Morgan’s Complete Guide For Attending A Convention

As I contemplate approximately 82 panels that sounded great for me to attend in under 4 days, I realized it’s time for me to share my complete guide for attending conventions.

Should You Attend A Convention?

Before deciding to attend any convention, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the focus of this convention?

    There are as many different types of conventions as there are conventions themselves. Some are more professional oriented, some are pitch events, some are workshop focused, some are all about the party. Note: for the geek-oriented conventions I’m mostly referencing, they’re often known as “Cons”.
  • What are the expenses involved?
    • The cost of admission
    • The distance
      • Gas/Parking money or plane/taxi costs
    • Workshop fees (sometimes these are extra)
    • Hotel room (can you room with friends? Is there a crash board for the con offering space in someone else’s room?
    • Food
    • Spending money
    • Can you staff (involved ahead of time, likely for the full convention) or volunteer (sign up, drop in, obligated for a set number of hours) in order to cut costs?
  • How accessible is it?

    If the convention space has been around, you can typically find out from people who have been there before. If not, you can contact the hotel/convention center/etc. Check to see what the convention says about accessibility. If they make it a priority, it should show.
  • How large is the convention?

    Is it a local college con with a couple hundred guests, or the tens of thousands that flood Atlanta for DragonCon? How well do you do with crowds? Size can influence the last two questions.
  • Who are the guests of honor?

    Sometimes, it’s worth splurging for a writer you’ve always loved, an actor you admire, the launch of some new webcomic/movie/whatever.
  • What sort of program events do they have?
    • Ceremonies – opening, closing, awards, etc
    • Panel topics
    • Concerts
    • Screenings
    • Readings
    • Parties
    • Signing
    • Photo Ops
    • Video Games
    • Contests
    • Cosplay
  • Are your friends attending?

    It’s always good to see a familiar — and friendly face in the crowd.

What To Bring To A Convention

  • Clothes

    If this is a geek event, everyone in day clothes will be wearing jeans and a black t-shirt. Do you want to stand out? Or blend in?

    If this is more business oriented, try for a business casual dress. Maybe a geeky t-shirt, with a dress skirt/slacks and blazer?

    Good walking shoes. Typically, you’re going to do a lot of walking on concrete floors. Even if you’re not, you’re likely to be on your feet a lot more than *I* am on an average day.
  • Costumes

    Do you cosplay? Check before you dress up, some conventions (like World Fantasy Con) aren’t into it. Others encourage it (DragonCon)

    Some allow more explicit costumes than others, be sure you know the rules.

    There are conventions with strict photography rules — for hallway pictures, creepy stalkers, and professional photo shoots. Check before you make plans.
  • Food and Drinks

    If you can, bring breakfasts, snacks, and drinks of your choice. Hotels can be very drying, so you’ll need to hydrate more than normal. Especially if you bring in any alcohol.
  • Business Cards, Queries, Pitches, and Chapters

    If you’re going? Network.

    Hand out your business card to anyone who seems friendly.

    If there are pitch sessions, agents, or imprint editors? Have printed copies of your pitch and your queries printed out. And just in case? Have a copy of your first chapter.
  • Electronics

    Some like having laptops, or live tweeting events. Have your electronics, a bag for them, and all your chargers. Bring a spare battery if you can.
  • Notepad and Pens

    I don’t like to take notes on my computer during panels. Instead, I’m scribbling like mad in a new notebook I got just for this con.

    YES. This is an excuse for a new notebook, or to use that one you’ve been hoarding.

    Bring a couple of your favorite pens to write with. Even if you’re doing the laptop thing or phone-ing it in. 😉 You might end up with a hallway autograph session, or need to scribble down someone’s room number.

What To Do At A Con

I touched on this briefly, when you were deciding if you should attend, but not everything is in the program book.

  • Panels

    A panel is typically a discussion between 3-6 guests, with a given theme. Usually, there is a moderator to make sure the conversation flows.

