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A few convention highlights – Continuum X

I spent the past long weekend at Continuum X — this year’s Australian national speculative fiction convention, where fans and writers and authors gather together to chat about science fiction, fantasy, horror and other related topics.

It was held at Melbourne’s Intercontinental Hotel at Rialto, a fairly classy venue as these things go. About the best thing about the venue was the bar, which was central and sunken, so you could look down and see whether your friends were there. The bar was probably the worst thing too, owing to the crazy drink prices, which saw me buying $14 glasses of wine…

Unusually for me, I didn’t attend many panels at this convention… nor did I take any notes at all. Which is just plain weird. Normally I’m bursting with new ideas and insights to share by now. But this con was mainly about meeting people — and I met heaps, which was awesome.

I did, however, hear two fabulous talks from the two professional guests of honour — Ambelin Kwaymullina and Jim C Hines.

Ambelin Kwaymullina is an Aboriginal writer and illustrator from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She gave an amazing presentation — raw, passionate, severe — about cultural appropriation, which made us all squirm in our seats. (Or at least it did me.)

I’ve heard many talks about the evils of cultural appropriation as writers, but none hit home like Ambelin’s did. A lot of it comes down to a completely different world view — and the world view of her people is nothing like the world view of “westerners”. She explained how she is “not a science fiction writer”, because science fiction is a construct that has no meaning among her people. And many other things besides.

Ambelin really made me look at other cultures — and not just indigenous cultures — in a whole new way. It was not comfortable to hear… there was so much passion (and bitterness) in that speech. But we needed to hear it. We ALL need to be beaten over the head with it, because it is so easy not to hear or understand, and be inadvertently disrespectful.

Jim C Hines is an American fantasy author and blogger who is quite vocal on subjects of gender equality and is also the guy who did the gender flipped poses for SF/Fantasy novels. He gave a great talk about embracing diversity within the community and beyond… the most memorable comment being something along the lines of how being the recipient of one act of discrimination is like getting a paper cut, but when there are many paper cuts it’s like being flayed alive…

Yes, some very sober and serious messages by our guests of honour.

Perfections

I went to a few book launches at the convention too — none more satisfying than the re-launch of Perfections by my very good friend, Kirstyn McDermott (who I recently interviewed about the book). Even though the copies at the launch were a unique breed, retitled IMPerfections, with a rather fatal flaw, Kirstyn still sold just about all copies that were available. Celebrations all round.

Aside from guest of honour talks and book launches, I went to one panel, one live podcast recording, and the Australian Ditmar Awards ceremony (kind of like the Hugos, but waaaaay less prestigious). The rest of the time I spent hanging out with friends in the bar.

All in all, I had a fabulous time.

Harnessing creativity at Conflux Writers Day

On Saturday I attended the inaugural Conflux Writers Day — a day of short talks and workshops on various aspects of writing, held in Canberra. Organised by the Conflux team, headed up by Australian SF author Nicole Murphy, the Conflux Writers Day was also the prelude to the annual Aurealis Awards, which are Australia’s premier speculative fiction awards.

The thing I love most about such days is hearing other authors talk about their process, their philosophies, their methods for keeping disciplined, fostering inspiration, staying positive.

One of the themes of the day was harnessing creativity — one of my favourite topics.

In her opening plenary session, Joanne Anderton talked about transforming ideas into story. Her process as it turns out is remarkably similar to mine (notebooks for each project, seeding a story with the world… I rather liked her concept of ‘world growing’).

She also emphasised how important it is to let yourself get bored, to give yourself the space to daydream and be creative.

“Just because a writer is looking out the window doesn’t mean she isn’t working.”

And then, in the second plenary session, Kaaron Warren (after putting us all to shame with her stern words on how to ‘use the minutes when you don’t have hours’) made a similar point when she said how ‘daily life’ is a key part of writing. It’s when one does one’s daydreaming, observing, listening…

Kaaron’s main point was that she believes

“We shouldn’t try to change the way we live, we should change the way we write.”

Utilising all the ‘down time’ as thinking and daydreaming time is an important part of this, so when we do have that rare 20 minute or hour-long time window available to write, we’re ready to get right into it. We’ve done all our thinking and away we go…

“A writer’s place is inside our head. We are in control of what goes on inside our heads.”

