Ok, y’all know I love me a good writers conference. After I left a career in corporate sales to be a writer, I made attending writers conferences part of my ongoing education goal. I’ve attended at least one a year since 2012.
Well, this year something magical happened. I GOT INTO THE ERMA BOMBECK WRITERS WORKSHOP!
ERMA BOMBECK, FOLKS! ONE OF THE FOREMOTHERS OF FUNNY!
The Erma conference happens every two years, and the last two times I tried to get in, it sold out. No joke, this conference sells out faster every year, like in four hours or less.
So this year, I marked my calendar, I had my morning off, I was holding my credit card in hand with my laptop and my phone ready to GO!
And then, I flew to Dayton, Ohio and proudly wore my newbie sticker that said “Erma Virgin”. Yes, that is what they gave us. Be still my humor-loving, former Catholic heart.
I’ve been to some stellar conferences and always left inspired, but there was energy like you can’t imagine at this conference. (In fact, the organizers said this was the highest rated conference to date!) I got my schedule, planned out where I was going to go, and then immediately threw that out the window, tried something new, made great friends, and gave it all my best!
ERMAgawd, here’s why you should go!
Taking risks leads to opportunities and learning lessons.
You all know I like to say yes to new experiences, but being the newbie here, I was admittedly nervous.
A fair amount of the workshop focused on stand up comedy with the hilarious Wendy Liebman. Wendy’s been a stand up comedian for over 30 years. She’s performed on Carson, Letterman, Leno, Fallon, Kimmel, and been a finalist on America’s Got Talent.
It seemed like everyone was talking about the stand up classes. Everyone I met was trying stand up or working on their bits. But I had no intention of going. I’m not a stand up, so that’s not for me.
You guys all know I went, right? LOL
I had planned what workshops I was going to attend the night before they started, and that was the last time I looked at that list. If the stand up classes were getting all the buzz, then I decided to go and see what I could learn from them. After all, I like working in different formats because it teaches you new things about your writing.
After the first class listening to people tell jokes, my gears just started rolling and I spent that night coming up with some material. So the next day, I got up with a bunch of other brave, risk-taking people and did a minute of stand up. And I got laughs! Good ones! That is a very good feeling. One that I’m interested and willing to try again! All because of a risk.
A risk, and the ever delightful and supportive Wendy Liebman, who just happened to be on the same flight to Chicago as me, and who gave me wonderful feedback and encouragement while sitting at our departure gate despite the fact that it wasn’t even 6am yet. Bless you, you’re so kind and charming, and I’m eternally grateful.
Find the Funny
The other classes I attended were about finding the funny, whether it’s using it to add heart or get through hard times. Or even just on Twitter.
One of my favorite workshops was with Lauretta Hannon, author of The Cracker Queen. She had a lot of great tips on being comfortable with writing your story, even the dark parts, while being ok with yourself in the process. I can’t wait to read her book after she shared some examples of how to use humor to write about the tough stuff, and also where to let the dark moments speak for themselves, because we know not everything we go through will be funny.
Both Lauretta and T. Faye Griffin, another presenter, reiterated that making people laugh is a gift. Some of the best writers out there have the ability to make you feel something or learn something, but do so through humor, and that is a very special skill.
It’s kind of mesmerizing to me how many different ways there are to be funny. You can do stand up, you can tell a story, you can caption a photo, you can come up with a punchy headline, you can tweet just to name a few. If there was one takeaway from this conference, it is that “funny” is all around us, and we have the skill to shape it.
I’m so grateful for this opportunity. The crowd at Erma is one of the most supportive I’ve ever seen, which is appreciated because I took one other risk while I was at the conference and signed up for Pitchapalooza, “the American Idol of books”.
In a room of roughly 100 people, I put my name in a hat that probably had at least 60 of those people’s names in it. Only 12 were chosen and I was one of them. I got to pitch my book for one minute to a panel of judges and get feedback on my pitch.
I swear I thought the audience would hear my heart beating through the microphone, but I had practiced my pitch beforehand and gave it my all. I didn’t win the contest. (Way to go, Liz Dubelman, who did win! She was the first person to say hi to me at the conference, so I have a soft spot for her as a human being. Thanks!) I got really positive feedback and simple tweaks to improve my pitch, and was even complimented on my performance! And that’s a win in my book!