    Typically, these are 50 minutes long, with about 5 minutes given to introductions, 30-35 minutes for discussion amongst the guests, and 10-15 minutes for audience questions. Different conventions have different standards, though.

    When picking which panels to attend, there are several factors to consider. I wasn’t kidding earlier when I said I was contemplating 82 panels over 4 days. Luckily, I’ve cut it back to about 65 panels/events at this point.

    And? They’re spread among the same 35 hours, so literally, I can’t do nearly half of them. I’m going to have to pick.

    When I’m torn between panels, these are my decision factors:
    • What’s the panel topic? Is it relevant to my writing? Does it sound interesting? Have I seen it before? Is it a hilarious show? Maybe it’s a relaxing concert?
    • Who’s on the panel? Have I heard them before? (Even if this is your first time, as you go on with the weekend, you’ll often find you have specific panelists you enjoy more than others.) Maybe a panel is one I’ve seen before, but has a whole new cast of characters! Maybe they’re a friend I want to support and love hearing.
    • Do I need a break? Is this my 5th panel in a row? Do I need a nap or food?
    • Will I need to queue up? At WorldCon two years ago, the panels proved far more popular than anticipated, so to get into any panel, you had to queue up an hour before. So, I did.
  • Events

    There are tons of types of events, outside of panels.
    • Signings – from actors, artists, writers and more
    • Dances – everything from folk dance, to raves, to full on fancy dress balls
    • Workshops – these vary in length from a 50 minute panel, to a full day, to the full extended weekend of workshop. The longer it is, or more prestigious the instructor, the more likely it costs extra, and needs to be signed up for ahead of time.
    • Coffee klatches – a word from the 60s or so, when people hung out drinking coffee in kitchens. These are small gatherings with a guest of honor, to have an organic conversation. I think. They intimidate me, so I’ve never been.
    • Parades – certain groups or free for alls! Sometimes costumes are required
    • Ceremonies – most have opening and closing ceremonies. Some have awards ceremonies as well. World Con hosts the Hugo awards.
    • Concerts – Everything from acapella groups to ballroom-sized metal concerts
    • Pitch events! – Some have opportunities to pitch (or practice your pitch) with an actual agent or publisher.

      Pitching live can be a “I’ll sign you now!” sort of thing. But more often, it’s a thanks or no thanks situation.

      With the occasional: “that sounds nice, please query me” (and note that the agent requested in the query’s intro). And that submission? Might be super promising! Or, that agent may just have trouble saying no to your face.
    • Gaming rooms – Board games, video games, LARPing rooms, you can find a lot of stuff going on. And? This can be a great way to get to know new people, without having to resort to the ‘small talk’ many people (wrongfully) disdain.
    • Martial Arts – Demos or classes are often found at conventions. Longsword or jiu jitsu and everything in between.
    • Crafting – Demos or classes are often found at conventions. From fiber arts, to drawing, painting, and glueing together fake steampunk guns.
  • Art Show – Artists of all kinds can submit to have their art displayed. Often many paintings and prints, plus fabric arts, jewelry, woodcraft, pottery, and more. Here, it goes up for a silent auction, with a small piece of paper by it for people to write their bids. Usually, identifying themselves by badge number.

    Like Ebay, there’s often a ‘buy now’ option at a higher price. Often, the artists will have tables with less expensive prints in the Artists’ Alley or Dealers’ room.

    The Art Show usually wraps up on Sunday, or the last day of the con. Sometimes, there’s a live auction (I’ve been known to Vanna White one or two auctions in my day). The rest of the time, if you’re the winning bid, you have until a set time to pay and collect your piece.
  • Shopping

    Some have large vendor rooms, some have segregated “Dealers’ Rooms” (for people selling store merchandise) and “Artists’ Alley” (for people selling homemade goods). Here, you can buy any sort of art, con-themed clothing and costumery, swag, books, and more.

