Southern California Writers Conference 2019 Wrap-Up

My brain is full, in the best way.

This weekend I went to my first writer’s conference, SCWC LA17, up in Irvine. I was nervous going in: I went alone, not knowing anyone, and not really knowing what it would be like.

But from the moment I checked-in at the registration desk, everyone made me feel welcome. Both of the people running the sci-fi/fantasy read-and-critique group were working registration, and their excitement at hearing that was my genre made me change my mind both about attending the banquet and trying to make one of the late-night critique groups.

In fact, their excitement and happiness was, if you’ll forgive the cliché, infectious. For the rest of the weekend, my usual shy self was gone, and I felt perfectly comfortable introducing myself to anyone I happened to sit next to and ask: “So what are you working on?”

It was an incredible feeling. My imposter syndrome — always whispering in my ears at other conferences and events — was quiet the whole weekend. We were all working on different books, in different genres, at different points in our careers. But we were all writers, all facing the same struggle with the written word.

I’d found my people.

I took…too many notes. Each workshop was full of great information, from the panel on writing convincing courtroom scenes — that reminds me, I need to find a way to attend a trial or two — to the talk on writing a strong opening, which ended up giving me insight into what I needed to do to finish a short story I’d started writing.

Yes, I started a new short story while at the conference. And finished a new flash fiction piece. And I came away with ideas for four, no five, new novels.

It was that inspiring.

So thank you, more than I can say, to the organizers and presenters and guest speakers at SCWC. You’ve put new wind in my sails, and given me new ways to up my writing game.

Keeping Score: September 20, 2019

Only 750 words written this week.

But they’re good words, because I got ’em rewriting the scene from last week.

The first draft of that scene turned out to be closer to what I needed than I thought. I was worried I’d have to throw the whole thing away and start over, but just changing the timing of some of the events, and adding in a hazard here and there, was enough to up the tension.

Now instead of being a step-by-step account of someone looking around in the aftermath of a disaster, it’s a POV character dodging debris as they try to figure out just what kind of disaster they find themselves a part of.

Have you ever had an editing task turn out to be easier than you thought? Where a small change to a scene makes a huge difference in how it reads?

Keeping Score: September 13, 2019

Have you ever written a scene, and almost as soon as it’s done, you realize you have to rewrite it?

That happened to me this week, while getting my 1,133 words in.

The scene I plotted out last week started well, but about a third of the way through I started hitting writer’s block. Like I was bored with the scene already, and wanted to move on.

I pushed myself to finish the draft out, just to have the scene done. So I could say I accomplished something that night.

But as soon as I woke up the next morning, I knew I needed to start over from scratch.

If writing the scene was boring for me, it’s going to be boring to read, too. And I could see exactly where I went wrong: I had the scene start after most of the danger was over, and the scene was the character piecing together what had happened after the fact.

Better to start with the character in danger, and worried for their safety. So they have to scramble to keep themselves alive, and figure out what’s going on.

It’ll have higher tension, be easier to write, and be a lot more fun to read.

I don’t want to rewrite the scene. But I’ll need to, if I’m going to keep some narrative momentum going.

What about you? Do problems with your scenes ever manifest as writer’s block?

Keeping Score: September 6, 2019

Only 156 words written this week.

I skipped out on the weekly Write In, and it shows. While I did get a few extra scenes plotted out, and connected some dangling plot threads while I was at it, I only started one scene.

I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. The pups have been sick, the heat wave means that even with the a/c going I still feel lethargic in the afternoon, and there’s been some ripples in our finances.

But I can’t help but think I should have gone to the Write In anyway, and that if I did, I’d have made more progress this week.

So I’m definitely going next week. And maybe I need to start writing more on a daily basis, even if it’s just a hundred words, rather than cramming everything into one night?

Keeping Score: August 30, 2019

1,679 words written this week, all on the novel. That means two more scenes done — well, drafts of the new scenes done — and I’m two steps closer to being finished with this draft.

