Writer’s Conference – Jump Right In!

When you go to a writer’s conference, the back corner of the room might feel safe but it won’t do you much good to hide there.

There is a lot to be said about participation trophies. For a writer though, there are no trophies without participation.

It’s Sunday morning at the Willamette Writer’s Conference. I’m beat. Even the best of us, those who have chastely avoided the lure of the Sheraton bar, remained hydrated and eaten well are tired.

Three days of extroversion leave me exhausted.

But even on a bedraggled Sunday morning, the script for success remains the same. Get in there. Get your writer hands dirty. Go to that class.

If you are given the opportunity to do so, participate.

I was never much of a joiner. I’ve changed some. Even now though, I’m a more likely wall flower and bar fly than I am a genuine jump in with both feet kind of guy. It is key though to see past what you may tell yourself that you “normally do” or continue the self-limiting talk you have rehearsed for ages.

You came out to the writer’s conference. Not enough. Jump in with both feet.

On Friday night I served as emcee for a hilarious event/ “Pitches Against Humanity” was one part game show and one part parlor game, and an overall riot. I have never emceed anything before. Ever. Yet, once I was given the microphone and the written on the fly rules… it was on. A new guy stepped out. People have been stopping me in the hall ever since to shared a bawdy laugh from the pitch game.

Make yourself known.

This morning, I took a filmmaking class “Getting It Done In Portland” taught by Martin Vavra. The energetic head of local Galaxy Sailor Productions had the task of teaching a bunch of drowsy faces the basics of making a movie?

How better to teach it than hand a bunch of conference goers a role and a camera.

Take a look at what we produced.


What’s the bottom line here?

You got in the car. You boarded a plane. You called out of work in the interest of attending a writer’s conference. You’ve gone pretty far. Keep going though. Learn to bet on yourself. Learn to take a few more risks.

*Special thanks to the actors in the above films: Nancy Long and Steve Bourne performed the gruesomely riveting interrogation from Seven, and Nathaniel Fox and Jack Cary re-enacted my favorite scene from Raising Arizona. 

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Ghostwriter Talks Productivity

Professional ghostwriter talks productivity – Go do…nothing?

ghostwriter talks productivityNow, I’d like to talk about the power of… boredom?

If our culture is obsessed with anything, it’s obsessed with time. Your social media feed is likely teeming with articles about how we can master it, get more of it, and get more out of what we have.

But is the obsession with the effective use of time really all that effective?

A simple study of the habits of successful writers from across many generations and cultures shows a couple of common pass times. Walks and naps.

Walks? Naps?

Go read a writer detail their daily routine. Often their creative time comes after a nap. Or they return to their desk once they’ve taken a walk somewhere.

I could link to a thousand articles about how the human mind works, but for our purposes, it’s important to extract from those traits that a great many writers from history do a lot of their work while bored.

A walk puts the mind at ease. Naps are the mind in comfortable repose. By our strict cultural standards, those are not “effective” uses of time.

Writers need to understand that brainstorming (the mind in an overly active state) is only one single means of drumming up ideas. There is the brainstorming’s antithesis to consider as well. An under active state, the mind at its most sedate and passive.

Right now, I’m working on a novella. Each morning I sit down and spend a good amount of time writing out and developing ideas for the story. At a glance it looks like brainstorming BUT it is critical to note that a lot of the germs of those ideas came when I was doing other things.

Walking my dog. Staring out the window while drinking a glass of water. Listening to music.

Think of water. There is an image I’ll venture a step further on. Impede the river’s flow at any point and the pools downstream dry up pretty quickly. Sometimes you need to just let the flow go free.

We have a cultural aversion to boredom. Until the turn of the 20th Century though, a productive work day was a matter of life and death.

Daydream and the crops rot in the field.

Our dialect is full of idioms that chastise even an idle moment. Ever hear that the Devil finds work for idle hands. Of course you have but I’ll stick my neck out and say, let the devil in.

We have a cultural aversion to creativity as well (because dreamers make poor plowers) so maybe there is something there we can work with.

When you’re done reading this, go do… nothing. Don’t even think about your story. You’ll be surprised at how fast and furious the ideas will flood when you pull away the dam of so-called productivity.

 

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Manuscript Editing – Ghostwriter Advice

Manuscript Editing

Why Manuscript Editing Is As Important A Picking Up The Pen In The First Place

The temptation is there. Every new author mulls this over and frankly, it is hard to blame them. After months and even years writing their novel, they believe that “THE END” should mean just that.

