Xtreme Conference

Xtreme writers confJPGWriters conferences provide inspiring and informative sessions and keynotes. Most include social media strategies, general publishing information, writing critiques, and query letter how to’s. But sometimes I wish they offered a bit more. Here’s a few classes you’ll never find at a writers conference.

1. Grit: Learn why a writer needs this character trait to succeed. No-nonsense strategies for  maximizing grit during the writing, querying, and publishing process will be revealed.

2. Work-Space Optimization: Organizing desk to accommodate research materials, notes, and tea/coffee while writing. Best office chairs for a bad back will be reviewed.

3. How to Stay Sane While Waiting To Hear From An Agent: Both traditional and non-traditional methods for reducing stress and anxiety will help determine your best opiate. Alcohol consumption, binge reading, yoga, and chocolate overdosing will be evaluated for effectiveness. Class does not include prescriptions for anxiety and depression.

4. Writing While Making Dinner 101: No-burn, no-fail, nutritious 10-minute-preparation recipes guaranteed to feed family while you write.

5. Best Brews For Stimulating Creative Alertness: Includes sampling French Roast, Sumatra, Kona, and other blends while discussing the impact of roast strength and brewing methods on word count.

6. Ranting & Raving 101: An open forum where writers can complain in a safe, non-recorded, and social media-free zone. (Best done after the Best Brews session.) Electronic devices are forbidden during this time. This is a popular session, sign up in advance.

7. The Future of the Adverb: An academic look at the fate of the much maligned adverb. Where will they go? What will happen to the useful -ly suffix? This is for writers who truly absolutely honestly care about adverb extinction. Save The Adverb and Save A Suffix T-shirts are available for purchase upon request.

8. The Truth About the Publishing Biz 101: From beginning your foray into novel writing to polishing the final draft, this session discloses the facts and statistics you don’t want to know because you will cry. Great as a prerequisite to Ranting & Raving.

9. The Truth About the Publishing Biz 102: From query-writing to beyond, more facts and statistics guaranteed to make you shed a tear or two. Attendee responsible for their own tissues.

10. Inspiration and Why You Don’t Need It:  Taught by a bad-ass drill sergeant who orders you to “sit your ass on the chair and start writing,” this session whips your excuses  into shape.

11. How Not To Piss Off People on Social Media: Discover all the ways you can unintentionally insult, mock, antagonize, and belittle potential readers and your writing friends. A revealing glimpse at just how easy it is to look like a jerk/douche bag/fool.

12: Beta-reader Speak: Formerly How to Critique With Smiley Faces: How to word criticisms about a novel in author-friendly terms. Phrases like “Your MC’s motivations might need some shoring up” and “This is an amazing concept”  and  “A good editor will perfect your final draft” and other niceties will keep you on speaking terms with other authors.

13: How To Laugh In The Face Of Rejection: A follow-up to the Grit seminar, a powerful class offering tips to increase grit while maintaining a positive outlook. Free hits of nitrous oxide ( laughing gas ) will assist in promoting the proper attitude.

14. How Not To Engage: A rigorous class designed for those writers unable to stop themselves from responding to a social media post or negative comment. Real-time dis-engagement strategies will be taught and practiced.

15. Selfie Stick Symposium: Tips and tricks for finding your best pose, background problems, plus benefits and pitfalls of  usage. Please bring your own selfie stick.

What class would you like to see offered at a conference?

Related Links: Readin’ & Writin’; Rock Your Writing

Shades of Writer

shades of writerWriters are never content with the mundane or pedestrian way of saying something. And neither do the words author or writer convey the joys and tortures of years spent slaving over manuscripts.

Here’s a few colorful monikers I’ve come across while scouring the internet.