I really wish I was better at this. I think best with a pen in my hand. But it would be good to better utilise walking or cleaning activities. Perhaps I need to train my brain…

Finally, in a short session called Wrangling the muse, presented by Craig Cormick, he made the point that the thinking:writing ratio is different for everybody.

This last I know to be true. I truly envy those authors who can churn out 8,000 words in a single day. The most I can handle at once is about 2,000 words… then I need to have a break and wait for the well-of-words to refill. (Or maybe it’s the well-of-ideas.) And usually it doesn’t refill until the next day…

Craig’s other main point was how important it is for us to eradicate negative belief systems and foster positive belief systems instead.

Doubt can intrude into reality. The brain tries to ensure that whatever one believes must be.

i.e. if we don’t think we can do it, we’ll sabotage ourselves.

I went to several other interesting sessions, which might find their way into a later post. But I think the points I’ve summarised here are my main take-aways from the day.

Embrace doing nothing — make the most of it. Accept the need for time and space to think and ruminate. But make the most of writing time as well!

As might have been expected, I’ve returned home from Canberra full of enthusiasm and determination. Inspiration too. There’s nothing quite like hanging around with a bunch of other writers to get those creative juices flowing.

 

Trucksong launch party

It’s always exciting to attend book launches, especially when the author is a member of one’s writing group and an all-round nice guy. So it was with a spring in my step that I trekked north to the inner Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy yesterday evening to attend the launch of Andrew Macrae’s debut novel, Trucksong, published by acclaimed Australian indie, Twelfth Planet Press.

Trucksong

I have not read any part of this literary SF novel yet, but it has been garnering many positive vibes from those I know who have. The official blurb goes thus:

A dystopian science fiction novel about lost love, AI trucks and the search for meaning in a post-apocalyptic Australia.

Yes, you read that right. AI trucks.

Trucksong can be purchased directly from Twelfth Planet Press, and heaps more information is to be found both there and on the dedicated Trucksong web site. This includes a sound track for the novel, composed by the author, and a download of the original version of the novel, which was initially written using experimental ‘post apocalyptic’ language as part of a doctoral thesis. Linguifiles are saying it could perhaps have stayed thus, but apparently the revised (yet still literary) version is far more accessible for those of us who don’t wish to work quite so hard.

It must be said Andy put on a fabulous launch party at Playroom, accompanied by experimental projections from Dr. Projectionists and improvised music by expert guitarist Jim Matheas and multinstrumentalist Tom Hamnett. The book was launched by editor of Overland magazine, Jeff Sparrow.

I really hope this book flies –by all accounts it’s something out of the common way and not a little bit special. I do hope international audiences dive in for a glimpse into something quintessentially Australian. Congratulations to Andy on Trucksong’s publication!

Following the launch, several of us wandered off down Brunswick street in search of Andy’s choice of ice-cream parlour — the uber-cool N2 Extreme Gelato, where they make ice cream on the spot by pouring liquid nitrogen right into the mix. Wild, with lots of vapour. Something of a gimmick, yet still delicious. I had the ‘Black lava salted caramel’ flavour.

World Fantasy Convention 2013 – a wrapup

So, last weekend was the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, UK. My second,  following the San Diego WFC in 2011. Once again, I had an excellent time, my activities largely divided between the official program and socialising, er, networking, in the bar. New friends were made and insights obtained… All very satisfying and definitely inspirational.

Why WFC?

I’ve been asked more than once what’s so good about WFC to warrant travelling halfway across the world to attend it. (Aside from justifying a two and a half week jaunt around regions of interest, that is – heh.)

One of the main reasons is undoubtedly the presence of global publishing industry professionals. It’s not all that common for agents, editors and the like to attend Australian speculative fiction conventions — partly because the events are often run by non-publishing ‘fans’, and partly because the Australian market (and also the conventions themselves) is small, compared with the UK and USA.

At WFC, which prides itself on being a professional convention, it’s more than half likely that a random stranger in the con bar will turn out to be an agent or an editor — not that I’m advocating stalker-like behaviour or forcing manuscripts onto unwilling recipients; but you can’t deny that if the stars align, such serendipitous meetings could change the course of a struggling writer’s future.

All roads lead to the bar

WFC is primarily a networking convention. There are no formal pitch sessions (that I’m aware of), but there are many open parties and opportunities to get to know people. And if I learnt anything at Conflux earlier this year, it’s that people actually want to hear about your work.