“I’m done,” they say as they press save. “It’s time to put this book out there.”

Whether an author has chosen the traditional publication route through an agent or publisher, or they are going independent via Amazon (or another outlet) putting a freshly completed writing out into the world does not magically transform it into a proper book without proper manuscript editing. Unfortunately for some there are clear consequences to this assumption. Fortunately for anyone reading this, however, those consequences are avoidable.

A writer must first understand the difference between a manuscript and a book.

Amazon can be a wonderful place. The on-line retailer is a boundless market place where up-and-coming authors connect with prospective readers. The platform allows them an opportunity to publish material on their terms, offering exciting new stories for eager readers who are only a few clicks away.

But even eager readers are not easy to please. Even at a couple of measly bucks a pop for an eBook, competition is fierce and there are expectations. One of the first harsh realities that many new authors learn is that a bargain basement price point does not equate to favorable reader response.

Unfortunately for some authors, Amazon slams as many doors closed as it opens. Whether that story is a carefully plotted multi-kingdom epic fantasy, or a gritty noir thriller, books are open to immediate ridicule. More often than not when a book is sloppy, readers will write an extensive review that completely omits character and plot. Instead, the reviewer chooses to dwell on a few comma splices and misspellings.

Sounds harsh? Maybe. The truth is though, this happens all too often. Sadly, this is among the most easily avoidable pitfalls in the publication process. Self-published novels that once had a great chance at building a strong base of readers for an author gets buried by negativity.

Why? The book was still a manuscript. Understanding the difference is critical.

The lesson here? Edit. Your. Manuscript. Make it a book. Although manuscript editing costs money and can be among the more challenging steps in the publication process, if it’s done right, it can lead to the greatest reward.

Sometimes it’s extremely beneficial to have a second set of eyes on your work to maximize the benefits of the editing process. If you feel like you’ve reached “THE END” and are ready to put your work out in the world, get in touch before you do. I can help you properly convert your manuscript into the book it deserves to be!

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Use Of Setting – Ghostwriter Pro Tips

The use of setting can have a powerful emotional impact in your story. But mastering the use of setting to enhance certain elements of the plot can be a difficult process. As a professional ghostwriter, I regularly work with writers whose use of setting falls short of delivering the impact that renders critical moments unforgettable. So let’s take a look at same particularly good writing to expose a few secrets of how to achieve this.

An examination of the use of setting in the Netflix series “Master Of None” eventually leads to a look at Season 2’s penultimate episode. In “Amarsi Un Po” the season’s lone hour-long installments, Ansari and his writing team essentially flip the use of setting from previous episodes.

For the better part of Season 2, “Master of None” thrived using a series of mostly intimate settings. Restaurants. Night clubs and taxi cabs. Apartments. Streets. The show is in large part about a young man’s private interior moments and Ansari found creative ways to bring that to life in Dev’s everyday.

Season 2 tells the story of Dev’s growing love for Francesca and of her ever dwindling ability to believe she can continue on with her boyfriend. That love thing between them is growing out of control and in “Amarsi Un Po” Ansari and his writing team finally use some of the grand settings New York has to offer.

The first act culminates in one of Manhattan’s most recognizable locations, Washington Square Park. After a nice dinner, Dev and Francesca walk and talk, seemingly carefree. This is a seemingly ordinary scene we have seen before, only now it is taking place by the night time glow of the white stone Arch which stands at the park’s northern gateway. Although the conversation between Dev and Francesca is familiar, we get our first sense that something much bigger is in store.

At the episode’s middle point, Dev rescues Francesca from a day alone and escorts her to the Storm King Art Center in upstate New York. Again, the two lovers are simply walking and talking, but now they find themselves amid wide open fields, weaving their way through massive abstract sculptures. Although no one has said as much, setting tells the story that things are quickly getting complicated between them.

Finally, Dev can take no more. He has to say something to Francesca and we get a sense that she is finally ready to listen. When her boyfriend ditches her (again) Dev comes to the rescue (again). This time they take a night time helicopter ride around Manhattan. They circle over the city, taking in a bird’s eye view of one of the grandest cityscapes on planet earth.

And of course, it’s in that helicopter that Dev confesses his feelings for her.

The lesson we take from “Amarsi Un Po” is that sometimes a writer simply must think big. While using grand settings such as these too often can weigh the story down, setting critical moments of large emotional impact in iconic places can enhance their impact.

