Ah! April of 2020! With corona quarantines, for us writers (especially you Camp NaNoWrimers) the only type of write-in most of us are attending these days is virtual.
Now, I don’t know how your write-ins work, but these are the guidelines I follow, to get the most out of any write-in — virtual or not.
Some write-ins are just people sitting there, online or not, typing away. But, most of the ones I’ve hit (maybe because this ambivert is a social creature) tend to be a mixture of social and writing.
5 Tips To Get The Most Out Of A Write-In
Pick a modest goal
You’re here to write. And socialize. Sure, you can ignore the other people, but if so, why are you even there? (Okay, it’s probably peer pressure, to keep on track. No shame there).
Most of the write-ins I’ve attended, I’ve ended up spending about half the allotted time writing, and half the time socializing (or being weirded out at how super quiet it was, then falling down the rabbit-hole of research or cleaning up my google drive folders).
Long story short — expect to get as much writing done during 2 hours of a write-in as you would during 1 hour by yourself.
Break your goal into discrete tasks
My most productive time at write-ins tend to be during writing sprints. Someone will set a timer and then we’ll write for 10-20 minutes. After, we’ll chat, get snacks, then refocus and go again.
How I make sprints work for me is I pick a discrete task: – create a list of names for characters – edit the rest of this chapter – find out how long it takes to travel from Loxley to Sherwood – decide what the next scene will be about – write that scene – write the dialogue
You get the point. Something zoomed in and focused. Maybe it’s 50 words, maybe it’s 500. Set a goal that’s within your reach.
Make that peer pressure work for you.
If you’re the person who likes writing/editing more words than you did last time (or at least not dropping below your average), race yourself.
If you’re the person who likes writing/editing more words than other people, try to best the rest of the group (or at least beat the person you were closest to last time.)
Embrace the breaks
You’re at a write-in to write — but also to socialize, to network, to make friends (and potential critique partners). You’re there to hang out with people who understand why getting the story of some imaginary people RIGHT matters so much to you.
Accept that the time won’t be 100% on writing, and welcome the friends you can make.
Make Sure Your Equipment Is Ready
If you’re in person, make sure you’ve brought everything you need — be it pen and pad, or laptop, power cord, extension cord, and mouse.
If it’s a virtual write-in, test your microphone — and if needed, your video camera — ahead of time. Adjust the lighting, the equipment, your setup location for comfort — and productivity. Make sure you know how to use the app and that you’ve got the time right, or you’ll lose time you don’t want to tech support.
In both places, you may want a drink and a snack. (Or maybe that’s just me.)
Even if write-ins weren’t your thing, if you’re feeling isolated, you may want to try them again.
If you’ve never attended a write-in, or had a bad experience, try it again. With the write right group, it could be exactly what you need.
Do like write-ins? Do you hate them? Tell me about your write-in experiences!
Sometimes? You’re learning a new skill, practicing and playing with it. But something is holding you back from taking the next step — be it submitting your work, trying out for that team, or selling your creations.
Sometimes, you’re placed in a position where you supposedly know what you’re doing — either because of your bluster or someone else’s assumptions. It could be on the job, online, or when they send you home with your first newborn kid (or so I’ve been told). And every moment, you’re just sitting there, hoping to keep everyone fooled so they don’t know how big of a fake you are.
Impostor syndrome. Most of us have experienced it. Some of us live with it.
For those that don’t know? Impostor syndrome is defined as “a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.“
In my most recent Author Spotlight, Katherine talked about submitting hundreds of poems while in college and it made me think. I always wanted to be a writer, but it took me until I’d been out of college for a long time before I started taking my writing seriously. Before I even started contemplating sending my work to other people.
With my first manuscript? It’s on its EIGHTH round of revisions, because every handful of rejections, I stop submitting and start looking into how I can make it better. I tell myself it’s making me a better writer. I tell myself I’m building skills and improving. But, there’s definitely a part of me that is LOOKING for things to fix. Because if my best effort was rejected, that means I’m not good enough. I should just go home.
Dwelling on that might be good for a night or a week after a rejection, but it’s not going to get me anywhere.
5 Ways To Confront Your Impostor Syndrome
Take a class
Maybe you do stink. Maybe your skills aren’t where you want them to be. And honestly? All of us could improve, no matter how good — or bad — we are.
In that case? It could be time to take a class, brush up on the skills we’re good at, learn techniques to deal with our weaknesses, and discover new things that can make us shine.
See How Far You’ve Come
If you look at your old stuff, compared to your new stuff, you might notice a change. An improvement.
Or? If you like your old stuff better? Revisiting it might be the way to get that voice back — so you can run with it!
