Tag Archives: the business of writing

Notes from the Writing Trans Genres Conference

I like to write up my thoughts as I’m attending a conference or just after I walk away from it, while the plethora of conversations are still swirling around in my brain. It’s a little reminiscent of how I studied in primary school, by taking in as much of the school day as  Icould and then writing up my notes later. Maybe I need to move my fingers around to set the thoughts in place, I’m not sure.

I just finished up my participation in the Writing Trans Genres conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba. There were at least four generations of trans authors and thinkers there, maybe 250 of us, roughly. At least it felt like a quarter of a thousand. I didn’t do a head count and I didn’t ask the organizers. I didn’t want to miss even a moment of it—unlike truly humongous conferences like the Popular Cultural Association Conference or the BookExpo, where there is no hope of going to every panel, this was more intimate and almost comprehensible in scope, until people started talking. At that point there were so many ideas all in one animated stream that it took a lot of energy on my part to keep up with the conversation and concepts. But maybe I’m just an exhausted parent of two kids under the age of three. This conference was marked by several laudable characteristics not commonly found at conferences: Read More…

Twitter for Writers

A few folks have asked me about Twitter over the years and how such a terse medium can be helpful for writers. What content can one even get communicated in so few characters?

The answer is: a lot. If we stop thinking about Twitter as the site of traditional content that takes eight hundred or more words to convey, and start thinking of it as a touchpoint and springboard or longer form pieces, then the possibilities open up. There are scads of great posts out there on growing followers, how to identify good accounts to follow, and so on, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Here are a few of those, as introductory Twitterverse items.

The thing for writers (or anyone, really) to do to get started on Twitter is to set up a profile, find people who are already on Twitter who you know or by your interests, and start generating content. Let’s take these in turn. Read More…

What We Talk About When We Talk About Revisions

Editors signNational Novel Writing Month is upon us, and whether or not we’re keeping up with our word count, we probably keep hearing the advice to put all edits aside and just lay down the first draft. This is good advice, because 50,000 words is impossible to achieve if the writer is focusing on perfecting the first 2,500. And yet people may not know what we mean by revisions or edits. How will we know when to start editing? More importantly, how will we know when to stop?

The answer to the first question is relatively easy–when the first draft (what I like to call “pass through”) is done. And by “done,” I mean every scene that needs to be in the document is written. I point out the scene inclusion because when I’m writing my first draft I often put in place holders like this:

<<STORMY goes to ALLISON’S house, steals her car>>

So when those are all filled in I mark it as ready for editing. Revisions begin as soon as I’m ready, in the next minute, a few hours later, or after a break if I think I need one. Generally I jump right back in after a coffee, because I’m not fond of getting back up to speed on a book; I’d rather stay swimming in the characters, storyline, and themes. Before edits can begin though, I need to think about what my goals are for the second through twentieth pass throughs. Yes, twentieth. Revisions are the real work of writing, as the first draft is the feel good phase. This is the heavy lifting, but look at it this way: you spent this much time building up momentum, you can’t let the project crash and burn now.

At least that’s what I tell myself. Read More…

On the Road for an Unknown Writer’s Book Tour

The book tour is an endangered species, part of the soon-to-be archaic practice of publishers in getting publicity for top- and mid-list authors when their latest books hit the market. I remember book tours from the bookstore perspective, because I was once a book buyer and I coordinated readings up in Syracuse, New York. Stephen King, impeccably nice. Oliver Stone, not so nice. Mollie Katzen had lots of culinary tips, William Bennet was reserved, and Donna Shalala had a great booming laugh. For each of these events we ordered 30, 40, 75 copies of their tomes, and the lines stretched out of the store and into the student life building atrium. We’d put extra people on shift and listen to the cash registers ring with sales. It was something of an assembly line: customers waiting, picking up books, paying for books, getting books signed, out the door. A signing could last one or two hours before the interest petered out. We tried not to frown when people arrived with their own books or with books that had been released years earlier, because the authors were sure glad to see everyone. Some of the authors had requests up front or in their contracts that we had to fulfill, things like having sparkling water, or having a rival’s books tucked out of sight, and of course, of course, we were more than happy to oblige them.

