If you’re anything like me, you start writing because a character (or an interesting situation) comes to visit your brain. And you write and write and write and begin to bring to life the story. You start to get excited about your wonderful writing so you share bits and pieces of the project with your friends and/or fellow writers. And then, inevitably the question arises:
“So … what’s the title?”
And you pause for a never-ending-moment before answering, “Uh … n-n-nothing yet.”
You say this even if it is titled because you only have a working title and no one in their right mind ever wants to share a working title because it is usually embarrassing or silly or unimaginative or anything but the perfect title you know your masterpiece deserves.
Speaking from experience, I can say this traumatic title trouble also happens with poems, flash pieces, works of nonfiction both long and short, essays, research papers, academic works … and yes, even blog posts.
So what’s a writer to do?
Well, I wish I could give you a one-sentence magic answer … but sadly, I have yet to master that mystical power. However, I can give you a list of some pretty nifty websites that have helped me tack title trouble in the past. Here they are in no particular order:
- Of course, the folks over at Writer’s Digest offer some insightful tips. Be sure to check out Chuck Sambuchino’s post, How to Choose Your Novel’s Title: Let Me Count Five Ways.
- Don’t forget the value of old-fashioned brain picking – friends, family, even strangers in the supermarket might have the perfect title on the tips of their tongues. My husband was instrumental in helping me figure out the title to a nonfiction piece I recently wrote for a workshop and the first thing everyone commented on was the amazing title.
- And when all else fails, keep in mind that if you decide to publish your baby via a publishing house, the editor and marketing peeps may make the decision for you! So sit back, relax, and keep writing. The title will appear, one way or the other. At least that’s what I keep telling myself!
Do you have any tips for title choosing? I’d love to read them and add your wisdom to my writing arsenal! So please – share away in the comments section!
The cost of attending writing conferences can range from my all-time favorite, FREE, to hundreds (and hundreds) of dollars. Additionally, a writing conference can last one day or multiple days, which, unless you live relatively close to the venue means a hotel room and meals out. How do you know which conference to attend in order to get the most bang for your buck?
I’ll be honest. When I first started my year of writing conferences, I had no idea what to look for to answer that question. I lucked out with my very first conference being a grant-funded (read: free admission) conference that happened to have amazing speakers and workshops. But after that, I ran the gamut of reasonable to ridiculous in pricing. And spending more money did not necessarily ensure a better conference.
So please. Learn from my mistakes. My lost money is cash in your pocket. Here are some tips I found useful when determining how to get the most for your conference dollar:
1. Do your homework.
Spend some time looking at upcoming conferences, the list of presenters, the schedule of sessions and workshops. Are there critique sessions? Pitch sessions? Networking activities? Who is the keynote speaker? If a conference costs $300 but three of the four sessions rank as an “eh” in your book, you’re probably better off at a different conference or waiting until next year. Not sure where to find conference listings? Poets & Writers has a database as does New Pages. In addition, START LOCAL. If you don’t need to get a hotel room, eat out as much, etc., you’ll automatically save hundreds of dollars. Check with your state’s writing associations, community and local colleges, bookstores, and libraries. That conference I mentioned above? The free one? That was run through a joint state and library grant program.
2. Know what you want to get out of the conference.
There are general writing conference, genre-specific conferences, writing retreats, pitch conferences… The list goes on. Are you looking to land an agent? Improve a specific part of your craft? Rub elbows with other writers? A little of everything? Knowing what your goal is can save you money and more importantly, it can save you time. There is nothing worse than feeling like you spent a day in a conference that wasn’t worth your money when you could have spent that time writing. So my advice is to look for a conference that best meets your needs. Just getting your feet wet? A general conference is probably the best bet. Looking to grow in your chosen genre? Check out conferences run by your genre’s organization (e.g., SCBWI, Romance Writers, Mystery Writers, Christian Writers, Sci-Fi & Fantasy Writers, etc.).
