This weekend has been all about me. I invested in myself by attending a three day conference on the process of writing and publishing a novel. I did this because I intend to write and publish a novel. My progress to date is that I wrote a first draft. I distributed copies to friends I thought could contribute useful feedback and whom might enjoy being part of the process. And I attended this conference to learn about the process I’ll need to follow. Next step is to begin writing my second draft.
The first day of sessions was intense. I felt like I was dropped into a masters level college English class, mid-semester. This industry speaks its own language. Plotters, pantsers and query letters. R&R. Open door sex vs closed door sex. Genres I never knew existed. Paranormal Erotica. The lady I met who writes this genre wears blue lipstick and graduated with a degree in religious studies. We talked about just how difficult it is to find and buy blue lipstick. MAC Cosmetics is currently out of stock but Ultra carries a brand called Hello Sailor. Everything is foreign to me for now, but I’ll learn. I attended sessions the first day with a focus on character development and writing with a point of view, either literary or persona. The Emotion in Fiction session by Angie Hodapp, of the Nelson Literary Agency, was my first four hours. Her class alone was worth the price of admission.
On the second day, I studied story weaving, plots and subplots by Monica Poole. Balancing protagonists and antagonists. Writing the endings and how to foreshadow along the way. I’m less interested in spending time on the publishing process relative to writing but gave that subject attention as well. My friend Wendy prepped me to pitch to an agent, which I did in the afternoon. I spent ten minutes presenting an elevator pitch of my techno thriller to Amy Stapp, a book editor at Tor and fellow runner. Pitching my story for publication is putting myself a little ahead of my focus, which is currently just on writing this novel, but it’s an opportunity and I didn’t want to pass it up.
I did a couple of things right. I explained my genre and the storyline. I missed detailing my main character and his arc. This is funny if you knew just how weak my character development is currently. Worse, my hero isn’t even part of the climax because I lost interest in him and focused on a secondary protagonist. I knew I was doing this at the time and have a plan to write my hero back into the climax on my second draft, but he currently has an incomplete arc. Second thing I need to add to my pitch is to compare my work to an author and book. She asked me this and I had a strong enough response, because Wendy prepped me for this earlier, that she was impressed. Easy enough to add next time.
I don’t struggle writing dialog, but attended a class on it Sunday anyway and learned some useful tips. The lecturer was John Blair, a college professor at my alma mater, Texas State. As I said earlier, I avoided most sessions oriented to publishing, but by the third day my interest in understanding the difference between traditional and independent publishing grew. Independent publishing can be much more than simply clicking a button on Amazon to upload a file. At its most complex, the Indie publisher is their own general contractor, paying for all the services that would normally come from a publishing house. My feelings on the subject have evolved as my understanding has grown this weekend. I expect I might publish independently because for one, I can do some of the technical work myself and two, writing about cyberwar requires speed-to-market before my attacks become stale.
My final session was two more hours on character development, which is where I focused most of my time these three days. In this particular session, Developing Dynamic Characters by Heather Webb, I finally learned what character arc is. And because it was a workshop leveraging our works-in-progress, I nearly scoped out all of my second draft. Again, this class alone was totally worth the price of the entire workshop.
I’m a little bummed that I’ve yet to see Ellie run a cross country race. Missed this weekend for the writer’s workshop. Even though she’s a complete newbie to the sport, Ellie seems to enjoy the workouts. It’s pretty competitive, with over 30 girl athletes. The girls team began the season ranked 8th in the state. She has a couple of races under her belt now and is showing improvement. I’m so impressed that she pushes herself to the verge of dry heaving during her final kick – a sign of effort – and it doesn’t deter her from crossing the finish line. I enjoy running so much, sometimes I forget how brutal it can be to race all out like that.
I can’t help but draw parallels between my completely neophyte experience at a writers convention and Ellie taking on a new sport. Kids are naturally brave, if ignorant of the pending pain. I enjoy writing so much that I’ve been willing to put myself out there, opening myself up for criticism or asking the stupid questions in a session. I’m not sure what I expect the reward to be but subconsciously I’ve already accepted the risk as worthwhile.
My plan with this is to treat writing as a hobby for the next ten or fifteen years. Become a better writer and learn the publishing process. I’ve been blogging for ten years and on social media even longer. I’ve seen my skills improve over that time and think it’s fair to expect a similar arc with writing novels. Based on what I learned this weekend on publishing, with a little bit of luck, I might be able to expect earning a five figure, annual income in my retirement years. I could retire on that. But I have to start now, the money doesn’t flow in on day one. And yes, I’m thinking now about retirement.
This workshop came at the perfect time, just after completing my first draft. Combined with some feedback from initial reviewers, I feel like this book is as good as done. Except of course, rewrites will take time. But everything I need to do is already in my head. Came up with a new twist for my ending during a run this afternoon. I’m so over-the-top excited right now, I honestly feel like I’m on my way to becoming a writer. Part of the reason my racing times slowed down this year is because I’ve run less in order to spend time writing. It’s my new hobby for sure. This blog will always be a runner’s story, but my personal arc has hit a plot shift. I might not reach my writing denouement until retirement, but I’m now going down that path.