AWP2016, Top 10 Conference Takeaways Unpacked

la skyline2

The LA Skyline, the backdrop for this year’s AWP Writer’s Conference 2016.

My AWP2016 conference takeaways unpacked for you:

1. Plan Ahead

I hate not knowing where I’m headed. It flusters me, and that’s the last thing I want at something that will likely overwhelm me. I was really glad I’d gone ahead and figured out which sessions I wanted to attend ahead of time. I narrowed it down to a top 2-3, and left that on my phone (the AWP app was a great feature that seemed to be underutilized by most). (For non-AWP folks, there were 28 options for the 9a-10:15a time slot alone.) I knew how I’d get from my hotel to the convention center. I knew when I’d have a break to eat. I had my helper apps installed (maps, restaurants, contact info for people I wanted to meet). That all said, I really messed up in one crucial area which leads me to my second point.

2. Know Where You Parked

With smart phones this is so stinking easy and I failed miserably. I got so distracted talking to another writer on her on the way into the convention center that I completely blanked on marking where I’d left my car. Let’s just say the relocation process was painful. If you’ve got a smart phone, you can text yourself the location from the map or even snap a picture of where you’re at.

Or… save yourself the headache and use public transportation. Unless you’re lucky enough to be able to afford one of the onsite hotels.

3. Surrender to the Flow

As carefully as I planned things, I still ended up in sessions that misled themselves a bit in their descriptions. This happened early in the conference for me. I’d read over & over that it’s perfectly acceptable to get up and leave if the session wasn’t keeping your attention or wasn’t what you expected, but… just when I was feeling antsy about staying, a funny thing happened. The first speaker in the panel sat down and the second panelist got up and all of a sudden, I was interested. It became relevant, and it stayed that way. I thought, gee, I’d have missed out if I hadn’t stayed.

I kept this in mind in the other sessions I was attending (I attended 15 sessions & part of a 16th), and more often than not, this stayed true (for the sessions that had a dud). I don’t know if it was planned. Did they tell the panel organizer “make sure you put your weakest link first”? I doubt it, but that’s how it seemed to work. I only attended one session where there was more than one dud, but even then, I gleaned things.

This is probably a carry-over from college and the smaller conferences I’ve attended, but there is always something you can take with you, even if the session isn’t 100% brain-satisfying.

4. Laptops Aren’t Necessary

There. I said it. I felt like I was committing some kind of mortal writing sin not to bring my laptop, but it worked out so well! First, I didn’t feel obligated to write after I got back to my hotel room. If I’d brought it, I’d have come back brimming with ideas but no stamina. I needed to relax and refuel. This was a very good move for me. I had my tablet along so I could take notes during the sessions (I used Evernote), and that’s all I needed. It also saved me the extra stress of worrying whether it’d get stolen or damaged during travel, but then, mine is a beast. It’s a 17″ laptop so maybe the answer is a smaller laptop.

5. Be Okay with Not Doing EVERYTHING

I knew I wouldn’t be able to attend all the sessions I wanted, but I didn’t think about the extracurricular events, and meeting-up with friends. I thought for sure that there’d be a cushion of time available for meeting-up with friends. And I guess that technically existed if I (or they) were willing to stay up all hours of the night, but… I wasn’t willing and neither were they. By the time the sessions were over in a day (I went to 5 sessions the first day), my brain was mush. I had enough non-writer brain left to enjoy a meal with a friend, but an evening session, or one of the social evening events? I had nothing left for that. In some other universe where I didn’t care about the sessions and only did the extracurricular stuff, maybe.

6. Make Use of the Bookfair

I discovered all kinds of literary magazines that are accepting writing, it made me dizzy. Some publications are super specific (some seek out women writing from and for the LGBTQ community), some only want literary fiction, and some want general short fiction. There’s all kinds of poetry outlets, too, but my eyes were locked in on places I could submit what I write, and there were loads to pick from.

7. Keep a List of Terms You Don’t Understand

By the end I was catching up on the lingo, but there were so many terms being thrown around, especially for those of us outside the MFA-sphere, that I could feel my cheeks go red from my ignorance. Those things are easy enough to look-up later on and I was determined to do so. I don’t like not-knowing, and it’s not something I felt I could raise my hand and ask about.

