Archives for category: How to Make Friends

Yesterday I spent the entire day preparing for a vacation I’m about to take, but instead of cramming in as many words on my WIP (work in progress), I spent the day scheduling my tweets for the week. I have an unspoken rule with myself: in order for me to call a day “productive,” I must meet a minimum word-count requirement of 2K, ideally 3K. According to these terms, yesterday was a very unproductive day. When I think about it, Twitter and blogging are the two activities that normally hinder my word count on these less productive days. I began to wonder if I should reassess my definition of “productive.” Yes, writing is all about the writing, but there’s got to be a reason why I spend so much time tweeting and blogging.

For me, Twitter is like a water cooler. It’s were I go to mingle with other writers and to gather information on the industry. But Twitter can also be a time drain for many writers. I know this from personal experience. Far too often, Twitter is like my candy dish, as opposed to my water cooler. I know I shouldn’t reach into the dish every time I pass it, but I do.

When all is said and done, I am a writer and my loyalties rest with my word count. Yes, it’s okay to have a day or two of Twitter/blogging activities every so often, but anymore than that, and I’m only making it harder for myself to jump back into that WIP.

Here are some tips I’ve developed in attempt to keep myself from falling into the “Twitter Abyss”–that nasty state of wandering from tweet to tweet while ignoring your writing. I hope other writers will find these tips helpful in structuring their days and in improving word counts.

1) Know your ideal word count, and aim for 50-75% of it every day. To determine your ideal word count, pick a day without distraction (yeah, right), and write for 5-8 hours straight, taking a 10-15 minute break after each hour of writing. Make sure to have an outline for each scene before you start this day, and make sure to keep writing, no matter what, in between those sweet breaks. Your word count at the end of this session is your ideal word count (for now). Your ideal word count will most likely increase as your writing skills grow.  Now, calculate your daily word count goal. So, if you wrote 3K in 5 hours, then you should aim for a minimum of 1.5-2K words/day, 4-5X’s/week.

2) Post your daily word count on Twitter at the end of every day. I started doing this a few months ago, and having that public accountability has upped my sense of duty. I want to meet my word count because I know I will be posting it for others to see. This was terrifying for me at first, but now that I’ve been doing it, I can’t stop.

3) Host writing sprints on Twitter. If you’re dragging or feeling distracted, send out a tweet inviting others to join you for a writing sprint. Set the time. I like to do 30-60min sprints, during the afternoon. Ask participants to tweet their word count at the end of the sprint. Then, write. To illustrate, the last sprint I hosted was a half-hour lunch sprint in which participants wrote as many words as they could from 12:00-12:30p.m. EST (or something like that). This little sprint motivated me to write 500 words during that session, and I’m hoping it motivated others on toward their goals too. Just imagine how many words you could write per day with 3 one-hour sprint sessions.

4) Use TweetDeck to prioritize what tweets you actually read. HUGE TIME SAVER. I do this, and now, instead of weeding through tweets from the 1K+ accounts I follow, I can simply create a column for my top 40 accounts. I only see the tweets from those accounts, so I’m less tempted to keep scrolling through the endless feed from every account I follow. Okay, I still scroll through the endless feed sometimes.

5)Use a service like FutureTweets to schedule your tweets ahead of time. I find that I’m less tempted to search around on Twitter when I do this. I also feel less pressure to constantly log on, find something to tweet about, then tweet. I can take care of all my tweets in one or two sessions per day, and I don’t have to worry about killing my followers with a pile up of tweets at one time.

6) Twitter and/or blog on your breaks. At some point, you will need a break from your writing. I like to take mini breaks (5-10min) every hour, and a longish lunch break. Whenever I return form these breaks, I usually check my Twitter feed. Yes, these Twitter diversions sometimes take much longer than anticipated, so you might want to only check Twitter once every two hours or so.

The Key to Avoiding the Twitter Abyss

Whatever the case may be, I’d say that keeping yourself on the “write track” and not falling into the Twitter abyss boils down to 1)knowing your word count and 2)developing and sticking to a daily routine that helps you to maximize that word count. As much as writers may resist cliches, I can’t help but say it: The numbers don’t lie.

This weekend I attended the Atlanta Writers Conference at the Airport Westin. This conference is very basic in its layout, and if you sign up for the right events, you can get some really great industry feedback. I’ve attended AWC twice so far, and I’ve found that the most worthwhile events are the mixer, the query letter critique, and the pitch sessions.

