Monday, November 13, 2017

Networking For Introverts

Gail's Perception Of Networking

Conventional Wisdom tells us that writers tend to be introverts, drained by lots of interaction with large numbers of people, at their best with small groups or even working by themselves. Presumably that's one of the reasons we're attracted to writing in the first place.

And, yet, in the 21st Century, so much of nonwriting writer work is done in large groups--conferences, book fairs, speaking engagements, etc. I've written here before about introverts attending professional gatherings. The structured workshops, panel discussions, critiques, and even one-on-ones aren't a problem. Those are the reasons introverts go to these things. The meandering around before and after events is another thing. Lunch. Coffee breaks. Grin and bear it time, folks. You sometimes hear about how these excruciating moments are the most important part of a professional gathering. So important, that they have their own name...networking.

Networking is like going to singles bars, but for professionals. In publishing, it's when people hope to meet the agents and editors who will change their professional lives. Maybe even in an elevator, which is where the expression "elevator pitch" comes from. Personally, I don't believe that story that was going around years ago about a woman shoving her manuscript under a toilet stall to an agent at a conference. Urban legend, in my humble opinion. But it makes a point about expectations for networking.

I will be honest and admit that I don't even try to network anymore. Though I've been to enough writing events over the years that I usually see people I'm at least acquainted with when I attend them, I can't say that I've made any career changing connections at any program I've ever attended. I've taken in some great content from presenters, but meeting someone who boosted me up the publishing ladder? No. When I see on meeting instructions that there will be a half-hour of networking before the program that is my real goal for the day, I figure I can sleep in thirty minutes and get there late.

NESCBWI's Agent And Editor Model

Which brings us back to last week's Third Annual  New England SCBWI Agent/Editor Day. This Agent/Editor day was organized so that participants would meet in small groups with with an agent or editor in the morning and then with another agent or editor in the afternoon. What you're essentially doing is creating a writers' group, then creating another one a few hours later.

The materials we received asked us to be sure to arrive by 8:45, though the first group didn't begin until 9:30. I looked at it and thought, Yeah, sure.

Then I thought again. What if that 8:45 thing was a test? Hmm?

Of course, it wasn't a test. Nonetheless, I ended up leaving the house under a full moon that morning to get to New Hampshire for 8:45. I pulled into the parking lot after 8:30, knowing nothing would be happening for 45 minutes. I wasn't miserable, by any means, but I definitely wasn't enthusiastic.

Then I get inside and see tables set up in a ballroom...with a dance floor, not that that matters. And each table has the name of the agent or editor assigned to it. And everybody just went immediately to their assigned tables, because evidently introverts follow instructions really well. What followed was forty-five minutes of pretty meaningless chit-chat, but, hey, painless!

After two hours of very good literary criticism, it's time for lunch. Remember how much fun the high school was the first day of a new school year? Yeah, that's what lunch is like at conferences. But last week, instead of drifting off to some other spot and forcing ourselves on other people, we picked up our food from the buffet and came back to our table. Our very same spots next to people we'd been with for hours. Well, just under three hours. But that's hours. It was as if we knew each other, in that way you can know people whose name you can't remember, even though everyone's wearing name tags.

Then we got up and all separated and headed to other tables for our second session of the day where there was another sign, and we were good to go for another couple of hours. During that second session, by the way, someone brought around plates of cookies, which was kind of hygge-like. (Yes, I am reading The Little Book of Hygge.) Hygge--comfort, contentment, coziness. Not that I ate any of the things, but the hygge was still there.

Crunching Some Numbers

Number of people at last week's event: Between 100 and 114

Number of people participants had to interact with: Seven or 8 at a time, 14 or 16 altogether

One hundred to 114 people, not that manageable. Seven or 8 people? Totally manageable. Seriously, I barely knew anyone was there besides my two groups. This thing was an introvert's dream.

Now, I can't say at this point that I made any career-changing connections at this thing, though I may very well change the way I write as a result of my time there. But for me this set-up will remain the gold standard for a professional gathering for quite some time to come.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Place Holders

Situation One: You're working away on your National Novel Writing Month manuscript and you get to this bit where you need information you don't have. Do you:

  1. Drop everything and spend enormous amounts of time researching the subject?
  2. Spend a few minutes making a couple of notes about what you want to do in this spot, leave it for December, and use your precious NaNo hours to continue writing from that point?

Situation Two: You're struggling with a spot in your NaNoWriMo manuscript. It is brutal. Do you:

  1. Sit there most of the morning until something comes to you?
  2. Make a couple of notes about what you want to do in this spot, leave it for December, and use your precious NaNo hours to continue writing from that point?

