up a conversation about puppies or the stock market on aluminum siding – whatever. If they’re gamers, play games with them. Find something you’re both interested in and talk about it for a LITTLE while.

Remember your manners.

Also, remember that this isn’t all about you. Ask them questions about stuff they’ve mentioned; ask what they like to read. You know, carry on a conversation. If it comes up, mention some writing work you’ve done that’s appropriate, but absolutely don’t lead with that information; it sets an impossible standard for the rest of the conversation. If someone else introduces you and THEY lead with “This is Bob Schmalkald; he had a story in the anthology What the Hell Is This? by Editor X,” then go with that, but be prepared to move immediately on to talking about something else.

Then leave. Don’t follow them around from panel to panel; don’t barge in on their dinner party and expect to be invited along as they’re leaving for the restaurant. In short, try — try really hard — to NOT act like a stalker. Being memorable is good, but being memorable for not being a creepy, clingy jerk is much, much better. If you run into them later, great. Chat a bit more maybe, then go chat with someone else. Don’t monopolize their time, and know when to back off. If they happen to invite you along, great; they like you.

Remember your manners.

After the convention is over, friend them on Facebook OR Twitter OR Goodreads. Don’t friend them on all three on the same day – remember that warning about not acting like a stalker? Yeah. After a week or two has passed it’s probably okay to friend them elsewhere, particularly if you’ve been interacting.

Eventually, you’ll be networking without even realizing it, swapping business cards with editors, publishers, and other writers. This is good. It gets your name out there so people will remember you, and think of you when they have a project and need some help writing it. People will actually check out your work, and talk about it with each other. That part is the icing on the cake.

Perhaps the most important thing about networking is this: Deliver what is asked. There is nothing — and I mean NOTHING — that will get your name spread around faster than being on-time and on word-count for a project. If you sign a contract stating that you’ll have 50,000 words typed, double-spaced on 60-lb. linen paper by tomorrow, you’d better do exactly that. Read your contract and know what it means before you sign it.

And remember your manners.

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Bill Bodden has been a freelance writer since 2002. Most recently he has had a story included in Sarah Hans’ anthology Sidekicks! from Alliteration Ink, and upcoming credits in the Achtung! Cthulhu Keeper’s Guide plus several as yet untitled projects. You can check out his work and his weekly blog at http://billbodden.com/

Guest Blog: Alana Lorens on The Importance of Critique Groups

For the next few months, I’m not going to have time to update my blog regularly. Rather than let it go fallow, I thought I’d hand it over to my friends and fellow writers so they could talk about…well, whatever they want that’s related to writing. To kick us off, here’s Alana Lorens. Alana is an accomplished author whose deliciously sinister story “A Recipe for Success” appeared in my editorial debut, Sidekicks! Today she wants to expound on the benefits of a good critique group. Take it away, Alana!

As a writer friend of mine scolded, “It may be fun to chunk out novel after novel, but until you put in the work to edit, they will never go anywhere.”

For me, it is in fact, fun to chunk out novels. I enjoy the process. I’ve won NaNoWriMo twice, creating a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. Over the years, I’ve written maybe twenty novel manuscripts. I had to wait till I was past 50 before I saw any published, though I have been blessed enough to see many of them come to the light—in fact, I received five contracts in 2010, three for fantasy novels, one for a romance and the last for women’s fiction; in 2011, two romance novels, a space opera and a fantasy, as well as a paranormal mystery; last year, a YA post-apocalyptic series, a romance novella, a space opera, and a romantic suspense, as well as a spooky short story for an anthology, and set so far for 2014, another space opera, vol. 2 in the YA series and a straight suspense. What has made the real difference for me is my critique group.

My personal editing process is stimulated, challenged and greatly aided by a talented critique group I met through Pennwriters. I can’t stress enough the value of a good critique group for any writer. While your mother/partner/daughter may rave about the wonders of your manuscript, if you’re serious about editing for the reading public, you need critical eyes of a variety of sorts. Our group, which meets every Thursday, is a veritable mashup of varied bodies of knowledge; a retired police officer, a therapist,  a lawyer, an artist, a technical copy writer, a barista, some students, some working, some retired–all gifted. Many are published in short form, in newsletters, newspapers, or short story. The group boasts three published novelists, though others are coming up close behind.

