Pros and Cons of a Virtual Writer’s Conference- full article.

I could never have imagined that half my life would be lived on Zoom, didn’t even know what it was less than a year ago. Yet I spent a long weekend ‘attending’ a writer’s conference entirely as a virtual experience. What does ‘virtual’ mean anyway? One definition on vocabulary.com said “exists in essence but not in actuality”. Hmm try to live in the essence of something meant to be actually there. It’s a challenge but surprisingly there are some benefits when it comes to a writer’s conference.

There are obvious advantages like eliminating the cost of travel, hotel, and meals and in these COVID times, not needing to wear a mask or use excessive hand sanitizer. But there are also lesser positives that altogether make a nice package. Here are a few I noted:

• Don’t need to rush to a class or cross a campus to get there or wonder if you’ll get a seat close enough to hear, see or get a chance to share.
• All you have to do is be quick at typing in a chat box to be able to share
• Don’t need to figure out where the next class is
• Can see all the names of the people in a class – might see someone you know. In a classroom you can’t look around too much or people will think you’re weird(er)
• Always have hot coffee in your favorite mug (or a cold brew)
• Can eat a meal if you turn video off as opposed to being hungry because classes are back to back and you don’t want to be impolite and chomp away while the presenter talks about the spiritual nature of writing.
• You can leave, quietly, without worrying about the people around you and hearing their silent questions, ‘what’s wrong with her? This class is great’ or ‘she looks like she might pass out from hunger’ or ‘wish she would stop making so much noise packing up her stuff…’. Just turn video off and slip away back to the familiar actual location of your comfortable home.

I guess it could be summed up that a virtual conference affords convenience.

There are some things lost however. For example, if there are handouts, the printing is on you. You’ll not walk away with any freebies either; prizes, literature or writing themed merchandise. You have to have decent equipment, two monitors (a laptop and a monitor works) so you can view PDFs if not printing them, take notes and also view the class and presenter. You need a reliable internet connection. If you have IT issues, you’re going to miss live classes and only have recordings. On the flip side, there are recordings, so if your dog chews up your router, no worries, all is not lost.

You should consider when you’re in a video classroom, the presenter has as much ability to look around at the faces on the screen as you do. If your eyes are closing or you roll your eyes, mute won’t save you. The presenter may be staring straight at you…kind of feels that way even if faces are spread out over three screens. One of the biggest drawbacks to virtual from live is that you can’t just get up and leave class (enduring the silent attention) and find another class that is better suited for what you want to spend your time on. You only have access to the classes you signed up for.

That is a problem if the class is small and the presenter is painfully ill prepared or just has that kind of creative mind that strings all kinds of thoughts together and nods, ‘okay, as you can see it’s really quite easy to learn these principles for success’. Yeah, not so much. Another soft miss with virtual is that the presenters don’t fraternize any more than participants. That means that when you share your story idea with one person he won’t be connecting with the editor he knows that told him at breakfast that she’s looking for exactly the type of story you’re writing. That’s probably a long shot that such a miraculous connection could be made, but it’s not happening in a virtual setting. In the same way there’s no connections with other writers. Okay so there could be and maybe larger conferences handle this better. There was one event for ‘socializing’ and there was a ‘break out’ room but I stopped by and it wasn’t the chatroom I had hoped for, more like a crossroads between classes.

However, though I know it’s supremely important to network as these events, I didn’t miss the opportunity to mix all that much. Enjoyment of the company of strangers wanes thin super fast for me. Especially when those people are often subtly competitive. There is always a person dominating conversation who finds a way to mention how their book is about to be published or they just landed a job with a major publisher or they have three agents fighting over their manuscript. Then there’s all the posturing and arranging to sit with agents and editors. By the end of a live conference I’m exhausted from all the information and ideas and stressed by all the social failures I’ve had. I almost always battle a bout of depression just after.

Not so this time. Being able to sleep in my own bed. Being able to retreat from the eager, ambitious faces of my classmates every night, I was more focused on learning, less tired and worn out which leads to my conclusion.

If you’re an extrovert and people energize you, a virtual conference will fall flat but you’ll get something out of it. If you can skip the social networking and won’t miss that you don’t have five new friend requests after it’s all said and done, then a virtual conference is a very good use of your time.


Clare’s recommendations to get the most out of a Virtual Writer’s Conference coming in next post.

Super Powers to the Rescue

I commute to my day job over an hour. When I first took this job, I thought I would invest in a Rosetta Stone program and learn a new language with all that drive time. Wouldn’t that be great? Linguistics always captured my attention. The opportunity made me giddy with hope.