  • diction demon—sounds perfect for the horror or urban fantasy/paranormal writer
  • dreamer—is the writer actually doing any writing?
  • fictionista—chick llt, anyone?
  • hack—reminds me of a guy I met who said he was a ‘used car salesman.’ Turns out he owned the biggest car dealership in the county.
  • mystery maven—channeling Agatha Christie
  • novelist—succinct and specific
  • plotter—maybe because the word sounds like plodder, I imagine a writer slooowly making his way through his work in progress
  • plot pundit—an expert at plotting or merely someone who enjoys discussing his opinion about plotting in public forums?
  • prose poser—a funny understatement or a writer trying to emulate a master of prose.
  • scribbler—either an understatement or the description of a writer who actually writes in longhand.
  • sentence slinger—I think Louis L’Amour and hear music from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
  • story spinner—many things come to mind with the word spin. Medieval times, Rumpelstiltskin, craziness, political spin doctors, and, of course, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
  • storyteller—a down-to-earth, stories-for-the-everyman no-ego writer
  • wordsmith—visions of a writer hammering, firing, crafting, and forging a sentence for maximum efficiency and beauty come to mind
  • word weaver—pastoral with a touch of ‘artisan-crafted’
  • word wrangler—sounds dangerous

A few words about the word aspiring. An aspiring author is one who aspires to be published. An aspiring writer is one who aspires to write. There’s a difference.

Sooooo, what is the best word to put on your social media bio? Hell if I know!

Related Links: Readin’ & Writin’; Rock Your Writing

9 Circles of Writing Hell

9 circles of writing hellToday I don my Debbie Downer hat to discuss the circles of Writing Hell. Not surprising, the circle is an apt descriptor of the writing process because our thoughts go ’round and ’round…and ’round some more. The bad news: There is no escape for writers. The good news: There is no escape for writers. ( hehe )

So…drumroll… from bottom to top…

Circle 9: The Plunge: It’s an icy plunge into the lake of novel writing. Many aspiring writers aren’t prepared for the cold reality to hit them. I should write every day?  Writing takes many hours of alone time? I have to choose between writing time and um… life? ( A small exaggeration perhaps.) There are standards or industry expectations for genre, punctuation, word count, and story arc? What? Many aspiring writers are stuck in this circle, their heads frozen, their lips mouthing the words, “I want to write a novel….I’m trying to write a novel…but there are just so many other distractions.”

Circle 8: The Lie: Once you leave the icy water and swim to the shore writers often lie to themselves. My novel is brilliant! My mother loves it! This is easy! What are those other writers complaining about? I write just like [ insert name of bestselling novelist here]! There are many flatters at this level. They are your friends, your parents, your significant other. They lie because they want you to feel good about yourself. They lie because they know nothing about the craft and business of writing. They lie because they love you. And you believe them. And you only wrote one chapter so far! You’re a creative genius! ( ahem ) There are many seducers at this level as well. They promise cheap editing, mega sales, and fame. They claim to know the secret to success. They say you need X amount of Twitter followers or you MUST have a  blog or a platform or a presence. They say this is the best course or only conference you need. There are lots of hypocrites, advisors, and ‘experts’ out there. Be wary.

Circle 7: The Pain: Once you uncover The Lie you must push forward with your novel violently. You will finish! You will! You read blogs and how-to books, attend conferences, sign up for creative writing classes, participate in critique sessions, and join writing groups. Your eyes bleed from looking at the computer screen. Your fingertips become calloused. Your tongue is scalded by too-hot coffee. Your back aches from remaining hunched over the keyboard. Your soul liquifies as it pours into your manuscript. You neglect your friends, order take-out, and forget to do the laundry. But you swear to yourself that you WILL finish!

Circle 6: The Burn: It might feel like you’re stuck in a flaming tomb…breathing in the foul stench of your first draft, deleting those very words you worked so hard to write only a month prior. Perhaps, only the charred embers of the original manuscript remain. Or maybe, your dream of finishing this “damn novel” is fried. Or even worse, the burn may come from a fellow writer, a beta reader, or a friend telling you the faults and problems of your masterpiece.

Circle 5: The Rage: If you are not burnt to a crispy crunch you dowse the flames with rage. Like the iconic line, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” ( Dylan Thomas ) you rage, rage against your novel’s weaknesses. You learn more. You write more. You don’t just aspire to be better you work at becoming better. To learn from your mistakes. You will not go gently into that novel good night! You fight your way through….even if it’s gonna kill you.

