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Monday, June 18, 2012

The First Step (Concarlinas 2012 Writing Panel Notes)

Aaaand we're back with notes from this year's ConCarolinas. Rather than push myself to release ALL THE NOTES at once, and for the sake of my sanity, I'll be posting these once a week (on Mondays) for the next twelve weeks or so. Hope that's all right with everyone. (If not, um, well, sorry, that's the way it's going to be.)

The first panel of this year's convention? Vital info for beginners, and important reminders for the not-so-newbies.

* * *

The First Step
Panelists: William Hartfeld, Allen Wold, Carrie Ryan, James R. Tuck
Moderator: Stuart Jaffe

On Ego:
WH: You need a healthy ego, but you also need to be able to ask for and accept criticism.
SJ: You need an ego to write it, but you need to check your ego at the door to revise it.
CR: Be an “Insecure Egomaniac”.

Round table: General tips
- Don’t just look for external validation.
- Be stubborn.
- Be able to deal with rejection. A LOT of it. Even after you’ve sold and published.
- You MUST have a thick skin.
- You must have more than one book in you, be aware of being able to let things go if they’re not working and move onto the next thing.
- Revise. Everything. Ask yourself: “Is this scene working?”
- Read everything out loud.
- Have perseverance.
- Research first, too. Hours and hours of it.
- Stick through it, even when you feel like quitting
- You must also be disciplined. TV, Facebook, and social media in general are all ways to be distracted, excuses not to write. You must say to yourself, “At 9:00,” (for example), “this is writing time. No Facebook. No TV.” (etc)

Recommended writing books:
- Thanks, but this isn’t for us – Jessica Page Morelle
- How Not to Write a Novel – Howard Mittelmark
- Story – Robert McKee
- Save the Cat – Blake Snyder (a book on screenwriting, but still *very* useful)
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell
- The Hero's 2 Journeys (video) – Vogler & Hague

When reading these books, keep in mind:
- You learn after a while which books are worth reading.
- So much info, especially when you’re starting out, that you won’t review
- Books by authors about how they write
- Work out your own system. No matter what anyone tells you to do, you must find your own way.
- Loosely apply books on screenwriting to your work.
- Don’t necessarily read them cover to cover, just bits and pieces as needed.
- Sometimes even the most basic book or blog post will trigger your brain, give  you a nugget.

Remember to read:
- Read as many of the books in your genre that you like, and write what you read, and learn to tell what each author did poorly or well.
- Often finishing a good book can give you energy and inspiration for your next book.
- Read other books. You internalize what you read. And if you don’t read your genre, you fall prey to tropes and clichés.
- Reading is so important. It never ends.
- Reading is part of your job. Don’t feel guilty taking time to read provided you’re meeting your deadlines.
- Read your genre. Then read widely, expose yourself other stuff.
- Find something that’s related to what you’re writing, to ease yourself into that other genre. You might also find you like those other genres, too. Then branch out from there. These books will add to your internal monologue. But if you hate it, don’t force yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to be judgemental if you pick up a “classic” and think it’s crap, or don’t like it.
- Read poetry, too.

- There are no rules. But be aware of the guidelines so you know which you’re following and which you’re not. i.e. don’t write an 800,000-word novel.
- Bear in mind, the rules change. Headhopping used to be the norm.
Be aware – if one book did something successfully doesn’t mean that you should experiment in.
Must read current books to see what the market is like.
- Have a critique group.
- What "beta group" means: The writer is the alpha, the readers are the betas.

- The value of a critique group isn’t just in getting feedback, it’s in giving feedback. When you critique other stuff, you notice their mistakes and can apply it to your own work.
- Actually, there are 6 rules: Read Read Read, Write Write Write.

- Don’t assume you don’t need editing.
- Be aware it takes a long time, no matter what path you take.
- Get on with it: finish the book. It’s okay to suck. Don’t worry about making it pretty, just get it done and we’ll fix it later. Get it on paper first. Can’t write a second draft without the first. “Can’t fix a blank page.” Also, “The Muse is a Fickle Bitch.” Don’t wait for the muse.
- Be okay with your writing process.
- Don’t spend so much time building your online presence to the point where you don’t get any writing done.
- Be able to recognize bad critiques.
- Be able to develop a desire to be an editor.
- Even crappy critiques can really help. Be able to put them in perspective.

Important Miscellanea:
- Re: self-publishing: It may be faster to get your stuff out, but it takes just as long to get it sold, and still takes many drafts.
- If self-publishing, understand that you have two completely different jobs, being a writer and being a publisher. Be a writer first. Learn that first.
- Collaborations: different systems depending on who you’re working with and how you work it out. Learn to write first, though, so you don’t drown each other out. Be able to trust the person so if you dispute, figure out how it’s resolved. If you both disagree, chances are you’re both wrong. There’s a third path. And have a written collaboration agreement to start with.
- Remember: You’re not Heinlein, and when you're reading his stuff, what you’re reading is his LAST draft. Nothing like his first draft. Neither will
- Perseverance: Don’t rewrite except to editorial direction (Heinlein’s 3rd law) – unless you think a critique is valid, don’t change something that’s good unless you already have an editor telling you to change it.

- Don’t quit your day job. This isn't a get-rich-quick lifestyle by any stretch of the imagination.


  1. So many great reminders. Thanks for sharing, Laura. ^_^

    1. You're welcome, Angelina! Basics like this seem obvious sometimes, but it really helps to have that sort of refresher sometimes.