“Oh, the things you will do.”

Dr. Seuss


I’m going on three years. I speak English, bits of German, and childish Spanish, none of which I learned while driving twelve hours a week. I have listened to audio books as varied as the “Little House on the Prairie” (serious wisdom in those books) to a biography of Hamilton. I’ve tuned into anything to fill the time, and allow my brain to detach from the trials of the workday and transition to the sanctuary of home. Learn a language after the daily toil of a new job. What was I thinking?

I bring this up because my aspirations remind me of how sometimes characters in books can do amazing things. They can diffuse atomic bombs with two broken hands. They have convenient gifts that allow them to see through walls (I once thought I had this gift. Okay, people be nice I was six). I’ve known some amazing, productive people and I applaud the ideal that they represent. But I find it tiresome that so much fiction is based on superpowers or feats of learning and physical stamina that leave no hope for us normal mortals to see ourselves in them.

Regular people can be truly inspiring without being the strongest, most adept or the top of their game. My point is, let’s try to keep it real, or at least not resort to the ‘special powers’ or ‘super skills’ every time our characters get in a bind. Write on! The world awaits your voice.


Confession

In the speculative Sci-Fi arena there are at times, stretches of humanity’s traits. Two of the four projects I’m working on involve people with abilities that we don’t (currently) have, but they are plausible, and some might say probable.

Pitch the Story

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

There are many milestones to reach on the way to publication. First one of course, is having a story to write. Most of what I write starts with an idea and not a story. The idea gives birth to the story. I’m a ‘Panster’, plotting as I go. More on the Pros and Cons of that in another post. However it begins, eventually a novel is created. Next step, write a query, with the ultimate goal of convincing an agent to represent your precious project that you have lived and breathed for months, sometimes years.

That was the course I was on this time around. I edited a summary of my novel a hundred times until finally satisfied (more like exhausted from editing), I sent out four queries to agents. I was rejected by every single one. But alas, there were no tears or sulking from the replies. In fact, it was an enlightening experiment. The results? I learned agents seem to be first interested in the story. The sales pitch has to be the story. How well the pitch is written is less important than how engaging and how well explained the story. Some of you are probably saying ‘duh’. Hey, I never claimed to be brilliant.

But I looked a little closer at that discovery. I reviewed my summary and realized though I used catchy phrases and active sentence structure, I wasn’t even sure what my story was really all about. I had 103,000 words and I couldn’t quite say what it all meant. A huge storm cloud began to form over my head. What was my story in its simplest essence? Scenes came back to me that in my heart I knew had no purpose. Characters, a wife even, seemed pointless to the story. The storm kept building until finally the deluge let loose and poured down, “Revise, revise, revise!” So began the “major revision version” resulting in around 30,000 words cut. It was hard but, it felt good because the story boiled down until it is now the pure, sweet syrup of what I meant to say.

So, what am I saying in this post? Don’t craft your query letter at the end or even the middle of writing your novel. Craft it in the beginning. Getting the summary concise and meaningful will keep you on track and not let characters step in that distract and eat up time. It will guard against perfect but pointless scenes that dilute the power of your message. Try it!

Joys of Veggie

Veggie Bacon

Have you ever had veggie bacon? Truth be told, vegetables and bacon really don’t belong together in the same sentence and it ain’t cheap. Just saying. It is lower fat though and well, it isn’t meat. We have recently discovered the joys of low fat eating. We went from using a stick of butter every three days or so to every three weeks or so. We cut all kinds of high fats foods from our diet. It wasn’t that hard. However, cutting out full Sunday breakfast with bacon, eggs, fried potatoes and toast slathered in butter, did not go down without a fight. We’ve been hunting for new breakfast friends ever since. That’s why this past weekend we tried veggie bacon.
Within a minute of heating, a bacon-like aroma filled the kitchen. I say ‘bacon-like’ because imagination was needed to turn a kind of vitamin-ish smell into hickory smoke. I have an active imagination so I went with it. The strips didn’t crinkle, but they did crackle, like dried cardboard. My husband took one look and wouldn’t even take a bite. I’m stubborn and was not going to give up on the idea so easy. I crumbled some in my turmeric yellow scrambled egg whites and declared it bacon flavored.
That was as close to success as veggie bacon came.
Pulling this experience apart it occurred to me, I could feel cheated or foolish for trying. I could bemoan the loss of the Sunday breakfast extravaganza I dreamt about or I could congratulate myself for delving into an unknown territory and count myself among those brave souls that eat veggie bacon. It’s the difference of wallowing in short term disappointment or packing the experience up as a long term tool.
It’s the same with writing projects. They usually start with a burst of creative joy, all kinds of excitement at bringing new characters to life. Thoughts like, ‘this is the big one’ or ‘my writing is super hot this time’ and the confident assertion ‘I’ve got this’ roll through the mind like the beat of a victory march. But the story hits a snag. A read to someone yields a confused look and tentative smile. Your own perusal causes you to curse about how terrible it sounds. It is veggie bacon, no worse it’s burnt veggie bacon.( I might know a little bit about this too).
So what to do? Ask yourself if you are in it for the short term satisfaction or are you ready for the long road that will require the carrying of tools crafted by disappointment. Totally up to you. As for me, I’m going to try the veggie breakfast sausage. I have high hopes.