3. Consider add-ons carefully.
Many conferences have optional “add-ons” that writers may choose to attend or not attend. These can be extra sessions, workshops, one-on-one critiques or feedback sessions, and so on. I’ve had good experiences with the add-ons and not-so-good experiences. The difference? Careful consideration of the added value. They may cost a few extra dollars, but they can also make the difference between a wonderful conference experience and a “blah” experience. The best money I spent was for an add-on at an SCBWI conference – I got more out of those three hours than I did the rest of the two-day conference. But be cautious – not all add-ons are created the same. I researched before adding on that extra session at the SCBWI conference, and in fact did not register for the other add-on even though it was on the same day. I used that time to write.
Writing conferences can be a wonderful way to grow as a writer and to network with people who can potentially change your writing life. But unless you are independently wealthy, the cost of attending is something to carefully weigh against the benefit. I hope that some of these tips help when you decide which conference(s) to attend this year!
Do you have any other thoughts on how to get the most bang for your writing conference buck? Please share with us – we all like to spend money wisely!
Many conferences offer critique sessions in a group setting or one-on-one feedback meetings with a professional writer, editor, or agent. Is it worth missing out on another session to attend a critique?
Even if you are in an MFA program or have a phenomenal writing group, the feedback you receive in those critique session – while valuable – is often geared toward first (or near-first) drafts. The piece(s) you bring to a writing conference critique should be close to what you perceive as publishable. As such, the feedback you receive from publishing experts will help you fine tune your work so that it is marketable and ready to be sent out for queries or submission. It’s unlikely that the other ten or so MFA students (and even the instructor for that matter) can offer you the kind of insight that seasoned publishing professions can. And while your local writing group is invaluable for helping develop your work, the input from a professional can make all the difference.
There are some things to consider …
- Be prepared to receive feedback. Even brilliant stories and poems can benefit from another pair of eyes and seasoned input. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Listen, take notes, say thank you, and let the feedback simmer for a few days. Don’t try to argue your perspective or explain why you are right.
- Do your homework. Make sure that the person(s) who will be giving the critique is a good fit for your work. In other words, if you want feedback on a romance piece and the only available time slot is with an editor who specializes in sci-fi… consider waiting until next time.
- Bring everything you might need. In addition to the requested number of pages, come ready with business cards, additional work, a bio, a synopsis and/or elevator pitch, and breath mints (hey, you’ll be in close quarters!). You never know where a critique session will lead and don’t want to scribble your email on a napkin or the corner of a piece of paper. Be ready for anything.
- Don’t forget – you’ll hear the good things about your piece, too! Critique sessions are designed to provide constructive criticism, and constructive criticism includes elements in the story, poem, or essay that work well for the reviewer. It helps to hear about what you’re doing right so you can keep it up in the draft you’re presenting and in future work.
If you can’t attend a conference that has a critique opportunity, I recommend joining a writing group (either virtual or in-person) or asking a trusted writing friend for feedback. While it can be difficult to listen to feedback and criticism, it can also make the revision process easier and more focused.
How about you? I’d love to hear different experiences with critiques and feedback! Plus, sharing stories and advice will help other writers as we look for new opportunities to grow. So share away!
Maybe you’ve been lucky and never drawn a blank when sitting down to write. But if you’re like me, you’ve sat. And sat. And looked up prompts. And doodled. And refreshed your coffee. Or tea. Or water. Or whiskey. You’ve told yourself, “Go!” then stared numbly at the screen. So you surfed the net, checked and deleted email. Answered the phone. Did the dishes. Dreamed up fanciful and creative menus for your family that you’ll never make. And decided to go to bed early (or late).
And promised yourself that tomorrow you’ll be able to get something down.
If this is sounding a little too familiar, I have a trick that helps when you find yourself thinking, “I have nothing to write about.” I’m going to describe it as it relates to poetry, but it could be used with any genre. I have found that when I’m stuck with nothing for my fiction, writing poetry can help shake things loose.
Okay, ready for the trick? Here it is:
Write the opposite.
I know, I know. You’re thinking, “What? This gal has really lost it. Write the opposite of what?!”
Let me explain…
Take a poem – any poem. It can be one you’ve written, it can be a classic, it can be one you love, or one you hate. Go through it line by line and write the opposite of whatever the sentiment is in that line.
Here’s an example using Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken:”
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both ….
To write the opposite, I could do something like this:
In the purpled woods, two roads collided
and glad was I to find the path so clear ….
That is an off-the-cuff example that could use (a lot) of work. Regardless, it demonstrates what I mean. At least I hope it does!
