Tuesday, February 28, 2017

ARRC And Getting The Most Out Of Conferences

The Australian Romance Readers Convention was last weekend (the 24th, 25th and 26th) and I flew down to Melbourne to attend. It was at Rydges, Melbourne, so that's where I stayed, flying in Friday and flying out Monday morning.

It was a fantastic event, I had such a good time and it made me even more pumped for the conferences I am attending later in the year: Genrecon and RWA.

The best thing about ARRC, for me, was the people. Everyone was so friendly. You could approach literally anyone, introduce yourself and instantly feel welcome and have a nice chat. And, if I stood still, even for a second, someone would come over and say hello and I would be in the middle of another fantastic conversation. There was zero snobbery, zero tension and no one was rushing or flustered because of a tight schedule.

The seminars were great too. Bronwyn Parry's session on regency etiquette was fascinating and I would have happily done a whole weekend workshop just on that. It is a READERS conference though, not a WRITERS conference. So there weren't many technical 'how to' topics. Mostly it was discussions about things we love (romance novels and shirtless men).

Someone said to me they rarely go to the panels, they just enjoy walking around talking to people and I think that is an entirely valid approach to many conferences. Networking and talking to people is the highlight for me too.

People who don't attend conferences often ask me why I go with a genuine sort of confusion. I suspect some people think they are like university classes, you go to get some sort of training or education. That's not necessarily untrue, but it's only a fraction of the whole.

Here are the reasons I go to conferences:

1. To network, make new friends and meet people.

2. To learn specific things.

3. To catch up on industry news that is still on the down-low.

4. To find out who and what is popular in genres I don't track very closely.

5. To hang out with my friends, who are often REALLY busy or in other states, so I often only see them at conferences.

6. To increase my own visibility and public profile.

A lot of people also go to conferences to get new books, get books signed, pitch to editors and agents, learn how the industry works, or learn about writing in general. All of those are equally valid.

So if you are going to go to a conference, here are my tips for getting the most out of it:

1. Know what you want.

Out of those reasons I listed, and any others you may have, what is important to you? If you go in with a focused list of goals, you're less likely to just drift from seminar to seminar, awkward and alone.

2. Be friendly.

If you make eye contact with someone, smile. If someone comes over to you and says hello, SMILE. Make them feel welcome in your space. Use open body language. Be polite and don't barge into conversations, but don't be shy about introducing yourself either. Depending on the convention, have a mental list of relevant questions. At ARRC it was:

- Are you a reader or an author?
- What genres do you read?
- What genres do you write?
- Who are you published with?
- Tell me about your blog? (Authors love bloggers)
- Are you enjoying the conference?
- Where are you from?
- What seminars are you excited about?
- Are you going to *insert various extras like dinner event*?
- Wasn't *keynote speaker* fantastic?

A light discussion about those topics will take at least 15 minutes, which is when one of you will usually flit on to someone else.

3. If you are coming to learn, have questions prepared in advance.

Meg and I are working on a sport romance so naturally I went to the sport romance talk. I knew before I even got to Melbourne what I wanted to learn in that session. Several of my questions were answered by the talk itself, and then I was ready to ask the others in the questions portion of the talk. I went away very happy.

However Bronwyn Parry's regency talk was just something I thought sounded interesting and the things I learnt in that session were far more interesting than anything I would have thought to ask about.

4. Wear appropriate clothing. Particularly shoes.

The hotel was air conditioned, which sometimes meant it was fine and sometimes meant it everyone got hypothermia. So a light jacket was a must. You also spent a lot of time on your feet, so comfortable shoes will save you a lot of pain.

The dress code for these events is almost always smart casual. You need clothes you can sit AND stand in for long periods comfortably. And since you are networking with other professionals, you need to be clean and semi presentable.

Conferences are often perfume free events too, since a lot of people have allergies. So plan accordingly. I ended up having to change shirts twice a day and ran out of clothes and had to wash a shirt in the sink for Sunday. I failed at planning.

Also don't wear your favourite pair of jeans which have started ripping all the time, or they will rip at the awards dinner and your editor and a famous author will have to check how much of your ass is hanging out at what is essentially a black tie event.

True story.

5. Remember it's a professional event.

Don't be rude. Don't talk behind someone's back. Don't get drunk. Don't make a mess. Don't be smelly and dirty. Don't cry to strangers about your divorce. Don't disparage the theme of the convention or subsections of the attendees. Don't talk during seminars. Put your phone on vibrate.