    Sometimes there are ‘room dealers’ who set their own hours working out of hotel rooms.
  • Con Suite

    A life-saver for the budget con-attendee, this is a room to relax, socialize, and SNACK. Sometimes they have oatmeal, cereal bars, bread, and pb&j. These rooms may have more, they may have less, but they’ll have some low level of sustenance for those that need it. (If you have allergies, they may be less helpful.)
  • Party Rooms

    In traditional/older school science-fiction and fantasy conventions, in North America, there is the tradition of a ‘party board’, where room parties are listed. Many are registered ahead of time, and end up assigned a room on the same hall, to keep the noise clustered.

    These are typically door-propped, mild to moderate decorations, some swag, some snacks, and a couple of hosts. If the event/location permits, there may be alcohol. People often ‘party hop’, sticking their heads in each of the party rooms and snagging refreshments before heading to the next one.

    Most of these parties are hosted by other conventions, to try and drum up interest and early memberships to help finance their own convention. Some of them are ‘bid parties’. Both WorldCon and WorldFantasyCon travel from year to year, like the Olympics. And like the Olympics, cities bid to host, votes are cast, and there’s a winner.

    I’ve helped with the DC 2021 WorldCon bid party twice. Luckily, no one is currently running against DC. (Also, both parties I helped with were in Baltimore, so the locals are fans, anyway.)

    There are often invite-only parties. Or so I’ve heard. These typically do have alcohol (and some even check IDs to avoid any legal issues). Some people even hire bouncers.
  • Socialize

    There are people around you, interested in the stuff you’re there to see. Talk to them. Admire something to them. Play games with them.

    The key to networking is — make friends.

    NOTE: If you see an agent at a convention — if they’re in the program, you can approach them — as long as they’re not in a rush somewhere, or look to be in a serious conversation. Just give your one line pitch after an introduction (or more conversation). Do not hand them query letters, or manuscripts, or more.

    If they’re not in the program? They’re probably there for meetings, or off the clock and you should leave them alone.


    If this is your first — or even second time at a particular convention, you may feel a bit left out. It seems like everyone else knows each other, everyone else is having an amazing time, and you’re locked out. But these are fans, and they love talking about their fandoms. It can take 3 or more times at a given con before it starts feeling like home. These are relationships that have been built in short weekends, spread over years. You have to put in the time to get there, but if you’re open to meeting new people, there will be people open to meeting you.

    There’s also a thing informally known as ‘Bar Con’, where the writers and agents hang out at the bar. This is a time to socialize with them and/or buy them drinks. NOT a time to do more than a single line pitch, IF they ask.

Take Care Of Yourself

To be respectful of others, you need to respect yourself and not push your limits. Don’t skip more than 1 shower. Don’t skip more than 1 meal. Don’t skip more than 1/2 of a night’s sleep. You’ll feel better about yourself, look more approachable to others, and you’ll have more patience and energy.

Hotels and convention centers are among the most dehydrating places on earth. I’ve been known to bring humidifiers when attending winter conventions to stave off colds. You’ll need to drink at least 8 ounces of water more than you normally would, just to stave that off. (More, if you plan to drink alcohol.)

If you’ve forgotten or lost your toiletries, you can ask the hotel staff or acquire some at the hotel’s store. If that fails, ask the con suite staff. They should be able to discreetly track you down some deodorant or toothpaste.

HOW TO BEHAVE

  • When you arrive at the convention

    Typically, if you’re staying at the hotel, you’ll want to check in first. Many don’t allow check-in before 4pm (to give them time to clean all the rooms after the 11am-1pm check-out time). If you’re early, you often can leave your bags with the concierge (although a tip will be expected)

    Next, you’ll want to find the convention’s own registration. This might be an hours-long line, or a 2 minute stop. You’ll need to have your ID on you, and if you haven’t pre-paid, money. They’ll give you a badge and sometimes a program guide and a map.