(Of course, networking in the guise of socialising can be hard work, and that’s where a little liquid lubrication can help… The key is not to get so lubricated one can’t talk coherently about one’s current project.)

It’s also fantastic to meet and chat with other writers from all over the world. The Australian speculative fiction community is tight-knit and somewhat insular. WFC provides insights into other writing communities — US, UK, Europe and even Africa.

The two WFCs I’ve visited have made me aware of how many pre-published counterparts I have in all parts of the world. Not to mention the vast numbers of published authors I’ve never previously heard of. Unsurprisingly, most attendees in San Diego were from the USA; while the Brighton event featured an enormous number of British authors.

A bunch of Australians attended WFC Brighton too. Many more than San Diego. And I also met European authors, some writing in their first language, seeking representation and contracts with English-language publishers. I talked to authors meeting their agents in the flesh for the first time, and agents meeting authors they’d signed and communicated with via email and phone. WFC is the meeting place. The hub.

Guests of Honour

Unluckily for the Brighton WFC, they lost three of their Guests of Honour in the lead up to the convention. Poor old Richard Matheson (I am Legend) died of old age, China Mieville (who was Toastmaster) had something unavoidable come up, and Alan Lee (artist GOH) couldn’t leave the set of The Hobbit in NZ. But they still had the incomparable Tanith Lee and Susan Cooper to receive life achievement awards and the charismatic and entertaining Neil Gaiman to effortlessly step in for China M.

I generally like attending GOH conversations. I enjoy hearing personal anecdotes and gaining insight into admired writers by listening to their (often funny) stories. Joe Hill was another entertaining GOH in Brighton.

In the end, I attended seven or eight panels across Friday and Saturday. In addition to the GOH conversations, it was good to hear from some other prominent fantasy authors on topics of general interest — such as ‘is classical fantasy dead?’ and the controversially titled ‘broads with swords’.

‘My people’

On the whole, though, I don’t attend WFC for the program. I fly halfway across the world to hang out with other authors and publishing industry professionals who are ‘my people’. I’ve come away with a host of new contacts and renewed enthusiasm for finishing my current WIP. Every time I front up to one of these events, I feel as though I’m getting another step closer to the end goal.

***

Addendum 9 Nov: I’ve been reminded that one of the best panels I’ve ever attended at a convention involved Neil Gaiman in conversation with Connie Willis two years ago at WFC in San Diego. If you’re interested, check out my post here, which summarises my key take-aways and also features an embedded YouTube clip of the conversation. Enjoy!

On a writing (not reading) retreat

In many ways I suppose this could be a good weekend for reading. But that’s not what I’m supposed to be doing…

I’m at a writers retreat. I’m supposed to be writing.

I’m here in a house with eight fellow word wranglers. There are laptops everywhere. The floor is strewn with cables.  Wine is being mulled…

This afternoon the house was a veritable hive of activity; a silence weighted with productivity, punctuated by the clacking of keyboards.

Before I can progress with writing, however, I need to figure out what’s going to happen next in my WIP. And I concluded earlier in the week that maybe I should read back over what has gone before to see whether anything helpful jumps out at me.

So that’s what I did this afternoon — read back over some of what has gone before. (Which, to my gratification, wasn’t as awful as I thought it might have been.)

My plan for the weekend is to become unstuck. I’d love to plough through the current scene-of-difficulty and navigate my way towards the end…

Having said that, I do like the idea of lying back with a book all weekend. What an indulgence. I brought my kindle — books! — maybe (if I can’t get unstuck) it will be a good weekend for reading after all…

What’s your plan for the weekend? Will you be doing any reading?

***

This post was inspired by today’s wanafriday theme, which was to launch from the opening line of Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani: “This will be a good weekend for reading.”

Read some of the other interpretations of this theme:

Janice Heck – A good weekend for reading (in which she also talks about the book, Big Stone Gap)

Kim Griffin – Rainy Days

Siri Paulson – Reading

Cora Ramos – Reading Time? Ha Ha

Hanging out and talking about publishing

One more, short (okay it’s not so short) post coming out of Conflux… which would hardly have been a writers convention without discussions surrounding the latest publishing trends.