Even if you think people won't remember you, they do. I met an author a few years back and saw them again at the conference this weekend. We were introduced by a mutual friend and I said I didn't expect them to recall, but we had met before. Despite me being 15kgs lighter, having 2 feet less hair and different glasses, they still recognised me and recalled the conversation we had.

I know the idea will make some of you very nervous. However if you are friendly and nice to everyone, you don't have anything to be nervous about. If you want to be an author, you WANT people to remember you. That's part of the goal.

Australia has a fantastic writing community. For the most part, people are supportive and open minded. Anyone who is rude or judges you is in the minority and for the most part, can be ignored completely.

Go to conferences, have a fantastic time. I'll probably be there too, though hopefully without a giant, gaping hole in the ass of my jeans.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Did you know you can't copyright an idea? Anything you write is automatically copyrighted to you, but only the words themselves, the ideas can never be copyrighted. However that's okay, because no matter how original you think you are, the idea has been done before.

In fact, that's the great thing about ideas, plots, tropes and clichés. They're free for everyone. The other good thing about them is that if people love a plot, trope or setting, they're probably going to go looking for other books, movies, TV shows and comics with that same idea.

Writers get asked where they get their ideas all the time. The true answer is probably something like: 'Cultural narrative is a concept and tradition that has been passed down since mankind developed language'. We don't 'get' ideas. We 'reuse' ideas.

I think when writers tell would-be writers to read widely, this is one of the important reasons why. Sometimes I meet people who don't read much, or maybe they only read one genre, and they are often convinced they have a really, truly original idea. They're nervous to share it with me. It's always ultimately a huge cliché in a genre they don't read/watch. One that has been done to death, but they have no idea.

A woman in her 50's once told me about her 100% original, never been done before plot where a person from our reality passed through some kind of gate or portal into a fantasy setting. No really. She was super offended when I said it was its own subgenre.

So really, when someone asked me where I get my ideas, the answer is: I mush together a couple of things I love into a new Franken-plot. Take the plot from Die Hard, shove it into the setting from Avatar and then stick in my favourite characters from Psycho Pass and Ouran High as love interests and BAM, that's a novel right there.

Notice I didn't just say I was re-writing Die Hard, I took elements from a bunch of places, themes and ideas that I liked and wanted to play with. This is how you come up with ideas. However for a lot of writers this comes so naturally, it's hard to see what we are doing.

David Farland addresses a similar idea in his book 'Million Dollar Outlines' and calls it resonance. I highly suggest reading his book and even listening to some of his interviews on youtube. Resonance is when ideas remind us of, and build on the culture that comes before in order to give readers a call back memory to other things they have loved.

I think some writers are deathly scared of using ideas that are 'too similar' to other works. Pro tip. Your idea, whatever it is, is similar to other works. If you don't know what they are, it's just because you haven't read them yet. No one cares. Its fine. Once you get over that fear, 'finding' ideas is much easier.

Recently, Meg and I greatly enjoyed watching Yuri on Ice (check it out on crunchyroll if you haven't seen it already), a gay romance about competitive figure skating. Instantly, we knew we wanted to play with the idea. So we wrote a gay romance about a figure skater and an ice hockey player (Bite the Ice). Because we were so enthusiastic about the show, it only took us two weeks to write a complete novel, which is now in editing.

Currently, we are writing a book that is based on an idea I had when I first watched frozen. However instead of a princess fleeing her home to hide her magic powers, it is about two brother magi who were driven out and hunted for years, but now the people who persecuted them are begging for their help to save them from an even bigger magical threat (As Light As Ashes).

So if you are struggling to come up with ideas, read more, watch more, play more then take a handful of the ideas you love the most and jam them together into something new. If you love things, it comes through in your writing. And I can promise you you are not alone in the tropes and ideas you love. Other people who love the same things are looking for more. Your fans will be the people who love the same things as you, and that is an awesome situation to be in.

So go forth, write the things you love.

Remember, you can't copyright an idea, so stop worrying about it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

7 Ways To Recharge When Your Writing Tank Is Empty

We all get blocked. Maybe we're not stopped, but we've slowed down. We were aiming for 1000 words a day and we're hitting 200. Writing feels hard. We're struggling for words, even though we really love writing and have great reasons to be writing. It's not writer's block, it's just an empty tank.