Circle 4: The Want: You have the best damn novel you could possibly write and now…now you want more. You want it OUT THERE. You want people to read it. You want people to love it! You want to be published. You and about a zillion ( no exaggeration here) others want the same thing. Your drive to make this happen propels you up the novel mountain. The weight of your want pushes you forward. You hoard every bit of information about the publishing biz. You prepare for the next level of Writing Hell.

Circle 3: The Hunger: You need an agent. You must find an agent. You have heard and read many stories about these allusive mythical creatures. Many reign in New York City. They live in castles surrounded by a moat full of unsolicited manuscripts and the drawbridge is never down. They are the gatekeepers between you and Your Dream. Some writers study the art of querying. They read blogs and how-to books, attend seminars, pitch in person, and pay to have an editor or agent critique the first 5 pages during a conference. Some do no query-agent homework at all. Some stalk agents ( bad idea ). And so you write a query…again and again and again—because the first five sucked—and then you research agents interested in your genre. And you stare at that SEND command on your email. You stare at it long and hard. Because this is a game changer.

Circle 2: The Obsession: The craving is baaaaad, both nauseating and euphoric. One minute you’re up, the next you’re down. Any second now an agent will reply to your query. You’ve heard all the stories. You never know when the bad news or good news will come. Two minutes after sending the query you may be asked for a full. YEAH! Or in the middle of the night you may receive the standardized ‘not right for our list’ rejection. The Obsession extends not to just getting an agent but checking your email many times a day. You can’t help yourself…can’t stop yourself…Must…Check…Email…

Circle 1: The Wait: And so you wait. This limbo is agonizing, gut-wrenching, demoralizing, infuriating, and frustrating. And wouldn’t you know it but The Wait has levels of its own. Because if an agent asks for your manuscript you must wait until they read it. And then if they love it and offer representation you wait for your agent to pitch it to editors of publishing houses. And then you wait for editors to request it and then you wait for them to read it and then…


In what circle of writing hell are you?

Keep writing, my friends!


Conquering the Conference

Conquering the conferenceWriters conferences are a wonderful chance to learn about the craft of writing and publishing industry. And if  you have the time and the funds I recommend attending a few. However, sometimes writers enter with closed minds. As a lifelong  student of life if someone with credibility gives me advice I pay attention.

1. LISTEN when people in the know tell you something be it about craft, social media, or an ‘insider tip.’

Not So Good 1: While waiting in a looooong  line at an agent pitching session I asked the writer in front of me what his novel was about. He launched into a summary that began with “In the beginning…”. I suggested preparing a 1-sentence pitch or hook. He sneered, “Impossible. It can’t be done. The agents will just have to listen to me.”

Industry Expectation: Agents expect the writer to capture their interest with a 1-sentence  or quick hook. Long-winded explanations don’t go over well. Agents want to hear about the conflicts, the a-ha moment ( epiphany ), themes, and the premise or concept.

Not So Good 2: After reading 2-pages from her novel many folks in a critique session asked how that scene related to her story. The writer replied that it was “just filler” because she needed “more words.” When the critique team suggested cutting scenes that didn’t drive the plot forward the writer replied, “I’ll just move it to the end of the story then.”

Industry Expectation: Every scene should drive the story forward.

Not So Good 3: A writer insisted the theme of her novel was love. When I pointed out that love was a topic and not a theme and offered a few examples ( the power of love, the cost of forbidden love ) she rolled her eyes.

Industry Expectation: It’s good to have a theme or two. Maybe the agent asks, maybe they don’t. Best be prepared.

2. ASK the right questions. Not So Good questions:

  • “What are your submission instructions?” It’s on the agent’s or publisher’s website!
  • “How do I write a query?” There is tons of information on the internet. Type ‘How to write a novel query’ in the search bar.
  • “What genre do you take?” It’s on the agent’s or publisher’s website.
  • “Why do I need an agent?” Once again, a plethora of info about agents, self-publishing, and traditional publishing is available on the internet.
  • Do you see a trend here? Good!

3. FAMILIARIZE yourself with the writing process. I’ve had folks ask me to explain climax, story arc, point-of-view, theme, genre, characterization, trope…actually almost everything about “those literature terms.” It’s fun to help them out ( I do teach literary analysis ) but there is also a flood of information and tips out there by big name authors and literature professors and English teachers.