    If you aren’t pressed for time, I encourage you to scope out where the panels you plan to attend are, where the event rooms are, and where the restroom is.
  • At a panel
    • Try to arrive 5 minutes early. Be settled before the panelists begin.
    • Make sure your phone/alarms are turned off (or at least on silent)
    • Don’t take up more than one seat if there’s a decent-sized audience.
    • Feel free to take notes! Paper or laptop.
    • If you get a chance to ask a question, don’t be “That Guy”
      • Have a concise question
      • Remember that the audience is here to listen to the panelists, not you
      • Don’t use this as a chance to make an analogy to your own novel or gaming world
      • Don’t use this as an opportunity to show how clever you are and/or how you should have been on the panel
      • I know you wouldn’t do that, but there always seems to be one person who thinks they’re not just making everyone roll their eyes, (including the panelists they might be trying to impress).
    • If the panel didn’t address what you thought it would, this is a great time to ask their opinion on what you were hoping to hear them talk about in the first place. Or maybe you wanted them to go more in depth on something they touched on. These are all good questions!
    • If you must leave early (or it’s not what you expected, or you’re bored), look at your watch/phone with a startled expression, gather your things quietly, mouth “Sorry” in slow motion to the panelists at the front of the room, then slip out with as little ruckus as possible. I promise you, most people would rather watch the panelists than you.
  • In General
    • Be open to new experiences.
    • Chat with people, if it doesn’t happen organically? Hit the gaming room. Volunteer to help the con.
    • Attend something con related, don’t just hang with your friends or hide in your room
    • If you spot someone in costume, or someone famous in the halls, and you want to approach, evaluate the situation.
      • Do they look rushed or exhausted or closed off? They may need some downtime, or be late. Leave them alone.
      • Are they in a deep conversation with someone else? Leave them alone.
      • If they look relaxed, be respectful and courteous. Start with an introduction and maybe a compliment. Don’t be fake or fawning. “Hi, I thought your work in X was so very well something.” or “Hi, amazing work on the costume-part.”
        • Do NOT compliment a body part. Compliment something they can change in less than a week. Hair, costume, accessories, etc.
      • If they don’t seem irritated and you’d like a photograph or autograph, ask. “Do you mind autographing this/if I get a picture?
      • Just because they’re already getting their photograph taken, doesn’t mean you can whip out your camera.
        • They might know the other person/people – and asked them to take their picture so they have a record later.
        • They might be trying to get somewhere else – like a panel, or the bathroom!

After The Con

Some people hit their limit and are ready to leave. Many of us linger and want to catch last minute hugs and waves.

When you get home, odds are you’re going to want a nap. Probably some water, and maybe even some vegetables. Who knows?

Watch out for an energy drop, that’s not just the need for a nap, commonly known as “con drop”.

You’ve just been in ‘on’ mode for 2+ days. For many, this is a unique opportunity to be surrounded by other fans, where your interests are common, not unique. There’s a particular energy for each convention. When you leave that, you can feel isolated. Or irritable. Or just plain exhausted.

Cons are rather manic and leaving them can leave you depressed.

The trick to handling con drop is to know what you need.

For me? It’s often water, naps, and downtime. Then writing up my con-report and posting online, trying to connect with everyone else who was there.

For others? They may need to cave for three days. Or? They might want to schedule dinner plans the next few nights so they don’t go from 100% socialization to nothing.


Taking care of yourself doesn’t end just because you’re home. But with any luck? You’ll enjoy yourself and be ready for the con to return.

Let me know if I missed anything! And check back next week for more writing tips and writerly musings.

6 Things I’ve Learned By Attending Book Launches

This week, I managed to go to the book launch of “Struggling With Serendipity“, a memoir from a blogger I’ve been following for 3 years.

In the past, I’ve made it to book launches at conventions (The Perils of Prague and TV Gods) and I volunteered at the book launch of The Cursed Child (mostly because I missed the original Harry Potter launch parties and wanted to see what one might have looked like).

