Who Supports You?

Being a writer is a terrible idea. Welcome to a life of chasing mystical ideas through the ether, constant rejection and of course, ever present, crippling self-doubt. The good thing about this is that no writer, or any creative person, probably, would stop for those reasons. You make your life harder than it has to be, you work twice, three times as much as most people for little or no reward. Why? Because there’s no alternative. You can’t stop, so you carry on, slaving away. If you do step away for a while that’s fine because you’ll be back. We always come back. For most writers, I think the detractions are obvious and plentiful. That got me thinking about the shaky, frail support beams that somehow remain – where do they come from?

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Yourself

Perhaps the most precarious, this is number one for any writer because we for the most part work alone. If you are writing, then you are supporting yourself as a writer. You are winning. If you are not writing, don’t worry. As far as I can tell regular bouts of self-sabotage and loathing are part of the process. Eventually you will hate yourself enough that you’ll get back to work. Here are some ideas to help you be more supportive of the very, very stupid path you have chosen (has chosen you?) to be on.

Write – There’s a lot of banter in the writing world about writing every day, getting your butt in the chair and blah blah. This has merit because you are not much of a writer if you aren’t writing, but at the same time, not all writers write every day. That’s right, I said it and it’s true, say it with me, NOT ALL WRITERS WRITE EVERY DAY! There is no need to hate yourself for not preforming this miraculous feat. If you do write every day, that is awesome, but if you don’t, that’s FINE. I think the most important thing here is that you write regularly and always have a project on the go. Don’t stagnate.

Make a Space – One of the best things I ever did for myself was to make a space. I do almost all of my work in my office. I love my office and it loves me. It’s quiet, it’s full of things that make me feel awesome and that’s where I work, so when I’m in there, I work. I highly suggest that if you don’t have a space, you make one. I don’t care if it’s in your damn closet, or a backpack full of crap and a favorite chair at the library, have a space that is conducive to your writing, whatever that means to you. Then go there, a lot.

Never Stop Getting Better – Like any art, there is no proper way to be a writer. There are also no limits. No matter how good you are, you can always be better and the best writers know this. Read books about writing, take classes, join writing groups, go to conferences, work on your setting, your dialogue, your grammar. One of the greatest things you can do for yourself as a writer is to continually invest in yourself. Valuing yourself and your talent enough to spend actual dollars (!?) is a powerful show of support for the bedraggled writer in you.

Your Inner Circle

I’ve been pretty lucky with this one. My immediate family and friends are supportive for the most part, and if not supportive, then at least not unsupportive. One thing I will say about this is that things did change a lot when I first was published. The balance of power shifted in my favour when that finally happened.

“Oh, so you’re a writer.”

“Yes, yes I am.”

“Have you published anything?”

“Yes, yes I have.” Internal dialogue – several things, multiple things, so eat it, eat it, you smug, doubting bastard! Wipe that damn smirky look off of your face, jerk.

So if you are published, keep that in mind at all times. You did it, you made it, you got there. If you aren’t, yet, then just take yourself seriously as a writer and hopefully some of that will rub off on the people around you. If not, then your inner circle sucks, so focus all your efforts on supporting your damn self. You might want to take a long hard look at who makes up your inner circle and toss them accordingly.

The Rest of Them

We get, or don’t get, support from the rest in a myriad of ways. Having a Facebook page, a blog, a newsletter, a Twitter account are all ways that you can reach out and have people reach back. The key here, as with all things writing related, seems to be consistency and patience. Whatever you chose to do to glean support from the rest of them, be more consistent about it than I am. Also, be patient. If you start a blog, you probably won’t get thousands of followers right away. Stick with it, little grasshopper, writing is a marathon, not a sprint.

My husband recently introduced me to Patreon, which is a neat idea where creators have a page where they post things related to their work and people can sign up to sponsor them and get perks with their sponsorship. I haven’t done it, but there are writers on there, so that might be something worth looking into. Check out his page at www.patreon.com/jeremychaulk

 

Writing sucks and it’s hard. The other side is that it’s awesome, liberating and limitless. Always support yourself and never stop striving to do better. This is a tough, lonely road, so when you can’t get yourself going, and there will be times like that, support others. Buy books, go to readings, leave reviews, follow blogs and maybe sponsor a few creators on Patreon. Give others the support you want for yourself and it will all come back. Remember, we’re all in this together.