To complete the exercise, I would go through every line. If all of sudden in the middle of this task something sparks and I’m inspired, I might drop the exercise and run with my new idea. If not, I’d keep at it, line by line. Then revise and make changes, look for better words and better imagery.
And at the end of the day, I’ll have a poem. At the very least, I’ll have made good use of the day and worked my creative muscles. Writing the opposite it harder than it sounds. It forces you to be creative, look for ways to describe emotions, places, and people. And it can result in some phenomenal poetry!
Don’t believe me? Give it a try! And let me know what you think.
I’m curious – what do you do when the muse is silent? I’d love to hear other tips and tricks!
The Random Number Gods have shined their light upon him, and James will receive a Banned Books Mug from Out of Print!
Didn’t win? Have no fear! April is just around the corner and it brings with it another fabulous giveaway! Be sure to check back often to win!
Read on to find out how you can win the awesome mug from Out of Print pictured on the left! Short on time? Scroll to the bottom for details.
If you have a writer or book lover in your life (or if you are the writer/bibliophile), you know it isn’t always easy to find a unique and fresh gift. Sure, notebooks are nice. And funky pens can fit the bill.
But isn’t it exciting when you give or receive a gift that really hones in on the spirit of the written word?
Of course it is!
That’s why I was so excited to discover Out of Print, an online store dedicated to spreading the love of books through their amazing line up of products. What’s more, Out of Print is also committed to delivering books to communities in which books aren’t readily available.
Check out this blurb from their website:
“As the landscape of how we read and experience literature continues to change, Out of Print is dedicated to celebrating our favorite stories while promoting literacy in underserved communities.
Each product sold donates a book to a community in need through our charity partner, Books For Africa. It also supports the authors, publishers and artists who made these iconic works an integral part of our lives.”
Yep. Good people.
So for my March Giveaway, I’m offering one of their products – the “Banned Books” mug – to one of my lucky followers. This cool little number starts out with redacted titles that appear when the mug is filled with a hot beverage.
I love it!
“What do I have to do to win this amazing mug?” you are probably asking. It’s simple. Here are the details:
- You must be a resident of the US (or have a US shipping address) and be 18 years of age or older.
- Get two entries by commenting on this blog and telling us the best writing gift you’ve ever given or received (if you don’t have one, give us the one you’re wishing for right now!).
- Get another entry by posting about this Giveaway on Twitter. BE SURE TO INCLUDE ME, @TheKatMcCormick, IN YOUR TWEET SO I CAN GIVE YOU CREDIT!
- You can Tweet once per day until the Giveaway ends and earn one entry per day on Twitter.
- Do all of this before the Giveaway officially ends Friday 3/18/2016 at 11:59pm Eastern.
- I will select a random winner and announce the winner on Saturday 3/19/2016 on Twitter and on my blog.
That’s it! Easy as pie. I look forward to reading everyone’s comments!
Good luck and happy writing!
After participating in the October Platform Challenge hosted by Writer’s Digest and Robert Lee Brewer, I was fortunate to find an amazing list of writers with phenomenal blogs and websites. DMG Byrnes is one of those writers and she was the winner of the Platform Challenge, an honor which included a stack of wonderful writing resources. In true pay-it-forward fashion, DMG offered a giveaway for one of those books – the 2016 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market guide from Writer’s Digest.
And I won!
Yippee! Now we are so happy, we do the dance of joy!
Okay, I’m dating myself with a Perfect Strangers reference… Time to move on.
Thank you, Ms. Byrnes, for the giveaway and for the wonderful information you share via your blog.
If you haven’t had the chance to visit DMG’s site, check it out! Tell her I say “hi!”
Congratulations to the winner of my February Giveaway, writer S.K. Lamont! S.K. will receive a new copy of Tom Rob Smith’s bestselling thriller, Child 44 as well as a DVD copy of the movie, which was released in 2015.
Way to go, S.K.!
Didn’t win? Don’t worry – March’s Giveaway is just around the corner!
**Don’t forget to enter my February Giveaway – ends tomorrow (2/12)!**
Ah, the thrill of walking into a room of strangers! Who doesn’t love looking for a place to sit and finding something to occupy yourself with before the action begins? Who doesn’t love negotiating the lunch line, eyeing all of the already-full tables of chatting writers, and trying to figure out who to approach to ask if the seat next to him or her is open?