You need to refuel.

1. Read.

Reading is the number one way I recharge my writing battery. Hands down, it is the more effective thing for me personally and I love doing it. However because I am so busy, I rarely make time for it.

I think the top three best things you can read to get you out of a writing funk is to re-read something you really love, read books about writing craft, or read something well outside if your normal comfort zone that still looks good, a new author or genre, for example.

Re-reading something I love always makes me excited to get back to my own writing. There are four trilogies that I go back to over and over when I want to be inspired and they are: The Tamir Triad by Lynn Flewelling (I've probably read it a dozen times, all up), The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, The Captive Prince Trilogy by C.S Pacat and The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie (along with other books in the same world). I also regularly re-read China Mieville's short story collections. You will undoubtedly have your own favourites.

Books on writing craft often give me new ways to look at writing, or ideas I can implement to fix the weaknesses in my own writing, which immediately makes me want to go back and work on that.

New books, books out of my comfort zone, often introduce me to new ideas, tropes and styles. Which is always good, as it expands your mental writer toolset. For me, this is the highest risk option, because it is hard to find books I enjoy and I can just as easily get annoyed.

2. Exercise.

If I am using exercise to clear my head for writing, its important I only listen to instrumental music so I am forced to be alone with my thoughts. For this reason, doing manual tasks like gardening, washing, sweeping, etc also count as 'exercise'. The important thing is your hands and body are busy and your mind is not distracted by TV, games, facebook or anything else.

Getting blood into the brain is also good for thinking, so getting your pulse up can really help. But mostly I think it is the 'busy hands, distraction free' element that is helpful.

3. Go somewhere new.

You don't have to leave the state or country, just go to a nearby town you've never visited and walk up and down the main street. Go to that shop you pass all the time and never go inside. Go to national parks near you and check out the facility. The important thing is, that you go to places you have never been before. It's amazing for creating new connections in the brain.

As an added bonus, if you do this once a week or more, it will make the year pass much less quickly. Novel experiences break up our routine, which stops the brain from condensing our memories of time so much.

4. Talk about it with other writers.

Being part of an active writing community is, in my opinion, one of the best parts of writing. The people I choose to be around are friendly, supportive, intelligent and interesting. Not all writing tribes are and you get out of it what you put in.

However when you are stuck, being able to meet for coffee or chat online about your project, feelings and obstacles can be very cathartic. Find a tribe, support them, be nice to them, listen to them and they will do the same for you.

5. Create something else.

Writing is an act of creation. There are thousands of ways you can create things and sometimes if you are a bit depleted in the writing front, creating something else will help you feel energised again.

It could be art, sculpture, cooking, gardening, music, video games, web design, making something practical, wood working, sewing, knitting, the list goes on. You don't have to be good at it, you don't have to make something you could sell. Joy comes in the act of creating itself. And learning new skills helps your brain make new pathways. It makes you smarter and happier.

6. Finish one of those unfinished jobs.

If you are like me, you have a huge list of things that need to get done. Crossing them off can give you a huge rush of accomplishment and a massive ego boost that you can then channel into your writing. Choose whichever job has been sitting around the longest and get it done. Buckle down. Finish it.

You will feel amazeballs.

7. Journal your feelings.

I journal a lot and I am so grateful to my friend Scarlett, who inadvertently got me back into it. It doesn't matter what in my life is stressing me or frustrating me, I write about it in my journal. I am 100% honest. I let myself ramble and say a bunch of nonsensical shit. I say things I would never, ever say out loud. I say things I don't mean, just so I can get negative feelings out of my system. Sometimes I say I want to punch people in the face or I wish something horrible would happen to them--I don't really want that. I'm just angry or upset with them for some reason.

I write about my writing the same way. I let all my fears and rage and hopelessness out on the page. I say a lot of stuff I don't really believe, so that those words are out of my head. All that negative self talk has to GO SOMEWHERE. Put it in a journal, so it's not in your head anymore, repeating itself like some demented parrot.

Think of words and thoughts as a real, tangible thing. As taking up space in the world. You can't make them disappear. If you think negative things, they will stay in your head until you put them somewhere else. It's like food. You eat it and if you don't poop it out agian, it's still in there, festering in your gut. Some of it its turned into heat and energy and that leaves your body too. Food never just vanishes.

Poop out the gross words in your head into a journal. You'll be glad you did.

And hopefully, you'll be able to go back to writing.