I’ve attended book signings — for authors AND web comic artists. And while lower key, these have some overlap.

Some were book signings with a reading first, some were book signings with actors and performances, some were open room parties with snacks and a credit card machine if you wanted to buy, and some were fun and games with the books off to the side, waiting for you to feel obliged to at least check out the reason for the event.

No two launch parties have been the same, but there are usually some overlaps.

1 – You Need To Advertise

If people don’t know it’s happening, they can’t come.

2 – Pick A Good Location

Pick a location that will appeal to your audience (and a good time of day)

  • If the story is based in your hometown, you’re going to have some local appeal there.
  • If your fanbase is full of people who love conventions, have your book launch at a convention.
  • If your book is for kids, have it at a kid-based festival, where they’re already going. Or at a school book fair.

3 – Be Prepared To Extrovert

If you can’t do it all yourself, bring backup. You want to be able to welcome people in, or call bypassers over (in a friendly, but not aggressive manner. Especially in a dealers’ room, you don’t want to tick off your neighbors).

You want to put out a warm and welcoming atmosphere that makes people comfortable asking the question, “so, what’s your book about?”

And?

You’ve got to be able to answer that, in one sentence or less, in such a way that more-people-than-not will want to know more.

4 – Do Something

You can’t just show up with a book, at a book launch, and expect to sell. Otherwise, you might as well just be a seller. What makes this a LAUNCH?

You can have free snacks or cake! You can have swag (magnets, bookmarks, etc).

You can have a raffle for a free copy!

You’re probably going to want to read an excerpt from your novel. Have a section — preferably near the beginning if it’s a novel — that requires minimal explanation. Best are scenes with dialogue, world building, and maybe even some action.

If you’re selling your book, be sure to offer to sign it! Maybe even personalize it. [If there’s a huge crowd, have paper for people to write their names on, so you can spell them right].

5 – Bring Your Friends and Family

Some of you might have the mistaken impression that your friends and family aren’t ‘real’ fans, they’re obligatory fans, and that you have to have strangers there to endorse you.

LIES!

People are busybodies and herd animals. If we hear someone else being excited about something, we’ll probably take a look.

I’ve seen book signings, down around the corner from the actual event, where fans had trouble finding them. If you’re sitting quietly at a table, people might not realize something’s going on.

If I had nightmares, I’d have them about book signings where no one shows up.

So? Bring your own party!

Either you have company while you’re stuck at a table. Or you have enthusiastic fans who can talk you up and run for drinks, pens, and your backup box of books.

Let your friends and family fete you! But if it’s open to the public, make sure you’re welcoming, without a cliquish vibe.

6 – Bring Your Own Supplies

Make sure you have everything you need!

  • A box of your own books (small or large, you should at least have some on you)
    • Even if your book launch is at a bookstore, sometimes the shipment doesn’t come in. Sometimes, they sell out. Having backup helps keep things less stressful for everyone.
  • Quick drying pens (or markers — whichever you prefer). With backup ones, in case one dies.
  • Business cards

Next? Things that can make a book launch go better

  • Swag – bookmarks, postcards, pens, magnets, whatever
  • A banner and/or table cloth
  • A candy bowl (for guests) — they usually feel obligated to at least HEAR your pitch if they snag a chocolate
  • Your own drink and snack — talking is thirsty work.

Plus, if you’re doing your own sales:

  • A decent amount of change for the standard ATM $20
  • A credit card reader
  • A spare battery pack for your phone

As you should know, I’ve never actually held my own book launch, I’ve just been taking notes from those I’ve made it out to.

I like to attend the book launches for people I know or read. I want to encourage them! And… I want some good karma saved up for when it’s my turn.


If you’ve attended — or HELD! — a book launch, let me know!

What do you like?

What do you hate at book launches?

