Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Exploring the Dark Side with Middle Grade Author Stephanie Faris

Photo Credit: Doug Walton

I always knew I had a lot in common with author Stephanie Faris. We're both journalists who write fiction. We freelance to supplement our writing income. We're both crazy about the '80s. She's a nice person and I love nice people.

But I was shocked to learn that Stephanie--who may just be the nicest blogger-writer on the planet--has a dark side. 

I immediately knew I had to interview her about it. 

1) I'm sure some of your fans would be surprised to discover you're interested in horror and the supernatural. What sparked your interest? Would you ever consider writing darker fiction?

I know. It’s a strange mix for a middle grade/chapter book author who generally has cutesy, girly covers, isn’t it? I landed my agent with a middle grade series called Ghost Patrol that was inspired by my fascination with ghost hunting. The series was about a team of tween ghost hunters.

It started around 2002 or so, when I was driving into work and heard this ghost hunting series they were doing on the Rick and Bubba Show. I was hooked. A couple of years later, Ghost Hunters debuted on SyFy and for a long time, I was hooked on the show. I even took a ghost-hunting class once as research for Ghost Patrol!

2) Has anything supernatural ever happened to you? Details, please. :)

No! Isn’t that horrible? I’ve been on so many ghost tours and even in the ghost-hunting class we did a hunt and…nothing. The instructor said I have that skeptical mind and I think he’s right. Even though I’m fascinated by other people’s stories, I’m just not the type of person who sees dead people. I wish I could! I have a feeling you aren’t going to see such a thing on a ghost tour, though. You have to be alone in a house overnight before the ghosts will come out and play.

3) What creepy unsolved mystery keeps you awake at night?

This isn’t really a ghost story, but I’m fascinated with the show Disappeared on Investigation Discovery. There are these haunting stories of people who just vanish without a trace one day. They’ll even have surveillance footage of them in their last moments. There’s something about a person just disappearing and never being found that definitely spooks me. I can’t watch the show when I’m home alone!

4) Do you believe in ghosts? UFOs? Nessie? Why or why not?

I’m fascinated by everything, so I close my mind off to absolutely nothing. Ghosts and life-after-death stories are so interesting to me. UFO stories fascinate me, too, especially the one they depicted in Fire in the Sky. Something had to have happened there. As for the Loch Ness Monster—that sort of thing doesn’t really interest me. It’s not that I don’t believe they exist. Monsters just don’t do anything to impress me. Now stories about the Mothman reel me right in—especially all of the events that happened around that big bridge collapse in West Virginia in the '60s.

5) What's the scariest movie you've ever seen? Best scary book?

I remember seeing The Blair Witch Project in the '90s and realizing the scariest thing in the world was when their friends had disappeared and they heard sounds of someone yelling from far away later that night. It’s what you can’t see that’s scariest. In a sense, the Paranormal Activity movies have done that, too, but for me, it hasn’t ever been as scary as The Blair Witch Project was in the theater. Books? I’m going to point to a short story because it really freaked me out when I read it as a teenager—The Boogeyman by Stephen King. It was in one of his anthologies and I’m surprised it doesn’t still keep me up nights!

6) Any go-to horror authors you love? Why do you love them?

Stephen King will always be my favorite, although I’m not sure he’s quite as scary as he used to be. These days he’s a little more literary, I think. But when I read the beginning of Under the Dome, I thought, “THIS is the Stephen King I remember.” I found out later that he started the book years ago. That made me realize just how he’s changed. I do miss the Stephen King that kept me up nights, but I love his newer work, as well.

7) Please tell us about your latest book. What is it about? When does it come out?

It’s called 25 Roses and it’s a middle-grade novel, written for the tween market. When I was in high school, we did a carnation sale for Valentine’s Day. We bought flowers for classmates and sent them with a little card attached. In 25 Roses, the girl coordinating the sale gets the idea to purchase some of the flowers out of her own money and send them to the students who don’t normally get flowers.

Thanks for such an awesome interview, Stephanie. I feel the same way about that Mothman...brr. 