Writer’s Digest Conference Part II: Pitch Slam

Ah the dreaded pitch slam. For many writers, this is the big reason to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference and also a truly terrifying proposition. All of that was true for me. There were four Pitch Slam sessions on Saturday of an hour each and you signed up for one of them. There were over sixty agents in a big room sitting at tables in alphabetical order, you had three minutes to pitch your book to however many of them that you could and get feedback and hopefully, a request to see more. The pitch slam is really its own beast. Here’s what I learned from participating in the pitch slam.

Prepare, prepare, prepare! All of those months of preparation I was yammering on about in my last post? This is where it paid off. Write a pitch you feel good about. Tell the agent about your book and get them interested in seeing more. Be yourself. Remember that you are one human telling another human about your book – that is all! You have ninety seconds, so keep it short, the shorter the better, in my opinion. Don’t ramble. There are a ton of great resources out there to help you do this, so google away, little grasshopper! I had a pretty good pitch when I arrived in New York, which I then tweaked a little after the pitch perfect information session and yammering with my fellow writers. I felt pretty good about my pitch and knew it by heart. This is key.

They limit the number of people in each pitch session. I read some horror stories about long lines, agents that were not there and all of this stuff. None of that was true for me. There seem to be a million people when you’re waiting to go in and that is terrifying. It seems like you will never get to any agent, but the room is big and there are a lot of agents. I had a list of ten agents I wanted to pitch and I made it to seven of them, which is pretty damn good. Best advice here came from Chuck Sambuchino – do not stand in long lines. Go to agents that have a short line or none at all. If Chuck is there, he will hustle you to a shorter line anyway. He knows what’s what, listen to him. On average, I had one person ahead of me. Several times I went right up to the agent. Time was not an issue.

When you’re getting ready for this, it’s easy to believe that agents are mean, scary dragon people just waiting to crush your dreams and spit in your face. Maybe, but not any that I spoke with. They tell you way ahead which agents will be there, so research them like a crazy person. Yes, the list changes, yes, there are additions and subtractions, but you need to know who you want to pitch to. Ten seems to be a good number. Anyone I didn’t make it to is getting a query. My strategy was to avoid long lines and also not to pitch my top agents first. This was my first pitch slam, I was nervous and very, very tired. I didn’t want to blow my first pitch on my top three agents. This worked great for me. My ‘last’ agent had no lineup when we first went in there, so I went for him. He was very nice, liked my pitch, asked me some questions that let me know that he understood what the hell I was trying to get across, and guess what? He requested more. First one, bam, feel good, flying for the rest of the slam. That was key for me, to start on the right foot. I tried to set myself up for success and it worked. I pitched seven agents and got five requests. Some of the best advice I read ahead of time was to remember that agents are just people and all that is happening is that you are having a conversation with them about your book. I tried to be happy, friendly, relaxed and normal as possible and it paid off in a big way. The two agents that did not request were just as excellent. One said my pitch was great and sent me to another agent she thought would like it, that agent was not on my list. She requested it. The other agent also complemented my pitch and suggested some comparison titles I hadn’t thought of whose agents I might want to investigate. She also told me that if I wrote anything with a more literary bent in the future to send it her way because she liked how I presented things.

So I got five requests to see my book and a massive boost in the confidence department. No one I spoke to at the conference regretted doing the pitch slam. Even if they didn’t get requests, they got valuable experience speaking about their work in a concise way, and some great feedback. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Writer’s Digest Annual Conference: A Review

Just over a week ago I was travelling home from the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York. Hard to believe that a week has gone by, I still feel like I’m processing everything. Since it was my first writing conference and my first trip to New York, I did a lot of preparation before the actual conference. Part of that work included reading blogs by people who had attended before to gain some insight on what to expect and how to best meet this in a competent way. All of that preparation served me well, dare I say very well, so now I would like to do the same for others.

New York

Welcome to New York!

 

 

First of all, go. Go to the damn conference. Don’t sit around, don’t debate it, don’t weigh pros and cons, don’t check your bank account, don’t worry if you’re ready, if you’re awesome enough to go, if you suck too much to go, go, just go. You will not regret it.

The Sessions

The conference ran over Friday, Saturday and Sunday, they also had some introductory stuff Thursday evening, but I missed that because I was in an airplane traffic jam at LaGuardia airport, but that’s a story for another blog.