So there you have it, taking risks and finding the funny is what Erma is all about. I’m so glad I could attend and so grateful to the conference organizers, presenters, the keynotes (btw, I hope I wasn’t the only one who noticed all the female keynotes got standing ovations), and my fellow attendees. I’m still riding the highs and energized by all of you!
What are you currently learning about your writing right now?
What’s inspiring you?
I just got back from a fabulous week at the Write by the Lake writers retreat in Madison, Wisconsin. If you’re searching for conferences to attend next year, I highly recommend this program. I’ve gone the last three years. They offer a dozen different course options that provide intense study into a specific genre or practice for the week. Courses are for all levels from introductory to those with a full manuscript looking for a masterclass.
This year, I swayed from my usual path of nonfiction and opted for the course on picture book writing.
Here’s what I learned:
My instructor, Georgia Beaverson, had us do a writing prompt on the first day. We had to write down our first memory. The second day we rewrote that memory from another person’s point of view. She then made us edit our wordcount down by HALF (oh, the agony).
She said we could also try reworking the piece into different tenses, illustrating that a story can be told in many different ways, by different people, and sometimes reworking it can lead to great discoveries.
I’ve been working on my memoir for the last several years, and I’ve reworked some of my essays to be performed for adult storytelling. (I highly recommend taking a storytelling class if you have one in your area. I took one two years ago and it was wonderful!) What I learned by doing so was that moving around and utilizing the space I could tell in, I imagined new ways of describing the action or character emotions in my writing. Performing the scene helped me write a stronger scene.
In the picture book writing class, I adapted one of my essays to be told as a children’s picture book. The audience was entirely different, since I’d previously written and performed for adults. In this instance, I played up sounds, using onomatopoeia, stronger verbs, and I limited description where illustrations could play a role.
Using the same plotline, I now had three different ways of telling/performing the story.
Ohmygawd! Justin Timberlake was right all along!
The more you write, the better writer you become, and practicing different kinds of writing tools, genres, and craft elements are key. I was amazed at how each exercise in storytelling, whether on paper or a stage, shaped me as a writer. It was fun, challenging for sure, but rewarding across the board.
Sometimes when we’re stuck, we aren’t sure how to gain that forward momentum again. Whether or not you choose to pursue a different genre or space for your story, trying out different exercises can offer up different questions to make you think, explore, and get that creative blood pumping again.
Things You Can Try:
- Work with a critique group that has multiple genres – How will their feedback strengthen your writing? (Ex. Will listening to poetry help you improve your word choice and descriptions? Will the romance author help you write funnier characters or scenes?)
- Adapt your story into different formats (written, spoken, illustrated) – You may discover something new, or gain confidence in an area you previously felt uncomfortable in.
- Just play – Are you stuck on a scene? Is the writing starting to bore even you? Move around, make yourself do the actions! Try drawing it, what’s the action you want to portray? You don’t have to show this to anyone else, but practicing in new ways can help get you past writer’s block.
- Change the POV.
- Change the tense of the story.
- Change the audience you’re writing for.
- Read different genres. Listen to people tell stories. Note what draws you in.
How can you rewrite and/or adapt your stories
to learn something new about them?
Got an example?
Share your favorite way to practice writing.
Happy November everyone!
Today I’m so excited to say that I’m guest posting at the fabulous Ingrid Schaffenburg’s Blog today!
Ingrid blogs about creativity and mindfulness, and going after your dreams. She is a spiritual globetrotter who knows it’s never too late to learn a lesson.
Ingrid asked me to share my story about how I made the bold decision to quit my job in retail management with NO BACKUP PLAN!
This time of year, with holidays looming ahead, can be so stressful. (I know that better than most.) I think this post is timely for all of us to remember to take risks, stay positive, and believe in ourselves.
I hope you’ll hang out with us today! CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE POST PLEASE. 🙂
TEASER ~ Living Without a Backup Plan
“For six years I worked in retail for a large department store. It’s identity shall not be named in order to protect the damned. I started working there in college, and after graduation, I freaked about becoming an “adult.” So I took a full time position at the store and bragged to my dad that I finally had health insurance.
