Another spring has arrived and you will not be going to a writer’s conference. I’m so sorry. I’m not either.
I’ve been trying to get to the ACFW conference in September every fall for the last ten years and I’m not any closer now than I was ten years ago. I did, however, get to go to the Mountain Valley Writers’ Conference in Lake Guntersville, Alabama a few weeks ago. And I have the bug to go, and speak, at another one. But it may not be for a while. I loved speaking to a group of writers. But then I had to talk to them and that was scary!
Because I can’t go to writers conferences, I can do one of two things. One…
The other option, and the one that is a lot more entertaining, IMHO, is to create my own conference!
You can do this too!
If you do your own conferencing in the privacy of your own home, it’s free and there’s the added bonus of not actually having to talk to people.
For us financially strapped anthropophobes out there, this is a win-win.
I’ve created a list of some of the hundreds (if not thousands) of free resources for writers online.
This is NOT exhaustive. But it will certainly get you started if you can’t afford to go out to learn how to be a great writer. There are blogs, websites, videos, virtual conferences, podcasts and groups you can participate in. And DON’T forget your local library (although you should put clothes on to go there, and you may have to actually speak to someone!)
Need To Feel Like You Are Actually At A Conference?
Are Your Big Writing Dreams Worth Finding the Time?
Writing a novel takes hard work. It takes order. It takes discipline and planning. It takes courage and determination and tenacity. Anyone can do it, even if they have only ten minutes a day. (How do I know this? I wrote a novel in ten minute increments. Hence the name of this blog!)
Sometimes we think that we also need long, uninterrupted hours, an isolated cabin in the woods, a whiskey habit and a carton of Marlboros to be a writer too. But we don’t. Sometimes we need to stop thinking about how much different our life is from the idealized writer life is and just do what we can. We may have been in the habit of thinking that we can’t write at all unless conditions are perfect, the kids are more cooperative and inspiration strikes.
But I’m here to tell you that there are no such things as perfect conditions for writing.
There are, however, writers out there who make the most of what they do have and accomplish their dreams in less than ideal increments. I call these folks 10 Minute Novelists.
Are you a 10 Minute Novelist? Ask yourself these questions and see!
1. The baby wakes you at 4:30 and after you settle him back down, your first thought is “How many words can I get in before the whole family wakes up?”
2. While watching a crime show, a prosecutor mentions “solitary!” Your first thought? Solitary confinement? That sounds heavenly! I could get so much done there!
3. You’ve said to yourself “one of these days, when I have the time, I’ll get that book written!” Except that you’ve said it so many times no one believes you.
4. You treasure time alone in the bathroom to collect your thoughts and you may have a notebook and pen stashed somewhere just in case you get inspired.
5. Whenever you hear someone say they wrote 3000 words in one day, your first thought isn’t “good for you” your first thought is, “will they press charges if I slap them?”
6. There’s an inch of dust on your laptop.
7. You think that real writers have sprawling desks, live in isolated cabins, chain smoke, drink themselves silly, wear a lot of black and possibly own several cats. Then you decide, well no wonder they write so much, no one could stand to be near them!
8. If you’re honest with yourself, you think that your dreams are selfish. That your responsibilities are far more important and lofty than any silly, childish fantasy. That the desire to write a book is nothing but a vain attempt of mortality. And then you don’t know why you’re so sad.
9. You’ve watched Two And A Half Men and thought more than once, “I could write better dialogue in my sleep!”
When I first came to the 10 Minute Novelist group I wasn’t sure I would be a good fit. Ten Minute Novelist. What did that mean?
Write a novel in only ten minutes a day? Sure.
Use ten-minute intervals or snatches of time every day? Yes.
Or was it for writers like me who can only sit still for ten minutes at a time? Of course.
What I found was a community of writers trying to fit in their passion for writing into any bit of time they could carve out of an already busy schedule.
I found an honest group of writers muddling through the process of writing and publishing and fulfilling their dreams.
I found people willing to share what they were learning in the process.
I found people who can laugh together as they share an invisible table of snacks via the internet.
I found both experienced and inexperienced authors offer words of wisdom.
I found people not afraid to speculate on possible answers to impossible problems.
I found authors who celebrate each other’s successes.
And I have found friends.
I found people who have prayed with me and over me when my husband died suddenly last October.
I found people who purchased my novel to show support.
