One month till Surrey International Writers’ Conference 2014!

SiWC 2014For the fall and winter months (Yes, they’re here, wail!), I’ve decided to resurrect Déjà vu Thursdays. Exciting, right? I knew you’d think so. To kick it off, and because I just realized that it’s exactly a month until I leave for the 2014 Surrey International Writers’ Conference, I give you a happy pre-conference blurt that I wrote way back on June 10th, 2009 just after I paid my registration fee and booked my hotel and flights for SiWC 2009.

I didn’t attend last year’s conference because I was (Oh, poor me!) in London. The year before that (so 2013) my father had just passed away, and the conference was a blur. To say I’m excited about this year, but also a bit unsettled, worried that it will trigger unhappy memories, is an understatement. I know he’d want me to attend, however, to have a great time, to share BIGGER THINGS, to refill my creative well, to encourage and be encouraged, etc. After all, in the hospital he told me, “You make sure you go to that conference, Ev, even if I’m not dead yet. You paid good money for it.” Which made me laugh because it was so typically pragmatic. And cry. And, of course, tell him absolutely no way was I going if he was still there to visit with. Anyway, I’ve kind of gotten off track. Back to my old but still relevant pre-conference thoughts. I’d love to hear yours on the subject!

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So I just did something very exciting—booked a four-night stay at the gorgeous Sheraton Guildford in Surrey, BC. It seems unbelievable, but it’s already time—really time!—to start planning my favourite annual indulgence: The Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

I normally try to rein in my freakish enthusiasm and exuberance while blogging, so I don’t scare readers away, but allow me one, YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!

I know some writers are sceptical of the advantages of writing conferences. They think they’re nothing but a money grab. They feel you don’t learn anything that you couldn’t from a book or a bit of research. They’re sure everyone’s just there for their egos—I’m a writer, look at me. They’re convinced you’d be better off spending the time writing, not talking about writing.

I confess I don’t understand conference bashers.

1. Yes, attending a conference is a financial commitment. That it costs you something is part of its value. Say what? Just that: Putting money into your craft, saying in essence, “I’m serious about my writing, and it’s worth not just my time, but also my material resources to pursue,” is like giving yourself a big ol’ permission slip to take your goals more seriously. It’s also a big cue to family and friends—Oh, she’s serious about this little writing thing.

Professional development (Yes, a little FYI, conferences are P-D, not just wonderfully social times where everyone sips wine, talks about their favourite things—books and storytelling, of course—and comes away absolutely inspired) betters the quality of your work and boosts your word counts. Being with other people who are excited about the same things you are is motivating.

2. Books on craft are great, and yep, you learn a lot reading them, but—and gasp, I can’t quite believe I’m saying this—there are some things being alone with a book can’t do. Reading alone in your study doesn’t give you the experience of being with 1000 other souls who love what you love—ideas, words, stories. It doesn’t give you the chance to laugh along with one of your favourite authors. It doesn’t provide the opportunity to stick up your hand in the middle of the information to say, “Gah—I don’t get it!” or “Yay—I love how you put that!”

Hearing authors talk about their personal experiences, reassure you that it’s an achievable dream (they’re living proof, after all), and answer every-question-you-can-imagine is invaluable. As is getting to learn face-to-face from agents and editors who accept books (maybe even one like yours!) for their livings.

3. As for the complaints about “egos” . . . I don’t see it. I’ve met people I don’t click with, sure. I may have (it’s terrible) even cringed or grimaced inwardly a time or two on behalf of a cornered agent or author, yep. But people are people wherever you go. The great, the bad, the meh—they’re everywhere. And for what it’s worth, I think writing conferences having a higher per ratio capacity of hilarious, generous, kind, and witty people than most public groupings. The feeling of community and camaraderie is almost the whole reason I go. I work alone day after day all year (Yay for the Internet, but that’s an aside). Even the most reclusive of us benefit from and need human company sometimes.

4. Four days of conferencing and sushilizing does not, in anyway, take away from my productivity. I write almost every day—and that’s in addition to my business writing, editing, and workshops. Surrey energizes me for a whole year. If I have a day where I feel kind of unmotivated, I look at the calendar and recall the goals I’ve set for the next conference . . . Speaking of which, I’m on track, but not ahead of where I wanted to be by this month, so I should go.

Happy writing, everyone—and if you’re heading out to Surrey this October for SiWC, let me know.

I’m also interested in any comments about why you love writing workshops or conferences—or really mix things up and tell me why I’m out to lunch and they suck!