I was good at my job. I just wasn’t happy.”
See you at Ingrid’s place!
Tell us about your dreams and big plans.
All writers and bloggers know that SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a crucial part of establishing your online brand. Tags and Keywords are required in order for the Internet Gods to find you and connect you with readers. With tags, we have a say. We can edit our own tags to include the subject matter we blog about in hopes that interested readers will search those tags and find us. For example, I’ve tagged this post to come up in searches for my name, my blog’s name, SEO, blogging, and writers.
We can influence keywords as well, but the Internet Gods that be (on the seventh day they tweeted) will also pull things from our posts based on wording we’ve used and formatting.
Every now and then I like to take a peak at my blog stats to see what search terms led people to find my little hub in the great wide blogosphere. And the randomness of some of the search terms never ceases to amuse me.
In the past, you may have found my blog by searching one or all of the following phrases:
- how to do the Peanuts dance
- dino erotica
- what defined the 80’s
- things to blog about that start with ‘S’
- vampire attacks
- claimed vampire attacks in 2013
- covered up vampire attacks
Why, YES I CAN instruct you how to do the Peanuts dance, why you SHOULDN’T buy dino erotica, what defined the 80’s (I’ll save you the read – it’s fanny packs), things to blog about that start with ‘S’ (you could also consult a dictionary, but I’ve got some ideas – Snuggies, sleep, sloths, the character Sloth from the movie The Goonies…). And I can tell you about ONE claimed vampire attack in 2013 that may in fact be a cover up by a moderately well known band.
Now, I like to imagine you, Dear Readers, opening your Google search engines and writing to me personally, like Dear Abby, all of your quizzical interweb wonderings. I think of your search terms as love notes. And I hope that I can answer your questions.
My Campaign Slogan – just in time for election day!
But lately, I’m beginning to feel like we should see other people. Your requests have gotten out of hand. And I think it’s time we introduce a safe word. You know, something to say when one of us feels the other has the crossed the line. How about ‘parakeet‘? I think it works because I dislike them too.
A week ago when I looked at the search terms that led you here, I was flummoxed. And more than a little uncomfortable.
Recent Search Terms That Led You to the Happiness Project:
- inside LDS temples
- scary ouija board conversations
- what to wear in the tundra
- what does it mean if you draw a swing
- dragon hill spa placenta
- i dreamed there was 5 little orphan baby bats all snuffling dreams
- girls and boars
- sideshow freak posters
- queens drinking tea
- Tia Carrere’s legs
- Jonathan Crombie’s girlfriend
- inflatable handcuffs hahaha
- how to fix a box fan
- ideas of how to dress like The Hulk
- hippies, gypsies, no bras and no squares
- absurdist quirky films
- Willoughby “the slime”
- German women in dirndls
- absurdly romantic things to say to a woman
- what causes super human hearing
- sex free friendship with old Indian woman
Who am I to you, SEO? Do you even know me? I thought we loved one another.
I think it’s time we slow things down, SEO. NaNoWriMo is starting and I just don’t have time for this. Come talk to me when you’re not drunk. You’ve got my number.
Follow up Request to the Internet Gods
Dear Internet Lords,
I just called for a break between me and my SEO. Lately I feel like he doesn’t get me anymore. And he’s always asking me for the strangest requests. I’m tired and I feel like he doesn’t respect me anymore. What should I do? Oh, and how do I change my blog relationship status to ‘It’s Complicated’?
Baffled and Blogging
What’s your SEO relationship like?
or Write me your best Dear Abby response!
This past weekend I attended the DFW Writer’s Conference (Dallas/Fort Worth, for those of us not from the South). Let me just say, this conference rocked more than Jon Bon Jovi, and I even stood behind him in concert once on National TV! That’s another tale.
I truly do recommend attending this conference, or one closer to you if cost is a concern, because the information and MOTIVATION that come out of these sessions is priceless. Plus, here’s a bunch of the writers/bloggers I met there: Kait Nolan, Julie Glover, Tiffany A. White, Jenny Hansen, Kristen Lamb, Donna Newton, Piper Bayard, Nigel Blackwell, Jillian Dodd, Roni Loren, Melinda VanLone, Ingrid Schaffenburg, Candace Havens, Kendra Highley, Joann Mannix, fellow Life List Club blogger David N. Walker, and New York Times Bestselling Author James Rollins!
