Be This, Not That

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Observations on attending writer’s conferences; #WDC15

BE THIS:

The Teddy Bear: Almost everyone at a writer’s conference is feeling insecure in one way or another. Are my ideas as bad as my breath? Did that person just roll their eyes at me? Why am I wearing jeans? Am I the oldest/youngest/stupidest/fattest/ugliest one here? Is that my EX??

 So just be nice for, as they say, everyone is fighting a hard battle of their own. I find that the best way is to smile at people, be encouraging and extra polite. Feel free to strike up conversations, freely share what you know (without being intrusive) and just project an overall aura of warmth. Everyone is as lost as you.

NOT THAT:

The Stenographer: Yes, I know. You just dropped $400 on the conference and another $600 on travel. You want your money’s worth – but do you have to crack open that laptop in every session? This isn’t a deposition. Plus, we all hear you. Clickety-click-click. Clickety-click. Clickety-clickety-clickety. Next time, just bring a small notepad, K? My favorite’s a little black Moleskine. It fits in my purse and best of all, it’s silent.

The Thief: So the presenter in this session has really good material. There’s tips on accounting, copyright, sales – but do you have to hold up your giant iPad and take a pic of every single slide? Did you know that’s their copyrighted material? Pro tip: If you loved the session, approach and thank the speaker afterward and politely inquire if they would share their slides or a summary/handout. It’ll give you a chance to make a connection (and not get sued later for plagiarism or infringement).

The Muncher: Skipped lunch but didn’t want to miss the session? How about stepping outside the room to fuss with that extra-resistant bag of chips? That way you can avoid all the crinkle noise and can hork it back noisily with no one noticing the crumbs falling down your chin (or onto my lap). No one to judge you in the hallway, friend. Least of all me.

BRING THIS (My handy list of items):

Empty plastic water bottle: Because: Hotels, convention centers are dry places and you’re walking around, talking to people all day. Plus, it’s cheaper than buying bottled water. You don’t really think a couple days of tap water will kill you, do you? I picked up a Rubbermaid bottle at Target for a couple bucks. It fits nicely in the side pocket of my backpack and I’m never thirsty.

Empty Altoids tin: Because: It can double as a wallet or mini-survival kit. I put my credit cards, room key and cash in mine. It’s low profile, lightweight and fits anywhere.

Nice-looking athletic shoes: Because: I used to run a major conference event that took place over a three-week period, requiring me to practically live at a convention center. One year, as I walked from one end of it to the other, wearing the wrong shoes, I ruptured a disc in my lower back, requiring surgery six months later. Outcome: I choose my footwear very carefully and I always pack a cute pair of sneakers (my current pair are all-black Nikes with a white sole and pink swoosh). People don’t judge me. If anything, I get compliments.

Lip balm, hand cream, sanitizer: Because: See reasons above, plus with all the handshaking you’ll do as The Teddy Bear, and touching strange doorknobs and handles, you’ll need to keep the copious conference germs out of your system.

Mints: Because: Fresh breath is friendly breath, Teddy. Plus, in these conditions, you are likely going to be standing closer, and talking louder, to be heard over the din of others doing the same. Pro tip: If you take a swig from your handy water bottle, you’ll likely clear out your sinuses too.

Tissues: Because: Is the toilet paper out in this stall? Where’d my napkin go? Oh no, I’m going to sneeze all over the guy sitting in front of me. These handy paper items are nearly universal in use. I never attend a conference, or travel, without them.

NOT THAT:

Gum – What?! I can’t hear you over all the chomping and smacking you’re making.

Low-cut or revealing clothing – Those are nice boobs but I’d rather look at your face.

High heels – Are you going to dinner or to “Building Your Social Media Presence?”

What would you bring/do at your next conference?

You wanna write? Here’s my fail-safe to-do list

Bird on TongueOk, so you want to write? Excellent. Here’s what you do: First, get a pen and… Oh, that’s a little obvious, I guess. Let’s see, we’ll start with something a little more intentional (I had a boss once who loved that word). I suggest shutting yourself in a room, setting a timer and forcing yourself to write for two straight hours. Now do that at least four times a week. Topic can be anything: short story, essay, letter to you congressman in ancient Valerian.

Oh, and lock the door while you’re writing.

If someone bangs on it and asks: “What you’re up to in there? say: “I’m writing.”

If they gasp and ask, “You? Writing? Why??” Respond: “Because I want to. Go away. I’ll talk to you after two hours.” Set aside $20 for a small gift to make up for the “Go away” part.

After fourth day when they ask, “Just how long are you going to keep this up?” Say: “Until I write the next Great American Novel.”

Ok, maybe that’s a little too much for right now. What’s important, however, is not to be truthful with anyone at this stage, least of all yourself. In fact, I would advise that lying to yourself daily about how much you want to write, how good you’ll be at it and how much the world wants/needs your material is key. You’ll have to do this when it’s eventually time to pitch agents or publishers anyway.