~ Ev

You work where?

Photo by epSos.de on flickr

So a friend of mine just shared the incredibly exciting fact that she’s made $400 this year from her short fiction. Yes, that’s right, short stories.

If you’re an author, you’re jumping up and down because you know how difficult that is. She published short fiction in paying markets. Multiple stories. Multiple paying markets.

If you’re not a writer, you’re thinking $400 bucks? She’d better not quit her day job. And don’t worry (and thanks for caring :)), she hasn’t.

She experienced this reaction firsthand a few days ago when she met up with a friend she hadn’t seen in awhile.

“How’s the writing going?” the friend asked.

Very excitedly, my friend replied, “Great! And guess what? I made $400 last year selling short stories.”

Her gleeful announcement was met with something weak like, “Oh . . . That’s . . . really good,” and an awkward silence ’til the subject changed.

It’s hard to explain to someone that $400 can be a huge symbol. That it can represent all the time and labour that someone else’s 40K does.

And I had a similar moment this week. Someone whom I’ve never met came into the office where I work and recognized me because of my Just a Thought column that I write for the Terrace Standard.

“You work here?” she asked in a tone that suggested she’d just discovered I did lice checks for a living or something. “But you write.”

“Well, I do, yes, but I also work part-time to supplement my income,” I admitted, trying not to feel like the failure it felt like she was implying I was because I can’t subsist on my art.

“Well . . .” She seemed genuinely lost for words, even a little put out. “Well, I’d just have thought you’d make enough from your column to get by.”

??? !!! ??? !!!

(Sometimes excessive punctuation is all my brain generates as a response. Unfortunately, other people can’t see the string of type running in my head, so there’s often an uncomfortable pause as I sort myself out and try to find words.)

I was flattered. She thought my column was worthy of pay that would support me all month! I was also confused. Had she actually heard of a columnist who could get by solely on the income generated by their column? I felt like asking her to repeat her comment into a voice recorder, so I could play it for my editor. . . . :D

As I’ve said before, I write for a myriad of reasons and none of the primary ones centre around money. Yes, I’d like to make a living purely from my words alone someday (because then I’d have even more time to write!), but if that day never comes, I’ll still be working my day job and I’ll still be writing.

It makes me sad that financial compensation for a job well done is the language our culture understands best. “Success” is too often equated with a dollar amount.

On far more than one occasion I’ve been asked, “Why don’t you just sell a novel? Then you’ll be rich.” (Just. You can tell that comment is not from fellow writers!)

Selling a novel is seen by most—even, yikes, by some aspiring novelist—as akin to winning a lottery. It’s those writers I feel badly for. What will sustain them when they realize that even when their stories start selling, it’s likely they won’t be receiving Stephen King-esque advances and royalties?

All of society is poorer when it buys into the idea that only activities that make money are worth pursuing. It’s just not a point-of-view I agree with AT ALL. And if, in saying so, I’ve jinxed myself? Well, I’m okay with that. I’ll still be writing. And, yes, working there.

Day jobs—the good, the bad, the ugly!

About a year and a half ago, I decided to take a part-time day job—to supplement my writing and editing income, yes, but also (more importantly), because I wanted to free up my creative mind.

Nothing kills creativity like wondering how the mortgage will get paid and the freelance life (mine at least) was a bit feast or famine—some months were fantastic. Others—eek, not so much.

I’m not alone in extolling the benefits of working—at least part-time—for someone else when you’re in an artistic field. Over the years I’ve heard many professional authors and writers warn not to quit your day job too soon. Some even advocate never quitting your day job entirely—always keeping a ladle in the stew, so to speak. . . . Sometimes the recommendation’s based on the issue of money. The freelancer or novelist’s income can be irregular, like I mentioned. Sometimes it’s because the speaker feels that having a job in the “real” world gives inspiration to draw from, plus a much needed break (at times) from the solitary, inner realms that writers live in.

I can see both sides.

Most of us understand the comfort (and necessity) of at least a certain amount of dependable income, so I won’t spend much time on that. Ditto, we tend to be able to understand that having co-workers—both the ones easy to get along with and the ones that . . . aren’t—can inspire, perhaps act as sounding boards, etc. . . .