Re-visit What You’re Proud Of
Whether it’s a single sentence, a poem, or a novel, reread that thing you made that made you proud. See what you’ve done, what you’ve created. Remind yourself that this is a thing you can do!
Save The Good Notes
When a beta-reader or critique partner or reviewer says something about my work or forgets they’re critiquing, I file that away. In one (very stalling moment last October), I copied one encouraging note onto a piece of paper and taped it to my wall.
Then? When my writing is going rough, I reread their kind words, where they tell me how much they enjoyed my writing, or compared it favorably to an award-winning series I adore, I stick my chin up, and I get back to it.
Say “BLEEP It”
Sometimes? All you can do is tell yourself: “So what if my writing stinks, and everyone else’s writing is amazing and so much more deserving. I finished this and I’m putting it out there anyway. They can take it or leave it, but it’s mine.”
Otherwise known as ‘fake it til ya make it’.
It can be hard. Writing is years of work with no guarantee of success. It’s a labor of love and requires near-infinite patience with the publishing industry.
If you need to step away and take a break; if you need to do something else because it’s killing you? Do it! Do what you need to take care of yourself.
Plus? You can always change your mind. Your writing will always there for you. Waiting. However comforting or creepy that sounds.
Besides, you can’t be the impostor, I’m the real impostor!
Recently, I’ve been making a lot of progress on my short term goals — the ones I can control. So, what triggered my recent bout of self-doubt?
On the advice of a friend, I started applying to be a panelist at science-fiction and fantasy conventions a couple years ago. You know, the ones I like to attend 30 panels in 4 days at?
And this year? I’ve had 3 conventions accept!
Meep! I’m still an unpublished writer. All I’ve got is this blog/vlog where most of the time it feels like I’m shouting into the void. Basically, a free vanity press where all it costs is my time and my dignity. I’ve been going to these cons and taking notes from the greats! What makes me think I can sit up there and talk, that my advice and perspective is something worth listening to?
Well, as my calendar reminded me, I’ve been blogging for nearly 5 years and haven’t missed a week since before this time last leap year! I’m consistent, mostly coherent, and still giving fresh takes. I’ve got experience querying in the current market, and people I beta-read for keep coming back for more, so I can’t be too useless — or mean!
Step one for this bout of impostor syndrome was to update my business cards and add “Blogger | Vlogger” to it. Because that’s a big part of why I’m going to be up there.
Enough teaser, Morgan. Tell us where you’re going to be so we can properly stalk you. (Note: please don’t stalk. Just say hi, and keep it casual.)
I’m going to be at RavenCon 15 in Williamsburg, VA April 24-26 and once I got my tentative schedule, my impostor syndrome backed off a little. (Plus, I have my own panelist bio page that is basically the best. I’m pretty happy with what I finally decided on for my new profile pic). But, anyway, my panels.
The Writer and the Beta Reader
Social Media Best Practices for Writers
Social Media, or, Why I Haven’t Finished My Novel
This schedule is still tentative and subject to change. But these are all things I can talk about for ages — at least the basics — without feeling like I need to step back and let the experts talk! Now to find out if I actually enjoy being on panels, and get my stuff out there to be published!
For the others conventions, I have no schedule yet, but I’m going to be on panels at Balticon in Baltimore, MD May 22-25, and in New ZEALAND at CoNZealand for WorldCon from July 29-August 2nd! With any luck, those panels will be along the same vein and I’ll really find my footing on panels.
And maybe get something published.
Have you ever faced impostor syndrome? What did you do to work past it? Or did you just run?
Have you ever paneled at a convention? Any tips for a neophyte?
Goals aren’t for everyone. Goals in January? Even less so.
For some of us, setting goals is just setting ourselves up for failure. You need to take a good hard look at where you are, where you want to go, and what stands in your way.
1. Current Obligations
If you are already over-committed, you might want to re-examine your priorities and see if you actually have the bandwidth to take on new tasks.
If not? This probably isn’t the right time for you to set new goals. Instead, you might want to look into what steps you could take to free up your bandwidth — to either get a better handle on everything you’re currently trying to do, or make space for new goals in the future.
2. Emotional State
Check in with yourself, first. If you’re not in the right space, emotionally, setting goals can end up hurting you.
Some people are naturally contrary, and when faced with a goal, find ourselves doing anything else.
Others? We have trouble dealing with the setbacks and failures that are intrinsically a part of striving for something that’s not in our reach, yet.
If you know that you won’t be able to roll with the setbacks and keep at it? Your priority should be working on getting yourself back on more stable ground, emotionally. And making sure that you have a firm support network that will be able to help you through any setbacks and push you toward your better self.
