ten lessons

As I'm VP of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, people thought I'd know stuff at conference. I generally didn't but I knew where to find out. I ran two sessions, always fun. I tend to aim my talks at young writers for a few reasons: we only have an hour, they need the most help, and I'm not so hot myself. I still have a lot to learn.

This was a bit of a different conference, being that every year I seem to have more ribbons hanging off my name-tag, and thus more faux status. First year: Zero. Second year: Two. Third year: Four. Fourth year: yup, you guessed it. Six.

So, stuff I took away:

1. Write everyday, even for 30 minutes. Work on the book every day.

2. Whining doesn't help anything get better, ever.

3. Fuck any notions of glamor. Eldon Thompson lived in his car during the week for a year instead of commuting three hours. He used the time he saved to write. James O. Born wrote for fourteen years and accrued hundreds of rejections. I met a guy this weekend who drives an hour-and-a-half each way to critique group. I heard award winning authors joking about using Cheetos and M&Ms to make the words come. I get my best work done in my recliner with my feet up, wearing jammies and glasses. Not glamorous.

4. Listen. Listen to the living dialogue all around you. Listen to new writers. Listen to conference presenters and the writers who have made it. Listen to the contest winners. Listen to agents and editors. Shut up and listen. (This one's my personal challenge.)

5. Devise manageable goals that rely on what you can do. I have a goal of eight sales this year. I've made five. The year's not over, but I feel the pressure. How do I meet them? Submit like crazy. Can't sell if you don't send stuff out and I won't send stuff out unless I set goals. This is something I'd figured out but heard confirmed over and over.

6. Focus on character. As I attend workshops, I'm leaning toward the belief that all plot stems from character. You all may know I'm a plotter, a fairly particular plotter when it comes to short stories. But plot stems from character. After all, how will we properly torture them if we don't get to know them really well?

7. Meet people. Be friendly and smile. It's okay if you're quiet. They'll talk for you. I met more people this conference than ever before. A lot of them were newbies, folks who weren't aiming to get close to an editor or agent at all. And remember to listen.

8. Be nice to people who pitch to you, even when you'd rather be doing something else. It happens to me as an editor (though it took a few times for me to realize what was happening). Each one got my card and a polite request to submit. This is your industry. Be professional and nice to everyone, someone people want to be around.

9. Thank people for their time. I made a point of thanking as many of our guests as possible, from out-of-state attendees to agents and editors I'd likely never work with. They're people too, away from home and family and hanging with people they don't know. They truly seemed to appreciate it.

10. And finally, late night camaraderie in the hospitality suite is not for the faint of heart.

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