Uh, the answer to all of the above would be me.
I would not be described by those who know me well as easily intimidated or particularly shy. But that’s because I have faked my way through and around and over my instincts to avoid people at all costs. Instead, I’ve learned to smile and shake hands and speak with confidence. Still – while I don’t get anxious to the point of paralysis at the idea of mingling with strangers, I do get that uncomfortable flutter in my stomach at the thought of negotiating all of the logistics of events like conferences and open workshops.
That feeling brings me back to my school days. It’s a fear of being excluded, left out, unwanted. It’s a fear of being the last kid picked for a team. Of everyone laughing at a joke you’re not in on. It’s a fear of being the last one in the lunchroom, holding a tray of food and finding every seat is taken.
When I start to feel this way, I remind myself that at some point in school I probably was excluded, left out, and unwanted. I’m sure I was. But I got past it. I’m not twelve. Or even sixteen. I’m … much older. Plus, writing conferences are not like school. Not at all. Sure there are usually desks, and yes there is typically one person doing most of the talking. But trust me – they are different. For one thing, we’re all adults. For another, we’re writers. Writers are a friendly if eclectic and often quirky crowd. And many writers are very introverted. All of this spells good news for the shy peeps among us since there is almost certain to be another Nervous Nellie looking for a place to sit and someone to chat with before the show begins. Look for the person hunched over a smartphone. Chance are she is simply killing time, trying to look busy so she doesn’t look alone.
Of course, none of this meandering narrative provides you with direct help. That’s what the rest of this post is for.
Here are my top five tips (or logistics tricks, if you will) for navigating the less “writerly” part of writing conferences
1. Where do I sit during lectures/workshops?
The answer is – toward the front. And also on the end of an aisle or as close to one as you can get. Here’s why. You want to be able to hear (not all writers have great speaking voices … or microphones). You want to be able to see (most presenters hold up books, papers, examples, write on the board, or use the smartboard/overhead). You want the presenter to notice you when you raise your hand with a comment or question (if for no other reason than if you don’t, someone else will). And most importantly, you want to be able to get the heck out of Dodge (the presenter might be so awful you have to leave, you might need to use the facility, and after the session you want to be able to dart over to the lecturer with fabulous questions and insights).
2. Where to sit during lunch?
The answer is – sit with people.
Okay, that’s an oversimplification. If you didn’t bring friends or acquaintances with you, I have found that one of two options works phenomenally. One, make a point to start a conversation with one or more folks in the session before lunch. If you find this person (or people) interesting, you have a lunch buddy. Two, sit anywhere. I’ve sat by myself a few times (when I was lucky to get to the lunch line in the first wave) and inevitably I was joined by other writers looking for company (or, more likely, a seat). I’ve held my breath and walked over to almost-full tables and been welcomed like a long-lost friend. Remember the first post in the series – networking is key. Make these lunch hours work for you!
3. Speaking of food… Should I bring my own? Risk eating what is provided? Or head out to a restaurant?
The answer is – it depends.
I’ve done all three. I’m a fan of keeping things simple. And the easiest thing is to eat the food provided. It’s usually included or offered at a reasonable price. That being said, I have food allergies, I have Celiac, and I’m a vegan. You can imagine that standard conference food isn’t usually going to work for me. If you have any food “issues,” I strongly recommend contacting the organizers to make sure the meal you’re paying for will actually be something you can eat. Don’t email. Don’t rely on the box you checked when you registered. Call the organizers. Once I was handed a gluten-free tuna fish sandwich when I marked vegan and allergic to fish. It was gluten-free, but I couldn’t eat it. Lesson learned.
I have brought my own meal on occasion. It was fine, but tedious to carry about or retrieve from the (distant) car. And I went out to lunch exactly one time. I joined a group of women who invited me along. It was a nice experience, but far more costly than eating at the conference. Still, I made connections and had a good time. Of course, not all conferences provide food and in that case the decision is easier.
4. I have choices for different sessions. How do I know which ones to take?
The answer is – narrow down your options, then do some homework.
