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Telling Lies for Fun and Profit: A Review

I have a pretty fair selection of writing books, some that are good, some that are bad and many that are ‘meh’. I like to have one on the go most of the time, it’s a good motivator and you never know what new tips or ideas will strike your fancy.

In one writing book I was reading, it mentioned another writing book, described something like, old, but still extremely useful. Well, I enjoy things that are old but extremely useful, so I ordered it and guess what, it’s old, but extremely useful!

The book is Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by the crime and mystery writer Lawrence Block, originally published in 1981 or so, but still in print. I must declare here that I have never actually read any of Lawrence Block’s books, (I know, I know) but he’s got a whole whack of them under his belt.

Telling Lies

There’s a few things I really enjoyed about Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. The first was the tone of the book, funny and full of self-deprecating humour that writers will understand all too well. The other was that for every point or theory or whatever he brings up, he gives an example from his own work or experience and I am a girl who loves a frigging example. Show, don’t tell, right? I have no problem with the odd book about writing and creativity as a spiritual practice full of lofty ideals and vague, ill-defined aspirations, but this book is not that book. This book is about the day to day grind of the writer and the many foibles and pitfalls said writer will undoubtedly stumble into. If you have read a lot of books about writing, taken a bunch of courses and been at it for years, this book will probably not blow your mind. However, it will take a bunch of things you have already learned at some point and lay them out in a funny and easy to digest manner. It will remind you of things that it’s extremely easy to forget and nudge you to take action without making you feel guilty about all the ways in which you suck as a writer. I think all writers should own this book and reread it every few years to have a little chuckle at themselves and the very stupid profession they have chosen to pursue.

Lawrence Block has managed to pile a bunch of useful advice, information and practices for writers to consider without being preachy. At no point do you feel that he is suggesting that his advice is the only advice, or even that it is the best advice, but as he walks you through what has worked and not worked over a long career, you can see more clearly what works and doesn’t work for you. So if your writing life could use a little kick in the pants and you could use a gentle reminder of what the hell you are trying to do and why, pick up Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. We may act alone as writers, but we’re all in this together.

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!

Focus

I spend an inordinate amount of time unsure about what I’m doing, or more accurately, what I feel like I’m supposed to be doing. I’ve accepted that I will probably feel this way for my entire life, it’s just my state of being, maybe it’s everyone’s state of being, just most people don’t admit to it. I’ve found this feeling a lot more prevalent since I finished my manuscript.

I decided I wasn’t going to do anything else regarding this manuscript until the end of November, until I heard back from all five of my beta readers. I thought that would be a good opportunity to give myself a brain break and work on some other things, kind of free my mind for a little while until December first when I would plunge back into my book and the next steps involved with that. What I wasn’t counting on was this horrible lack of direction that would leave me with.

focus

For five years I haven’t had this problem. I haven’t had this weird sense of complete befuddlement, wandering aimlessly around my house in a fuzzy bathrobe and slippers with ‘free time,’ whatever the hell that is supposed to be. Gone are the days when there was never any question as to what I should be doing, I should be working on my book, editing my book, polishing my book, researching agents and publishers for my book, reading my book, tracking plots for my book and such. Maybe I had this problem before I started writing it, to be honest, I really don’t remember.

You may be thinking, well, dummy, start writing something new! Of course I thought of this, a bunch of times, every day, but I can’t, not yet. Writing this manuscript I learned that when I’m in, I’m all in, every part of me, every day, even when I’m nowhere near it. It consumes my life, which I don’t consider a bad thing. I actually love that swamped, slightly dreamy feeling of being lost in the words, but I don’t know how conducive that state will be to the process of trying to get it published, so I’m leery of jumping enthusiastically back into it so soon.

To compensate I’ve tried to work on small writing projects. Newsletters, articles, even my stupid journal. I have plenty of short stories that were forsaken five years ago that only need a polishing before they could be marketed, but it’s hard to find the motivation. Now that I’ve experienced the consuming madness of the novel, the surreal state of bedding down in that made up world, I just want to go back there. Those miraculous days where you hit a groove and type away for fourteen hours, giggling madly, forsaking food, sleep and hygiene in the name of a truly fantastic plot twist that you never saw coming and boggles the mind.

I miss my book. I can’t wait until I can get back into it, this brain-break thing is overrated. And just in case this blog doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, please blame my current lack of focus.