Have you ever had a paranormal experience? What scary books and movies give you nightmares? Are you a fan of King as well, or do you think he's lost his touch? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

So You Wanna Work in Your Bathrobe: Five Survival Tips for Small-Scale Entrepreneurs

My quality assurance team, hard at work.

I got called an entrepreneur today.

It startled me.

The family with the most amazing pho restaurant in the world (Viva, for those interested) is an entrepreneur. My friend Andrea, who runs a kick-ass design firm with several employees, is an entrepreneur. My friend Dave, who bought a food truck and then opened a kickboxing gym, is an entrepreneur.

I just write articles and novels, often while I'm sitting on the couch in my bathrobe. Or lately, in my amazing Sarah McLachlan hoodie (thanks, Sarah!).

It's pretty amazing that I get paid to write for a living, but I don't think of myself as a business. Is writing a business? Sure. Is journalism a business? Sure.

But I have no storefront, no negative reviews to deal with (yet), no unhappy customers, no silverware stealing-employees, no long meetings with people in suits (thank god! I've spent enough of my time in those).

So I never think of myself as an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are people who have to hustle all day, negotiating and making deals, while I can do a good day's work in four hours and then take a nap if it suits me.

Getting called an entrepreneur made me wonder if the way we think of business is changing. When I started my life as a freelancer, I got asked when I planned on getting a real job. Now the first thing people tend to say is, "You work for yourself? Cool! How do you do that?"

Here are my five secrets to being a successful small-scale entrepreneur:

1) Get Clear About What It Is You Have To Offer: I'm a writer, but you may have noticed there's about, oh, five billion of us out there. So how did I figure out what makes me different? I listened to my clients, even in the beginning when I only had one. I'm a fast writer, an accurate writer, and a reliable writer. I'm good at putting people at ease, and getting even seemingly boring people to say interesting things. Apparently that sets me apart without even getting into specialization, which I've only started to dive into.

Maybe you also do something a lot of other people do. Figure out what it is about you--your process, your approach, a certain skill set--that makes you stand out from the pack. And then market the hell out of it (and by market, I do not mean spamming all your followers on Twitter and Facebook. That is not marketing. That is annoying. Two different things.)

2) Sometimes, You Have to Hustle: People who look at my life with envy often don't realize what it took to get here. Three-hour breakfasts? Naps in the afternoon when required? Sure. But I wasn't doing so much of that in my early twenties while I was building my client list. And even when it seems like I'm taking it easy, I always have my eye on the months to come. If those months seem slow, you better believe I'm getting in touch with my clients and letting them know I'm available. Will they contact me if they need me? Probably, but I still put myself out there. It never hurts to remind people that you're alive and willing to work, as long as "reminding" doesn't turn into "stalking." Companies don't tend to hire freelancers who stalk them.

3) Get Comfortable With the Unpredictable: Here's two other things that are said to me a lot: "You're up early," or "You're up late." When you're your own boss, there are no set hours. You work when there's work. You're probably going to work through a lot of weekends and evenings, even long weekends. How else are you going to make up for those random Thursday afternoons when you decide it's a good time to go Christmas shopping? It balances out.

Another note about unpredictability: I don't suggest going into business for yourself without savings. You will have busy times and lean times, and lean times are awesome for long-range planning, focusing on smaller-but-still-important projects, and cleaning that house. If you have savings, you don't have to waste those precious lulls by worrying over how you're going to pay the mortgage. (You probably will still worry, just not as much. And that leads me to...)

4) Accept That Worrying Is Normal: If you've worked for a large corporation, you probably had a stressed-out boss. I had several. These creatures run around from meeting to meeting, usually in an ill-fitting suit, arriving early and staying late. They often grab lunch at their desks, and if they do stop to chat for a moment, they're usually looking uneasily over their shoulder, as if at any moment some huge mountain lion is going to pounce.

Being an employee can be stressful too. But the closest you will ever get to understanding a CEO is working for yourself. All those things your boss worried about? They're now your responsibility. Maybe you don't have a board or an accounting department, but the day-to-day stuff? How to pay that bill, how to expand the business, how in the hell do I pay GST? Yep, that's all on you now. So a little worrying is normal. Just use it to spur you into action (see point number two).