The sessions began at 9am every day and there were five offerings for each time slot addressing different aspects of writing and publishing. These ran until about 5pm and were followed by a keynote speaker. Ahead of the conference, you were encouraged to sign up for the sessions you wanted to attend so they could figure out what size rooms to put them in, but at the actual event you could go to whatever ones you wanted. Since I paid actual dollars to attend, I went to a session in pretty well every time slot, save pitch slam day. Overall, they were a great experience. I took a lot of notes and received a lot of informative handouts, book recommendations and practical, useful information. All of the speakers answered questions from attendees, which was excellent. Highlights of the sessions for me included:

Pitch Perfect – Chuck Sambuchino

Informative, motivating and extremely patient answering many, many questions. Helped calm the terror of the upcoming pitch slam.

Pulling the Rug Out: How to Craft Twists Your Readers Will Never See Coming – Steven James

Funny, informative, a very useful handout and practical approaches to really make your book the best, most interesting version of itself that it can be. Steven James is an excellent speaker and I wish I had gone to all of his sessions. I will be purchasing his books for sure.

Rework, Rewrite and Rock Your Revisions – Gabriela Pereira & Elisabeth Kauffman

Perhaps the most loathed part of the writing process, no one likes revising. It sucks and it’s boring and how in the hell do you coherently revise 500 pages of work??? I did manage to do all of this with my book, but it took me many years. The next one won’t take me nearly as long thanks to things I learned here. More books to buy.

The Keynotes

There was a keynote speaker Friday, Saturday and Sunday to close out each day. These were Kwame Alexander, David Baldacci and Emily St. John Mandel. Each one gave about an hour talk and then very graciously answered questions and stuck around to sign books. The room was packed for each one, but talking to people, I was surprised how many skipped these. I did not, and boy am I glad. SO ENCOURAGING. Each and every one of them. Super fast summary – Kwame Alexander – Say a big fat yes to every writing opportunity you get, it will take you where you need to go. David Baldacci – being a big, famous writer does not equate to having the faintest clue about what you’re doing, so don’t even worry about it. Emily St. John Mandel – Don’t get caught up in all of the noise about writing, just write, and guard that time ferociously.  All of them were very genuine and provided valuable insights. Connections were made here. More books to buy.

The Cocktail Reception

This was Saturday night, pitch slam day. This is where you go say hi to David Baldacci, get a drink and schmoose with your fellow writers, the people from Writer’s Digest, a few agents still kicking around and some of the people giving the sessions. I am not going to lie, I was extremely tired from travelling, pitching and sleeping in a hotel, but Writer’s Digest gave everyone a free drink ticket and I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss out on a free drink, so I hauled my sorry ass to cocktail hour, got my free drink and stood with it awkwardly by myself – for about five seconds.

You are all there for the same reason – to celebrate the stupidity it takes to be a writer and try to be the best damn crazy writer that you’re capable of being. Most of the other attendees had travelled to be there and were alone, just like me. This should equal a room of sleep deprived, surly people, but instead it equals INSTANT FRIENDS. Guess what, cupcake, you’re all in this together, so just start chatting. It was actually awesome. People just talk to you and eventually, you just talk to people. I met people from California, Tennessee, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Arizona, Ohio, Vancouver, England, Australia and those are just the places I recall. Great conversations, lots of laughs, many cards and info exchanged. It’s not very often you’re surrounded by people that get this thing you do, so take full advantage of the opportunity. I actually nursed my free drink right until the end of the reception just chatting away at which point Chuck Sambuchino came around handing out free glasses of wine. So stay until the end, you might get a free drink and make some friends.

Your Fellow Writers

When you arrive at the hotel and register, you get a fancy name badge to hang around your neck. This shows that you’re part of the conference, your name and where you’re from. You have to wear it when participating in the conference so they know you’re not some weirdo who wandered in off the street. Well, maybe you are, but you paid to be there, so it’s fine. I wore mine the entire weekend, everywhere I went in the hotel. This again equals instant friends. Other people with the same badge just start talking to you and soon you’re a group chatting about the conference and things beyond. Business cards are exchanged, connections made. I assume I will always be the awkward person standing with my lunch tray in the busy seating area with nowhere to sit and this did happen to me, but just like at cocktail hour, it lasted for about five seconds when I was hailed over by a fellow attendee. By the end of the hour, we were a group of four. We talked about the conference, our own writing projects and practiced for the pitch slam. It was great. Talk to people and wear your badge so people don’t have to break the ice. It’s already broken and for a bunch of weird introverted writers, this is key.

Curious about the pitch slam? Of course you are! I’ll cover that in my next post since this sucker ran long. Until then, keep writing!