The mixer is free with your registration for any other conference event, and the agents and editors are obligated to attend. For the cheapest access to the mixer, attendees can sign up for a 30.00 Q&A panel and pay the required Atlanta Writer Club fee, which is 40.00. That would get you into the mixer for 70.00. Yes, for just 70.00 you can spend 3 hours nursing a martini while mingling with 6-8 industry professionals. I’ve made more contacts, and I’ve gotten more requests at this informal event than I have at any other formal pitch event that I’ve attended. Not to mention, I’ve met some of my best writer friends at this mixer.

Another great event is the query letter critique. For 50.00, participants get feedback on their query letter, and at the end of the session, you can always ask your industry professional if s/he would like you to email them your revised query letter. If s/he says “yes,” then you’ve just tacked a successful pitch onto your critique. Way to kill two birds with one stone. Also, when I attended the query letter critique, there were two industry professionals present, which doubled my chances of getting a request.

Lastly, the pitch sessions can be helpful. I had a mixed experience with this event, as the written instructions didn’t match up with what the industry professional was expecting. The person who pitched after me had the same experience, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many others did as well. I’m guessing there was a miscommunication in the written instructions that we’d received. It’s really unfortunate to be in a situation like this, as it can sour the tone for everyone. Even so, the feedback from the pitch sessions is generally helpful.

On the flip side, I’ve talked with conference attendees who’ve expressed feeling disrespected or misinformed by their industry professionals during the pitch events. I’d imagine that this happens a lot at conferences everywhere. Think about it: A handful of weary, travel-worn agents and editors are in constant contact with droves of aspiring writers. Someone is bound to get cranky. It is unfortunate when feelings get hurt, and in my opinion, disrespect of any kind is inexcusable. But who am I?

There are some events at this conference that could benefit from improvement, namely the workshops. I usually pay for these because the titles sound enticing, but I have yet to be impressed by any of the speakers or the content.

I have never attended the manuscript critique, which is the most expensive event, at 150.00. I have nothing to say about this event as of yet.

I also have yet to attend the Q&A panels, but I’ve talked with other attendees who have said that the panels are helpful.

A word of advice to writers who are planning to attend an AWC event. You will maximize your time there if you research the industry professionals beforehand. Chances are that of the 6-8 editors and agents who attend, only 1-2 will be acquiring projects in your genre. I highly recommend studying their Twitter pages, bios, and any other relevant information you can find. Know thy audience, right?

I had the pleasure of attending SCBWI‘s SouthernBreeze SpringMingle 2014 in Atlanta this past weekend, and I must say, this conference packed a lot of punch. Not only did SCBWI schedule some of the industry’s most renowned editors and agents, but also the very reasonable entrance fee included three great meals, Starbucks coffee, and cookies that fell straight from the ovens of heaven. Let’s be real; it’s all about the food. In all seriousness, this conference was rich, both in its format and in the support that it offered to its attendees.

SpringMingle is by far the most spiritual conference I’ve been to, with several faith-based books making slideshow appearances. The facilitators held a moment of silence for “thanks” before each meal. Even the regional advisor, Claudia Pearson, wore a wide-brimmed hat, one for each day, that brought me right back to the Easter Sunday mornings in the old Presbyterian church of my childhood. I still see a hat like that every now and then at the church I attend a in Atlanta, but those sightings are few and far between.

Enough about food and hats. What about the conference itself? I went to the conference to meet agent and author Ammi-Joan Paquette as well as editor Cheryl Klein, perhaps best known for her work on the last two Harry Potter books. In addition to meeting these two lovely ladies, I got to see an inspirational presentation from the prolifically talented Ruth Sanderson, and a heart-warming presentation by Cheryl Willis Hudson, editor and author of “My Friend Maya Loves to Dance.” I also got an inside look at what an art director does thanks to the lovable and humorous Lucy Ruth Cummins.

My interactions with the panelists were warm and cordial and the unspoken “no pitching” rule, as in no pitching your books outside of a formal pitch appointment, added to the nourishing atmosphere of this conference. “No pitching” may sound like a huge turnoff to writers looking to sell their book, but let me explain why it’s not. “No pitching” encourages attendees to be in listening, as opposed to talking, mode. Removing the possibility for pitching also makes the presenters less on the defense and, thereby, more likely to strike up natural conversations with attendees. They don’t have to worry about being put on the spot, and attendees can get to know them on a personal level.

Just because you can’t pitch your project in person, does’t mean you can’t pitch via email later. In fact, all attendees were given special pitch instructions for each panelist. The message behind this pitch-later approach is clear: The quality of your writing is what really matters. It’s true that agents and editors might sign with you because you’ve successfully sold yourself to them, but when your book comes out, it’s the writing that sell its. Your book must sell itself. Unless you’re a celebrity, it usually doesn’t matter how charming, smart, or witty you are. Having thousands of Twitter followers is great, but numbers won’t impact the quality of your writing. The agents/editors at this conference are serious about publishing, and when they’re considering your book, they want to know that it can stand up on its own.