5)  Be Grateful: It's human nature to dwell on what we don't have. When you work for yourself, you won't have those nice, seemingly free benefits (you did know you were actually paying for those, right?). You may not have people stopping by your office to ask about your weekend. You won't have a regime, or schedules, or someone to keep you on track--unless you build those systems for yourself. You won't have a pay check that arrives like clockwork every two weeks (unless you're really, really lucky. I'm still waiting to get paid for work I did in August. In AUGUST!)

But if you obsess over that stuff, the best thing you can do is get another job in an office. Because you're missing the point. And the point is all the things you do have, and number one is Freedom. Creative freedom, personal freedom, the freedom to set your own hours and turn down projects that don't interest you. And freedom is priceless. Do you know how many cubicle drones would kill for freedom? So miss your old co-workers for a minute and then shut the fuck up. Cause you can always meet them for lunch. And then go have a nap while they drag themselves back to the office for yet another meeting.

Do you work for yourself? What helps you be successful? Please share your tips in the comment section. Or, conversely, would you ever work for yourself? What stops you?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Importance of Keeping Your Promises

Balinese children at a friend's English school. Another friend and I
sponsored two children so they could attend as well.

It's easy to get swept away when you travel, especially when you travel to a country that is radically different from your own.

If you've visited developing countries, it's probably a given that you've met wonderful people who are in desperate need. You want to help them, but maybe you don't have the means at the moment, with your bare essentials crammed into a backpack and a meagre travel budget.

So you make promises.

Almost everyone does.

Once you're back home, jet-lagged and playing catch up at work, those promises are easy to forget. Or maybe you've changed your mind. That money you'd said you would donate might seem difficult to part with when the Visa bills roll in.

And packing up those old clothes and books takes so much time.

You put it off. You push it to the back of your mind. And eventually, you forget about it.

But the person you've made the promise to doesn't.

What may seem like a small amount to some of us can make a world of difference to someone else.

And the promise of help--however small--is intensely meaningful to someone who can't afford to eat everyday. Or go to school. Or get medical care.

With those well-meant promises, you are offering hope. All they have to do is wait patiently for you to get home, and you will follow through, right? You will remember their friendship, their kindness.

Can you imagine how they feel when they receive nothing?

What if you're the only Canadian, American, or European they met that year? Doubtful, given the amount of travel that takes place in the world today, but still possible. Or what if you were the first experience they had with a Westerner?

When I traveled to Zimbabwe in 2001, I met so many lovely people. And most were in desperate need. The country was in the middle of an uprising, so tourism had dramatically declined, and with it many of the villagers' sources of income.

I gave them everything I could spare at the time, and promised to send more clothes and shoes when I got home. I actually followed through, but it cost me almost $100 to send that box, which seemed like a lot of money. I never heard back from anyone, and I had no idea if the people who needed those things had received them or not.

As a result, many of those who'd been promised photographs from me never received them. I feel badly about that. I should have taken the time.

It feels good to know that you can make a difference, however small, in the lives of the people you meet when you travel. But if you're not 100 percent sure you can fulfill that promise, please don't make it.

It does more harm than good.

Has traveling inspired you to make a difference? Have you ever regretted a promise you made during a trip?

Photo credit: Greg Klassen

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

You Can Grieve, But You Can't Live There--What Kickboxing Taught Me About Writing

Becoming a fighter was one of the best things I ever did for my writing career.

It gave me the thing one needs to survive any difficult industry.


You see, I had some really hard days in fight camp. Lots of them. Humiliating days, painful days, days when I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry.

But when you're in a small, select group of fighters who are counting on you to get back up--you do it.

Quitting was not an option. There was no way in hell I was going to let those people down.

So I wiped my tears, iced my wounds, and got back in there. By the time I got in the ring, the outcome didn't matter. I knew exactly how many battles I'd won just to get there.

I wish I'd learned this lesson sooner.

When I got a big NYC agent, I gave her four years to sell one of my books. Four years of excuses which are so bizarre that they'd make a great comedy book--Shit My Agent Said. Illness, deaths of minor family members, countless vacations, inability to quit her editing job, her assistant quitting, power lines going down in New York, more vacations, the husband going on vacation, children's illnesses, etcetera. The list went on and on. 