8. Keep a Bibliography of Books To-Read

About 2 sessions in, my list of to-read books was pretty lengthy, but I wrote down titles in my notes so that later, if I had a question related to something topical, I’d know who’d written about it and what kind of content it’d have. Some of them have written poetry or novels that I’m dying to read, but for the most part, I was jotting down books that would help my own writing. (Though reading great poetry and novels help, too.)

9. Make Time for Meeting-Up with People

I was determined before I left for the conference to make sure I met up in Real Life with writing friends that I’d only known online. It forms a bond in those relationships that otherwise might not exist. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, it matters. It makes them real. On a practical level, it’s good for networking (blah, blah, blah), but as human beings, it’s a lot easier to dismiss someone if you’ve never met them.

10. Know Your Budget

I hate to end with something so practical, but there it is. Initially, the price for the conference was an amazing deal. I thought. There are plenty of far more expensive writing conferences out there that don’t offer nearly as much. Seriously, it is an amazing conference. Go if you can. But… consider transportation cost (not just to the location, but around town), lodging cost (one friend thought she could couch-surf for the entirety of the conference but things didn’t work out exactly and it meant extra cost), food, and the goodies [if you need to pay the airline bag fee so you can carry home the books you’ve bought at the bookfair]. Be honest with yourself. Is what you’re making enough to swing the conference? (This is especially true for us without scholarships, etc.)

I happen to have a very supporting spouse and together we decided it’d be worth it for me to go, but if you looked at my writing income compared to the conference costs… well, it wasn’t wise or frugal on that front.

It might be the kind of conference you can only attend every few years when you’ve saved enough to go. I’ve also heard that volunteering helps, as does being on the panels (to be on the panels you generally need to have heaps more clout than I personally have).

All in all, I am so very glad I went. I left feeling educated, encouraged, inspired, and in very good company. I highly recommend attending the next AWP Conference if you can. I think portions of it will be online soon. I know many of the panelists will have things posted to their personal websites in relation to it.

Let me know what your takeaways were if you went. Let me know what you’re curious about if you didn’t attend.

Lit I Love, maybe you’ll love it, too.

If you’re one of the faithful readers that has followed me all along, or a new reader that I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet, consider hopping to Lit I Love, my new blog dedicated to literature of all sorts that has inspired me to write, inspired me to be a better person, and has found a special place in my heart. Over time, guest bloggers will share about the literature that they love, too. Maybe you’ll discover, or rediscover, some good reads, too. Make sure you put your email address into the Blog Subscription spot so the posts can be delivered straight to your inbox.

I’m looking forward to connecting with you there! Lit I Love.

Out with the old, in with the new blog

Dear readers,

You may well be aware that my posts have been sporadic and not especially thematic. And rather than lose them altogether, I’ve created a separate blog: Lit I Love!  a blog dedicated to the literature that inspires me. I hope you’ll find it a resource for some great reads and maybe even ink-spirational.

I hope you’ll subscribe over there as well. It’s linked up above in the menu and to the right as well. This blog page will be strictly for my writing updates and web-updates.

Never let your domain name expire, a cautionary tale

Hello dear readers,

I learned a valuable (on many levels) lesson.  As expensive as domain names can become, especially .com’s, it is far better to go through whatever hoops are necessary to transfer ownership or renew, than it is to let it expire.

To illustrate, my cautionary tale:

I have a separate web-host from my domain-host. Initially, this was the bargain way to go. I’d secured my domain a long time ago (you know, in the delusion that in no time I’d be cranking out bestsellers, or at the very least, have throngs of lit-thirsty readers eager to see what treasure I had for them on my blog). This is wise if you think you’ll have a web-presence for any particular reason because there are lovely beasts called “domain squatters” out there. They snatch-up domains like, that may not appeal to anyone but Percival Herbert Quiggins III, but there’s a good chance that if Percy doesn’t snag his domain before his name gets out there as the best R&B artist of all time, then he might have to pay a pretty penny post-fame. So even if (:coughs: like me) your domain sits around largely unused for a while, it’s still a good idea to snag your desired domain as early as you can.