Don’t believe me? I’ve got proof!
Now, why exactly are we celebrating my writing slump?
The DFW Con is my second writing conference. Last year I attended the Madison, Wisconsin Annual Writer’s Institute. You can check out my conference posts if you like: The Do Re Mi of Conference Attending, Creativity? How to Force More of It and Have Fun Too, and City Slickers and Social Media.
Here’s a little bit of backstory of what happened between that conference and this one:
1. I met a group of people at the conference who I totally connected with, who were all writing in the same genre as me (paranormal/fantasy) and who had blogs! Squeee! We swapped contact info and started our own online critique group, rotating weeks and sending in 10 pages.
- Oh yah, it totally bombed. About 3 months in, people were no longer sticking to the schedule, everyone was at such different pacing, many weren’t even blogging regularly (not moi!), and some took on different projects altogether.
2. So, I had an opportunity to join another writing group. The Warrior Writer’s Boot Camp! We focused on making the synopsis clear and the key characters strong. This was so helpful! But it also showed me more holes in my story, and I had to make so many changes I no longer knew what story I was writing.
- What I learned here was invaluable. It was great to have a group fully dive in with feedback and meaningful questions. I also realized this was no longer a story I knew how to write because it had entirely changed.
3. Then NaNoWriMo happened! Ok, here it is! All or nothing, I’m cracking this baby out in one month! Not sure where I’m going, doesn’t matter! I’m writing this bad
- Um, hello, I work in retail! What was I thinking trying to whip out 50K on a book I hadn’t plotted or outlined well during the peak month of Christmas shopping?! Stupid, stupid, stupid!
I’m celebrating my writing slump because I learned some hard lessons along the way. It was irrevocably and irretrievably pounded into my brain this weekend that I had not planned well. I half-a**ed my book outline and pantsed the rest expecting word nirvana to appear for me with little effort. I wasted time. Plain and simple. I wasted time, and I let myself down.
A few things have changed for me between that last conference and this one. For one, while I was one of the few people at the previous conference who had started blogging, now everybody has a blog, and they also have a twitter handle, a facebook page, they’re on Pinterest, and they’re launching their own website. Second, the whole market has changed. Where self-publishing was represented by a panel here and there, in the course of one year, at least one session each hour covered a panel or speaker discussing and promoting self-publishing options and how to hybrid with traditional publishing.
There were things that remained the same too. We know that we’re living in the Wild Wild West of Publishing now. Things are changing rapidly and every day we don’t actively write or market our book is a day wasted in this fast-paced technology driven world. There are more options than ever, but it’s important to research them and plan your platform and marketing pitch just as much as it’s important to edit and revise your work until it’s the best possible writing.
Traditional publishers are looking for the goose that lays the golden egg. If the goose stops laying golden eggs, then the publishers are going to kill the goose and roast him for dinner. So, what that means for us as writers, is we always have to keep writing. We’ve got to have a plan for what that next project is going to be. And if we don’t, expect to get fried by your agent.
Sound harsh? Think of it this way: Don’t you want people to demand more books from you? If you’re like me, working on that first novel, what’s your plan for the next one? If you haven’t thought about it, you’re in danger of becoming a one hit wonder. And that’s only IF you get the first one published.
Here’s a success story of epic proportions. James Rollins, remember me mentioning him, the NYT Bestselling Author? Yah, that one! During his keynote speech, he shared with us while he was still a veterinarian starting out writing, he wrote several different books, some in the thriller genre and some in the fantasy genre. He also received about 50 rejections letters, including one particularly personal handwritten note that read, “This is unpublishable.” But, he kept writing.
He happened to meet, at a conference no less, an agent who was interested in his fantasy series, a storyline previously unsupported by his other agent. Now, he was in the midst of two agents wanting to help publish his work, but only because he continued to write books even when it seemed no one wanted to read them.