Four years is a long time, but I wasn't ready to accept that I'd chosen the wrong agent and needed to start over again.

So whenever I confronted her, and she said things would be different, I believed her. Until I couldn't any longer. She still hasn't sold a single novel on her own, so I know I did the right thing. 

What I did after that is the problem.

It took me FIVE YEARS to market my work again. Five long years!

Sure, there were reasons--a.k.a excuses. All-consuming day jobs, fight camp, intense relationships, blah blah blah.

What really held me back was fear. I didn't trust myself any longer. If I'd been fooled once, it could happen again, right?

Sure. But nothing good was going to happen if I didn't get back in there, either.

A fighter could have told me that.

You can grieve, but you can't live there. Life will knock you down, but when it does, you have to dry your tears, ice your wounds, and get back in the ring.

Please don't let it take you five years.

What's the biggest setback or hardship you've faced? What helped you overcome it?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"I Hate You": What Jealousy Really Means

Don't hate me because I groped a panda.
This could happen to YOU.

I used to be extremely jealous of people who travelled.

Travelling was something I longed to do, but it never seemed to happen.

I did go to Africa once, but it was nine long years before I left the country again.

Someone else was always living a more interesting life, going to places I wanted to see and enjoying experiences I wanted to have.

My life changed when I realized travelling didn't have to be something that "other" people did--if I really cared about it that much, it didn't require a better job or more money or even more holiday time.

What I needed to do was realign my priorities.

Here's what I did:

1) I got out of debt: This had to be the number one step for me. I couldn't feel comfortable travelling if that meant I was digging myself into a deeper hole. In just a year and a half, I managed to pay off over $30,000 in debt, and I'm far from rich.

I did it by sacrificing some of the things I loved, avoiding things that triggered an urge to shop for stuff I didn't need (such as catalogues and fashion magazines), putting every extra cent I had into paying off debt, and taking on extra work--a lot of extra work. But it was so worth it!

2) I sold stuff. Lots of stuff: During the years that I'd been unhappy at work and unhappy in my relationship, I'd engaged in too much retail therapy. I had paintings! I had pottery! I had jewellery, and clothes, and too many shoes. And how much of it did I really love, use or need? About 20 percent, if that. Selling my belongings online has helped pay for a lot of my trips, and there always seems to be more to sell.

3) I stopped waiting for other people: Early on, I took trips that I wasn't really interested in because some friends were going. Someone to travel with! I found it challenging to find willing travel companions--there was always a lack of time off, a lack of money, or a significant other who didn't want to be left behind. I wasn't interested in travelling by myself, so I stayed home.

Finally, I booked a tour with a group of strangers, and it was one of the best things I've ever done. Not only did I make awesome new friends and meet like-minded souls from across the globe, but in some ways it was easier than traveling with close friends. If someone irritates you on a tour, you don't have to see each other again. A long-standing relationship is not at risk.

4) I prioritized: Almost everyone has expendable income--it's just a matter of finding it. I don't have a car, which is very annoying and inconvenient in a city where it's winter at least six months of the year. My house is far from perfect. I no longer care if my clothes or shoes are "the latest thing." I don't own expensive animals or have expensive habits. I don't have kids or a cell phone.  I owned the same shitty computer for thirteen years. I don't have a cabin. I still go out for lunches and dinners, but I much prefer a $10 bowl of noodles at the local Vietnamese place than a $100 steak anyways, so it doesn't need to cost that much.

The majority of my money goes to two things: building my writing career and travelling. Those are my priorities, and finally my spending is aligned with them.

5) I quit my job: This one is a bonus step that has given me a lot more freedom and flexibility, but it's certainly not for everyone. I was lucky enough to have a solid freelance career waiting for me (which I'd spent years building and maintaining, so lucky might not be the right word), and a spouse that was 100 percent supportive of me following my dream to become a full-time writer.

I had to give up the fancy title, the benefits, the workplace camaraderie, the perks, and the salary, but in the end, I gained a lot more. And I'm no longer limited to three weeks of holidays.