When I do a reading, I count it as lucky if the store remembers I’m showing up that night. One reading had me and a few friends standing nervously on the sidewalk, the store dark and empty of staff, while I called my publicist. We were saved from reading on the street or walking away in sorrow when a random car with three store employees drove by us, wheeled around, and opened up the building. By the time I started reading in the quickly rearranged room, 15 people had shown up. Read More…

5 Mistakes Emerging Writers Make

Everett reading in San FranciscoDepending on how I tabulate my time trying to get published, I’ve either been at it for 26 years or 4. (Long story.) At long last I found a publisher for my memoir, and a few journal editors who agreed to publish short work of mine. I’m grateful for those opportunities, understanding that all of this work amounts to a series of tiny steps toward making my writing a part of LGBT literature, however miniscule that part may be. When people come up to me and thank me for creating something that resonated with them or with which they could identify, I am beyond pleased. Writing is not about making money, after all, at least not for me. It’s about connecting people and adding what I think is a rare voice in the market. I neither apologize for being transsexual or bringing humor into my delivery, because both of those aspects are sorely missing in literature about people in my community.

I admit there are many ways for an emerging writer to keep her/himself from reaching the market, however. And I speak from experience on several of these points, as I’ve fought against making them or have actually gone full bore into materializing these errors. I’ll also note that this is certainly not an exhaustive list. Feel free to add on in the comments. But as I have lived it, the big missteps are these:

1. Grousing–There is so much stress associated with being an unknown writer, I get it. We worry if our work is any good, if anyone will notice our value, we incur piles of rejection slips, even while we watch vapid celebrity book projects get tons of hype from traditional publishing (hey, ghostwriters need to make a living too). One expert will tell us our book is too long, another says it’s not long enough, and so on. But if you’re working on establishing an audience, remember that readers–seasoned readers in your genre especially–have no tolerance for complaining. Nothing will make you look unprofessional faster and with less effort than negative statements about how crappy the publishing industry is or how blind agents are to your talents. Complain in private, among your most solid friends. Read More…

Usable Metaphors to Get over Rejection

7 dwarves singing hi-hoEvery now and again I write a little ditty about rejection letters, because in the world of the writer, they happen with great frequency. As many, many more talented authors than I have waxed about how rejections are good events because they push the writer forward, and are a sign that one is engaging in the publication enterprise.

But rejections sting. They can make us doubt our talent or our message or execution. I’ve heard more than once the dreaded “doesn’t rise above anecdote” when submitting short work. Don’t you dare write only an anecdote, even if our maximum word count is 1,000. Rejection can be frustrating enough that say, a garden variety writer like myself could lose the better part of the afternoon just stewing about the twelve words in the email from the journal editor.

Obsessing over the NOs doesn’t do us any good. With our future productivity and success in mind, let me jot down some metaphors to make rejection more palatable. Read More…

After the Agent Pitch

Emerging writers flock to conferences like the one just held by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association because they’re looking for information–from presenters with tips on craft and marketing, from fellow writers on lessons learned, from the bulletin board that lists local critique groups, and of course from editors and agents who are broadly viewed to hold the keys to the palace of publishing. We practice our pitches, memorize our log lines and synopses, update with lightning speed our writing credentials for our bios, all in the hopes that some paragon of the industry–or new agent looking to sign unknown authors–will ask for a partial manuscript. We feel the onslaught of butterflies invade our intestines when we’re instructed to give a specific subject line in our email message, like we’ve just learned the 21st Century’s version of “Open, Sesame.”

