Wednesday, May 17, 2017

May Should be Optional

May is not my favorite month. This might be a side effect of my day job (teaching middle school), but this month is always a struggle. I'm tired, overwhelmed, and fighting apathy (my own as well as my students').

In fact, I usually feel like my tail's on fire and the radio's broken, so I'm just screaming out the window: Mayday! Mayday! 

It's called May, right? May which means that are allowed to do something, but don't have to. As in "you may proceed" or "you may discard two cards." Or it has to do with permission: "come what may" or "mother may I?"

Try as I may, I can't summon a devil-may-care attitude about this. So, I declare the the entire month should be optional. What do you say? May I be excused?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

How to Be a Fabulous Panelist

As I move deeper into my writing life, I'm getting invitations to do a variety of things. It's proving to be almost as much fun as writing itself is! 

My favorite is probably participating in discussion panels. I get to indulge my vanity by acting as an expert on a topic, as well as the more altruistic side of me that wants to help others move towards their dreams AND I get to connect with other people with similar interests. 

Since I started doing this (at conventions, libraries, and literary events), I've participated in discussions about writing craft (dialogue, action, characterization, etc.), writing tools (software, storyboarding, editing programs), marketing (social media, blogging, sales), paths to publishing, time management, superheroes, concepts like honor, the importance of diversity, and so much more. 

So, if life hands you the opportunity to be on a panel, here are a few pieces of advice about how to make the most of it: 

1. A little research helps. If you know ahead of time who you are sharing panel conversation with and what the topic is, spend a little time looking into who the other people are and considering questions and topics you might raise if the conversation needs a nudge. This can also really assist you if you're introverted or don't consider yourself as good as thinking on your feet as others. You don't want to go too far and write a speech, but a few notes can be a nice support and keep long lulls from happening. 

2. Be generous. Talk kindly of anyone you mention (if you can't talk kindly about something/someone . . .maybe don't mention it at all). Give the other panelists an "in" to the conversation by throwing them a bone from time to time. If you notice someone is quiet, try to bring them in (even if you're not the moderator) by riffing off of something they said or using what you learned about them in your research. We all benefit if the conversation flows well and stays interesting for the audience. 

3. Be aware. Pay attention to the social cues your audience and fellow panelists are giving you. Are you talking too much? Interrupting or over-talking? Stay focused and "in the moment" giving your companions the courtesy of your full attention. Listen to the other panelists rather than just waiting for your turn to talk. 

4. Take care of you. Self care is especially important when you're going to be in
the public eye. I learned the hard way about accepting too many panels at a convention, then having to struggle to keep myself wakeful and positive by the last one of the day. Plan ahead by bringing layers you can add or remove for temperature comfort. Lip balm, water, and portable snacks like protein bars can be a lifesaver. Allow yourself enough time between events to rest your voice and your mind (especially important if you're more introverted). 

5. Show gratitude. Thank your panelists, audience, and organizers both on the spot and afterwards. Give some social media love by sharing pictures and tagging the other participants. Even if there are only a few audience members, you never know what ripples you've created that will feed your career and networks. Be gracious, and present yourself well even if you feel disappointed. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

#IWSG: Moving Targets are Hard to Hit!

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so time to talk about our insecurities . . .

So, what am I insecure about this month? It's really the same thing that I'm insecure about every month: getting it all done!

I see other writers out there who have multiple releases every year, and I wonder why I can't work that fast. Some of these other writers are full-timers with no day jobs, but not all of them . . .which leads me to wonder what I'm doing wrong that I've only been able to manage one book and a couple of anthology stories a year.

On the one hand, I'm proud of myself for managing that much. After all, I have a demanding day job and a family. That doesn't leave much time for slacking, and I definitely work hard to hold onto my dream of "being a writer."

What I've noticed though is that my definition of "being a writer" keeps shifting into something I'm not quite doing yet. At first, it was being published. Then, it was having a novel published. Then it was being accepted as an author guest at a con. Then, winning an award. Now, I'm aiming at being the special guest at a convention and selling enough books each month to pay my mortgage.

As I hit each milestone, I just changed the definition of "being a writer" into something I haven't yet done. I'm mean to me that way.

I keep moving the target, which keeps me feeling like I never get there.

I guess there's a good side to that, in that it keeps me striving forward, aiming higher and holding myself to a high standard.

The bad side is that it can be hard on your confidence when you forget to celebrate your accomplishments along the way.

So, yeah. I am my own worst enemy . . .and my own best friend. Does that make me my own frenemy?

If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.

This month the group asked: What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story? I tend to fall down the research rabbit hole way too often. There's so much cool stuff out there! Some recent favorites: learning about fireproof materials so that my henchwoman Helen Braeburn could create some fireproof clothing for herself; learning about different methods of flight (birds, machines, balloons, etc.) so I could decide what the mechanics of flight are for my flying hero Jessica "Flygirl" Roark; and learning about discrimination and acts of violence against German-Americans during WWI to decide what might be realistic for my characters in a women's historical fiction trilogy I'm working on. Sometimes I think half the fun of writing is the reading you do to support it.