I missed last week’s entry, because I was at a work-related conference, but I did write that week, somewhere north of 1,400 words, again all in a single night at the Write In.

I’m tempted to add a second Write In night, just to see if I can do it. If I can write as much the second night as the first, I’ll basically double my output in a few hours. I’d get through this draft a lot faster.

And since just yesterday I noticed I had a reminder to send out this draft to beta readers by October 31, I’m thinking I can use the extra speed.

What do you do, when you need to write a little faster? Do you add extra writing sessions, or lengthen the ones you have? Or maybe you drop everything else for a while, and sprint towards the finish?

Keeping Score: August 16, 2019

Only 450 words this week.

Instead of working on the novel, I’ve spent my time revising a flash fiction story, the one I wrote at WonderCon back in March.

The first two markets I submitted it to rejected it. I was about to submit it to a third, when I re-read it and saw some things that just…weren’t right.

So I printed it out and took it with me to this week’s Write In. I thought I’d be done with it in the first sprint, but I ended up working on it all night, trimming words here and there, rephrasing dialog, and dropping entire paragraphs.

I think the resulting story is shorter and stronger. The one thing I’m unsure of is it introduces a bit of jargon, a word that the two main characters (who are non-human) use to refer to humanity. I think it fits the world they’re in perfectly, and ties into the story’s ending, but then again, maybe it’s too subtle? Or jarring?

It’s hard to judge. I’ll probably send it out for one more read-through by some friends before submitting it again.

What do you do, when writing other worlds that might have different vocabulary from our own? Do you explain them bit by bit? Minimize it as much as possible? Or embrace the jargon, and count on the story to carry the reader along?

Keeping Score: August 9, 2019

Only wrote 1,263 words this week (so far). But I feel like I accomplished a lot.

I went back to the write-in event this week, and again, having two hours of unbroken writing time is simply fantastic. I finished an editing pass on a short story, helped one of the other writers brainstorm ideas for her story, and wrote two pages on a new scene in the novel I’ve been revising.

I’ve also noticed printing out the text I’m editing seems to help. There’s something about being able to cross things out and scribble notes in the margins that lets me treat what I’ve written as more of a work-in-progress, instead of a delicate glass bird I might shatter if I alter it too much. It’s liberating, and I think I’m going to do that with all my work from now on.

Who knew that buying a home printer (for a totally different purpose) would have such an impact on my writing process?

What about you? What helps you get into editing mode? Is it just time away from the work, or do you do something to force you to see it differently?

News & Reviews: August 6, 2019

News

HUGE NEWS this week: I sold my first short story!

And to a professional, SFWA-qualifying market, no less!

More details as they shake out, but I’m over-the-moon pumped. The story’s one I’ve been working on for three years (!), revising, polishing, and submitting.

Many thanks to my friends that suffered through reading all those drafts, and offered me the feedback I needed to make the story shine!

Reviews

Finished off two books this week: Persian Fire and Paper Girls, Vol 1.

Persian Fire, by Tom Holland

One of the best examples of narrative history I’ve ever read. Holland is simply a great writer, so that despite some repetition and over-reliance on certain turns of phrase, I sped through its 350+ pages.

And it illuminated aspects of ancient Persia and Greece that I didn’t appreciate before. Like how Sparta trumpeted equality for everyone except for those living in the cities they conquered (who were turned into slaves, one and all). Or how democratic Athens regularly held an ostracism, so they could kick out a citizen who was getting too powerful (or causing too much resentment among other citizens). Or that the King of Persia considered all his subjects his slaves, and yet left them to worship their own gods, and mostly govern themselves, so long as they paid tribute.

I wish it’d gone more into a subject it teases in the Preface: How would Greece have fared if Xerxes had conquered it? Given that the Persian Kings were considering letting the Ionians (subjects of the empire) govern themselves democratically, how much of Western history would have been different?