Strength Isn’t Just For The Strong

At WorldFantasyCon, I attended a panel by this same name. Going into the panel, I expected a discussion of different types of strengths being compared to the default of physical strength. Instead, the panel veered into magical strength and stayed there.

Defining Strength

Of course, we addressed the titular topic, but the conversation just kept swaying magical.

Strength can be just an overwhelming level of power. But, to use one’s strength to accomplish one’s goals of any type is a form of competence. Be it physical, mental, mystical, or magical, without competence you end up with more of a firestorm than a laser.

Things Magic Can Represent

Magic can just be the extraordinary, but often in fantasy, it’s a way of discussing real-world issues without bringing all the baggage that its real-world counterpart has accumulated.

  1. The hubris of the human spirit
  2. It’s often an allegory for privilege or power
    1. In worlds where magic is bad – the main character is often non-magical
    2. In worlds where magic is good – the main character is often magical

Ways Magic Can Influence A Society

When certain people have power that others don’t have access to, that’s going to disrupt the social order. Just like any other sort of wealth or power.

  1. Innate magic leads to a more stringent class hierarchy
  2. Gained or earned magic tends to be in worlds with greater social mobility
  3. Availability of magic determines if it’s rare or commonplace — expensive or cheap.
  4. If magic is inherent in a place or object, that gives power to those who possess that place/object (ley lines/hubs, Dune’s dust…)

Tropes For Different Strengths

There are a lot of tropes when it comes to giving characters strengths and powers. Some are more overdone than others.

  1. Magic users are seen as more intelligent
  2. Magic types as innately light or dark
  3. Magic as a tool
  4. Magic based societies not developing more mechanical technology alongside it
  5. Using an outsider or non-magical person to introduce us to the magical world
  6. Using magic to solve everything
  7. Giving poor characters fewer skills, rather than different ones
    1. Try having a farmboy where his farming skills come in handy
  8. ‘Leveling’ the main character up everytime there’s a new boss

Types of Strengths For Villains

Heroes aren’t the only ones with strengths. Any respectable foe needs to have some strengths of their own.

  1. Some villains share the main character’s strengths… but let their moral convictions prevent them from doing the right thing or rationalize their way into the wrong thing.
  2. Some villains have good — or at least understandable motives — but their methods and the lengths they go, using their strengths to achieve their objective cross the line into monstrous.
  3. Some villains are the protagonist of their own story. The strength of their moral convictions — like Magneto in the X-Men. He might be on the wrong side, but I can’t say he’s wrong.

What sort of strengths do you have? Your core competencies?
What about your main characters and your villains?
Do they balance each other?


The panelists were Fonda Lee, Carol Cummings, Marissa Lingen, and Rhiannon Held.

Using Unsafe Places To Propel Your Characters Forward

Returning to share notes from yet another World Fantasy Con panel: Unsafe Places and Why Characters Go There (see Gender 401 and Writing as Sanctuary, for other panels). The panelists were Ysabeau Wike, Nina K. Hoffman, Rajan Khanma, Joe Haldeman, and Suzy Charnas.

I expected this panel to be about the journey troupe – stories following those who chose to stand up and go, not the ones who are reasonable and stay home. But, the panel itself ended up being more of a discussion on how to use unsafe places to propel the story forward.

What is an Unsafe Place?

Just because a place is safe for one person, doesn’t mean it’s safe for everyone. Places can be unsafe due to the environment itself, or because of the people in the place.

Sometimes? Home is the unsafe place. And it can be unsafe because of external factors, or because of internal ones.

According to Charnas, when fate is against you, no place is safe. And old age is a very unsafe place.

Finding the Conflict That Initiates the Story

When you begin a story, you should make clear what is missing in the main character’s life — or at least, what they THINK is missing.

Often, the strongest stories are about the true thing that is hidden. In those cases, the missing thing identified at the beginning is simply a symptom, not the cause of the conflict.