Writer’s 10 Second Rule

There’s an urban myth that if something falls on the floor and it is picked up within ten seconds, it’s as good as if it never dropped, perfectly safe. Microbes have not had time to contaminate.

Our kitchen floor is particularly good for this rule because the floor is a soft linoleum. When a chunk of buttered Italian bread hits the floor, it bounces. Catch it on the first bounce and all is well.

The truth is microbes are fast little buggers. They don’t play by the arbitrary rules humans set up to make tough choices easier or better yet help busy moms save that lollipop to avoid ear splitting screams. With the said rule declared, we save otherwise lost causes. Why? Ultimately, the human body is built to combat invaders, and being germophobic is a luxury most of the world can’t live by, even in a COVID-19 world. Adjustments are made in expectations; risks are accepted, and life goes on. The rule provides an escape hatch to practical sensibility.

Give yourself the same break. If your story falls flat (or any endeavor), if rejections pour in and critiques feel overwhelmingly critical, don’t abandon it as a lost cause. Brush it off, pick out the dirt, slice off the bad part. You’ll avoid calling your less than perfect creative work, ‘trash’ and maybe quell some ear-splitting screams from your heart. Look at it again. Did you see that bounce? It’s coming back up to you. Catch it!

Lost and Found

I owe it all to Rose and her curiosity.

September 2019 summer vacation at the Jersey Shore. Twelve hours of drive, drive, drive spurred on by visions of lazy days reading a Hugh Howey novel, starting a puzzle and of course, always, working on my latest writing project. My I-pad waited like a faithful friend tucked into a travel bag that usually held a laptop.  

When we arrived, we breathed in the salty ocean air, stretched our legs, and piled the contents of the car onto a cart. As usual my husband constructed a perfect tower of luggage, grocery bags, extra pillows, and what must have been fifty assorted loose items.  The last thing to go on top was the I-pad bag. Too late I saw the bag slip to the ground and the I-Pad slide out. To my great relief no harm was done. Neither one of us noticed the red and black flash drive skitter to freedom. I would never miss it since I didn’t intend to bring it and had no PC to install it on.

Days later, mission accomplished, I relaxed with my paperback book open, cold lemonade in my Contigo cup and a bag of barbecue chips strategically hidden from seagulls, though there was one standing on one leg looking straight at me. My phone rang. It was the hotel front desk. A guest had called to say she found something that might be mine, but she was checked out. Could I call her?

I wondered if it was a scam.

When Rose answered and we started to talk, we may have well been classmates at school. My husband looked on with a bewildered face. I just smiled at him as Rose explained that she had pulled in next to our car and found a red flash drive. She apologized for taking it with her thinking it belonged to her friend that had been in the parking space last. Later she opened the drive.

“Are you an author?” she asked.

“Aspiring,” I said.

“Well I spent the past few hours reading your story, I couldn’t put it down. I need to know what happens to Darrell.”

I laughed. I wasn’t even sure she had the latest draft for the story that I had abandoned two years ago.

She shared with me what she liked about it. How it reminded her of the show “The Walking Dead”, and did I model the protagonist after one of the actors on the show? I did not. She gave me some pointers, parts of the story that weren’t working and then promised to return the drive.

It was the single most igniting interaction with a stranger I’ve ever had. I immediately started working on the novel again. Rose volunteered to be a reader and wanted to know how the story would end. So began the quest to stop abandoning characters to digital dungeons, and do what it takes to bring them to life not only in my mind but in as many others that would let them in.

If you know a writer, the greatest gift you can give is to read their drafts and give words of affirmation sprinkled with suggestions. I am in debt to Rose. I need to repay her with a free copy of the published book. Would you join me as I keep my promise to Rose?

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