Holland does go into detail about the Persian empire (origins, revolutions, etc), which is a great corrective to the usual Greek-sided way of telling this story. But he leaves one of his most tantalizing questions unexplored, which is a tragedy.

Paper Girls, Vol 1, by Brian K Vaughn, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson, and Jared K Fletcher

Picked this one up partially because of Vaughn’s work on Saga, and partially because of the clean, comprehensible art style.

And now I have yet another Image Comic (like Monstress, and Saga, and Wicked + Divine, and…) that I’ll pick up every chance I get.

Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that it’s set in 1988, it follows four pre-teens on their paper route one early morning, and that things rapidly get…weird. Like, time-travel and possible aliens and dinosaurs weird.

It’s fantastically well-done. Its creative team is firing on all cylinders: the story is strong, the drawing clear and easy-to-follow, the colors manage to invoke both the 80s (to me, anyway) and the various locations (early morning outside, dark basement, etc) and the lettering conveys everything from a radio’s static to a drunken warble.

Which reminds me, I need to go pick up Vol 2 🙂

Keeping Score: August 2, 2019

(aka Getting Back in the Saddle)

So it turns out what I thought would just be a small writing break while we were on vacation in early July turned into me taking the whole of July off. I wrote a few hundred words here and there, but didn’t make any real progress on the novel.

Which felt great, on the one hand. I got back into learning French, I had a lot more time to read, and my mornings had less time pressure (because I wasn’t trying to squeeze in my writing time on top of everything else). Very relaxing.

But as two weeks became three, then four, I started to worry. Was I ever going to go back to the book? Was I really going to leave it unfinished?

Or worse: was I done writing prose at all? Was four weeks going to become four months, or four years?

I’ve taken a years-long break from writing before. I worried it was happening again.

Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the case: I wrote 1,833 words this week. All in one night.

I went to a Write In event for the first time this week, joining a group that meets at a coffee shop nearby every Tuesday and Thursday. Over two hours, they use the Pomodoro method: write sprint for 25 minutes, then break for 5, then write for 25, rinse, repeat.

I was skeptical going in, but it really worked for me. Being there with other writers, knowing the clock was ticking, forced me to push through the resistance I always feel when starting to write. And even though by the fourth sprint I was tired, and wanted to quit, I didn’t. I pushed through, and as a result I finished two scenes and added 1,800+ words to the book.

I’ve also started working on a comic book pitch, using an online class to get some guidance on what a comic pitch needs to include. I’m using the idea I had for my next novel; I think it’ll make a better comic than a book, since it’s set in the ancient Mediterranean. Showing the world via comic will be a lot more powerful than just me describing it, I think.

Working on both at once makes me feel like I’m making progress again. Like I’m not going to be stuck editing the novel forever. It’s allowed me to relax a bit, and that coupled with the (good) pressure of the Write In makes me feel like I can still do this, even after a break.

Have any of you ever tried a Write In? Did it work for you?

Keeping Score: June 21, 2019

785 words written this week (so far). I’ve got some catch-up work to do over the weekend.

I’m still bouncing around between scenes. If my word count’s lighter than last week, it’s because I’ve been writing more new scenes, and doing less editing of existing ones.

I still feel non-linear is working for me, though. I finally broke through the blockage on the original scene that made me go non-linear, this week, and knocked out a basic version of it. I’m going back now and adding texture, additional insights into the character’s thoughts and motivations.

I had a slight mini-blockage toward the end of the scene when I couldn’t decide how to properly weave in a bunch of backstory and explanation, so the character’s actions would make sense. In re-reading the scene, to get my bearings, I realized a good chunk of that explanation actually belonged earlier in the scene. And in moving it up there, I freed up the narrative load of the scene’s end, so I can say what I need to say without bringing things to a screeching halt.

I also started thinking about changing the gender of one of the antagonists…But I’m holding off an acting on that, just yet. One set of edits at a time.

How are your projects going? Steady progress, or stuck in a plot swamp?