What are you jealous of? Could you realign your priorities to make it a bigger part of your life? Have you ever made big life changes to increase your happiness? I'd love to hear your story.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

If You Want Support, Give It (In Other Words, Don't Be a Dick)

Chuck at the Surrey International Writers' Conference.
Photo credit: SiWC 2014

I see a lot of writers asking for help on social media.

Buy my book! Follow me on Twitter! Like my Facebook page! Review my book! Did I mention I have a book coming out? Oh God, PLEASE BUY MY BOOK!

You know the easiest way to get support from other writers?

Give it.

Get to know them as people. Like their Facebook page. Follow them on Twitter. Ask them how their writing is coming along.

Social media is for building relationships, not for constant commercials and pleas for support.

And the funny thing is, if you're the type of writer who gives support to others, you will get a lot of it back--without even asking. How awesome is that?

I've met a lot of writers--some famous and some not so famous. And I've discovered you can learn a lot about these people by observing how they treat their fans and colleagues.

At the Surrey International Writers' Conference, I was thrilled to finally meet Chuck Wendig. I've been a fan of his blog for a long time, but I didn't want to just go up to him and say, "Hey, thanks for all the free content! It's awesome, and I'm repaying you by not doing a goddamn thing."

So I bought one of his books and asked him to sign it.

He was great--a lot sweeter and more approachable than you'd expect from reading his hilarious-but-often-caustic blog. But it was what he did after the signing that really made an impression.

He followed me back on Twitter! And if you don't think this is a big deal, you haven't followed many published authors on Twitter. Hardly any of them follow back. (And why? It's such an easy thing to do and it makes people feel so good.)

I kept hearing it over and over again throughout the conference. "CHUCK WENDIG FOLLOWED ME ON TWITTER!" Everyone who said it was beaming. Chuck made a lot of people feel really good that weekend. And what did it cost him? Nothing. He doesn't have to read our tweets (but he does). He could just make lists of the awesome people and ignore the peons if he wanted to.

The day after the signing, we crossed paths in the hall, and he remembered me. He asked me some questions about my writing--questions that made it clear he had actually taken the time to look at my profile.

So you know what I did when I got home? I ordered a bunch of Chuck Wendig books. I'm really enjoying the book I bought at the conference, but even if I wasn't, people like him deserve support.

The people who constantly ask for support but never give it? Not so much.

I've bought books from at least seven different authors at that conference based on who they are as people, not their work. I'm not a fan of epic fantasy, but I buy Jack Whyte's books because he is so supportive of other writers. He sponsors an annual writing contest, interacts with fans on his forum, and holds a masterclass where he patiently reads and critiques umpteen pages of crap.

It's not enough to be a great writer anymore. You also have to be a good person.

So, in the immortal words of Chuck Wendig, don't be a dick.

Have you met a famous or not-so-famous writer or other celebrity? How did the encounter go? Have you ever bought someone's work (or seen their show, etc.) simply because you like them?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Why I'm Doing NaNoWriMo Again (Even Though I Hated It The First Time)

Am I a sucker?

A glutton for punishment?

Someone with too much time on their hands?

Probably yes to all except the last one.

But that's not why I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo (and which I personally call 'NaNu NaNu'. I'm sure I'm not the only one).

Last year was my first in the trenches.

And I hated it. Hated it with a capital H. Hell, I'd use all caps if it wouldn't make it seem like I was screaming at you.

I know how to write a novel. Not to belittle the accomplishment, but I've done it more than a few times. I already know I can finish what I start.

So why NaNoWriMo?

I've read those pretentious posts--and if you're a writer and at all interested in this kind of thing, I'm sure you have too. You know, the ones that suggest that National Novel Writing Month is just for beginners, for people who "don't know how" to write a book.

Bullshit, I say.

I'm sure it's helpful for beginners too, but they're not the only ones who can take something positive away from the experience.

Writing 1667 words per day doesn't seem like much, and if you want to write for a living, it probably shouldn't seem like much.

But I don't normally write during the weekends. And if something really amazing comes up, I rarely turn it down in order to write. Sometimes I'm tired. Sometimes I have headaches. Sometimes I have way too much journalism work to do.

