Friday, April 18, 2014

The Importance of a Writing Community

by Kelly

In one of her books Madeleine L’Engle remembers a psychologist who told her all writers, at heart, are immature exhibitionists who want the whole world to see what they’re thinking and to acknowledge and applaud it.

That’s a pretty narrow view of something that is so pivotal to the human race. Try to picture a world where us exhibitionists don’t exist and practice our craft. No books, no letters, no love notes, no political treatises, no poetry …

I think it would have been more accurate to say writers march to the beat of their own drum. That their minds are constantly weaving stories out of both the extraordinary and mundane parts of their existence. And this involves living with a foot in two worlds: concrete reality and boundless possibility.

And sometimes that dichotomy is a little bit lonely.

I think of the conversations I have when I tell people I’m a writer:

“Oh does that pay well?” Nope

“That sounds interesting.” Not most of the time.

“So you get to hang around in your pajamas all day?” Well, this is Colorado. We’re all just one small step away from PJs.

There are also those fun conversations you have with loved ones who don’t understand creative ebbs and flows. Their advice usually comes from a genuine desire to help, but just leaves you feeling more adrift in a world that doesn’t put a lot of value on the arts.

That’s why I am so grateful for my community of writing friends with NCW and for events like the conference. In a profession that is often marked by isolation, it’s refreshing to find people who laugh at bad grammar jokes, complain about social platforms and dissect the traditional/self-pub continuum. And I could write an entire book on what I’ve learned in the critique groups I’ve been a part of: to see everything I read and write through a critical eye, trust my reader more, show not tell … Even more important, they’ve been there to give moral support when any member feels ready to throw in the towel.

Now that I’ve been a part of one of these writing communities for a few years, I love to look at the dedication pages of books, especially from new authors and see their thanks to beta readers and critique groups; right up there next to family, because the truth is none of us will make it as writers in isolation. It takes a community of writers for any one of us to create a masterpiece.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What's on TV?

By Valerie Arnold

Put the remote down, Chuck Sambuchino exhorted. Of course I agree with the advice, much as I agree with sensible diets, daily exercise, and respecting my elders. 

Was Mr. Sambuchino aware, however, that the very day after the NCW conference, Xfinity launched a free week of premium channels, including HBO?  Game of Thrones, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, the list goes on. Without naming names, some have been known to cram multiple seasons of multiple shows in seven short days and nights during this annual rite. Yet here was a respected author, survival guide extraordinaire, declaiming the dangers of mindless TV. He was quite emphatic. Doth he protest too much? Was Mr. Sambuchino, in fact, a covert agent deployed to increase television viewership via the timeless tactic of forbidden fruit? 

The timing was suspicious. 

Hearing Sambuchino’s admonitory voice in my ear, I reviewed the options. To win the argument in my head, it was imperative to select shows that would teach me to write better, without me actually writing. With such worthy criteria in mind, I narrowed candidates to The Newsroom and John Adams. My viewing would not be a mind-suck, but a Master Class in script-writing from award-winning writers. For Free. Hah! I didn’t even need the remote because I didn’t change channels! Don’t try your defeatist tricks on me, Mr. Gnome Gnasher. 

Settling in, I started with the second season of The Newsroom. Would Will and Mac finally get together? Speaking solely for myself, I don’t know anyone, much less an entire roomful of people, so persistently snappy, snitty, and witty as Aaron Sorkin’s creations. A fact I found myself slightly grateful for, although  my hint of weariness with his characters could be due to watching nine episodes nearly back to back. Normally, I might've broken it up with another show, but I was being responsible. 

Damn you, Chuck! Not only must I suffer the typical guilt engendered by turning on the flickering screen, but now the ghost of the keynote speaker from a conference I paid good money for keeps popping up like one of his sneaky little red-hatted attackers, denouncing my frittering time away on free cable. Wavering between shouldn't be watching!  And, I could've watched so much more!couldn't completely enjoy myself. 

Due to time constraints, I was cut off after Episode 3 of John Adams. Fortunately, I already read David McCullough’s fabulous book, so I know how it ends. Plus, AMC just launched a new show based on a Revolution-era spy ring, so I can still fill up on rebels and lobsterbacks in judicious weekly segments.  Naturally, I won’t let it stop me from writing. Chuck should be proud.  

Valerie Arnold is a writer of mysteries as well as a real estate agent with RE/MAX Alliance of Northern Colorado. Call her if you are selling/buying a home and she'll weave a mysterious tale for no charge. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Write It Down

by Sarah S.

#I think of fabulous ideas all the time for blog posts, articles, short stories, novels, poems, you name it. I can’t tell you the number of incredible scenarios and colorful characters that have bubbled up to the surface while I’m driving the kids to school or walking the dog. These snippets are so extraordinary, I don’t even need to write them down. They are seared into my mind like a hot iron pressed into virgin flesh. And then, of course, I forget. 

I’m sure all of you saw that coming because, unlike me, you are far more serious and organized about your writing life and begin your day armed with pens, papers, i-phone apps or even recording devices to capture such inspired nuggets of genius. I myself own numerous designer mini-notebooks in a variety of colors often adorned with Zen like flower prints. I just don’t know where they are. I suspect my children, who are drawn to wee things, poach them while I’m not looking. 