Over time, though, I realized the price for renewing my domain through my current domain-host was pricier and pricier. And I thought, gee, the cost of new domains through my web-host is cheaper than through my domain-host, so…. heh, heh, heh… I’ll let my domain expire, then buy it through my web-host! GENIUS!!! Only not.

As it turns out, after I’d decided upon my nefarious scheme, I learned it wasn’t such a good idea.

My domain was well past the “expired” state and into “pending deletion” state, and the cost of reinstating now was going up, up, up. That’s when I started reading up on expired and deleted domains and discovered that in the brief window (about 3hrs long?) between being fully deleted as a domain and reinstated as a domain, swarms of domain-snatcher-uppers swoop in and fight with each other to snag an expired domain that maybe, just maybe, someone will be willing to pay good money for. Holy Fright! What to do?

As it turned out, my domain-host had the ability to back-order an expired domain and I figured since it was hosted through them, they might be able to get in the front of the line and get it back. I was right. Thankfully. But it cost me twice as much as renewing it would have been. Don’t worry, the domain-host didn’t mind. It also cost more than it would have if I’d properly transferred it to my web-host.

So… the ramifications? A long time of my website being down (over 2 months). Hours spent revising (thankfully, I’d been good about backing things up along the way) and getting my website back to a spiffy status. And let’s not forget the emotional toll (priceless).

Don’t make my mistake. Take care of your domain.

G is for Grapheme.

gisforgraphemeG is for Grapheme.

I am so kidding!! Well, a little not kidding. Do you know this word? Grapheme? I just learned it. It is a letter (or a symbol similar to a letter) in an alphabet. And in some manner all editing does involve graphemes but that’s not why I’m posting about it.

I’m mid-NaNoWriMo and my brain is in that weird fluctuating state between hyper-lucidity (thank you copious amounts of caffeine and sugar) and hypo-lucidity (complete brain mush from the sugar drop and lack of sleep). I’ve dropped my other two regular writing tasks (the novel-in-revision and the biography) in order to use any spare moments for this month of brand new novel writing, but God help me (yes, it is an actual prayer and I considered it as an alternative post title) I’m having trouble this time. I love the story that’s developing. Lots of nice twisty plot stuff and interesting characters. But I am having trouble sticking with it. I could say it’s my kids, or home, or husband, or life (fill in excuse here _________________), but I think it’s mostly me.

I’m not sure how to combat this other than taking things one grapheme at a time. Plunk a letter down, hope another follows. This is the part of any long-endurance feat I hate. On Kilimanjaro, this was summit day and I was hours from the top. I sat down on a rock and cried. My husband would have chided me if he had the strength between running behind his own rock to vomit or poo– he got quite sick. But we had a guide along, and he (probably so tired of all the versions of me that had come and gone before– or… I’ve always wondered… was I the only person who ever wanted to quit then, do I stick out like the big American baby thumb that I was… I’ll never know) said, “my sister (I love that part about Africa, my brothers and sisters) I would let you sit here and cry, but you cannot. If you stay here, you could die. You need to keep moving. I will help you.” And he did. Pole Pole. One step followed by one breath followed by one walking stick moved forward. And eventually, I saw the summit. Childbirth, half-marathons, novels. These are things I have loved being part of, but wow they take a lot from me. Maybe I need to approach this feat more like I did the physical ones. Proper nutrition, lots of fluids, rest, and training.


Although there is something appealing about writing with chocolate. I’ll have to ponder that some more, with my coffee.

I’m off now. Off to put another grapheme into my novel. Hopefully thousands more.

Are you climbing a mountain right now? How do you keep yourself going when you’re out of oomph?

This very loosely tied into my theme  “G” blogpost is brought to you by the A to Z meme. Join us by reading or posting your own!