Not So Good 4: A writer told me she had no idea what the POV of her murder mystery novel was in and that it didn’t matter because she “told a great story.”

Industry Expectation: Point of view can make or break a story. Agents expect writers to choose the best one for their particular story.

Not So Good 5: A writer insisted conflict was not necessary in her novel.

Industry Expectations: Stories need conflict and follow a story arc.

4. RESEARCH the industry expectations and standards. There is a plethora of very credible information on the internet. There is information about how to write a query, a summary, a 1-sentence pitch, an elevator pitch, and the whole publishing process.

Not So Good 6: A new writer announced in a 100-person session that he didn’t worry about editing and typos because “I don’t know that grammar and punctuation shit. The publisher will fix it all up.” After a collective groan from others in the audience and after the agent panel explained why it was important to submit a well-edited and typo-free manuscript the writer proceeded to argue with these professional agents and publishing editors. Not only did this writer demonstrate his compete inexperience with the process his argumentative personality revealed just how difficult it would be to work with him on a project.

Industry Expectation: If you don’t know that “grammar and punctuation shit” then it will behoove you to pay $$$ for a line edit ( not a cheap one ) before submitting to an agent.

4. NETWORK. Talk to everyone. Ask questions. Introduce yourself. Friend each other on Facebook and follow on Twitter. Ask about the sessions they’ve attended. Inquire about other conferences. For Pete’s sake introduce yourself at those luncheons where they place you at a table with a bunch of strangers. “Hi, My name is_______. What do you write?”

5. EMBRACE THE CHALLENGES. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard writers say they don’t have time to blog or tweet. Or complain that writing a query is “too hard” or learning how to navigate social media is “too confusing.” I’ve also heard new writers complain that rewriting is boring. Writing IS rewriting!

6. DETERMINE if the conference you want to attend is suitable for your needs. I attended a “pitch session” where the panel of agents argued amongst themselves about my novel’s genre ( my novel is not YA, I insisted)  and talked more than I did! ( This wasn’t my first conference pitch session so I knew what to expect. ) I’ve attended GREAT conferences when I returned home armed with FABULOUS information and not-so-great conferences that made me feel bad. One conference coordinator tried to bully me into attending an all-night critique session.

Check the conference’s website for the kinds of sessions offered. Are they all Read & Critique? Do they offer lessons in craft? Do they offer classes or sessions that fit your particular needs? A newbie has different needs than a ‘pro.’ Check the websites of the agents in attendance. Is there an opportunity to pitch your novel? What are the requirements or fee? Do those agents accept manuscripts in your genre? I highly recommend ( if offered ) paying for agent/editor critique session. You will get honest feedback, which is what every writer needs!

7. BEWARE: Don’t believe everything other writers tell you. Check the facts yourself. Many of us have a smart phone. Use it! If a writer claims to have ten thousand Twitter followers you can verify it for yourself. You can also determine if their followers were bought. A writer claims to be “award-winning?” Discover if the ‘award’ is something they paid for. A writer claims to have an ‘amazing’ website? Google it and check it for yourself. I’ve heard lots of tall tales ( we are in the business of story telling after all ) during conferences and some downright misinformation.

Not So Good 6: A writer told everyone that Agent X was no longer accepting new clients and not to pitch to her during the pitch session. This, of course, turned out to be a lie.


  • Screen shot the headshot of those agents you intend to pitch along with their likes and dislikes. Most pitching sessions require the writer to find the agent in a large room filled with other agents. A quick check on your phone will refresh your memory.
  • If your elevator pitch or 1-sentence hook does not yet flow off your tongue make it your screen saver on  your phone. By the end of the day it should be embedded into your brain.
  • Take notes. Be adaptable. Be open to new ideas.
  • Come home and put everything you learned into action.
  • Research your genre.
  • Research agents.
  • Research the publishing industry.
  • Research the conferences.

Have fun at your next conference!

Related posts: Rock Your Writing; Readin’ & Writing’; Symbols & More Symbols

Syntax Smarts

syntax smartsSyntax, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is ‘the way in which words are put together to form phrases, clauses, or sentences.”