If you are planning to attend SCBWI conferences in the future, which I highly encourage you do if you write children’s books (all ages through YA), here are a few tips that I hope will help you to maximize your experience:
1) The Southern Breeze website is buggy. Be diligent and follow up with anything you sign up for.
2) The email list is hard to find, and if you’re not a SCBWI member, you might miss out on important instructions. Try to get on the listserv, if you can find it.
3) Follow the instructions (if you can find them) for anything you submit to the conference. The facilitators are strict about this.
4) Sign up immediately for critique sessions and one-on-one meetings with panelists because these slots fill up FAST.
5) Don’t expect questions or materials you’ve submitted for group activities to get addressed during the conference. You might be one of the lucky ones whose material/questions reach the top of the pile first, but think of any such feedback opportunities as icing on the cake.
6) Be patient. Almost all of the activities are run by volunteers, and things don’t always go smoothly.

Don’t let these minor glitches stop you from missing out on the wonderful opportunities awaiting you at the next SCBWI conference. Also, if you’re not a Christian, no worries. The faith-based touches are subtle and the quiet moment of “thanks” before dinner is religion-neutral. This group is truly all about the writing and the nurturing of that writing. For me, attending SpringMingle was like getting a big warm hug from a Southern grandmother who loves her pastel hats.

Whether I’ve over-enthusiastically latched on to the first person I met in grade school, or rigorously tried to follow in the footsteps of the writers I love, I’m guilty of having ridden a coattail or two in my life. Coattail riding is helpful, especially when you’re new to something, but too much riding can prevent you from finding your own way, in life and in your career. At some point, you’ve got to spread your own wings, or as some would say, cut the umbilical cord.

Below are 5 signs to help you identify coattail riding in your life. If you see yourself exhibiting any of these signs, then I encourage you to take steps to shedding the training wheels…like right now.

1) You mimic your friend/colleague’s every move. When I first became a full-time writer, I made friends with a published author, and I tried to find out everything I could about how she got to where she was in her career. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of information gathering. In fact if you’re an aspiring anything, I highly encourage that you talk to successful people in your field, to find out more about their journey. However, such information gathering can morph into coattail riding if you strive to do everything in the same way that you’re friend did. It’s fine to borrow wisdom and principles from others, but avoid using someone else’s journey as a blueprint for yours.

For instance, one principle that I learned from my writer friend is that it’s important to attend writing conferences. And while I may attend some of the same conference that she goes to, I also attend others that interest me. Now my friend and I have doubled the information between us. I can tell her about my conferences, and she can tell me about hers.

2) You drop your successful friend’s name into conversations and emails whenever you can. I am guilty as charged here. As an undergrad, I studied under a relatively famous poet, whom will go unnamed. I used this professor’s name every time that I could, hoping to dazzle my way to literary popularity. But I’ve come to realize that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how well your famous friends or teachers write. You will be judged by how well you write. Plus, you might scare off your other friends if you keep name dropping. Either, they’ll feel intimidated by your prestige, or they’ll think you’re arrogant. A few of your buddies might be awestruck by the names you drop, but if you keep at it, you might be left with an entourage, rather than a solid group of friends.

3) You feed into your friend’s love of flattery. Chances are that the friend whose footsteps you’re following, or whose name you keep dropping, will be flattered by your attention. You may be tempted to feed this person’s love of flattery. Don’t do it. You’ll become his/her entourage then, and you and this friend will never develop a balanced relationship.

4) Your successful friend sees you as a charity case. On the other hand, the person you admire might see you as needy. You tirelessly leach information, and your friend doesn’t find this flattering at all. In fact, it’s bordering on pathetic. She hates to see you in this way and continues to meet with you out of pity. Again, your relationship is imbalanced.

5) You feel like you have nothing valuable to offer to others. At this point, your coattail riding is so bad that you see yourself as a charity case. You grow bitter about your lowly position at the bottom of the ladder, and you doubt that you have anything valuable to offer to others. Reality: You may be lower on the totem pole than others, but your experiences are unique–different from anyone else’s. In that sense, you have an infinitude of information to offer. Even if you can’t express yourself as eloquently as your successful friend does, or if you have nothing to offer her career-wise, your experiences are valuable in some other way.

For example, your life might provide interesting writing material for your friend, or your quirky obsession with gourmet tea might add depth and richness to your conversations.

Remember, relationships are rarely all business. Someone has to keep things interesting, and that someone can be you. Just let go of those coattails and take flight in your own special way.