Yes! Yes! The answer is 2!

The place holder is the rushed, rapid writer's friend. The best thing to happen to work time since the 8-hour shift. At least, I think it is. I've never been good at using place holders. Researching obsessively is much more my thing. And then I end up not using the information, anyway, or deleting whatever I managed to come up with. But today I used a place holder twice. The idea came to me before I'd wasted too much time. So all good.

And How Is NaNo Going For Gail?

Even though today is Day 7 of National Novel Writing Month, and in order to meet the monthly goal of  50,000 words a writer has to have written a bazillion by now while I have only written 3,641, I am feeling good about my NaNo experience to date. See, I've only had two and a half real days (more or less) for writing, during which time I wrote an entire chapter and started another, which is a lot of work for me.

And it's very early days for me to have latched on to that place holder thing. If I can keep that up the rest of the month, I'll be on fire.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

The Weekend Writer: Direct From The Editors' Mouths

Yesterday I attended The Third Annual New England SCBWI Agent/Editor Day, and now, Weekend Writers, you will get the benefit of my experience there.

Holly & Julie are there somewhere
These events are set up so that participants select two of the agents or editors in attendance and become part of small groups meeting with them. The writers have around fifteen minutes to do a short reading and receive feedback from the agent/editor and sometimes other group members. It's actually beneficial to hear critiquing of other writers' work, as well as your own. All knowledge has value, as my father-in-law once said.

What To Do With Your First Pages

You could sense a theme in Holly West's (Feiwel & Friends and Swoon Reads, both imprints of Macmillan) comments. While you often hear about "hooks" being needed in first pages, Holly talked about something different.
  • Readers need to get a sense of what a book is about right away.
  • The main character's goal should be clear up front. 
  • Character first in early pages. Add backstory later. 
  • The first words and lines of a story are a contract with readers, through which the writer explains what kind of book is about to read and who the main character is so readers know what they are getting.
An interesting bit I learned about Holly last night on-line--She edited These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, which I described as Georgette Heyer Meets Agents of SHIELD. And having talked with Holly West, I can see her working on that book.

How To Move A Story Along And A Great Definition Of Voice

I took away two thought-provoking points from Julie Bliven from Charlesbridge.
  1. Embed description and narration within dialogue and action, because dialogue and action are what move stories forward. Description, not so much. I'm thinking of a well known adult novel from years ago in which a character is making his way through Paris. Over and over again the action stopped so the author could describe a building. Evidently I don't care that much about Paris.
  2. Voice is the narrator's attitude toward what is going on around him or her. This is huge. Voice, I think is like art. People can't define it but know when they see it. Julie can define it, and it's a definition that is functional. This is a definition that should help help authors create voice. I think this definition also explains why I find writing so much easier once I have a voice for my main character. Once I have a voice, I know how characters will feel about what's happening. What's more, once I know their voice and attitude, I can also often determine what they'll do, not just how they'll feel about what others are doing.

Why Editors Matter

Both Holly West and Julie Bliven were very impressive yesterday. They were presented with fourteen to sixteen readings of four to five pages they'd never seen or heard before and had to respond to them on the spot. They functioned in classic critique mode, beginning with something positive and then moving on to analysis of where the manuscript needed work. They were able to do both those things for every single manuscript. If you haven't been part of a writers' group, you may not recognize how difficult that is. In which case, take my word for it.

Both women illustrated what editors do. It's not unusual for me to read about prepublished writers thinking that editing is just correcting grammar and usage. I've also read about self-published authors thinking they can take care of editing with their writers' group or with alpha readers. What the editors yesterday were doing was far more than that. They were pointing out things like:
  • humor should not just be relatable, it should illustrate character
  • characters' efforts should be focused 
  • what you tell about characters must be illustrated by what you show about them; telling and showing can't contradict one another 
What I'm trying to say, Weekend Writers, is that whether you end up working with a traditional publishing house or publish yourself, you need an editor. A real one.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Focusing On An Achievable Goal

Okay, folks, National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow. I don't have all my chapters blueprinted, but, in better news, all that NaNoWriMo cooking I told you about a couple of days ago survived a thirteen-hour power outage Sunday night through mid-Monday afternoon.

I am not officially doing NaNoWriMo. I didn't sign up. In part this is because I'm working on a novel I've already started back in 2004 or 5 when I officially did NaNo. On top of that, I started a revision earlier this year. So, no, I'm not actually following the rules for NaNo 2017. Also, I have no hope of finishing this puppy this month. I'm not even going to sit down with the calendar and work out how few full writing days I've got in November.