Instead of setting goals, just work on whatever project seems to be flowing better and concentrate on making progress. Let your creative side out, without burdening it with expectations.
Of course, if you find setting and meeting goals intrinsically encouraging and reinforcing, then do so. Just make sure they’re achievable and things you actually have control over.
For writers? Setting word count or page-edit goals are something you can control. Self-publishing or querying 50 agents is something you can control. Getting an agent or traditionally published? Not so much.
Basically, whether it’s the right time for you to set goals, or not, just boils down to timing.
Timing of obligations.
Timing of dealing with everything life throws at you.
For me? New Years Resolutions are a GREAT time to set goals and plan out how I’m going to approach them.
Why? Because October is busy and has #OctPoWriMo, November is PACKED and has #NaNoWriMo, and before I can catch my breath? December is there with all the holiday cards and decorations and baking and gatherings.
January? Is my first chance to breath since the start of fall. It’s my first chance to take a step back, see where I am, and decide the best way to get from here to where I want to go.
But, your annual cycle doesn’t necessarily look like mine. For professors or teachers, summer might be your time. For tax accountants? May. For parents? September (or October, after all those open houses and back-to-school activities and the first wave of brought-home-germs).
Don’t feel like you’re doing things wrong if your schedule doesn’t match up with the calendar, or what everyone else is doing.
As I’m fond of saying at my dayjob, processes exist to help you accomplish stuff. If the process is getting in the way, you need to either adapt the process for your purposes, or find a new process.
Did you set New Year’s Resolutions?
If so, share them with me!
If not, did one of these three things contribute toward that decision? Or was it something else, entirely?
As January firmly establishes itself, I’m finally ready to talk about what 2020 is going to look like for me.
Last year was intended to be a year of reading, revision, and reflection.
Thusly, I listed my goals:
As I shared last week, I did great on everything on that list — except my revisions and querying — you know, the parts of the list that actually get me closer to publication. Does anyone else see the problem here?
This year? This year my focus is on revisions and querying/submitting.
As always, I like to set SMART goals –
Specific – you’ll see numbers and dates!
Measurable – you’ll still see numbers and dates
Achievable – I set goals for things I have influence over. I’m aiming for an agent, getting something published, but unless I self-pub, I have no control over that.
Relevant – I’m keeping my exercise goals and healthy eating off this post. These are all about my writing, the relevance should be clear.
Time-sensitive – Obviously, these are intended to be completed in 2020, but some items may have specific dates associated.
So? Let’s take last year’s list and put it in a new priority order.
Last year’s goal of revising 3 full manuscripts was… ambitious. I clearly was thinking more about what it takes for me to edit (clean up a draft) than about what it takes to get feedback from others, integrate it, and polish the draft till it comes out in my voice.
The manuscript I had ready for querying last year is in the middle of revisions with my wonderful mentor. But? The mentorship officially ended last April, and, although she generously volunteered to keep at it with me, she has paying work that, of course, comes first. So? We’re working through my novel 30 pages at a time.
My hope is to have the revisions done by the end of May, when I hit Balticon. But, life happens. So, what can I do to speed up the process on my end? Make sure that the next 30 page chunk is as ready to go as I can make it before I get feedback from the previous section.
I’m cutting a secondary character’s role in the last 3rd of the journey, and changing the nature of the last leg of the journey quite a bit, so I already know a large part of the plotting changes. Plus, my mentor keeps reminding me to add visuals. As I’ve said before, I worry about what’s in the character’s head and the action. I forget people want to see the world itself. So, that’s my revision priority.
But, of course, there’s going to be some downtime.
To fill that in, I’ve been nudging my alpha reader who has my middle-grade contemporary fantasy (the school play story) and should hear back in the next week or so.
Also? Last year also included writing some short stories and some poetry. Between revising my middle-grade story and getting those shorts and poetry ready for publication, I’ve got a lot to work on.
2. Querying & Submitting
If you haven’t tried to get your work published before, this item might seem confusing. What’s the difference?
Querying is a intro-letter and first chapter or so that you send to a literary agent. Once you have an agent, they often make you do revisions, before submitting your work to a publishing house.
Why do you need an agent? There are many publishing houses that do not accept unagented work. Agents understand what your contract should look like and what is negotiable. Plus? The agent’s job is to know the market — and thus know what your book needs in order to best sell it — and to whom. Typically, you query 5-10 agents at a time.
Submitting a manuscript/short story/poem is what you can do to any editor/publisher who is open to it: publishers (who are open to unagented work), literary magazines, anthologies, etc.