I found people who sent tweets out and Facebook messages to promote my book because I couldn’t.
I couldn’t find words that didn’t lead back to the pain I was experiencing. I couldn’t find joy in writing, but my 10 Minute Novelist friends spurred me on. Held me up.
And they reminded me through their support what writing is all about. It’s about sharing our life stories. It’s about creating happily ever after endings if we choose even if they may not match reality. It’s about inventing or reinventing ourselves as we move through life. It’s about appreciating the power of the printed word. It’s about losing yourself in a world you create, at least ten minutes every day.
Rebecca Waters left her position as a professor of teacher education in December 2012 to actively pursue her writing career. She shares her writing journey in her weekly blog, A Novel Creation. Rebecca has published several freelance articles including two submissions in the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul books, Standard Publishing’s Lookout Magazine, The Christian Communicator, Church Libraries, and Home Health Aide Digest. Rebecca’s debut novel, Breathing on Her Own, was released on March 24, 2014 by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.
10 Minute Novelists is a community of writers from all over the world. Twice a month, we feature one of our writers. Today? It’s Jane Steen, author of House of Closed Doors and champion of Author Ethics.
1. How did the topic of ethics for authors become an interest of yours?
It just started out as an observation that there were quite a few authors out there behaving unprofessionally. I’ve been active on Goodreads as a reader for years, and I could see wave after wave of shock run around the community because an author had plagiarized another author’s work, or had attacked a reviewer in the comments thread, or they’d detected yet another reviewing ring (where a group of authors had all given each other five stars). I could see how these actions by a few authors were eroding the trust that should exist between reader and author. I began noticing in author groups that a few authors (not the majority) were treating the market as a free-for-all, proposing dodgy marketing tactics as the latest great idea and trying to coordinate actions that I knew, from the Goodreads side, were seen as spam at least and unethical at worst.
So one day I spoke up. Ironically, shortly before I did that I wrote a blog post about how I wanted to be a writer, not a campaigner—it was never my intention to become “Mrs. Author Ethics” or anything like that. But now that my efforts have been taken up by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and groups like the 10 Minute Novelists, I can see there are several ways in which I can help new authors adopt professional ethics right from the beginning (and thus have long and happy careers). I’m hoping that in 2015 I can help make author ethics as popular a subject as how to produce great book covers or the best way to edit your book. I’m already seeing other authors discussing ethics and adopting the ALLi badge.
And then, when everyone accepts ethics of part of a writer’s toolkit, I hope to focus fully on my other writing. Think I’ll succeed?
2. Why are the specific points of the Code of Ethics so important?
The Code’s written as an outline of the most basic principles, not as a detailed “law.” So it’s easy for an author to adopt and follow, and it’s nice and short—eight short paragraphs, headed up by the guiding principle, which is to put your readers first. In the end this effort is all about respecting, appreciating and honoring the people without whom you wouldn’t be an author.
3. What have you learned by watching other authors’ bad behavior?
What not to do! I’ve often observed how a huge row frequently begins as a mistake on the author’s part—in the first flush of being an author (or sometimes, regrettably, once they get famous enough that they have fans telling them how great they are) they decide to take offence at the way readers behave. Yes, readers do things authors would prefer they wouldn’t—they post snarky reviews or totally misread your book or make moral and psychological judgments about YOU based on what your characters do, or blame you for getting history details wrong where in fact you’re right. That doesn’t justify the author in going on the attack against her own readers—in what other industry does a producer turn round and tell its consumers they’re idiots for not appreciating the beauty of its product?
I’ve learned from experience and observation that you’ve got to build up a relationship of trust with readers, and although you can (and I do) set some boundaries (I’ve deleted comments that are clearly troll attacks, for example), for the most part you just have to keep your professional face on and if you’re upset, tell your best friend and not the entire internet about it.
4. What advice would you give new writers in regard to ethics?
Well, obviously I’d advise them to read the Ethical Author Code! Also, I’d advise new writers to seek out the best sources of knowledge about the publishing industry in general and their particular niche. Look for blogs by respected industry observers, journalists, book bloggers and successful authors—I read Joanna Penn, Jane Friedman, Hugh Howey, Anne R. Allen, Dear Author and many more every day. Making an effort to keep yourself informed about the industry is vital, even if you’re publishing with a Big Five publisher.