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F is for Faff

fisforfaffF is for Faff

Hello readers! First, I feel the need to both apologize and warn you- any posts in November will have a long delay in comment approval and replying. Tis’ the nature of NaNoWriMo for me. You see, I can’t afford to faff around during November or my word counts don’t materialize. What’s faff? It’s a great UK term I picked up from hanging out with my cyber pals. It’s fun to say. Try it. Faff. Faffing. Nice, right?

What’s it mean? It’s equivalent to our American dilly-dally. And when I thought about editing and f-words, well, the first one that came to mind isn’t appropriate and is only uttered when I’m extremely frustrated with a plot line or similar, and the children aren’t around. But the other word that came to mind was faff. There is no room for faffing around when one is writing or editing. The only thing (putting aside all excuses) keeping my work from being “out there”, is me faffing around. It’s me stopping to check Facebook, me checking the weather to make sure it really is miserable and that I definitely should be indoors writing. It’s me checking my calendar to measure out exactly how long I have to write. It’s me comparing my Word word-count to my NaNoWriMo word-count. I have no limitations on my ability to faff. I’m not sure I used it correctly there, but rather than do another google search on faff, I’ll just trust it’s okay.

How do I keep myself from faffing around? One of THE most helpful things I do is use a timer. I hated timers as a kid. They were only employed to keep me from a treat baking in the oven or to keep me from getting back to antagonizing my sisters. But now, it’s me against the clock. Can I possibly spend the whole time working on that scene/blog post/transcription? Oh, I bet you can’t. You’ll get distracted, I say to myself. No, No, I protest, I’ll work the whole time and beat my old word-count. Ha! I say back. You’ll run into an anachronism that you just HAVE to check out. No, I know how to handle those. Now shut up so I can work!

Maybe “I” will need to be for Insanity. Hmm.

The other thing I do, to minimize faff, is to only let myself get up from my chair after that timer has gone off. Need to pee? Desperate for more coffee? Leftover Halloween candy calling your name? Too bad!! Not until AFTER the timer goes off.

Those are my two biggest antidotes. Do you have clever anti-faff tricks? Is faff a problem for you? Have you never faffed around? Share your wisdom or commiserations in the comments.
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(I did not mean to “like” my own post, sheesh. Not sure if that shows up or not. This is an addendum to the apology & warning at the top. It also means I won’t get around to commenting on most of the other posts until December. I’ll make it back to your blogs, I promise :). I enjoy it.)

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E is for Ego. Check it.

eisforegoE is for Ego

This week I’m approaching this editing series a little differently. This is mostly due to the scrambledbrainitis I’m experiencing. I’m trying to earn my NaNoWriMo 50,000 words badge, and trying to do that while solo-parenting at the same time has been tricky. So this will be brief.

When you’re editing, you have to check your ego. Really. As awesome as you are, you probably need a snap-out-of-it slap now and then to keep you grounded. I think I saw a post on Twitter the other day, about yet another massively successful and usually excellent author’s last book being a real flop. It will happen. Big, fat forkfuls of plump humble pie straight to your mouth. So do your best every stinking time. If it ever gets to the point where you think you can get by without the work, then you probably need to take a break from writing.

There are loads of posts on this, but this writing-relevant post had a lot of good techniques for it: How to Handle Criticism of your Writing.

Personally, my foray into critiques & criticism happened on-the-job. I was a church secretary for a few years. The second a document would leave my computer, the critiques would roll in. And it wasn’t because I was sloppy with my end of things. It’s just part of writing anything. The words aren’t just the writer’s, but the reader’s. Actually, they are more the reader’s possession. That job helped me learn not to take the critiques personally. I simply needed to convey what the entity (in that case, the church I worked for) wished to be communicated. It’s the same for a novel. Novels have something they’re trying to communicate, too.

If you’ve got tips on that, I’m listening. If you’ve got a great Humble Pie a la mot (I think that’s humble pie with a side of words) share it in the comments.


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D is for Dialect

disfordialectEditorial Note: I realized I’m giving hints on how to do this, but my tips will only work for novels set in current time. It wouldn’t work for historical fiction unless you can get old recordings. Apologies for the blanket presumption that all my readers are writing a novel set in the 20-teens.