When you’re sending a cover letter and your story to the place that will actually print/publish the piece, it’s called a submission. Typically, submissions are exclusive (unless the guidelines state otherwise), so you have to wait to hear back before you can send to another publisher.
This year, for my short stories and poetry, I’m going to try to get at least 5 stories ready for publication and submit them to at least 10 markets. At least half of those submissions should be before July, just to make sure I don’t forget to put myself out there.
With you, I’m finding an audience and, I hope, creating a community. You are the people whose queries I help polish as you look for an agent, whose books I add to my massive to-read pile, the people I feature in my Author Spotlights. Blogging puts me out there, keeps me accountable, and gives me a way to give back to the community.
Plus? I haven’t missed a week on my blog since February of 2016 (although, I have done reruns) nor a vlog-post since I started vlogging on June 27, 2017. So? I’d hate to break my posting streak! Thus, I’ll continue putting out a new blog/vlog every Thursday with writing tips or writerly musings.
I’m already off to a great start with this, but when I have them lined up, I’ll also be sharing Author Spotlights or Query Corners on Tuesdays.
I’m thinking of adding some Authortube videos of my massive to-read pile, or maybe an occasional brief weekly check-in since those were popular during NaNo. I just need to find a time that works every week for those, so I can schedule them in advance and make them interactive.
I did great on this one last year, but I’m not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth. I had a lot of travel, and managed to hit 41 books, but there’s no guarantee this year will as generous. I even managed to read a decent amount of physical books — but a lot of those were new or re-reads. Not as many from my to-read pile as I’d like to admit.
So? I’m keeping my goal from last year of reading 26 books – a little more than two a month. This time? At least 10 of them should be physical and ALREADY on my bookshelf.
So far? I finished a short story collection I bought over the holidays AND read a book that’s been with me since before I moved. Not a bad start!
Yet again, writing is so far down my list!
I can hear your thoughts, your concerns. What’s wrong, Morgan? I thought this was your writing blog. Why isn’t this more writing focused? Do you want to be a blogger/vlogger more than a writer?
Well, first? Rewriting IS writing, and revisions are tops on my list. The goal is publication and I’ve got 4 manuscripts, 21+ short stories, and 30+ poems just waiting for a home.
More writing right now just means a larger backlog of things to be polished.
But! Never fear, I will be doing OctPoWriMo again — writing a poem a day for all of October. And then NaNoWriMo — writing 50,000 words in November. If I’m really stumped in November, I’ll rebel and revise either 5 shorts or a full manuscript. But, knowing me, I’ll probably make new words.
6. Beta Readers
I’ll be reaching out to beta readers as I wrap up my revisions on my middle grade novel, hopefully before August. Last year’s goals of having revisions of two different manuscripts done by May AND July were unrealistic.
As always, I like to keep my beta reader pool to no more than 8 readers, typically from different backgrounds. I usually give them separate copies, so that their feedback won’t influence each other.
I’m considering joining a local critique group and feel that short stories work much better in those venues than a full manuscript. Especially since I’m more interested in feedback on my pacing and characterization than the chapter itself. I guess it’s arrogance, but I think I know where my problem points lay.
On the flip-side, I’m now a contributing editor to The Oddville Press, an online literary magazine of odd, but not really fantastical tales. I’m also a regular beta-reader for my dad (who’s retired from a day job and enjoys filling my inbox). Not to mention, I have a few critique partners, and writer friends who have been known to reach out for feedback. I will try not to commit to more than 3 full length betas this year.
Actually, maybe I should have changed the name of this goal. This should be all the in-person writing goals. I aim to attend 6+ open mic nights, 4+ monthly writer meetings, try a critique group, and 3 NaNoWriMo events (kickoff, 1 write in, and the all-nighter till 11pm). Plus? Two+ conventions.
I intend to hit Balticon again (May) and — if everything works out — WorldCon (August) in New Zealand (!!). I submitted to be a panelist at Balticon again… and this time was accepted! And? I think they approved the panels I suggested (topics from this blog that I feel I can talk competently on, and that my unpublished perspective won’t be a detriment to my authority on the subject).
How do I know they approved them? They recruited me to be on their Programming team! (Apparently, after attending nearly 30 panels a year for the last 5 years, they suspected I might have opinions about what makes a good panel and who are the good panelists.) So, that’s another time commitment.
What does being on panels net me? Why do I want to do this?
First, it’s a greater reach for my blog and vlog. Plus, a larger audience when I do get published. Hopefully, a way to make more friends and supporters. Plus, a chance to talk about all the stuff I obsess over on my blog and on my vlog in person with actual people.