So, this week I kept a running list of blog post ideas which I am documenting here where no grubby little hands can steal them away to be forever lost with all the orphaned single socks in the world. Perhaps, I will even get around to actually finishing one of these in a future post. 

1)  In Your Dreams: How our subconscious thoughts end up in our stories

2)  Sounds of Silence: When the click click of keys is replaced by the chirp chirp of crickets.

3)  Why Can’t We be Friends? How to write characters you’d never meet for coffee. 

4)  A lot of Alliteration: What works, what wilts.

5)  Sleeping with the Enemy: How my toddler is ruining my writing career. 

6)  Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?: Three authors I’d love to invite for dinner. 

7)   Your my Hero(ine): My Favorite characters of all time. 

8)    Author Envy: Five novels I wish I’d written

9)    Breaking Bad: Grammar rules worth breaking. 

10)  Can You Hear Me Now? Picking a point of view. 

Do you have a back log of blog post ideas to share?

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Flip Side of Rejection

By Dean Miller

After a great couple of weeks to end 2013, including an acceptance email, I opened 2014 with two rejections followed by one more acceptance of poetry I had submitted back in October.
Sure the rejections stung, they always seem to get to me a bit. But my little pity party didn't last too long. And if I need to guarantee an acceptance, I simply sit down and write a new post for my own blog. So far I've accepted every one of my submitted posts.
But I have another perspective on which to I draw upon concerning rejection: Being the rejecter.
A few months ago I sent out a call for writers in NCW who would like to co-author an online serial. Three members met the deadline with their 500 word version of what the next episode of my work in progress should be.
Grateful that I wasn’t rejected in the manner of no one wanting to join me on this journey, I now faced the very task of editors, agents and publishers: rejecting a writer’s hard work.
I read each selection once to get a feel for its overall pacing, tone and writing style. Then I did a second read, thinking of how I would work with this episode and how it might inspire me to create the next one. Two of the stories included details I hadn't considered. I was intrigued. The first cut had been made.
A third read through of the two remaining pieces let me focus on my gut feeling about each version. Which one fit the best? Which one felt like I could most easily work with the author? I made my initial decision and then let it sit for a couple of days.
A fourth and final reading confirmed my selection (and final rejection). I was excited to begin moving forward, but first I needed to do one more thing: send a “thanks, but no thanks,” (aka rejection) to the other two writers. This was harder than I anticipated.
It shouldn't have been that difficult. In the past I was a competitive soccer coach and had spoken with 12, 13 and 14 year old girls and their parents to tell them they hadn't made the top team. I’d survived that. Why would this be any more difficult?
But it was. A day or two more passed, my guilt increasing daily. The writer’s deserved to know the fate of their submissions. Finally, I scripted a brief email to the two writers whose work I didn't select. It took more courage to hit the enter/send key than it did when I submit my own work, fearful of being rejected.
So now, when I receive an email concerning a piece I've submitted, I pause to remember how I felt sending out those two rejections hoping that the writer’s didn't take it personally.
With that thought fresh in my mind, I open the email with anticipation and maybe a little dread. More often than not it stings a little bit. Sometimes there’s an encouraging note, but most often it’s a simple “thanks, but no thanks.”
The next day, I’ll revisit the piece, revise (if necessary) and research to find another place that my writing can call home.

Have you been in the position to reject another author’s work? If so, how did you deal with it?

Dean Miller is the author of And Then I Smiled: Reflections of a Life Not Yet Complete, now available for sale on Amazon and CreateSpace. Follow Dean on Twitter at @deankmiller

Sunday, April 13, 2014

On My Own

By Rich

Paradise Not Quite Lost is no longer ... well, at least in its current incarnation.

You've all followed the plight of my first novel, published by a company that will now remain nameless. I experienced utter elation when they picked up my book last March ...

Then I experienced great euphoria after they decided to release my book at the end of last November ...

I felt mild excitement when the release date got pushed back to December ...

Low enthusiasm when it moved to February ...

And tremendous disappointment when they released the Kindle version of the book without telling me and the publisher stopped responding to my calls or emails.

Thirty-eight days after the last communication I decided to give the company seven days to get back to me or I would assume they no longer wanted to publish Paradise Not Quite Lost. Forty-five days after the last communication I took all of the rights back, and since then have registered the work with the Copyright Office and requested the electronic version be removed. I'm basically starting from square one. Well, the work is already edited, so let's call it square two.

I'm watching the autobiographical documentary of Woody Allen that first aired on PBS's American Masters a year or so ago. In the film Allen discusses the way the movie studio mangled his first screenplay for 1965's What's New Pussycat. From that point on, Allen decided he would be in complete control of all of his movies. Something that continues almost 45 years later.

I'm with Woody on this one, which I may have mentioned in a previous column. Call it first-time enthusiasm, insecurity or flat-out naivete, but I got burned, and I'm not going to let it happen anymore. I'm going to publish Paradise Not Quite Lost under my Wooden Pants label and it's going to be a roaring success, right after Coffee Cup Tales gets my name out there. Any mistakes made in the promotion or sales of this or any future books I publish is going to fall on me, and I'm okay with that. Or, perhaps I should say I'm ready and willing to accept whatever comes down the pike.