D is for Dialect

My current WIP is set in Ireland and with Ireland comes…. well, you know, accents. “Get away from me Lucky Charms!” (I am SO kidding!)  They do speak differently, though. So how does a writer get that right? Especially a writer with limited funds? How does a writer get a dialect down without sounding gimmicky and distracting the reader?

One way I’ve learned to get the dialect down is to listen. Listen how? The internet is a beautiful thing sometimes. I play local radio stations on my phone. It’s better if you can find talk radio, something like NPR here (RTE1 is awesome for Ireland) so you can hear the exchanges between people, what they call certain things, and how they explain things.

For example, when the host of a show takes a call on RTE1, the first thing they say to the caller is “You’re very welcome.” It means, you are welcome to speak, welcome to be in this conversation. It’s not a conversation-ender like it is here in the States. [Please/Thank You/You’re Welcome] I’ve also learned (from visiting there) that it’s what you say to anyone visiting. A shopper comes into a store, the owner says “You’re very welcome.” A guest arrives at a hotel, the innkeeper says, “You’re very welcome.” Where I’m from, we just say “welcome”, but if the landlord in my story greets my MC with “welcome”, it won’t be authentic.

If there isn’t a talk radio station, try to find a music station. The deejay will talk eventually. You’ll get a feel for the kind of music most folks listen to there, and I find the commercials useful, too, because I learn what kinds of events appeal to their community and what kinds of products are lining the store shelves.

Listening to the radio also helps me know how common the stereotypical accents are. For instance, I presumed that in Ireland, everybody’s TH sounded like a T, but I was wrong, it’s somewhat regional and it seems it’s not something as common in professional circles, they enunciate the TH a bit more. I’ve also learned the most common stammer (for those of us stateside it tends to be um) is em.

A sidenote on dialect– I decided when I started writing this novel that I wouldn’t be trying to write the accents. I wasn’t going to “tirty-tree and a tird” my way through the novel. For one, I stink at that, and two, unless you’ve got some mad dialect skills, it’s distracting to me as a reader, and I sure as heck didn’t need more reasons for people to shut my novel and walk away. So, I decided to stick with the way things get said. I’d rearrange phrasings and use their words for things.

Along the same lines, I follow Twitter feeds based where my story is set. They’re mostly newsy but it gives me an idea what folks are talking about and what kind of things make people there gasp with shock, and what gives them warm fuzzies.

Another way to get a dialect down is to read it. I’ve started reading books either written by authors from where my story is set, or novels set there.

The best way, of course, if you’re pocket book will allow it, is to go to your setting. And, for an introvert like me, it’s the easiest part of travel. I can sip on my coffee and get an earful.

On the editing end, I go back to my handy voice-recorder. My ear tells me when something is generic or authentic. Unfortunately, it’s tedious.

What about you? Have great tips on dialect? Let me have them! I’m curious to know both how you “keep it real” and on how you edit for dialect.

Here are some handy links on the topic:

How to Give Your Characters an Authentic Dialect

Writing Accents and Dialects

The Do’s and Don’ts of Dialect (if you’re not following K.M. Weiland, you should. good stuff)

For some fun, check out the Tumblr accent challenge on YouTube.

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C is for Cliche

cisforclicheC is for Cliché

I’m presuming most of you already know to look out for those phrases that make everyone roll their eyeballs (is that one there?) but are you watching for it in your story? I ask this because only recently did I realize I’d committed a major writing faux pas.

I had a mirror scene.

I can hear you gasping. I know. I thought it was a legitimate way for the reader to take a peek at my main character, but now that I know what a “mirror scene” is, I will avoid it like a yawn-inducing plague. (Avoid using ‘avoiding the plague’ unless you’re writing about a plague.)

And, because I know to look for ye ol’ dreaded mirror scene (did you know ‘ye’ is actually short for ‘the’ and not ‘you’? I just learned that), I am on the prowl for other story clichés. I am no editor or agent, but I’m guessing a few well-placed story clichés are acceptable, but for the most part, if your reader can guess what happens next, why would they bother reading it?  And if they’re not reading it, why bother writing it?