The stash I found yesterday
Finally, while I've done the best job I've ever done of prepping a project before starting, I'm vague on the final chapters, which isn't promising for finishing. And I've been working on that right down to the wire. Yesterday, during that extended power outage I was talking about, which meant no computer access, I worked on cleaning my desk, because I'm serious about working next month. Gotta work at that desk instead of the kitchen counter or a couch. What did I find on the top of a filing cabinet but a stack of materials/ideas I'd been collecting on this project since around 2004, that last NaNo attempt? Going through it was helpful, though finding it says volumes about my organizational and cleaning skills, doesn't it?

Nonetheless, finishing a book in a month is not my goal this year. It's not how I expect to use my time.

So How Are You Going To Use Your Time, Gail? 

Well, I'm going to shoot for:

  • Two-thirds of a book.
  • A plan for the last third of the book.
  • A month of focus training

Focus Training Or All NaNo, All The Time

My plan is to spend all my writing time writing the NaNo project. Learn to focus by focusing. I have one NESCBWI event to prepare for, but otherwise I'm not using any writing time for:

  • Submissions.
  • Blogging, except for National Novel Writing updates and news and the December CCLC. I'm hoping to use some of that blogging time for "the project." Whatever little bit I can do then will be a way of training myself to work more frequently, say...every day?
  • Prepping material for writers' group. In fact, I just this minute decided not to go!
Prepping today--still not at my desk
So I've got a two-fer going starting tomorrow. I'm generating material and developing monk-like intensity.

Monday, October 30, 2017

November Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Big news. After a one year break, the Connecticut Children's Book Fair is back.

Sat., Nov. 4, Mira Bartok, Marc Brown, Gordan Korman, Sandra Magsamen, Cammie McGovern, Eric Morse, Caragh O'Brien, Joshua David Stein, Rosemary Wells, Carol Weston, Connecticut Children's Book Fair, Rome Commons Ballroom, UConn, Storrs 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Sat., Nov. 4, Selina Alko and Sean Qualls, Fairfield University Bookstore, Fairfield 3:00 PM

Sun., Nov. 5, Russ Cox, Janice Dean, Carol Gordon Ekster, Tommy Greenwald, Florence & Wendell Minor, Robin Newman, Pat Schories, Lauren Tarshis, Matt Tavares, Andrea Wisnewski, Connecticut Children's Book Fair, Rome Commons Ballroom, UConn, Storrs  10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Sun., Nov. 5, Tomie dePaola, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, 2:00 PM Reservations requested.

Tues., Nov. 7, Sara Beth Videtto, The Storyteller's Cottage, Simsbury 10:30 AM 

Sat., Nov. 11, Marc Tyler Nobleman, Temple Beth David, Cheshire 7:00 PM Registration fee.

Sat., Nov.11, Marcela Osello, Fairfield University Bookstore, 3:00 PM

Sat., Nov. 11, Judy E. Byrne, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, 2:00 PM

Wed., Nov.15, Sara Beth Videtto, Southbury Public Library, Southbury 10:30 AM Story Time

Nov. 20, Darlene Davies, Avon Free Public Library, Avon 11:00 AM

Thurs., Nov. 16, Angela DiTerlizzi, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Tues., Nov. 28, Sara Beth Videtto, Oakville Branch Library, Oakville 10:30 AM Story Time

Sunday, October 29, 2017

And How Are You Coming With Your NaNoWriMo Prep?

This has something to do with writing
For many years, my family took part in a forestry management program conducted by the state of Connecticut. Every fall, we would cut and remove two to four cords of wood in a designated state forest area. We had four weeks to do this, which, for us, meant four weekends. It was a little intense. To prepare for the festivities, the week before we got started I'd make a big pot of spaghetti sauce for us to eat over the days we were working. Because in my family, that's the way we roll. We want to make sure we're going to be able to eat. 

Bread, cookie dough, and pear cobbler
This year, getting ready for National Novel Writing Month was no different.





What I've Been Doing These Last Few Weekends

Yes, I've been working on developing chapter blueprints, so that when I sit down to write next month I will, presumably, be able to write fast because I'll know what I'm going to write. But on weekends I've been loading the freezers with an array of things, just as I used to load them with spaghetti sauce for woodcutting.

Pasta bake and vegetable beef soup
It wasn't something I planned to do. At some point, maybe when I made those three loaves of honey wheat bread you see above, I realized I was doing it and ran with it.