But how does attending conventions count as a writing goal? Isn’t it just fun?Or part of your social media addiction?
Well, if you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably noticed that over half the content is actually write ups from notes at convention panels! I attend the panels, for those who can’t (or don’t). Also? My sister teases me that I act like a teacher, trying to get her recertification credits, all in one weekend.
And? Well, I talked about it in my post on attending conventions, but, of course, there’s the networking aspect. The science-fiction and fantasy conventions I prefer are full of readers, writers, and even some publishers and agents!
As is becoming my trend, the first part of my year will be focused on revisions, the middle on conventions, and the end on writing. Plus, I’ll be reading and blogging and vlogging throughout the year.
Except December. I’m not a writer in December — everyone needs a chance to breath.
We’ll have to wait until next January to see if I had 2020 foresight.
Flashback to NaNoWriMo 2018! This year, I’m doing a series of short stories. The first week went great. The second week was a struggle. I’m only just keeping pace with my wordcount though. We’ll see how this week goes.
Finding Your Own Pace: A Writer’s Struggle
All writers work differently, but since I started with NaNoWriMo, I’ve come to look at NaNo as my novel kick-off season. Even if it takes me months and months after to finish the story, (not to mention editing, revising, and querying the sucker) I can get at least the first 50,000 words out. Usually.
When it comes to daily word targets, like NaNoWriMo encourages, I’ve run the gamut.
For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo sets the goal at 50,000 words– approximately 200 pages which is a bit short for a novel. Which breaks down to 1,666 words per day, or about 6 pages.
Pick Your Pace
I’ve failed NaNo, won NaNo by the skin of my teeth, and done 75k one glorious November. Different stories, voices, and points-of-view write faster or slower for me.Some writers wait for the spirit to be upon them and crank out 30,000 words in a weekend. Some write 5-6k on the weekends and a couple hundred on the occasional workday.
This might be you!
Me? Not so much.
As I’ve talked about before, I’m not a sprinter, I’m a marathoner, but 1,666 words is usually achievable for me. With the right story? I can hit an average of 2,500 words per day.
I can only do it by writing EVERY DAY. If I wait until the weekend to sprint? I’m doomed.
I have NEVER written two-NaNo days worth of words (3,332) in a single day. If I get more than 1 or 2 days behind, I cannot catch up.
Left on my own, when it’s not November, I set daily word count goals (or at least weekly ones), but my writing pace (fit in around my day job) is approximately half-the-speed of a NaNo.
If you’ve never NaNo-ed before (look, I verbed it!), it can seem daunting. And it feels like there are just people who can commit and do it, and people who can’t.
But just because I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo once (by hitting that 50k target before midnight on November 30th), doesn’t mean I always win.
My Past NaNoWriMo’s
I’ve rebelled with half-Nano’s, spent a November edited instead. I’ve started to draft a sequel, but it petered out. My first NaNo win was my 3rd NaNo attempt — at writing the exact same book.
Two years ago, I did that nano-and-a-half in November. It was a sequel, so I knew the world and the characters, and how the magic works. Plus? My life was pretty settled that month.
Last year? I started a new job, had a full outline I wanted to follow because my story was a Robin Hood variant, and I barely squeaked out my words.
When my life is settled, I commit and focus — that’s what it takes for me to win NaNoWriMo.
This year? I’ve got a very rough outline that I need to revamp for the age range I’m writing for.
My story involves school-aged kids dealing with parents. So, that means middle grade or younger. YA typically are coming-of-age stories, where they have adventures without adults.
In prep, I’ve already created a list of about 50 names that fit my world, so I can grab and go. Left to my own devices, picking a name for a character can take longer than my daily allotment of time for writing.
But, placeholder names don’t really work for me. Remember that nano-and-a-half I mentioned? It’s filled with 30 place-holder names and is sitting as a rough draft on my googleDrive. (No offense, but Alice, Bob, Carol, and the invaders from Canadia don’t actually fit my fantasy world’s aesthetic.) I’ve gotta admit, it feels pretty daunting to fix.
I’ve got a few obstacles:
I’ve never written for this age range
so I’m not familiar with writing at this pacing.
I’ve never written a story in this world
so I’ll be having to think through the intricacies of the world as I go.
Plus, I’ve got a day-job deadline coming up.
It might end up being a chapter book
Those are typically around 20,000 words.
If that’s the case, what do I do?
write 2 novels? Start a series?
or call it a day
So now? The only way for me to find out what happens to those cool characters I’ve got half-formed in my head though? Is to write it!