This brings me to my first point: find a critique group at the level you need. If you’re just starting out, you’re still learning about everything—grammar, rhythm, metaphors—and need to become comfortable with the use of words on the page. What you don’t need in a critique group is a bunch of snippy professionals who will tear your piece apart as soon as you share it. You need a group with other beginners and a few mentors, a group that runs exercises each week to help you grow as a writer. Hold out for that group.

Conversely, if you’ve been writing some time and you’re ready for publication, you need a group with some published writers in it, to learn about queries and marketing and how to set your work before the public. You’ll want some harsher critiques—in a constructive way! Hopefully, your writer’s skin has thickened to the point where you can hear some criticism of the work, but still understand how changes might make the work better.

My second point: ego has no place in critique groups, on either the writing or reading side. In order to get the most from your feedback, you should listen, not talk. When group members comment on your work, take in what they say. They might not be right. They might not understand what you meant by a particular phrase or scene. Arguing with them just shuts down their urge to help you. Frankly, if the scene is so unclear that they missed the point—maybe the scene is that unclear. If only one person missed it, but the majority got it, maybe it’s fine. Listen. Then decide.

As a person giving feedback, remember your ego doesn’t matter, either. A critique session is not where you score points for being brilliant. Your opinion of someone else’s work only matters as far as it improves the other person’s work. It’s their work. Constructive criticism helps; tearing someone to bits doesn’t. In a business where sheer persistence and will to continue is sometimes all that stands between a writer and publication, destroying someone’s self-confidence to prop up your own ego is criminal. It happened to me, more than once. Receiving scathing words from someone claiming to “help,” I decided to give up any hope of being a published writer. Thank the stars that my inner urges kept that from happening. Primarily because I found my new group.

What I like best about this group is the creative flow that works between us. Ego isn’t an issue. When we have questions, we toss them on the table, and they receive open, honest answers: Is this an information dump? Do you understand the character’s motivation? Is this too big a clue early in the story?

More importantly, in the discussion and exchange process, we’ve shared brainstorming moments that open the door to deeper understanding of my own work. What if your character did…? Perhaps the relationship between the girl and that boy could lead to…? What setting would make this scene most effective? What if the journey took on a more metaphoric flavor and…? I always love it when someone spots a meaningful undertone that I haven’t quite grasped, so I can coax it into the light.

Once you’ve worked over your manuscript with your group, then back to your computer to polish, polish, polish.

Though writing is a solitary process, editing can work best as a collective. I’d urge any writer to find a group, online or in person, that provides what they need. Be prepared to do your share to help others along the way ; keep your ego in check. And start chunking out those novels!

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Alana Lorens dreamed for many years of being a spaceship captain, but settled instead for inspired excursions into fictional places with fascinating companions from her imagination that she likes to share with others. She has been a published writer for over thirty years, including seven years as a reporter and editor at a newspaper in Homestead, Florida, with a list of eclectic publications from horror to tech reporting to television reviews. She writes urban fantasy and science fiction under the name of Lyndi Alexander. The Elf Queen, her first novel, was released by Dragonfly Publishing in July 2010; the series continued with The Elf ChildThe Elf Mage and The Elf Guardian. She’s now working on the space opera Horizon Crossover series, and a YA trilogy, The Color of Fear—the first book, WINDMILLS, was published by Zumaya Publications this summer.  Writing as Alana Lorens, she produces romance and romantic suspense, including the Pittsburgh Lady Lawyer series, CONVICTION OF THE HEART, SECOND CHANCES, and the latest, VOODOO DREAMS, released by The Wild Rose Press in October 2013.

She is a single mother of seven, with two special needs children at home with her in Pennsylvania, and she volunteers at her local shelter for domestic violence victims, believing in every person’s right to be safe.