Still not sold on the planning and preparedness of this process as a business strategy? Well, how many of you are hoping for the proverbial writer’s dream of quitting your day job, telling your boss to suck it, and moving into the castle across the moat from J.K. Rowling? Then you better plan to make some money on your books.
Bestselling author Lori Wilde was another speaker at the conference and she broke it down like this:
- On average, most writers will make about $15,000/year on their book.
- Subtract the 15% share the agent takes of that.
- Subtract the ___% share the publisher takes off of that.
- And now you’re left with your shiny new book in print that your boss at Starbucks won’t let you put next to the Pike’s Place roast on Buy One Get One Tuesdays!
So what you need to do is determine how much money you want to make a year, and based on the above numbers, calculate how many books you’d need to write and publish each year.
I’m not sharing this information to depress you into taking your crinkled pages of manuscript as scratch paper for next month’s grocery list. Well, maybe I am, it betters my chances of success. I’m sharing this information because I think it’s so crucial to know about your business if you want to be a writer. A writer with more than one book out there and who doesn’t have to also work the drive thru window her entire career.
A few of my favorite de-slumping activities (I’m an expert at slumping, so I get to make up words about it) are:
- Experience the world with all 5 senses (Blindfold yourself if you have to!)
- Listen to the sound of silence. When you hear noise/nature again, it will all be amplified.
- “Even if it’s a negative thing, stop and appreciate it because it’s teaching you something.” – Lori Wilde
- Get back to the basics.
- Write something totally different.
- Don’t whine! Breathe and then get it over with.
All of us have slumps, when do you hit yours? What advice got you out of it? What tricks or tips help you move past it?
What do you think of the ever-changing nature of our business? Are you excited about this Wild Wild West of publishing? Do you know another writer success story?
It’s Guilty Pleasure Friday again and what’s more pleasurable than hounding down and objectifying author CJ West?
CJ is a suspense author. A hardcore one. I mean, the URL for his blog is CJWestKills. See? Hardcore!
As equally hardcore as CJ is Jillian Dodd. Jillian fights crime with fireworks because she blogs and writes about LOVE! Recently, the two authors happened to hobnob with other writerly folks, and Jillian asked if CJ wouldn’t mind being featured on her blog Glitter, Bliss, and Perfect Chaos for one of her epic MANday posts!
Prepare yourself, Readers, for the most provincial contest our our time!
How can you say no to that??!
So what is MANday might you ask? It’s really better if I SHOW you. Feast your eyes on Samoan Rugby Players and Their Tattoos or if you prefer more clean cut, try MANday’s Magic Mike, a blog all about the upcoming movie premier for a story about male erotic dancers!
Where did you all go? Get BACK here! And put your pants back on!
So here’s what you need to know about the contest:
If we can get 5,000 people to comment on CJ’s website before the end of June, he agreed to be featured in MANday!
If you help us, YOU will be eligible to win a prize package of ebooks by both CJ West and Jillian Dodd, as well as some other excellent writer’s books. You can enter to win that package by doing this:
Tweet this: Help @jilliandodd convince @cjwest to be on MANday http://wp.me/p1zk5w-A7 #teamnoshirt #contest #prize #kindle #books
If we reach the goal, CJ and Jillian will also award a $500 Amazon Gift card to one lucky winner!!!
To enter, go to CJ’s blog and leave a comment.
List of e-books in prize package:That Boy by Jillian Dodd That Wedding by Jillian Dodd The End of Marking Time by CJ West Sin And Vengeance by CJ West Drawing Free by Elena Aitken Devil Unknown a novella by Steena Holmes Elemental Magic by Angela Wallace Again by Diana Murdock Telesa by Lani Wendt Young Exiled by MR Merrick The Bridge Club by Patricia Sands Doesn’t this contest sound amazing? I’m so excited! Be sure to leave your comment for CJ before July 1st! And guess what? It’s a double dose of me today cause I’m also blogging over at the Life List Club’s new blogsite! Haven’t checked it out yet? Get on over there! I’m talking about your 20’s! You know, the supposedly defining decade of our lives?! I’d love to hear your thoughts and introduce you to some of my favorite peeps. You can also find us mixing martinis or coming up with costume party ideas at #LifeListClub. See you all there!