Links Galore

All the links I’ve been saving:

Blueprinting Your Novel, Evel Knievel, and Why Sympathy Is Not a Positive Attitude: the NESCBWI 2016 Conference

At the annual NESCBWI conference, surrounded by writers and illustrators and editors and agents, it’s easy to think about community. Writing can feel like a solitary job, and it’s good to spend a weekend with people who really get it. And being around people who get it was just what I needed.

Due to scheduling and budgeting, I didn’t get to go to any writing retreats in the last year, and I didn’t realize how much I needed that time with my writing community until I got to Springfield. There’s something about being surrounded by people who share your passion and by setting aside time to remember that, no matter what the struggles, you are a writer.

A few favorite moments from the conference:

  • BSoS crit group NESCBWIGetting to spend time with my critique group, including two members who no longer live in the New England area and make the trip out for the weekend.
  • Showing off our love for The Bitter Side of Sweet by crit group member Tara Sullivan.
  • Wendy Mass‘s touching and hilarious keynote, including gems like “It’s easy enough to write what you know. Write what you want to know about,” her giant scroll of rejection letters, and how she takes magic lessons.Swings
  • Also, Wendy Mass’s blueprinting/outlining method that might legit change my writing process for the better.
  • Tara Lazar on how picture books need to be the more exciting narrative roller coaster.
  • Patrick Carman’s keynote about being inspired by Evel Knievel and how we are all entrepreneurs.
  • Amitha Knight and Padma Venkatraman‘s thoughtful and engaging workshop on writing disability, with tons of helpful resources and frank discussions about things like how “sympathy is not a positive attitude.”
  • An awesome panel about working with booksellers and educators, including shoutouts to graphic novels as legit reading.
  • Winning a copy of Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles in her fabulous NESCBWI bookstore‘improv’ writing workshop.
  • Seeing The Chance You Won’t Return in the conference bookstore alongside so many wonderful books (and so many wonderful books by friends!)
  • Spending time with lots of my favorite local writers and illustrators (even though there were still people I somehow didn’t run into all weekend).

I headed into May feeling inspired and rejuvenated and ready to write. No matter what you’re working on now, I hope you can find a chance to connect with your fellow writers and remember what we’re all in this together.

NESCBWI Prep: My Dos and Don’ts for Conference Newbies

One of my favorite annual conferences, NESCBWI, is this weekend, and I’m so psyched to see lots of wonderful writer and illustrator friends for a weekend of bookish inspiration. But only a few years ago, I was a total NESCBWI newbie, and was headed to Springfield equal parts excited and nervous.

In case you’re a newbie to the writing conference experience, here are my tips for getting the most out of your weekend and having a blast.

Do: use the conference hashtag
Intimidated by how everyone seems to know everyone else? Joining in on social media can be a great way to connect with a lot of people at once, and it’s way easier to meet people in real life if you’ve already interacted on Twitter. This weekend, follow along at #NESCBWI16.

Don’t: be scared to talk to people
I know, it’s hard to be the new kid. But everyone’s there because they love the same thing you do, and that means you already have something in common. Ask what they primarily write/what kind of media they use in their art/what book they’re totally fangirling over/how their last session was.

Do: take notes
It’s easy to think you’re going to remember everything from that amazing session on outlining, but details get fuzzy a week later when you’re diving back into your WIP. Bring a notebook or your laptop/tablet and jot down a few helpful points in each session.

Don’t: stress about remembering everything that was said in every talk/workshop
The stuff that really resonates with you will stick with you. Sometimes it’s more important to be present than to feel like you’re going to have to recite the workshop verbatim next week.

Do: get your time and money’s worth
Conferences can be expensive and take you away from your other responsibilities for a weekend. (Sorry, laundry, see you Monday!) Take part in workshop exercises, listen to the keynotes, join in on open mics, get a critique from an agent or editor. This is your weekend just to be a writer, so you might as well get the most out of your time that you can.

Don’t: get conference burn-out
Getting the most out of your weekend is one thing, but you don’t want to be so drained by it all that you end up zombie-walking through your last four workshops. Take some alone time when needed, or hole up in your hotel room and grab an hour of inspired writing time.

Do: dress comfortably
It’s a writing conference, not a fashion conference. (Miranda Priestly will not be there to judge you.) Modcloth-cute outfits are appreciated, but you’re also going to be walking from room to room and floor to floor and dodging people to get a seat at lunch. Comfortable shoes are key, and a lot of people wear jeans.

Don’t: forget to bring a few essentials
I like to have a notebook, a few pens, my cell phone charger, some business cards/bookmarks/other swag to hang out with my name and book on it, cash for the bookstore, and a reusable water bottle. Your essential items list may vary, but I think these are good basics.

Do: ask questions that benefit everyone
Most sessions have time for Q&A, but nothing’s worse than someone taking up 15 minutes on a question that only applies to their very specific situation. Think about questions that might apply to lots of other people in the group. If you have a specific question and the workshop presenter is available to talk after, bring it up individually.

Don’t: network all the time
We’re writers/illustrators, but we’re also people. You don’t have to be pitching your book or bragging about your daily word counts all the time. Remember that your fellow conference-goers are also people who have families, other hobbies, favorite movies, etc. The best ways to connect with your colleagues are when you remember that they’re regular humans, too.

Do: have a pitch for what you’re working on
This one is still hard for me, too. At some point over the weekend, someone will ask, “What do you write?” Instead of mumbling “Oh something about people and feelings, but it’s funny” like I do, think of a one or two sentence pitch for each of your projects.

