So this year’s writing symposium, Life, The Universe, and Everything has come and gone. It was, overall, a great three days dedicated the craft of writing and game design. It was also a mind-boggling, wildly successful weekend for members of my writing group. I’d love to share the breakdown for several of the panels I attended and share my writing strategy for 2016. A big thank you to all of the hard-working volunteers that made this year’s event so successful.
Panels I Attended
How to Pitch Your Novel
Religion in Science Fiction
Fiction in a Flash
The Spread of Disease
Audiobooks and ACX
Sympathy for the Devil
Kevin J Anderson Keynote – Popcorn Theory
It’s a Book, Not a Baby
Shannon Hale’s Keynote
Writing Excuses Live Taping
As you can see, I was a busy boy for the three days. It was totally worth it though. The main issue I struggle with at LTUE always seems to return to which direction should I take my writing. Should I focus on short stories, or work on my manuscript? Do I try and get a few publishing credits under my belt to show consistency and marketability, or put all of my effort into the venture which could potentially make me some real money? I left the conference without an answer, but having made several goals.
Goals for 2016
First, I have an untitled magical realism short story I wrote last year. It is about love, and friends, and gin. My main goal for 2016 is to find a home for that story. I want to sell it. I want to have a publishing credit with it. But first, another round of edits to it.
Second, I hope to work on a few other short stories which lay in various states of completion. There are kernels of great stories scattered throughout several writing journals and programs. I need to consolidate everything into easy to manage place. I definitely want to start utilizing websites such as Submission Grinder for shopping my stories around – this site was one of the most valuable tidbits of info I received at LTUE.
Finally, I want to keep working on my manuscripts. The stories of Weald, Rasche, and Purl need to be told – they are the stories I want to read….I just have to write them first. I have always been under the impression that my manuscript needs to be more or less finished before I begin shopping for an agent or publisher, but that was proven wrong by a close friend of mine during the conference.
Victories from LTUE
Ultimately, I was able to hang out my dearest friends for three days and talk the craft of writing – what else does a boy need? There were a few major victories for me during this year’s events, but none of them pertain to my own writing. First, two amazing writers in my writing group took the opportunity to enroll in Pitch/Crit sessions with agents. Both were asked for full manuscripts of their work, and one was already sent an email confirming that the publisher wants to extend a contract not only for the partial manuscript that was pitched, but for an entire series based on it. It the negotiations work out, he’ll have his first book on the shelf in early 2017. The other writer sent over a trilogy, so it will take a bit for the agent to read through them.
To me, this is one of the greatest victories I could ever ask for. This whole writing thing really took off for us a little over three years ago after one seemingly innocuous conversation about a podcast by some people called Writing Excuses. My good friend Richie approached me about an episode because I mentioned at one point that I used to write. We got pretty excited about things and I started listening to Writing Excuses non-stop – I went and downloaded every episode and listened to them back-to-back-to-back. A couple more friends got in on the conversation and quickly we formed the core of our writing group. Richie, Shannon, Alecia, and I started to talk about this craft non-stop. Shortly Will joined and we have been the foundation the entire time. I give you background only to build up to my second victory at LTUE.
That’s right. That is us, the Writers Guild, getting a quick pick with the Writing Excuses cast – the group that lit a flame under our asses. From left to right we have Will Munn, Alecia Gardner, Shannon Bradshaw, Richie Franklin (behind), Mary Robinette Kowal, Me (behind), Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler. This was an amazing opportunity, and we thank the WE cast for taking a moment to do this – their recordings ran late, so they were already behind schedule – this meant the world to myself and the rest of the Writers Guild.
So this is where I get a little real with myself. I was completely drained after LTUE this year. Some of that has to due with gaming with friends until 2am and then getting up at 7 to head back down to the symposium. Some of it has to due with burning through so much excitement – I was on adrenaline overdrive every day. This all lead to a complete crash on Saturday, which caused me to strain through a certified migraine all day until after the photo op with Writing Excuses. I sat through the recordings with tunnel vision and feeling quite nauseous, but I would not have missed the opportunity for anything.
So there were a few times when my friends found me slumped in a chair, sulking like a sulker would sulk. In those times, I felt completely useless and out of place amongst all of the success surrounding me. Listening to Kevin J Anderson’s story of how he got his start and how he has come to write over 125 titles was 100% inspiring and 80% soul-crushing. I kept telling myself, “Yes, I can do this! I know my writing is good enough to get agents and editors and publishers to look at it” but I kept seeing others around me doing the very thing I didn’t have the courage to do. The proof is there. Offers are on the table. But I have nothing because I allowed self-doubt to cripple my putting words in front of strangers.
I am finding myself completely discouraged with this year in the regards to meeting with editors and publishers. I am the type of person to walk into a meeting like that and own the conversation and get people eating out of my hand. The problem is, I could not get myself to walk through the door. I know my work is publishable. I know the story I am telling interests others. I know this is the career I want to have. I just cannot take the first step. I am hoping that the short story path allows me to start breaking free from my cement shoes and start moving forward.
Most Valuable Tidbits from the Panels
- Submission Grinder is an invaluable tool for finding markets for your flash fiction and short stories. I have begun to play around with it, and I am blown away by how easy it is to use, and how useful it is to me. This is a great find (that most of you probably already know about).
- Elevator pitches are quite useful to have. Eric James Stone went as far as to say that if you write a great elevator pitch before you start working on your full manuscript, you will already know the central idea for your novel, which can be a great way to focus your writing. I love that idea.
- The One Hour Story writing prompt by Steve Diamond. The Writers Guild will be doing this in the near future. One person assembles a huge list of random words (use a random word generator online) and creates a list. Everyone looks at the list and picks out two (maybe three) words that really jump out to them. You start writing at the same time, and have one hour to write a story with a definitive beginning, middle, and end. This exercise forces you to think quickly and outside of the box, and is great for shutting down your internal editor for the sake of speed.
- Writing short stories is not a viable career path. Very few authors can make a living just writing short stories and most use them as writing practice and to help flesh out an idea that may eventually turn into a full novel. I recognize this and see the value in sharpening your skills with word precision and telling a tight story. I also see the value in sending out stories and getting a few publishing credits to my name.
- Kevin J Anderson’s Popcorn Theory. The theory is, you could take a perfect pan and place it perfectly on the center of your best burner. You would take exactly one teaspoon of oil and place it perfectly in the middle of the pan and bring the heat up to the exact temperature needed. You then find the perfect kernel of popcorn and place it in the exact center of the pan and wait for it to pop. You then repeat the process for the next best kernel until you have a bowl of popcorn. Alternatively, you could pour some oil in the pan, turn up the heat, dump in a bunch of kernels and just wait to see what happens. His presentation was eloquent and hilarious, and I took this analogy to heart. It’s time to throw shit in the pan, crank up the heat, and see what happens.
I think that concludes my reflections for the fantastic LTUE 2016. If you get the opportunity to go next year, please do so – you will not regret it. A HUGE thanks to all of the volunteers that bring this event to fruition year after year. A big thank you to Richie, Will, Shannon, Alecia, Alan, Peter, Steve, Larry, and Dan as well – you made this into three days of awesome!