If, during this time of writing two hours at a clip at least four times a week, you decide you want to write an actual story, please do so. Then keep writing until you finish it. No, the quality is not important. Keep writing your crappy story until it’s done. That’s it. Very good. You get a pat on the head. Put a period on the last iffy sentence.

Now exhale a big sigh of relief and go get a favorite beverage. Then go and tell the person with whom you live that you’re finally done. They’ll give you a bewildered smile and turn back to Breaking Bad or Halo, mumbling something like, “I’m glad, hon.” Then they’ll probably ask: “So, are you done done with writing? We can finally get back to normal now?”

At this, laugh (Bwa-ha-ha. You’re a writer for God’s sake!) and turn with a flourish and go get yourself another beverage and toast again, this time by yourself. You’ll have to get used to this too. Writing’s a solo gig, after all.

Good morning! It’s the next day so go ahead drive to your day job. Whoops, you took the wrong way to work because your head is still mush from all last night’s work. Arrive, sit at your desk and see with fresh but bloodshot eyes how pointless it all is. Emails, meetings? Who cares. Don’t these people know you’re a writer? Clearly not; they keep asking for your TPS report.

Welcome home! Now, grab yourself a slice (or two. Fine, make it three) of cold pizza and head upstairs to edit your piece. Aren’t you excited? Yeah, this won’t be fun. But have at it. Just keep editing and editing until you sort of, kind of, maybe like the story – or it’s a shade of its former self. Or it screams in agony, “Stop already! No more!!” Then you’re done for real (until, of course, two years later you come back to it and see that it could really be much better and decide to go for broke on another full edit. But let’s not get hung up on that now.)

Anywho… it’s done! Don’t you feel special? Now send it to a few people for their opinion. Since this is your first story, most of these will be friends and family. Wow, those crickets are loud aren’t they? Oh, but look, one person responded. Wow, that’s a terrifyingly vague comment. They thought it was “touching”? Good thing you wrote about a drug deal gone bad. Did they even read it?

Anyway, go get yourself a treat and lie some more – about how your talent isn’t understood, they aren’t the right audience and someone (somewhere?) will appreciate your work. We all do this. It’s cool. Write in your journal a bit and then cry yourself to sleep. Have a few dreams about that teacher in grade school who hated you. Wake up the next morning and go back to your day job. When you’re tired of working, surf the Internet and find some cool photos to go with your story. Now, choose a place to publish the thing (your blog? Amazon?). Whatever.

Ok, now publish it. Yes, I mean it. Yeah, hit the button. The one, right there. No, I’m not kidding! Ok, good. Well done. Now go get yourself another drink and toast to the downy nature of your cajones. Fall asleep in exhaustion; hoping you did the right thing.

Good morning! Welcome back. Now, go back to the beginning. Don’t forget: write, lie, edit, cry (repeat). You’re a writer.

I won the Liebster Award! And 11 other wacky things.

Wow, this is such a shock. I’m so overwhelmed but, first…

I’d like to thank the Academy-

Ok, cut. Start over. Just what exactly is the Liebster award anyway? Is it the award for having the blog with the fewest readers? Because, if it’s that, I win!

No? It’s the award that bloggers give to one another so we can answer goofy questions about ourselves and try to be entertaining or meaningful (or not, in my case)? Awesome. I am so IN.

So here’s how it works:

  1. I post 11 random facts about myself.
  2. I answer the 11 questions my nominator selected for me
  3. I nominate 11 other bloggers to do the same
  4. I tell them which 11 questions I want them to answer
  5. You, as a non-participant, ask yourself, “Why am I reading this?”

Random facts about Ms. Wynter:

  1. I saw the Easter Bunny when I was nine. It was glowing ball of white mist in the neighbor’s yard that was shaped just like a giant rabbit, sitting on its hind legs. My mom even saw it too, after I frantically screamed for her to come to my room. People think I’m crazy, but I don’t care. It was the Easter Bunny and I got to see him. So there.
  2. One of my favorite sandwiches in the whole world is peanut butter, mayonnaise and cucumber (with salt and pepper) on wheat bread (with a side of potato chips). Yeah, I know. But some people eat crickets and swear they’re awesome, so go figure.
  3. I’m a fifth-generation Detroiter and my great-grandmother, Mary, was one of the first ladies to drive a car here. People thought she was nuts. It runs in the family.
  4. I defeated a bully when I was twelve at the park across the street from my house with both sixth grade classes watching (and screaming). She had been harassing me for months and I finally challenged her and won – it redefined who I thought I was.
  5. I learned to recite Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s, “The Psalm of Life” when I was seven and I’ve been reciting it ever since (especially when I’m feeling low). Like fine wine, my appreciation for it has evolved and improved with the years.
  6. My favorite animals are: cats, pugs, llamas, pangolins, sloths, pygmy marmosets and sea otters. So far, all I’ve got is a cat and a pug (he doesn’t count as a dog) so it’s clear I’ve got to get started on that zoo I’ve been meaning to build…
  7. I love bees of all kinds and I even wrote a middle-grade fantasy about them (coming soon)
  8. One of my favorite cocktails is an Eighteen-Wheeler – that’s half Jägermeister, half Bailey’s served over ice – a fiery, creamy concoction that goes particularly well with a side of Guinness, buttered popcorn and a Disney movie.
  9. If I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life writing, I’d open a pizza and bagel shop. In the morning, you’d stop by for your bagel and coffee and, in the evening on the way home, you’d pick up a pizza. Carbs forever!
  10. My heritage is mixed western European but, I swear to you, my taste buds are Mediterranean – because that’s most of the food I crave (plus bagels and popcorn and Eighteen-Wheelers and Guinness).
  11. I’m a distant descendent of Mary, Queen of Scots. (Kidding! I couldn’t resist.)