The beauty and trick is putting those words together to create a specific effect in your writing. This seems to be the biggest hurdle for many aspiring writers, but one which can be overcome with knowledge and practice.

The proper syntax:

  • establishes pacing or flow. In general, short sentences create an emphatic, passionate, or flippant tone. Short sentences are often used when writing action.  Long sentences create a mood of deliberation, reflection, or conversely, confusion and distraction. The reader is lulled until the writer jars the reader by—
  • breaking the pacing or flow. This shift often mirrors a 1st person POV character’s state of mind. In 3rd person POV it serves to depict the mood of the scene.
  • fosters suspense and surprise. The a-ha moment—that word or phrase that reveals something important—may appear at the end of a sentence and/or paragraph for added syntactical punch!
  • adds variety. Author voice or style aside, readers need a variety of sentences, otherwise the reading becomes tedious and boring.
  • >>>Sentence lengths are: staccato: 1 or 2 words; telegraphic: shorter than 5 words; short: about 5 words; medium: about 18 words; and long: 30 words or more.
  • >>>Variety also includes the arrangement of  the subject and predicate ( everything other than the subject ). You gotta mix it up! Ex: I see spot. Spot runs fast. Spot runs to Sally. Sally pets spot. Nothing shouts newbie like no sentence variety.
  • >>>I tell my students that the joy and pain of writing—or rather rewriting a sentence—is just how many different ways it can be written! There are better ways and worse ways to craft a sentence.
  • provides focus and emphasizes words or ideas by placing at the end or beginning of a sentence. In literature terms, any phrase, word, action, or idea appearing 3 times or more is a motif.
  • >>>Other rhetorical devices include: Anadiplosis: repeating 1 or several words at the end and beginning of the next. “Men in great places are thrice servants: servants of the sovereign or state; servants of fame; and servants of business. (Francis Bacon)
  •  >>>Anaphora: repetition of a word or phase in the beginning of successive phrases or clauses. “We shall no flag or flail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with […] ( Winston Churchill)
  • establishes tone. Didactic, informative, formal, casual, sarcastic, playful, academic, cynical, confused, condescending tones are achieved with specific words and syntax. Have you ever read a textbook that had a staccato or telegraphic sentence? Neither have I!
  • shifts tone. This may be done with multiple POVs or to show a change in a 1st person POVs character.
  • establishes or implies relationships and connections. Which ideas and characters are near each other? Do you use metonymy—substituting one word for another which it suggests? Ex: The pen ( words ) is mightier than the sword ( war ) Do you omit successive conjunctions or add them?
  • reveals character. Dialog or a character’s thoughts reveal age, ethnicity, education, profession, and personality. A rocket scientist will use more sophisticated vocabulary and syntax than a typical teenager. Creating convincing dialog means understanding that folks speak  and convey their thoughts differently.
  • creates and breaks rhythm. A flow of different types of sentence is required for interesting reading BUT a purposely stilted, difficult-to-read, jarring sentence will reflect the mood of a character or scene.
  • generates more abstraction: Need to hide that clue in the beginning of the book? Conceal it in the middle of the sentence or in the middle of a paragraph. Or neglect to give it any visual punch by omitting any adjectives associated with it. And/or wrap a long sentence around it. Or use vague language.
  • creates less abstraction: Add detail. Write clear, concise sentences with no or only one prepositional phrase. Avoid abstract nouns. Use verbs. Use specific language.
  • emphasizes ideas or words. Capitalizing a word gives it presence! Ex. I sensed an evil in the room vs I sensed an Evil in the room. Take a look at Arundhati Roy’s  God of Small Things for a look at how she uses capitalization. Alliteration, assonance–repetition of the same sound in words close together. Ex Row, row, row your boat–are all ways to emphasize.

The VERY best way to understand the power of syntax is to study one of your favorite author’s books. Just don’t read it! Look at how the author put the sentences together. Notice when they are especially descriptive and when—and how—they are not. Note how they wrote the a-ha moment or how they created mood. What passages created so much suspense you couldn’t read fast enough? Note the way they achieved that effect. How long or short are the paragraphs?

 Have fun deconstructing and playing with syntax!