That's the beauty of NaNoWriMo. For this one shining month, there are no excuses. You must write, even if you don't feel like it. Even if life intrudes. You just tell life to back the hell up so you can get your words in.

It's torture, yes, but there's also something freeing about it.

I had about a week left of NaNoWriMo last year when a dear friend took his own life. The last thing I wanted to do was write. I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry, and sometimes I did.

But the looming deadline forced me to press on. My friend's death was devastating, but I told myself I did not need to feel like a failure on top of everything else I was going through.

So I finished. I wrote the 50,000 required words. I wasn't finished my novel, but it didn't take me too long to write the last 10,000 words--a decent length for a young adult thriller.

When I read it over, I was surprised. It was good. It wasn't the piece of crap all those snobby NaNu NaNu articles had led me to believe. Even my editor liked it, and trust me--he's picky.

I'm a writer. I write a lot. But I can't look back at any other month in the past year and say, "I wrote a novel that month."

Which is why I'm taking the plunge once more.

The end justifies the means.

Do you participate in NaNoWriMo, or is there another challenge you take part in or train for? What are the value of these types of challenges for you? Of course, if you hate them, feel free to say that too!

The Insecure Writer's Support Group's purpose is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It's a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why Women Don't Go To The Police

One question keeps getting asked about the Jian Ghomeshi situation....

"Why didn't the victims go to the police?"

I understand why people are asking this. In fact, I asked it myself at first.

And then I read the stories of young women who had entry-level jobs in media. Women who hoped to make something of themselves. Women who were excited that this "big star" was paying attention to them.

Women who thought their careers would be ruined if they said anything, and I got it.

I thought about my own story.

In October of 1991, I broke up with my verbally abusive boyfriend.

On the same night, he attacked me. I was in a truck with a male friend, and my ex drove his car into my friend's truck SEVEN times--while we were driving. My ex only stopped when my friend managed to flag down the police.

A high-speed chase ensued before the cops were able to catch my ex-boyfriend.

My friend and I went to the police station to give statements.

There were at least three other guys in my ex-boyfriend's car when he did this. Presumably, they gave statements as well, and I heard through a third party that they were horrified by the guy's actions--that they hadn't seen it coming.

My spine was fractured in two places due to this little "adventure." For years, I couldn't stand, sit, or lie down in the same position for more than five minutes without extreme pain. A doctor told me I'd be in a wheelchair within a few years, but thankfully she was wrong.

I've done a lot to heal myself through exercise and healthy living, but I still suffer from chronic back and neck pain, as well as brutal migraines. That will never change.

So there you have it.

My ex wasn't famous. He wasn't a beloved media celebrity with the court of public opinion on his side.

He broke my spine in two places. I reported it to the police--several people did, and the police witnessed part of this mess themselves when they had to chase him down.

And what happened to this guy? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. He counsels troubled youth now--how's that for chilling?

I have nothing against police officers. I count some of them among my closest friends, and I realize they have a very difficult job to do.

But if the attack on me--which was extremely public and violent--didn't have any repercussions for the perpetrator, how could we expect any of these women to put so much on the line and maybe still not get any justice in return?

Sometimes going to the police just doesn't work.

That said, I encourage anyone who has been abused or assaulted to file a report.

Just don't point to a lack of reports as evidence the women are lying.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Best Piece of Advice Stephen King Ever Gave Me

True story.

Stephen King used to be on Facebook.

And not the official author page he has now.

He used to have an ordinary profile page, just like the rest of us.

It was pretty fleeting, as I'm sure he realized early on that Facebook is a huge time suck and it was distracting him from his writing. Plus, he probably got tons of crazed fan mail from people like me.

So I was once "Friends" with Stephen King--one of the great highlights of my life, as I'm sure you can understand.

Not one to waste an opportunity, I jumped at the chance to ask him for some advice.

At the time, I was juggling many freelance journalism assignments with a full-time public relations and communications job. I was working on a novel, but my motivation was lacking. I found it extremely difficult to make my fiction writing a priority, even though being a novelist was what I wanted more than anything in the world.