It’s okay if you don’t know what the true cause is when you start writing the story. Writing can be a search process, a way of finding your way out of the dark. WARNING: If you go into the story with an agenda, stories often come out rather contrived. Strive to avoid that.

Sometimes, the unsafe thing didn’t exist prior to the story’s start. It can be that the world changed and became unsafe for your character.

When The Conflict Is Internal

The internal conflict can either be a mental health issue, or an uncontrolled ability (like magic). It can be an internal need — to control one’s temper, to belong, to be loved. These are the things that make characters relatable and human.

When The Character Doesn’t See It Coming

Betrayal — when the main character thinks they’re safe, but they’re not.

The Joy Of YA

The joy of YA is that kids or teens will defeat problems long after the adults have resigned themselves to a world where the problems are insurmountable.

What Happens Next?

If you need to enhance conflict you can always limit resources. Be it allies, money, magic, or time.

Once you’ve addressed that first conflict — to fix the thing that was making your character unsafe — the main character usually finds something else they need to do — some new issue that’s often the consequence of the first fix.

And that’s it. That’s all the panel had time to discuss. Defining, exploring, and exploiting unsafe places to drive a plot forward.


If you’ve written a story, what was the factor that made your character’s space ‘unsafe’?

If you’re not a writer, share the factor that made a space unsafe for one of your favorite books.

Writing As Sanctuary

I know it’s been a while, but now that I made it through November, I’m back to sharing my panel notes. For World Fantasy Con, some of the panels turned more into suggested reading lists, but for now, I’m going to go through the other panels, in the order I experienced them.

I attended “Writing As Sanctuary” at World Fantasy Con. I went into this panel expecting to hear stories of authors using their writing as either escapism or as a tool to process stressors in their lives. Escapism either as a distraction from real-world issues, OR as a way to create a new world, with those issues fixed.

The actual discussion was a lot more nuanced, but less focused.

The panelists were Jacob Baugher, JD Blackrose, JL Gribble, and K. Ceres Knight, moderated by Anna La Voie.

The discussion started off exploring the motivations behind people’s writing and the reoccurring themes they explored, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Most wrote for themselves — but with the intent of publication — seeking that external validation. Only a few used their writing to explore alternative choices — either personally or historically.

Themes They Found In Their Writing

Some writers write themes explicitly into their work. Others only recognize it when they begin editing. And sometimes? You only recognize your themes when the same issues keep coming up, novel after novel. Here were some of the themes the panelists found in their writing – intentionally or not.

  • Non-dystopian post-apocalypse
  • The Holocaust
  • Mother-daughter relationships
  • Cyberpunk — in order to have control over their world

Which is better: To Be Writing or To Have Written?

It’s a reality for many of us writers — the process itself can be agony. I found it inspiring to hear how much of a struggle even published writers still find it. And how many also resort to procrasti-cleaning!

  • Some, like Baugher, were shocked to learn people could enjoy writing. He forces words out and is working on trying to change his own mindset.
  • Sometimes, real-world tragedies strike too close to home and you can’t write. Blackrose spoke of knowing when to push through, and when to step back. Then, when it’s time to return to the keyboard, she aims for just 500 words to regain her momentum.
  • Writing a novel is intimidating and that can make it hard to start. But 30,000 sounds a lot more doable. You can approach writing like Blackrose. She just wrote 30,000 words four times, and she had a novel.
  • Gribble uses gamification to get her words in. She wrote her 3rd novel, just using 5-minute sprints. Her best writing day was also the day she washed all of the windows.
  • Many of us, like Knight, love writing — when inspired. But most of her writing is deadline based.
Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.
Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

Do you find sanctuary in a private journal?

Some writers swear by them. I know many writers who collect journals by the trunkful. But, advice doesn’t always sync up with reality so I was curious how these writers would answer. How useful are they in practice?