“The days when an author could just sit back and let someone else direct their career are gone. Take responsibility for yourself and your writing business.”
5. Tell us about your other goals for 2015?
In 2014 I came up with the idea of the 365K Challenge, and ended up writing over 380,000 total words—which included part of two novels in my series, and concepts for a standalone novel and a new series. This year I’m participating in the bigger 365K Challenge that the 10 Minute Novelists group has launched, but I’m also working toward my own new goal—2,000 words a day but only on weekdays, as I find it harder to write on weekends. (That’s over 500,000 words a year, by the way.)
My other goal is to become successful as an entrepreneur. This means gradually introducing all kinds of systems for success—planning, scheduling, daily productivity beyond my word count, and keeping up with the other responsibilities in my life. I have several measurable goals for 2015, but my overriding aim is to work out how to stay proactive about my business and my writing, and keep moving both forward.
6. Why do you love writing historical novels?
I find history increasingly fascinating. The more you read about it, the more you see how all the parts fit together! As I’ve grown older I’ve gained a much clearer view of how I fit into history, or perhaps I should say how history has shaped the world I live in and which informs my thinking. Writing the novels allows me to invent characters who are moving within a historical context that we understand because it’s already happened. They don’t know what’s going to happen, but the author (and frequently the reader) does. And I love writing about characters who have to cope with the absence of things we take for granted—antibiotics or plane travel or telephones.
7. What is it about 1880s Chicago that is so fascinating?
I began The House of Closed Doors in 1870 because I wanted to write within a specific framework of the evolution of Poor Farms—and it was set in the Chicago area because that’s where I live (the inspiration for the story came from a photo of the County Poor Farm which used to stand on my town’s main street). Right now I’m writing about Chicago in 1876-1877, and if I write the whole series as originally planned I’ll end up in 1888, well into the Gilded Age. During that time span the world of my characters will make huge technological advances and there’ll be some major societal rumblings (women’s rights and the labor movement) that lay the groundwork of the massive changes that will happen through the catalyst of the two World Wars. So I’m watching the modern world emerge through the eyes of a set of characters I like and find fun to write.
Also, the dresses are GORGEOUS. The fashion for lots of embellishment in the 1870s and 1880s produced some absolutely stunning work at the top end of the price range, and filtered down to more everyday clothing in the form of an attention to detail we’ve almost completely lost in the West. My novels are for anyone who stares in rapt attention at the costumes in period TV shows or movies—that’s why I made Nell a dressmaker.
8. What is your definition of success?
I’d like to earn a modest living from being an author-entrepreneur, of course. But my real definitition of success would be to write some characters that people love so much they dress like them and write fan fiction about them and remember them long after I’m gone.
“No writer’s immortal, but a really good character can be—look how long King Arthur’s lasted, for example. My dream is to invent characters that fuel other people’s dreams.”
9. What important things do we need to know about you?
I’m British—I married an American, which is why I live here. I’ve always been fascinated by languages, and by fine crafts—if I had multiple lifetimes I’d become fluent in more languages than English and French, and I’d do way more than knit lace shawls. I’m an avid reader, as you’d expect, and have had my nose stuck in a book since I was four years old. But I also love to be outdoors, and I run, walk, bike or ski on the local forest preserve trails most days. I’m happily married with two adult daughters. I’m not at all fond of housework, but messiness and dirt make me feel anxious so I force myself.
10. Please finish this: I love my reader when I ______________. I love my art when I ______________. I love myself, as a writer, when I ________________.
“I love my reader when I respect their opinions. I love my art when I give it the time and attention it deserves. I love myself, as a writer, when I celebrate my successes and acknowledge—and address—my weaknesses.”
Jane Steen lives with her husband and daughter in the Chicago area.
Last spring, Bridget and I started a conversation about her article, “Why I Didn’t Keep Reading Your Book” Parts 1 & 2. And then I had the idea that I wanted to interview her and I send her questions. Then she moved. And then I kind of forgot about it. And then I broke my ankle and I was on pain meds. Then she reminded me that she would get to those questions as soon as she could. And then I started this crazy Facebook group. And then when I got the interview questions back, it felt like I was a different person (I was, I hobbled on one foot for a while). Regardless, the interview was worth waiting for.
Bridget’s insight to editing is very valuable. So please take a look at what she has to say:
What specifically prompted you to write the articles: Why I Didn’t Keep Reading Your Book, Parts 1 & 2?