Ansari could have set these conversations in similar places and still been successful. The writing in “Master of None” is that good. These three scenes are the most pivotal in the series though, and setting them in iconic locations with sweeping views takes those critical moments and makes them unforgettable.

CALL TO ACTION:

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North Coast Redwoods Writers Conference: Part III

Click on these links to read part one and part two of this blog series.

img_0307My name is fourth on the open mic list. At the podium, my voice shudders as I read. “What I’m Thinking About When You Describe How A Beehive Works.”

An open mic reading is an apropos end. I see many hand scribbled notes, poems and excerpts make it to the microphone. Shedding the polish from art feels good.

Ken Lethko announces the conference’s end. His voice is riddled with melancholy. This too feels refreshing. This was a labor of love for those who put the event on. Leaving for the weekend is difficult, which feels corny. I keep walking back in, looking for things I may have left behind.

img_0319I see the part of Crescent City that graces travel books. Down on Pebble Beach Drive at five on a September afternoon, the tattered coast begs for a confession. It wants me to mark the moment, so I take a selfie facing left. Then I take another facing right.

The bartender at Seaquake Brewing says I look like a writer to her. I search frantically for a wrinkle or stain on my shirt. All of her dinner recommendations are out of town, twenty or thirty minutes. One is an hour. More interesting than my dinner of Pad Thai and fishcakes is the ad hoc therapy session taking place in the booth next to me. I write a few choice moments in my notebook.

By 9AM I’m an hour down the road at the bartender’s favorite spot in Cave Junction. Already back in Oregon. Taylor’s a butcher shop/restaurant and for $5 my scrambled eggs, fresh sausage and toast are immaculate. I buy peach jam to bring home. I save raspberry for my next trip through. I need to figure out a way to thank that bartender for her recommendation.

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North Coast Redwoods Writers Conference: Part II

To read the first of this three part blog series, click here.

img_0307Out of town conferences are to the writer what a local tour is for musicians. Time for strange beds. An occasion to sample of foreign delights.

My old man preached local. Ignore homogenized experience. I learned many of my travel habits from a few summer business trips with him as a twelve and thirteen year old.

My Air B&B room is in a house recently been ravaged by a fire. Mary is trying to put everything back together again. The only coffee in Crescent City at 6:00AM is a Starbucks. I look for singularity and settle on a man pacing back and forth in the half-empty strip mall parking lot wearing sweats while smoking a cigar.

The Writer’s Path is the theme for the 16th Annual North Coast Redwoods Writers Conference. As I glance around the library to the satellite campus of The College of the Redwoods, I count sixty other intrepid scribes who chose to blaze a path to this lazy intersection of lost coast and civilization.

img_0312I chose this conference because it seemed different. I don’t mind cattle calls and pitch events but it is nice to schedule time to explore the craft. None of the participants are here to sell a manuscript. This is about voice. Rather than how to, this conference is oriented toward why.

My first two courses are with Marsha de la O. Poetics of journey. The influence of landscape. Between classes is breezy. We tell bear stories. California black bear. I try to crack the code on Gary Snyder’s “Riprap” with a girl whose life travels are limited to a woman’s camp an hour east of Reno. We debate a sense of place. We scribble the definition of palimpsest.

Our lunch table discusses ghostwriting and poetry and the politics of craft beer. After our meal, I sit down to talk travel writing with Dahlynn McKowen. She’s been everywhere. She’s resourceful. My imagination drifts. Conferences are about sorting writing out. Subjects are cast out while others brought closer. You see how your writing path lays out. You follow it.

“Every day is a Wednesday,” McKowen says. “Get used to it.”

I love and hate this characterization. Then I write a few ideas, things I can see myself writing about on a bleary eyed Wednesday ten, twenty and thirty years from now.

The list is long. It winds down the page, crooked and navigable. Where I’m going is no straighter line than where I’ve been.

 

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North Coast Redwoods Writers Conference: Part I

The Sandy Creek Bridge off Highway 42This was supposed to be the year I would branch out. So was last year.

No wonder September arrives before I eventually strike out for the North Coast Redwood Writer’s Conference.

The succession of rivers I cross runs from familiar banks where I was born, to more obscure names. Some sound made up. The Willamette. The Umpqua. The McKenzie. The Mighty Pudding River.

South of Eugene, Oregon, I break with I-5 out toward the coast on Highway 42. It is the Coquille River now, the many forks of which I cross on a sawtooth course southwest.