It's not as if you didn't know I get a bit obsessive about cooking on weekends. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I'm Going To Argue That This Isn't A Bad Idea


Carrot soup, tortellini soup
Look, that wood cutting experience I told you about was the perfect training for National Novel Writing Month. It was a lot of work that had to be done in a limited amount of time. And we didn't even have the full amount of time to do it, since we were limited to working weekends. It was a ridiculous amount of work to be doing with that restriction. What if it rained, you ask? We went out in the rain! What if someone got sick? No one dared!

More cookie dough, pear crisp, more soup
The main thing I learned from cutting wood in that way is that if you're going to work like that, that's all you can do. You have to do everything else some other time.

Yes, NaNoWriMo Is Like Cutting Wood

Frozen biscuit dough...for the soup
I'm doing NaNoWriMo very much like I cut wood in that I don't have the full amount of time to work. I'll be off on family business at least two week days most weeks. I'll be off to a NESCBWI program one Saturday and to visit family another. I expect guests from two different states over Thanksgiving weekend. If I'm going to work like that, I have to try to make sure that that's all I do, just as cutting wood was all I did when I actually did it.

And that, my lads and lasses, is my excuse for having gone off the rails cooking these last few weeks.

Today I'm taking part in the Weekend Cooking Meme at Beth Fish Reads.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: And More On Focusing

I'm still working on focusing. Have you noticed?

How Self-Control Works, and How to Boost Your Willpower by Better Understanding It at Lifehacker includes some thoughts on the subject, since being able to stay focused requires willpower. My favorite thought was the first one, practice.


The article suggests picking something you do in excess and practice not doing it for a week. And once you can not do it for a week, practice not doing it for another. Work up to a month. A month is supposed to be a significant time in terms of changing behavior. I think I've read six weeks elsewhere, but you get where they're going with this.

Now, I see two things going on with practicing not doing something: 
  1. You're toughening up willpower and improving focus in general. I can't find my support for this, but I've read that improving willpower/discipline in one area of your life should improve it in others.  Thus, if I could develop the discipline to not eat all the time I'm cooking, I could, presumably, not have to read articles about Chip and Joanna Gaines or hunt up actors on-line while I'm watching them on TV in the evening. We believe that monks and athletes have iron focus. Maybe because discipline in one area of their lives transfers to another?
  2. If you practice not doing something time consuming, you could end up with some more time. For instance, practicing not reading those articles about Chip and Joanna Gaines and not hunting on-line for info on actors will leave me more time for blogging and relaxing in the evening, since, I swear, that's the only time I do those things. You can always practice not doing time consuming during the work day.
So the idea is that by practicing doing less you can save time because you've become a disciplined badass.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Weekend Writer: E-mail To A Student Writer

I recently received an inquiry from a Connecticut high school student working on an independent study project "How to write a children's book." She was thinking of writing a picture book and was contacting authors for advice. Advice is advice, right? So here's what I told her:

The one picture book I've written hasn't sold to a publisher. The books I published were all classified as middle grade or early reader. So I don't have any info to share about successfully writing a picture book. And I am not an illustrator, so I don't do that part of picture book work.

However, I would advise you to:
  1. Spend some time in your local library reading picture books and picking out ones you like.
  2. Then look those books' authors up on the Internet. Sometimes authors will have information at their websites on writing. An example is Josh Funk, who is a New England writer who has written and published picture books.  Be sure to read his section "Picture Books Are Short." Many new picture book writers don't understand that
  3. Take advantage of any opportunities to hear picture book authors speak in public. They make appearances at bookstores and sometimes libraries. They often will speak about how they wrote a particular book or the publishing process, and they may take questions from the audience. 
Good luck with your project. 

I should have also told her to hold onto anything she writes, anything at all, in case she can use it again. For, example, a blog post.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Have I Read This?

Why I Capture the Castle has gained a secret cult of book lovers at Vox was intriguing because I think I might have read the book. Or seen the movie. Or both.

Unless I'm thinking of Cold Comfort Farm. ("I saw something nasty in the woodshed.") Or maybe We Have Always Lived in the Castle?

Clearly I am not a member of a I Capture the Castle cult.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Your Cybils Reading Lists

Public nominations for the Cybils Awards are closed. Check out the nominees for reading suggestions from this year's books.

It appears that I've read only four books, Freya and Gemina from the YA Speculative Fiction list, The Lost Girl of Astor Street in YA Fiction, and The Nian Monster in Fiction Picture Books/Board Books.

I liked them all, though for some reason I didn't post a response to Lost Girl here or at Goodreads. Little lack of focus there, folks.