I poured out my heart to The King and asked for advice. "My day jobs leave no time for my own writing," I said. "What should I do?"

He responded with two words: "Write more." He went on to say that I should write more articles, poetry, short stories, novellas--anything.

To say I was unimpressed with this advice would be an understatement. My problem was that I was writing too much already! How on earth could I possibly write more? And how would it help if I could?

Now that I can look back on this advice with years of perspective, I see that he was right. People talk about muscle memory--well, the ability to write is a muscle too, and the more you use it, the stronger it gets.

As for not having enough time, I think that I was confusing a lack of time with a lack of prioritization. I was whining about not having enough time to a man who once worked as a teacher while struggling to be a good husband and a father to young children. A man who still found time to write novels and stories while crammed into the tiny closet he used as an office. Is it surprising he wasn't too sympathetic?

People often complain that there's not enough time in the day. Not enough time to exercise, not enough to see friends, not enough time to write or be creative in any way that moves us.

But those are some of the things that make life worth living, or help us to live longer. How are you really spending your time? Do you regularly fall down YouTube or Wikipedia rabbit holes that make you less productive at work, meaning your day job duties creep into your spare time? Do you spend hours watching TV or playing video games? Everyone needs down time, and it's important, but if you want to succeed at writing--or any other passion you may have--you need to put in the time.

My first novel took years to finish. I had to completely rework it from scratch. Twice. This year, I wrote three. Are they of lesser quality than the first one that took years? No, they're better. Tighter. By flexing that writing muscle, I have become a stronger storyteller. And a novella I crammed into an already jam-packed schedule will be published next year.

So I'd like to thank Stephen King for his wonderful--yet deceptively simple--advice. I'm just sorry it took me so long to follow it.

What was the best advice you ever received? What's your favourite Stephen King quote?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Five "Must Haves" To Take To A Conference

I'll be leaving for my favourite writer's conference soon.

I look forward to this conference all year long, and when I've been unable to attend due to work commitments, I've definitely felt something was lacking in my life.

Writing can be so isolating that an opportunity to connect with other like-minded souls should not be missed.

But these must haves don't just apply to writing conferences--they're important for any kind of conference you may attend.

1) Business cards: You're going to be meeting a lot of people. Awesome people. People you'll want to keep in touch with--people who may end up being important business contacts in the future. I've seen too many scramble for a piece of paper and a pen when someone asks for their contact info. Don't be one of those people--come prepared with a professional-looking business card. It doesn't need to cost a bundle, but it's so much easier to hand someone your card than it is to scribble your name on a napkin. And there's a much better chance that the people you meet won't lose a business card. Random scraps of paper are easily misplaced.

2) Samples of your work: I was always told never to give an agent a sample of my writing at a conference. Imagine my surprise, then, when an agent asked for one. The only reason I was able to deliver was that I had a blue pencil appointment that day that required me to bring part of my novel with me. Otherwise, I would have shown up empty handed. Always bring printed samples of your work along. You never know who might ask to see what you can do.

3) Cash: In these days of paying for almost everything with plastic, hardly anyone carries cash anymore. But it can come in handy and save some awkward moments when you're at a bar with your fellow conference-goers and everyone's trying to split the tab in twenty different ways. It's also great for tips, vending machines, and spur-of-the-moment emergencies. At my particular conference, most of the books can only be paid for with cash.  Talk about an emergency!

4) Professional Wardrobe: I've said it before, and I'll say it again--it never hurts to look professional. Even when you're in a creative field like writing or design, it's still a business. Don't give the wrong impression by turning up for a workshop in your beloved "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt.

5) A Smile: I know a few introverts who feel like they could never enjoy a conference, but that's not true. An introverted friend I met at last year's conference simply sat beside me, smiled, and said hello--or I said hello to her. We're not sure which, but we've been friends ever since. If you smile and look approachable, you will make friends. You're at a conference with a whole bunch of people you have something in common with. Almost everyone wants to make friends. Almost everyone is nervous and doesn't want to be the only one sitting alone. So smile--at a conference, it's worth more than cash.

Do you ever go to conferences? Do you like or dislike them? What are your must haves for a conference?