The big lure of going out one’s own is time. After all, what’s more tempting than the idea of business casual (or business professional) equaling pajamas? What could be more ideal than having an uninterrupted 8 hours to write—well, an uninterrupted 8 hours, minus the two hours for a cool lunch with other like-minded, pajama wearing intellectuals, that is. We romanticize (or I should say, I romanticize) the image of the madwomen in the attic a little too much. And there are, of course, days when the daily grind feels, well, like a grind—and we just want to be free from it.

I maintain, however, that if you really want to write a lot, to make your writing be your life’s work (a very separate thing from your primary source of earnings, by the way)—whether or not you have to do other work to pay your mortgage or buy groceries won’t stop you. It might even motivate you (when you have eight hours stretching ahead of you, it’s easy to wile away 6 of ‘em. When you want to get in 1000 words and you only have an hour or two, you tend to get on it).

And less than satisfactory days at work—even the occasional rotten days? Even better. (Just make sure that you’re not in a job you absolutely hate, because that could be muse-killing—though that’s a side tangent.)

If your “day job” is too perfect, too all-absorbing and fascinating, there’s the danger that you will feel, well, fulfilled by it and the desire, the drive, the compulsion to write will diminish.

If your job is creative and calls for imagining and envisioning and brainstorming—it could feed your writing, sure, but it could also easily satiate the part of your psyche that craves all that creating and thinking.

Chaffing a bit at work—whether it’s because the job doesn’t stimulate you mentally or inspire you creatively, or it doesn’t pay enough, or because of personality clashes with other staff members—is a good thing.

If you’re lucky enough to have job to go to that pays the bills, gives you fodder for characters (maybe even villains!), and you have the added benefit of not loving it too much, good on you! You’re in the perfect place to kindle your writing fire and motivate you to get your stories out. (Or that’s what I tell myself anyway. Heh heh.)

Can a writer (or should a writer) ever really go it alone?

If you have other things in your life—family, friends, good productive day work—these can interact with your writing and the sum will be all the richer.  ~ David Brin

Last night I met with the Northwords Writers’ Camp writers and presented on how the Internet fits into/enhances my writing life.  I mentioned how it’s a great resource for:

  • Support, Inspiration, Community
  • Education, Practice
  • Writing markets, Publishers
  • Marketing, Communicating and building relationships with readers

I also delivered the reminder that we all apparently need to hear on on occasion. Just like any super hero has their kryptonite, the Internet has a side that can cripple even the most stalwart writer. It’s called TIME SUCKAGE. Only writing is writing.

And I touched on a few other things to beware of online (in blogs or public forums):

  • Nothing is private
  • Nothing goes away
  • Published online (even “just” on your blog) is published.

But feeling that the pros of getting involved in the Internet writing community (how it can help one grow in and enjoy his/her writing life) far outweigh any small cons, I encouraged each attendee to start their own blog and we spent the rest of our time talking about Do’s and Don’ts of great blogs and did some writing exercise to per chance get us started.

As ever I was blown away by people’s creativity and how unique and highly individual each person’s results were, even with exercises as specific and guided as the ones we did together were. It reminded me yet again of why I write, why I readto share, to learn, to grow.  To think, to laugh and sometimes, though definitely not last night, to cry.

It also reminded me of how good it is to get together with other writers (in person, live!) and talk craft. The Internet is awesome and I’m incredibly grateful for it, but it doesn’t replace the value and importance (and fun :)) of getting together in real-time with flesh and blood people who share your interests. (We talked about that too.)

If you’ve been writing in solitary confinement (as is, of course, the necessity and norm)or perhaps are feeling that you’re not getting enough alone time with your wordsre-read the quote I opened this post with. It’s good to have people and other activities in our lives. They refill the well.

Yes, only writing is writing, but sometimes to keep on track with our writing (in a way that brings joy, refreshes our inspiration, soothes our fears, etc) connection with other kindred soulsonline or face-to-faceis just what the Dr ordered.

What do you think? Can any writer truly go it alone?

Is it weird to post a link to an interview of me?

In answer to my title’s question . . . perhaps. But I can’t help it. The questions were really fun and I’m excited and flattered to be featured on one of my favourite blogs, scribo ergo sum–a blog that just coincidentally happens to belong to to one of my favourite writers, Jen Brubacher. It is the best coincidence of all that she is also a dear friend.

Anyway, I always love a chance to talk about writing and if you’re at all interested in hearing about my first publication, how I got into writing and editing, what my opinions about ebooks vs. traditional books are, what my favourite writing books are, plus other intriguing writerly things ;-), please check it out at: http://jbrubacher.blogspot.com/2010/07/interview-with-ev-bishop.html