Don’t: feel bad if you leave a critique without an offer from an agent or book deal
I’m not gonna say getting signed by an agent or editor can’t happen, but instead of worrying about getting that contract, try to focus on what’s working in your story and what you should consider in revision. And remember that not every agent/editor is the right one for you–maybe the one doing your critique could offer helpful suggestions, but ultimately isn’t the one who’s the best match for you or your book.

Do: have fun!
Conferences like NESCBWI are a great opportunity to meet people and learn more about your craft, but they should also be a chance to enjoy yourself among your peers. Writing is hard enough, so when we’re all together for a weekend, we might as well celebrate.

And if you’ll be at NESCBWI this year, copies of The Chance You Won’t Return should be available in the bookstore. I won’t be doing an official signing, but if you have a book and find me around, I’ll totally sign it for you (and give you a hug/high five).

Other conference tips? Share them in the comments!

Links Galore

Lots of links I’ve been saving:

Links Galore

A few links I’ve been saving.

Advice for Astronauts and Artists

Window to the World (NASA, International Space Station Science, 02/10)

Window to the World (NASA, International Space Station Science, 02/10)

NASA is currently accepting applications for a new class of astronauts at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. Giving a glimpse into the NASA life, current astronaut Stan Love shares some advice for applicants.

Most surprising for me? How much of Love’s advice could be applied to writers.

I know. Usually when we talk about STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) careers, they’re at the opposite end of careers in the arts. STEM careers are stable, money-makers. Arts careers are an unstable crapshoot.

But Love’s description of life as an astronaut suggests that the two career paths are way more common than you’d suspect. He talks about the ups and downs of having one of the coolest jobs ever:

“It’s hands down the coolest job on or off the planet…The cherry on top is actually strapping into a rocket and blasting off to orbit around Earth (or, starting in a few years with Exploration Mission-2, the moon). You’ll float peacefully in weightlessness and gaze out the window as our amazing planet rolls by underneath you at 25 times the speed of sound.

Unfortunately, most of an astronaut’s time isn’t spent in space. It’s spent working at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas…At my house, an astronaut takes the trash out to the curb every Tuesday morning.”

I don’t know much about being an astronaut, but that totally reminds me of being a writer. Writing is awesome–nothing beats being totally immersed in a story, understanding the characters and their motivation and riding along with the plot.

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy (NASA, Chandra, 11/10/09)

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy (NASA, Chandra, 11/10/09)

But that’s not most of writing. Sometimes it’s you, staring at your computer, writing a sentence and deleting it, or deciding that the last chapter isn’t going to work. It’s finishing a draft and going back to revise it for the fifth time. It’s querying and going on sub and getting rejected and getting bad reviews. It’s balancing your writing with your family and friends and other jobs and that laundry that somehow hasn’t learned to do itself.

Come on, you think. Anyone with a STEM background automatically gets a great job! What does someone at NASA know about rejection? Um, a lot, it turns out:

“In our last selection in 2013, we had more than 6,000 serious applicants. We hired eight of them. That’s just slightly better than one-in-a-thousand odds…I started sending in applications – and updating them regularly – in 1991. I did that seven times in all. I got an interview (an exciting milestone, since it means you’ve made the short list) in 1994. I interviewed three times before finally getting hired in 1998. I like to joke that I didn’t so much impress the Astronaut Selection Board as wear them down.”

Kind of like the querying/submission process, right? One rejection doesn’t mean you’re not a worthwhile candidate or that your career is over. It means maybe not right now. It means keep trying.

Love also talks about managing expectations with regard to the application process, rejection, and not framing your life around trying to game the system:

I met some folks who had dedicated their whole lives to becoming astronauts. They learned to fly, not because they love airplanes, but because they heard that the Astronaut Selection Board likes pilots. They learned to scuba dive, not because they love the sea, but because they heard that the board likes scuba divers. I observed folks doing these things, and then not getting selected (the likeliest outcome), and then becoming very, very bitter and disappointed people.

I didn’t want to follow their example, and I recommend that you don’t either. Instead, just do what you love doing.

I was drawing pictures of airplanes and spaceships in first grade, so when I had the chance to earn a pilot’s license, or take elective courses in aerospace engineering…or take a job as an engineer working on spacecraft optical instruments at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I jumped on it. And I had a blast.

Now, all of those things were also good for applying to be an astronaut, so I went ahead and included them on my applications. But because I was doing what I loved, I would have been perfectly happy where I was—even if I hadn’t been picked as an astronaut.

iss044e046217

Space weather forecast from @ISS: Moonless with a chance of #Perseid meteors! – photo by Astronaut Scott Kelly

There’s no way to know what a publisher will like, what kind of book is going to be the next major bestseller, or what kind of book will be in print for the next fifty years. You can try to write a book that you think has all the elements of being a bestseller (vampire dystopian quirky romance!), but there’s no way it’s going to resonate with anyone if you don’t write it out of pure love. Sometimes the story you love is also the story that’ll sell a gajillion copies and get you a castle next to JK Rowling’s. If that’s the case, awesome. But you get there because you’re writing the story of your heart, not because you’re writing the story you think will sell.

For artists and for astronauts, you have to deal with a lot of rejection. Maybe someday you’ll see your book on a shelf or see the Earth from orbit. Maybe not. But the work you do should be what propels you forward–even when it’s not fun and when it really feels like work. Because when you put yourself and your passion in your work, that comes through to editors and to the Astronaut Selection Board.

I get super motion sick, so I won’t be applying to the astronaut class anytime soon. But I’m glad to take a little astronaut advice into my writing life as we all explore new worlds.

Links Galore

Lots of links I’ve been saving: