Writing

Write or Die-Valuable Tips to Keep Your Writing Alive

The home of Victor Villaseñor, So. California
The home of Victor Villaseñor, So. California

Write or die.

This is the message my October writing life sent me. To that end, I went on a writing retreat with my group, WOmen Who Write (WoWW), attended SCWBI’s Writer’s Day, enrolled in an online University of Iowa workshop (free), and attended the Los Angeles Writer’s Digest Conference.

I’m a little tired from all this, but I have to tell you about our writing retreat in Carlsbad, California and share some writing tips.

We, eight women, arrived at Casa Villaseñor by way of Airbnb, never expecting to meet the esteemed writer Victor Villasenor, author, and owner of the home. After producing nine novels, 65 short stories and close to 300 rejections, he sold his first novel, Macho!, which the Los Angeles Times compared to the best of John Steinbeck.

Rain of Gold became a national best-seller and translated into seven languages. Another of his books was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. I mention this about the author because his body of work evidences his persistence as a writer, the write or die philosophy.

We were surprised to find Mr. Villasenor on the grounds of the home. He was in another house (his casita) because he was finishing up a new novel. I can’t tell you what it’s about but I can say his joy of finishing the work was shared with all of us.

Through conversation, I picked up some valuable writing tips and I’m sharing these with you:

Every sentence needs to do one of the following:

  1. Scare the brain

  2. Touch the heart

  3. Inspire the soul

“Writing is about the moment, you are nowhere else, you are totally there…cause the person to live the moment with you.”-Victor Villaseñor

A few of us made a mad dash for our writing projects and examined our first pages. Sure enough, there was plenty of revision to work on.

The local chapter of Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrator’s (SCWBI) put on a “Writer’s Day,” at the Cal Lutheran University campus.

I attended a panel composed of literary agents and editors which I enjoyed. This is what they look for when they decide to read the first page of a Middle Grade or Young Adult work:

  1. Is the language child or teen-focused?
  2. Are there too many characters?
  3. Do I know whose story this is?
  4. Is the writer guilty of violating R.U.E? ( Resist the Urge to Explain)
  5. Where are we in the scene?
  6. Can I get a sense of the protagonist?
  7. Is the description embedded in action and dialogue?
  8. Do the details further the story?

If your first 250 words make it pass those eight questions the agent may read on to the next page. I venture to guess these tips apply to most fiction.

The esteemed University of Iowa, Writing Workshops has a free online course titled “Storied Women.” You can get a lot of writing bang for no bucks if you take this course. Although the course started Oct. 21, 2016, it doesn’t close until next month. You can still view the video’s and notes on voice, identity, point of view, plot, and structure.

 

Closer to home was the Writer’s Digest 2016 Writers Conference in downtown Los Angeles. I chose to drive into LA rather than stay at the storied Westin Bonaventure.

Friday traffic was crazy with the rain and the morning commute. The skyscrapers blended into the bleak sky, dark jackets and umbrellas scurried on the sidewalks.

On Saturday morning, the downtown was eerily quiet. No rain, no rushing, no noise.

The Westin Bonaventure-Los Angeles, downtown.
The Westin Bonaventure-Los Angeles, downtown.

I have to say, Writer’s Digest gives good workshops at a reasonable price. Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, presented last night. Alas, no photo of Ms. Smiley, but you can see some interesting photos of the Halloween Party (which I didn’t attend) on Twitter. Look under #WDNWC16. I do love the “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “Writer’s Block” costumes.

My favorite workshop was “Openings That Sell,” presented by literary agent and editor, Paula Munier.

“This is why I keep reading,” she began. Your first pages must have:

1-Strong voice

2-The level of craft is high

3-The character makes me feel something: there is an emotional impact in the first scene

4-Something happens (aka you have an inciting incident, a call to adventure)

5-A unique story or a story with a unique twist.

6-There’s a market for this story. 

7-The writer has gained my confidence and the page passes “the ahh test.” They provide a certain kind of experience.

8-It’s clear what kind of story is being told by the language.

9-The prose is clear, clean, and concise. Opt for clarity all the time.

10-Free of grammatical errors.

A great story is life, with the dull parts taken out-Alfred Hitchcock

Larry Brooks presented “The Most Important Moment in your Story.” There was a lot of material in this workshop about concept, premise, and the dramatic arc. He has a website, StoryFix.com, where you can visit and read all the good stuff he has for writers.

I hope you found some tips in this post to use or share.

Keep calm and write on.

living life fully before death
Encouragement, Faith, Inspiration, life lessons

How To Live Before You Die

living life fully before death
Live Like You’re Dying

 

The last week was a blur. I attended the Association of Writing Professionals (AWP) 43rd conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center with three of my writing group sisters.

The week of ‘conferencing’ was a good one, inspiring and fun, but when I say conference I mean a 12,000 peopled flow of writers, editors, booksellers, professors, and others. 

The hours were filled with writing techniques, editors/agent panels, poets reading heart-wrenching poetry, and writers speaking eloquent words. You know how even great stuff is exhausting and truth be told this great stuff was also intimidating.

Did I measure up, should I be writing fiction, should I revise, should I be spending countless hours writing? What was I doing?

I ‘shoulded’ all over myself.

When I got home from sleeping in a different bed, meeting people, and eating out I just wanted to decompensate and breathe.

The next day, my mind and body wanted to sleep in and tune out. The suitcase, books, and an art piece I bought lay strewn at the foot of my bed.

Could I skip a Sunday service? I had so much to do before my next day departure to Denver to see my young adult kids. But I hadn’t missed a Sunday service in years unless I was really sick.

The mess would have to wait. I dressed and left for service and was grateful I attended. The message was:

Life is a gift and what you do with it matters…

Our pastor told us the average lifespan was 79 years of age or 28,835 minutes. If those minutes were on a clock, a fifty-year-old would have 18 minutes of their life left. That put life in perspective.

Was I living a life that was significant and meaningful? Is there compassion in what I do and say. Do I give gratitude, show kindness? Do I live my life in a way where others will know I’m a Christian? Do I trust and have faith when the going gets tough?

I thought of all these questions after the service and how the sermon put everything in perspective. I was striving to live the answers to these questions. Trying is good. Trying is movement. There were no more “Should’s.” I felt balanced once again.

Achieving writing success is important to me but it isn’t the end all to my life. I reminded myself that I write because I can’t think of not writing, that would kill me inside.

I remembered that I began writing to tell the stories of girls and women who faced challenges, made bad choices, but struggled to do better. The girls who felt like no one cared who they were and only focused on what they did. The unseen women who wore mask upon mask. Girls who grew up through the garbage strewn upon them.Women and girls who needed family, in whatever shape it presented itself.

So how to live before you die?

When I thought of why I write, I remembered we all have the ability to improve the quality of our life.

We can all make choices to improve our spirituality, our health, and our emotional life.

We can love ourself and others.

We can be of service to someone or something.

Living is finding something to have a passion for whether it’s family, service, or a combination of a thousand other things.

Living is making your minutes count and they count when you stop to look at a sunset, a sunrise, notice a smile, hug someone, and other countless ways.

I’ll end with a quote about life from Maya Angelou.

Life Purpose
Life Purpose

 

 

 

Inspiration, Travel, Writing

Six Bits of Wisdom on Writing Conferences

double rainbow, New Mexico, Ghost Ranch
Double Rainbow over Ghost Ranch, Abiquiú, New Mexico http://www.alvaradofrazier.com

Hello, everyone.

I’m back from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s (SCWBI) Conference in L.A and A Room of Her Own (AROHO) writing retreat at Ghost Ranch, Abiquiú, New Mexico.

Both conferences were packed with information. I loved my time in Abiqui, New Mexico, it’s a gorgeous place for writer workshops. SCBWI had approximately 1,100 people in attendance and AROHO had 130.

The best thing about attending these conferences is the people: writers, poets, illustrator’s and those who live and breathe their art.

It felt good to be in community with fellow writers, both pre-published and published. I believe we need each other and have the opportunity for personal engagement with some of our favorite writers.

The Write Life has a list of annual conferences, but this list isn’t complete. Do a search for your state to come up for more localized conferences.

There is an expense to conferences, and if the budget can’t afford the cost, most have fellowships or scholarships. If you remotely qualify, submit your work. It’s worth a try.

After the conference, I waved goodbye to new friends and three days later I feel a little lonely without them around for “writerly” support.

After digesting my notes, I thought I’d share a post about conference attendance and implore you to seek out conferences, seminars, and workshops during this or next year. (The conference folks have strict rules about blogging/recording seminars so I can’t give you specific info on classes-so sorry).

Some bits of wisdom for you:

Wisdom Bit #1: If you can’t attend a conference, find out what their Twitter handle will be and follow the hashtag for some interesting information. If you wait until after the conference the info is usually removed.

Wisdom Bit #2: Usually writers work in isolation, so a conference is your opportunity to attend at least one social function. While at the function, meet at least two people, ask questions about their writing, what’s their story? Your writing community just expanded.

At the SCWBI conference, there was a big party where most people dressed up to the theme of Glitter. The chapter I belong to, Central Coast-Calif. were dressed as the “Bling, Bling Book Queens.” I like music and I like to dance, so I was there. (We found our gowns at thrift shops).

Bling, Bling The Book Queens-SCWBI15 Conference
Bling, Bling The Book Queens-SCWBI15 Conference alvaradofrazier.com

Wisdom Bit #3: Take notes in one journal or pad. When you get home you can easily refer to your notes and type them up. I’m having a hard time finding my notes since I took three journals.

Wisdom Bit #4: Use your business cards. If your pre-published (like me) make some cards up listing your name, website, and social media. Here’s mine. On the back is my name, Twitter name, and website. I only give out a card if a person asks for one or mentions they’d like to keep in touch. I now have 25 more Twitter followers, several more FB requests, and following back those same interesting writers and agents. Your writing community is expanded and so are your potential resources.

business cards
Writer’s Card-Moo Eco Cards

Wisdom Bit#5: If you were invited to send in a manuscript (and this often happens in conference seminars) jot down the agents name and pay attention when she/he tells you what to put in the email subject line. If she tells you to send a month after the conference, follow up on the request in a month. Draw a large block around your agent notes and star it so you can find it when you get home.

Wisdom Bit #6: Organize your notes and make a “Must Do Now,” “To Do,” and a “Nice to Do,” list.

  1. Must Do: Send out my manuscript on xx date to Agent xx; Revise first five pages with the info learned in First Five Pages workshop.
  2. To Do: Set up one social media avenue if you don’t already have one; Read a recommended book on revising or editing; Set up a calendar reflecting your new goals and timelines.
  3. Nice to Do: Follow the new person you just met on Twitter or other social media. Stay in contact.

Bonus Wisdom Bit: Please don’t be that guy or gal who overtakes a conference session. They usually sit in the first row, speak without raising their hand, and try to monopolize the speaker. You will be remembered, by fellow writers and the speaker.

Thanks for reading and have a great week.

 

 

Inspiration, Self Care, Travel, Writing

Finding My Oasis Among 12,000 People

Riding the Escalators at AWP14
Riding the Escalators at AWP14

Imagine 12,000 people at a convention center, every escalator step filled, rising slowly through six floors packed with hundreds of people scurrying this way and that to rooms with 400 or more writers eager to jot down tips-maybe secrets-to writing stories.

This bee hive of activity quickly led me to my saturation point after two workshops and a walk through the cavernous book fair at AWP14 in Seattle, Washington. I don’t do well in large crowds (no Costco trips for me). I needed to breathe.

An oasis to this fullness was to walk into the cool 48 degree air, down hilly Pine Street, towards the slate blue waters of Elliott Bay, earmarked with the Seattle Great Wheel on the left and the soaring Space Needle on the right. In front of me, the Public Market, home of the infamous fish tossing antics of ruggedly handsome fisherman.

Elliott Bay behind Pike's Place Public Market, Seattle
Elliott Bay behind Pike’s Place Public Market, Seattle

Through the windows in the building, ferries slow waltz towards Bainbridge Island, Tillicum Village and on the far right, a sign points towards Pier 69, home of the Victoria Clipper, the ferry to Victoria B.C.

An array of smells met me when I wandered through the market. Seafood, leather, and lavender sachets welcomed my attention. Eyes fell on coral tulips, silvery tufts of Pussy willow branches, soft watercolor paintings of tourist sites and vendors selling handcrafted chocolate linguine.

The invigorating walk back to the conference center, through roasted coffee aromas, gave me an alertness of an espresso shot.

Back inside the Washington Conference Center, and the 12,000 writers, the escalator ride to the possibility of gleaning information to help me become a better writer awaited.