Eleven questions from my nominator, Ms. Megan Cutler:

  1. What is one thing you have done that you never thought you’d do? Get to live a creative life and write the stories I want.
  2. What is your favorite book or series of books? Impossible question! Ok, fine. Let’s see… Probably Lord of the Rings, if we’re talking series, and Lonesome Dove for a single title.
  3. If money were no object and you could live anywhere, where would you choose? Miami in the winter and Martha’s Vineyard in the summer. I’m like an East-coaster who actually grew up in the Midwest.
  4. If you could meet any person, living or dead, who would it be and why? Julia Child. I want to eat and drink (too much) with her in Paris and laugh at the folly of life.
  5. How do you find motivation on your off days? I remind myself that if I only wrote on my so-called “motivated days” that would be twice a year. Books get written on the days you don’t want to write.
  6. What is your favorite type of music and/or band/performer? The Pixies.
  7. If a genie were to grant you one wish, what would you wish for? To write a New York Times bestseller.
  8. What is your favorite way to spend your free time? Watching Disney and eating popcorn, with the occasional Eighteen-Wheeler.
  9. Who is your favorite fictional character and why? Gus McCray of Lonesome Dove – one of the most heroic, funny and relatable heroes that ever lived. Wish I could hug and kiss him.
  10. What is one thing are you most proud of? Writing my first book. It’s unpublished but that doesn’t matter. It proved I can do almost anything.
  11. What is your favorite piece of advice either that you have received or that you wish to pass on? I don’t believe writers are born, I believe they’re willed. Plus, while our talents and results may vary, the average guy or gal on the street has the same immutable right to tell his/her story as Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. Owning that right is the first step to allowing yourself to pursue the writing path you desire.

Now, the hammer falls!… Er, or rather, I nominate eleven other bloggers

Here are your questions, bloggers! Pretty much the same as I was asked above. Follow the steps I listed above (except, hopefully, #5) and you’re on your way. No deadline and no pressure on participating.

  1. What is one thing you have done that you never thought you’d do?
  2. What is your favorite book or series of books?
  3. If money were no object and you could live anywhere, where would you choose?
  4. If you could meet any person, living or dead, who would it be and why?
  5. How do you find motivation on your off days?
  6. What is your favorite movie or TV series?
  7. If a genie were to grant you one wish, what would you wish for?
  8. What is your favorite way to spend your free time?
  9. Who is your favorite fictional character and why?
  10. What is one thing are you most proud of?
  11. What is your favorite piece of advice either that you have received or that you wish to pass on?

Down the Rabbit Hole

The other day I told a male friend who I’ve known for many years that I’ve been writing fiction. I actually mentioned this to him once before and he didn’t really react (which is fine) so we didn’t discuss it further. Then this past Monday, he (we’ll call him Mitch) asked me how my weekend went and I said I was in Chicago for a writing conference.

“A what?” he said.

“A writing conference. I told you. I write fiction.”

“What? How long have you been doing that?” he said with alarm. Continue reading

My Nemesis: Demon Dan the Dreaded Doubter

It took me almost a year to muster the courage to start writing again. I read Stephen King’s On Writing, spoke to friends who were authors and read everything I could find on the publishing world and its challenges. I guess I needed some psyching up and it wasn’t until this last week I really started to understand why.

So I sit down to write about the time I stood up to a bully in front of my entire sixth grade class and a little voice whispers:

“Why are you so important? Who really cares about your stories anyway?”

Yesterday I was thinking that it’s almost like I have a demon on my shoulder who is so good at disguising himself, he sounds just like me – or anyone else who I think might doubt me.

Let’s call him Dan. Continue reading

Creativity’s Kryptonite

In On Writing Stephen King says his muse is a grumpy guy with a beer belly who doesn’t do much more than grunt occasionally at whatever idea Steve throws at him.

My muse is a bit nicer. But she’s busy.  I like to think of her as young and trying to make her way in the crowded metaphysical world.  A pencil is tucked behind her ear, a heavy briefcase over her shoulder and arms full of files as she rushes from one needy client to another down here.  She’s trying to make a difference but also hoping one of us hits it big so she be promoted and get an office with a window. Continue reading