There are some readers that adore it. Someone in my marriage, not me, happens to relish it. He (just gave it away didn’t I?) wants to know that things will work out. The hero will score with babe, overcome the obstacles, and vanquish the villains. And he wants to know these things WILL happen through a set of traditional queues. I can’t stand that type of story. I outgrew that in junior high. Surprise me! I think most readers are like me, or I should say, I hope my readers will be like me and expect surprise. Go on, darling, wow me!

I looked for something online that would give me (and you) a handy way of finding these types of scenes, but I couldn’t find much. So here are my best guesses.

1. Run your MS by your critique group. Don’t have one? You need to find one, ASAP (that’s a bonus tip). It’s not good enough to have a friend read it over, because even a friend in the biz isn’t going to be your most objective critic. It’s like a doctor treating a family member. Don’t do it. Find someone(s) whose work you respect and swap an MS. It’s good to have critique partners who write other genres to help you balance out your work, but you need someone who writes the same genre that you do, too. You need someone else’s eye to see the predictable stuff.

2. Read your MS into a voice recorder and listen to it. Sometimes the ear can pick things up that your eye would never catch.

3. Ask yourself, “is this the strongest/best way to say this?” Sometimes it will be a cliché, but because it’ll be rare in your MS, it’ll stand out, in a good way.

Do you have any tips for catching these little boogers? Are you cliché-aware? Have you found any good resources that helped you sift the clichés from your work?


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B is for Backstory and maybe Boring

Bisforbackstory B is for Backstory

I seem to be genetically prewired for backstory. In conversation, I can’t seem to start out with the point, I need to back up and give you all the reasons why this thing that I’m telling you is so significant, humorous, or profound. I don’t seem to trust my friends and family to really understand. And sadly, this translates to my writing.

If you don’t want people reading your novels, use it, use it loads! It’s great reader-repellant. Backstory can be so dreadfully boring. Case in point, Les Miserables. Did I just say that? :ducks from all the bricks being lobbed at her head:

I did say that, but let me explain. I bow to Victor Hugo’s awesomeness, but when I went to read Les Mis (abbreviated for brevity’s sake <— see? you didn’t need that, you knew that already) from cover-to-cover before the movie came out, I about died. Granted, things were vastly different in the publishing world in his time, but could you get back to the story already, Victor? I learned loads reading, all kinds of stuff, like the bit about the flying nuns. Cool stuff, but it really had little to do with the main story which was already compelling and brilliant on its own. Nowadays, I’m certain Les Mis would have elicited reams of cuts and ended up a rather slim version of itself. And while I learned a lot, I also found myself drifting off a lot. Backstory, especially the non-compelling sort, is great for insomniacs. So do your readers a favor, cut most of it.

When I find it, I ask myself these three questions. Actually, these work well for a lot of things that need editing. Is it natural/organic? Is it necessary? Is it compelling?

Is it natural? Does this bit of backstory organically come from the scene or what’s running through my character’s head? Be mindful of your POV, this is especially important if you’re not writing in the omniscient POV, because it means you’re limited to viewing the world (or having your memory triggered) by what’s within your character’s sensory grasp.

Is it necessary? There’s a quote (can’t find it at the moment) about editing out the boring bits of life. (If you find the quote before I do, leave it in the comments, I’ll edit it in.) That’s what needs to happen with backstory. Make sure this memory, or bit of history, is crucial to the plot (internal or external plots/character arcs).

Is it compelling? If the reader couldn’t care less, the reader will skip right over it. And why bother having it in your book at all if your reader is skipping it. Every sentence, paragraph, scene, and chapter should be compelling. They won’t be, but try! And if that little reminiscence you just added is only sweet to you, it needs to go in your notes about your book, not in the actual book. Right now, I’m combining the first three chapters of my WIP because of this. Too much backstory. And though it was great backstory, made me all teary-eyed, it didn’t move my story along. So out it went. And it’s there to help me understand my characters, and it may show up again in tidbits later in the story (where I find a scene lacking depth), but it didn’t belong at the beginning. I have a feeling there’ll be a lot more of that as I edit.

Do you find your story weighed down by the past? How do you master the backstory beast?


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