The same pale blue and gold lettered Jesus sign appears roadside every couple of miles. It feels as though a single, proselytizing soul was responsible for each one. My attention diverts. I look for one high enough on a hill to represent the original.

After thirty miles, the road branches onto Highway 42S and they’re gone.

Three classical music stations come in crystal clear in Bandon. I know I’m far from home when the Classical and Christian talk outlets are in a one-to-one ratio. Combined, they outnumber every other option.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, “I Hate Myself For Loving You” comes on as I pull into Tony’s Crab Shack along the half mile stretch of bayside, downtown parking. The line is long. The wait is longer. When my crab and shrimp melt on Texas toast arrives, I cannot complain.

A fog rolls off the coast as I approach Brookings. This is the last Oregon town before the border. Road construction forces traffic to stop over Taylor Creek. Suddenly, the DJ breaks in over Edgar Winter to talk about the local police blotter. He reads a list of petty crimes, so many more than when he started on-air eighteen years ago.

I wonder why. I turn the radio up. I am hopeful he’ll come to a conclusion, which turns out to be his idea that we all just need to say “yes ma’am” and “no sir” when we’re pulled over. As I pull away and change the station, I think, “This is the first fog I’ve seen since spring.”

Past the border, California 101 amounts to a casino followed by Pelican Bay State Penitentiary. A sign reads Crescent City 8 miles as the electrified fence angles back from the road, vanishing into the scrub pine.

On a map, an unvisited city is full of opportunity. As I pull into Crescent City though, a town I have not visited since a midnight romp through years ago, it feels odd. It’s a tired place that yearned to be more than a prison town. Yet, decades later, the deluge of tourists never arrived. All the coast art shacks faded and dusty. Fifty percent off.

Crescent City California is easy to navigate. After a couple of turns from the highway to the main road, I’m standing at a hair salon. It’s Lady Gaga at 4:14 PM.

“Who are you looking for?”

The hairdresser waits as I read the address and tell her a name.

“Oh, Mary?”

The woman in the stylist’s chair knowingly smiles.

“Yeah,” I reply. “She’s my Air B&B host for the night.”

“She don’t live here,” the hairdresser says, returning to work. “She’s next door.”

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Tips For Writing Conference Networking

No Matter Your Writer Goals, Behavior Dictates Success

Willamette Writer's ConferenceLast weekend was the 50th Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland, Oregon. I have attended this particular conference for going on eight years and I am consistently shocked by the way writers behave when they find themselves in confined spaces.

Some people get it. A majority do, actually. Others clearly don’t though. Four days in a hotel with your colleagues can be stressful even terror inducing. Don’t let it get to you.

Here are five tips to keep in mind before you attend your next conference.

Be Friendly

I’m always shocked at how the tried and true axiom “treat others the way you want to be treated” flies out the door in professional scenarios. It absolutely should not. These should be the moments this trait needs to come out to shine.

Talent is great. It’s enviable. People you meet have to want to work with you though. Are you acting like the kind of person who they’re going to want to call?

That impression begins the moment you walk into the conference room.

Don’t Be Over Polite

The flip side? Try and remain genuine. No one likes someone going over the top into phony. Holding doors and other obsequious behavior may get you into trouble.

Brand Yourself as Friendly & Helpful

While attending the Willamette Writer’s Conference I volunteer. Consequently, people associate me with some inner knowledge about the conference’s inner workings.

Even when my shifts are complete and I’m attending classes, people seek me out to ask questions. I don’t have to help but I do. Once again, it goes back to that age old axiom.

Don’t Get Star Struck

My father once said something very important to me when I was young and I keep it close to me now. Everyone you meet is just another person doing their job.

How I translate that in the conference scenario is, treat those agents and producers (and hotel staff pouring your drinks) like you would anyone else you encounter during your day.

That guy might be the perfect agent for your book but you know something? He’s probably thinking about the wife and dog he left at home. Or he’s just struggling to reach five o’clock.

Keep Your Mind Open

Remember your goal is connection. You may have your sights focused on signed with an agent or manager but you never know how that connection will happen.

It may not be during your assigned pitch session. Your long worked for break may come via someone you shared small talk with in a classroom.

Keep yourself open minded.

Subscribe to my blog today for more tips and pointers on the writer’s life.

Get in touch with me today for 20% off of your manuscript consultation. Just let me know how you found me in your first email!

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