  • Some, like Gribble, find them a waste of words. Why journal when you could be writing paying work?
  • Some use it for free writing when the words just won’t flow.
    Baugher uses this process about once a week as a sort of 10-minute warm-up for his novel writing — his is mostly profanity.
  • Blackrose doesn’t journal per se, but she blogs…
  • Major life events can make journaling helpful. Knight only found herself journaling when she going through her divorce.
  • Some use it to manage stress. La Voie only journals sporadically but she finds it helps with her anxiety.

Knight and I agree: no writing is ever a waste. You’re always learning, always practicing.

What works for someone else, won’t necessarily work for you. Journal only if you’re actually getting something out of it.

Do you have your own writing sanctuary?

Now, me? I have a desk in a library alcove off my family room. But ever since I got a laptop, I find myself on my couch for most of my writing, with the occasional restaurant-based write-in. Not that I haven’t snuck words in at work or on my smartphone. There’s a reason I use GoogleDocs — it can auto-sync, you can use it offline, and it’s available for free on all my devices. I might not be the Google fangirl I was before they dropped 8 of the products I’d adopted… but some habits die hard.

But, I always find it fascinating to learn where other writers work.

  • Some, like Knight, can write anywhere that’s relatively quiet.
  • Some, like Gribble have home offices. But?
    • She NEVER uses it to write in.
    • She spends most of her time in Starbucks, on her couch, or the counter in her kitchen.
    • Gribble WILL, however, edit her writing in that perfect home office.
  • Some, like Blackrose, will write anywhere — even at her day job when things are slow.
  • Some libraries, like Blackrose’s, have writing centers you can use
    • On Sundays, she has permission to use the Writer-In-Resident’s office — it makes her feel like a ‘real’ writer!
  • And some have home offices they actually write in!
    • Baugher came home from a convention and found his wife had turned their 2nd bedroom into an office for him.

Do you use writing as an escape from life?

This question could have gone in so many directions, but somehow we got back to procrasti-cleaning again. As a procrasti-cleaner myself, I was happy to be in such good company. 

  • You can use laundry to avoid writing like Blackrose
  • You can use writing sprints as breaks from chores like Gribble
  • Or!
  • You can leave the house to go write, so you can avoid laundry altogether, like Knight.

How much do you reread before you restart your writing?

Personally, I only skip back a paragraph or two and then push on from there. I keep waiting for there to be a right answer to this. But of course, with all things writing related, it’s a matter of preference.

  • Some read just the start of the current scene, like Gribble.
  • Some, like Baugher, like to leave notes or hints for what’s going to happen in the next scene.
  • Some reread it all.
  • Some, like Blackrose, use the first 7,000 to 15,000 words as a sort of giant outline, and then fill in.
  • Some write in layers. First getting the action out and the plot, then coming back and filling in the descriptive narrative, like Knight.

Critiques That Made You Regret Sharing Your Writing

Even if writing isn’t your sanctuary, it can be scary to share your words and thoughts with the world. And sometimes, critics can be harsher than they know.

For Baugher’s first writing workshop, for his first critique ever, another writer told him, “Stop writing now — this sucks!”

One writer’s mother doesn’t do fantasy, and after they opened up and shared their novel, the response was, “how do you think of these things?”… and not in an awed sort of tone.

Gribble once had a critic complain about the orgy. One problem? Her novel contains ZERO orgies…

Knight once watched a teacher lay into a fellow classmate for half-assing the assignment. Which, not only was discouraging for the student in question, but also, I’d imagine, inhibiting the other students from trying new things.

Blackrose once wrote a Seders in Space humor piece, pulling from her own experiences. A non-Jewish friend hated it and felt it mocked the Jewish stereotypes. Her Jewish friends and family loved it.


And the two final questions from the panel? The answers were in unison.

How does marketing interfere with the sanctuary of writing?

A Lot.

and

Do you write as a sanctuary for your readers?

YES.

So, a bit more of an exploration of their lives as writers, but altogether a panel I enjoyed.


Do you use writing as a sanctuary?

Do you use books as a sanctuary? What are some of your favorites?