First, I am a strong believer in signing up for at least one session that will get you writing. There are often workshop-type sessions (easily identified by the words “bring a pencil!” or “we’ll then put xyz to use!” and so on). Even if this session is offered in a genre that you typically avoid I say, take it anyway. In fact, the less familiar you are with the genre the better. You only grow when you stretch yourself. The active sessions are good for something else, too. They break up the day. It can be difficult to sit and only listen for six or more hours. These workshops will engage a different part of the brain and provide a boost to get you through the rest of the day.
Second, it is easy to cross off the things that don’t apply or appeal to you – or that do. If you write in a specific genre, look for genre-specific sessions. I attended a conference that offered sessions on writing thrillers, writing romance, fantasy world building… If those apply to you, grab them with both hands because they will probably fill up fast. Likewise, if you only write nonfiction, a fantasy world building workshop won’t be for you.But invariably, there’s a slot of time in which none of the sessions are appealing – or worse, all are appealing or “must-have” sessions. That’s when it is homework time.
Third, do your homework. Research the presenters before the conference. Look at their publications. Read their bios. Sometimes a session title sounds tedious, but after reading the bio of the presenter you find that the woman leading it is in two rock bands, writes for a television series you love, and does stand-up comedy on the side. You can bank on that session being lively and fun! Or you find out that the session title that sounded amazing is being led by a writer you didn’t know you detested because he writes under a pen name. You don’t want to spend the entire session muttering under your breath and stabbing your notebook out of frustration. Taking a little time to learn about who is going to be holding your attention (or losing it) for an hour or more can be invaluable in choosing how to spend your time.
And finally, know you will probably regret at least one session. You’ll walk out of a session that left you feeling “blah” only to hear laughter and applause coming from the room of the session you almost decided to attend. At lunch, your table mates will gush about how much they enjoyed and are taking away from a session you thought sounded about as appealing as stabbing yourself in the eye. It happens. My advice is to challenge yourself and make a list of at least three things you know now that you didn’t know before the session. For example, I attended one session that was a total letdown. I was angry and frustrated because I felt like I had wasted precious time and money. But I stuck to the challenge and made my list. One of the things on my list was, “I now know that there are forty-six ceiling tiles in room 103.” Sounds pointless. But I filed that away, and actually used that experience when writing a scene in which the character is bored out of her mind during a class. Not ideal, but I no longer see the session as a total waste because the experience was fresh in my mind so my scene was vivid and detailed.
5. When should I arrive? The website says check-in starts at 8am, but the conference doesn’t begin until 9:30am?
The answer – as early as possible.
I know, I know. The awkwardness of standing around with nothing to do! The horror of waiting! Or for some of us, the horror of getting up early and anywhere on time! I get it. But here’s why I answer this way… Unless you live across the street, you want to give yourself time to find the place, get parking, sign in, grab a cup of joe (or tea or juice), snag a muffin or doughnut before they’re gone (or if you’re me, a banana), find out where the restrooms are, have time to ask any last minute questions, and study the map of the place to figure out where on earth you’re going. You don’t want to be a sweaty mess that runs in late, hands shaking from the stress of finding the venue and parking, miss the coffee and goodies, and start the day feeling behind. I’ve been that person. It’s not fun. Tell yourself the start time is the earliest time listed for arrival, and unless there is a record-breaking traffic jam or you drive for fifty miles in the wrong direction on the highway, you won’t be late. And you’ll have a little extra time to meet people, familiarize yourself with the schedule, and relax before the day begins.
There’s another benefit to arriving early. Most conferences begin with a keynote speaker. If you arrive on the earlier side of the morning, you can actually find a seat that meets the criteria I listed above. You’ll be able to hear. You’ll be able to see (I showed up slightly later – not late, but not early – to a conference this fall and had a great view of a pole for the keynote address). You’ll be able to sneak out to use the restroom – or at least get there first at the break (this is no joke for the ladies room – I’ve seen lines wrapped around the building). And you won’t be the person coming in late to hundreds of eyes that will inevitably turn and stare at you as you try to find a place to sit (or more likely, stand). So set your alarm and be early – not just on time.
I hope some of this is helpful as you step through the doors of your next conference!
If you’ve been to a writing conference – or anything like a writing conference that presented similar tricky logistics – please share your tips and tricks! What has worked (or not worked) for you?