Before you click on that send button, do a few things: Read More…

PNWA 2012 Moments from Friday

red pen correctionsThe first time I came to the PNWA Conference I was by myself, staying as a guest in the man cave of a friend’s house and commuting to the conference hotel by bus. I got to the event early and stayed all day, rumbled home on uneven roads, and zonked out until it was time to repeat the process in the morning. The next year I came with my sweetheart in tow, who was 9 months pregnant at the time, so I ducked out often to grab a meal with her or check in. This year I’ve got a family with me, meaning that I’m attempting to cram baby watching time in with networking, going to panels, and pitching stories to industry folks. Now that exhaustion from two years ago seems tame in comparison.

Also, this is the first year I’ve attended the conference as a published author. That’s pretty rad. Even still, my self-pessimistic nature continues to knock at my mind’s door. Oh, look at your puny stack of one book. And you call yourself a writer?

I’ve written before about how I’ve sent my inner critic away on a permanent vacation. Sometimes it pops back for a rendezvous with the rest of my thoughts, and I have to shoo it away again. Yesterday it tried to set its suitcases down and I handed it a ticket to Argentina. Go see the llamas and glaciers, I said. It slumped off, pissed and dejected. Read More…

First Lines, Hooks, and Asking Too Much of Ten Words

First lines are the mules of literature these days—they do the heaviest lifting in a given book, needing to “hook” the reader into reading more. Writers, I’ve been told, need to show the characters, the overall context for the story, at least a glimpse of the story’s novelty, and the conflict that will drive the plot. That’s a ton of work for the start line of any marathon. Come to think of it, real starting lines only mark a space. First sentences in fiction mark well more than the small area they occupy. Blog after writing blog expresses concern for writers who send in the first several pages of their manuscript—are there enough motivators for readers right at the outset? One conference I attended had a “first page review” with a panel of agents and editors, and more often than not, the industry experts laughed at the submissions presented to them. Surely there were a few ugly dogs among the contenders, but even so, one mere sentence that is supposed to stand above all others is a precariously high bar, and it’s something that feels (to me) less about art or creative integrity to the piece, and much more about marketing standards and focus group data. Consider the following first sentences:

  • Call me Ishmael.
  • It was like so, but wasn’t.
  • All this happened, more or less.

Yes, I picked openings that set up the narrator (Moby Dick, Galatea 2.2, and Slaughterhouse-Five, respectively). Do they say enough as a discrete sentence? I may be a more generous reader than average, but I’m willing to stick with a text past the first 50-300 characters or 5-30 words. (Robinson Crusoe starts off with a 50+ sentence, by the way.) Some ideas may work better with a little set up and delivery. Read More…

The Inconsequential Days of a Mostly Unknown Writer

writing process diagramMy writing has been a struggle for the last two months, what with my office needing significant chunks of my time, and an active baby who requires I chase him around the house giggling for hours at a stretch.  Sometimes when I sit down to type–much less write–I wind up staring at the keyboard through two old episodes of Law & Order, and then I need to get started on something else like dinner or another round of The Baby Chase. Lately my sleep number has been out of whack, putting another limitation on my writing time, as I contort myself to find a position that doesn’t sting my hip socket.

And yet there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This Friday we will no longer be understaffed at work. Emile is sleeping better through the night, and I have hope that balance will stop by for a long visit in my routine. I will be faced with a decision of which writing project to ramp back up for headway-making.

  • There’s the YA novel about time travel with LGBT themes that has come close to representation twice now but that needs some work in the transitions (sic) between eras.
  • There’s the YA novel about parallel universes with trans themes that is in the first draft. I’ve done all the work on plotting and characters, but I could stand to push both of these efforts deeper. And I’m at 18,000 words, so I’ve barely cracked past the beginning of the story.
  • There are two novels for adults that I’ve plotted out and finished the back story but that haven’t seen me start writing. Those are probably going to stay back-burner until next winter, in all probability.
  • There’s the sequel to Bumbling that my publisher would like to see me start, but other than this blog I’ve done no writing on it, nor have I mapped out the scenes or characters. Read More…
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