Like I've said before -- stay tuned, because it's going to be an interesting trip.

More Writing Bug for your money: We have guest columnists coming up. In terms of numbers, we're talking somewhere in the area of lots. It starts tomorrow and continues until the start of May. Watch this space for interesting and thought-provoking words from your writing colleagues.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Sound of A Deadline

By Sarah Reichert

Do you ever have that dream?  The one where you're in class, taking a final, and yet, you've never read any of the course material?  Or maybe you're trying to get to an important meeting, but the dark places of your mind keep throwing every possible obstacle in your way?

I was awake in that dream this morning.

I can offer some awesome excuses as to why this blog is arriving after noon instead of bright and early like usual.  The unexpected, ill-planned, and school-imposed, four day weekend.  The parent teacher conference this morning.  The week of interviewing sources for articles, and trying to decipher my own note scribbling.  The fast-approaching, four-year-old birthday party. Easter.  Running out of dog food last night.  Karate lessons.  Ballet.  The list is long and varied, and really does nothing to offer why I couldn't put my finger on the something that I was missing this morning.

"What day is it?" I ask during our mad-dash, errand running.  The shadow is in my mind and it's quirking its eyebrow, expecting me to remember why it's there.

"Friday," says my six-year-old.

"Friday, right." I say with faux confidence.

Something putters through the back of my mind, like a mouse skittering through old boxes of unused facts.

"Friday," I say again, drumming on the steering wheel with my thumbs. "Wait...Friday?" The light switch turns on and the mouse darts away.

The deadline smiles from the corner of the room, waving like we hadn't seen each other for a while.  I'll skip the part where I use an expletive in front of my children.

So, we rush home, dropping the errands, the party planning, and the other have-to's.  As a mom, especially one trying to launch a career, sometimes I am divided too many times until something slips through the cracks of the thinly sliced pieces.  Today it was my blog post.  Tomorrow it will be something else.  I haven't remembered what yesterday's was, but I'm sure it will elicit another curse when I do remember.

When writers spread themselves thin, focusing on their platforms, their sources, their futures, they forget to live in the present.  It became clear to me today, as I rushed through traffic, that perhaps I need to organize myself in one solid place, instead of spreading my calendar between phones, post-its, and dry-erase boards.  I hope I'm not the only one who has spaced out her obligations.

What are some of the best organization techniques you use, to keep your deadlines from sneaking up behind you?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Adventures of the Conference Gnome

Post by Kerrie

The Keynote Speaker for the 2014 Northern Colorado Writers Conference was author/editor Chuck Sambuchino. His book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack inspired the conference gnome contest. The rules were simple: if you find the gnome, write an update in his official Gnome Spy Journal, take a photo and then move him to a new location. Then I randomly selected one of the entries and that person won $100 of next year's conference. (Congratulations Saytchyn)

Here is the Conference Gnome's journey

Friday March 28, 2014
Received mission from HQ: Observe writers and await further instructions.

Friday, 11:18 am
The Gnome and I spotted each near the check-in desk. He's in an odd mood-asked me for directions to Casa Lupita. I told him it's someplace in the hotel.

Friday, 1:50pm
Hanging out in Salon II waiting to learn about 9 Habits of Profitable Writing; Gnome plans to write the next great American Novel.

Friday, 3:54pm
Sitting among the foliage, contemplating his life choices. Longs for freedom of days of yore and a laptop.
-Tara and Vivian

Friday, 3:55pm
The Gnome was spying on the group in the Rams Room as they departed-undoubtedly nefarious in purpose.

Friday 4:01pm
It's the Gnome's fault I am late!

Friday, 4:10pm
I found the Gnome in the fake greenery by the picture booth. Not very sneaky huh. I saw him peeking at me.

The Gnome was sitting in a potted artificial pine tree on the conference level. He was halfway through a bottle of Cabernet when I spotted him. And he wouldn't share!

Friday, 5:28pm
First day of the NCW Conference & I've found the knome. Is that spelled correctly? :-)

Friday 9:25pm
A group of Gnome hunters spotted. They Gnome alluded them.  

Saturday, March 29
2nd day of sessions about to begin and Gnome is getting restless to call in his pals. We better keep moving. (Battery died in camera. Can't record his location)

Just came out of session with agent, little Gnome Man came out to give me a fist bump.

"I had to make a stop in the ladies restroom," the Gnome said. "Oops! I didn't look promise."

11:43 am
My poor little Gnome brain was overstuffed with the abundance of good information so I hid beneath the stairs to rest my neurons for a moment.
-Sarah and Heather

This person (arrow pointing above) broke off my arm and abandoned me under a bench to die.

I'm off to the emergency room to reattach my arm. Wait! Where's my arm? Damn fool, lost my arm!

Final Gnome update. His arm was reattached with a special gnome safe bandage. He has recovered fully and hopes to make an appearance at the 2015 Northern Colorado Writers Conference. 

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