Bridget: I used to edit books for a company called Thriller Doctor. In addition to marking up someone’s manuscript, I would send the client an analysis of their writing problems—things that might be keeping them from writing as well as they might. It boiled down to the same handful of general problems—weak verbs further compromised by adverbs, filler words and fish heads, redundancy, point of view problems, and worst of all, telling the reader things they ought to be letting them see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. I wrote a short book about it, then decided I hadn’t handled many of those things in enough depth, so I took the book apart and wrote an article series called “Self-Editing for Everyone,” which became the basis for the second edition of “The Little Book of Self-Editing for Writers.”
Bridget: I had used a lot of (disguised) real-world examples of problem writing in the articles and book, and not all from new writers; some were taken from authors whose names you’d recognize.So it occurred to me that I could go out and find these same problems in the wild, in published books. That’s how I started writing the series “Why I Didn’t Keep Reading Your Book.” My job wasn’t to make anyone feel bad, so I disguised the writing while revealing the problems, and didn’t mention names or titles.
Do you think that the surge in self-publishing is making things better or worse for writers? For readers?
Bridget: I think there’s never been a better environment for readers and writers than what we have now. Readers have more choice, at lower prices, than ever before. They can find books they really love that couldn’t be published before—often the very books turned down by big publishers because “we don’t know how to market that,” or “it’s between genres, so it doesn’t fit any of our lines,” or “it’s really good, but we’re just not sure it has an audience—” those books are now finding readers and making their authors money.
What surprises have you found in the self-publishing market?
Bridget: Coming from Ye Olde School—write, submit to agents, get a book deal, I was suspicious of self-publishing for a long time. I believed in gatekeepers and the thinking that a good enough book would eventually get picked up by some editor somewhere, and that until that happened the writer should just keep plugging along.
In order to keep thinking that I had to deliberately forget about really awful books that got zillion-dollar advances, friends’ books I thought were wonderful but couldn’t find a home, and about the books I was encouraged by agents and editors not to write or not to finish because there was no market for them, while being encouraged to write more of what was selling instead. This was the 90s. Self-publishing was the kiss of doom to a writer’s career. That remained the case for a long time.
Then a friend of mine who had sold half a dozen science fiction novels but had been told there was no market for his alternate-history thriller decided to publish it himself to the Kindle platform. That woke me right up, and I began looking into self-publishing.That was 2010. Toward the end of 2011, I started publishing science fiction and fantasy short stories I’d sold to magazines years back. I loved the freedom and control—two things I hadn’t gotten from traditional publishing.
So I guess the thing that surprises me most is how quickly everything has changed.People are learning new attitudes about self-publishing, and indie author/publishers are breaking new ground every day. Self-publishing has gone from something very few writers would consider seven years ago to a viable alternative to traditional publishing for tens of thousands of writers.
You’ve been writing for a long time. If you were just starting out, let’s say, like ME, what would you have done differently as a beginner?
Bridget: Well, when I was a beginner there was only one game in town for writers, and that was traditional publishing. Fortunately for me at the time, I caught the attention of an agent and my career took off. I won’t say it ever reached cruising altitude—my first book went out of print as the third was being released, which took the whole series down in flames.
But I kept writing and sending synopses to my agent, and he kept me afloat with work-for-hire jobs while shooting down every proposal I sent him for original novels. “Nobody’s buying ____ right now.” Later I wrote another novel and got another agent, but when I didn’t want to gut my book and remake it into what one editor wanted, he stopped sending it out. And I stopped writing, except for the day job in the computer games industry.
So there’s what I might have done differently: I might have kept writing. I might not have let the inevitable disappointments of traditional publishing stop me. I might have kept on writing for publishing “house names” (I wrote one of the last Tom Swift novels, believe it or not).
Did you struggle with lack of confidence in the beginning of your career? How did overcome this?
I have yet to find a creative person who doesn’t suffer from lack of confidence or even full-blown impostor syndrome. The good news is, the more experience you have that says you can do this and do it well, the easier it is to talk yourself down from the ledge.
What’s next for you?
Bridget: I just got the rights back to a 3-book private eye mystery series. Apparently the letter from the publisher had been sitting around my former agent’s office for two years without anyone letting me know I could re-publish the books. So now I will.
Thank you, Bridget for carrying the standard of excellence! And this great interview!