The centrepiece of this was the so-called “Smackdown — Small press versus mainstream publishers”. In this panel, Russell B Farr of indie Ticonderoga Publishing, literary agent and publishing consultant Alex Adsett, and Angry Robot’s Marc Gascoigne discussed the relative merits of indie presses, medium-sized publishers (such as Angry Robot) and the “big six”, er five.

The main interesting points to come out of this discussion were:

  • Indie presses tend to offer superior speed of response to authors and speed to market, particularly when delivering in electronic formats (as most are).
  • Even though most indie presses and new e-imprints of large publishers are not offering author advances (or else relatively modest ones), the gap is diminishing for new authors as major publishers have dropped the size of advances substantially.
  • Prolific authors are likely to benefit from an indie press’s willingness to publish more than one title a year.
  • Indie presses are more likely to focus on the long-term marketing of titles — and less likely to drop authors whose sales are not “performing”.

In all this Gascoigne positioned Angry Robot as somewhere in the middle. He acknowledged their association with larger publishers tended to impact agility, but I got the impression they embraced the more caring attitude towards authors. The discussion was on the whole favourable towards the smaller scale end of things…

It would have been good to have a large publisher represented on the panel to get a more balanced perspective on aspects such as distribution and the benefit of a big publisher’s reputation with readers — I still believe these carry weight with much of the general public. There is a significant percentage of people who buy books from browsing in bookshops, or who expect a book they’ve heard about to be available in hard copy from the local shopping centre.

Nonetheless, it’s good to see so many positive attitudes towards indie presses and even self-publishing. Because all authors know how hard it is to get picked up by a major publisher, and, even if that would be our first choice, it’s encouraging to know there are serious alternatives.

***

Alex Adsett also presented a separate talk about contracts and copyright for authors — all very informative, particularly the aspects dealing with e-publishing.

Among other things, she explained the difference in royalty agreements. Whereas standard print royalties are 10% of the RRP, e-book royalties are typically a percentage of net receipts (the amount actually received by the publisher in sales). The e-book royalty will typically be 25% of net receipts for trad publishers and 40-50% for digital-first publishers and imprints. If you self-publish it’s somewhere around 70%, although it’s evidently 85% at smashwords. (This is all very interesting from the perspective of a buyer as well.)

Alex also emphasised the importance of having a reversion clause for e-books as well as print. Because e-books don’t ever technically go “out of print”, the reversion clause should relate to sales volumes. For example, she suggested the reversion clause might state the rights revert to the author if the book is downloaded less than 100 times in 12 months.

***

As far as the speculative fiction genre goes, Marc Gascoigne said several times that SFF books are automatically “mid-list” from a large publisher’s perspective. With the exception of George RR Martin, JK Rowling and Tolkien, SFF rarely hits the overall best-seller list. This, then, is a starting disadvantage for new SFF authors with the major publishers.

Nonetheless, Martin in particular has done wonders for the fantasy genre of late, with a current resurgence in publication of new epic fantasy series. Some would say a glut, in fact, as a new audience has discovered the genre. The first wave of these (bought post-season-one of Game of Thrones) are hitting the shelves around now. It remains to be seen how long this trend will last — although Gascoigne posited that fantasy is still here to stay for the long term.

This seems to me a very good thing.

This ends my Conflux 9 round-up posts. (The first on a worldbuilding workshop is here, the second on the importance of having a pitch ready is here.)

I had a fabulous time at the convention, even if I spent most of it lounging and chatting over coffee or in the bar having drinks. The main reason I went was to hang out with other writers, industry pros and readers, to participate in stimulating conversations, and meet new people. All achieved!

Sometimes we just need to be with our people. Don’t you agree?

On novel pitching: an insight and an epiphany

The recent Conflux Science Fiction convention in Canberra was the first conference I’ve attended where formal pitching sessions were available to authors. It’s probably not surprising therefore that the art of pitching was the subject of much general conversation.

I attended a panel about pitching on the second day of the con, featuring panellists Tara Wynn, literary agent with Curtis Brown; Alex Adsett, literary agent and publishing industry consultant; and Marc Gascoigne, publisher at Angry Robot. They discussed the following pitching scenarios:

  • “elevator pitching” — the art of describing your novel in one or two sentences to any interested party (and, let’s face it, the question “what’s your novel about?” comes up quite often in a room full of authors). It’s also useful for describing your novel to friends, family and work colleagues…
  • formal pitching to agents or publishers — the art of convincing said industry professional that your novel is something they really need to read for consideration, usually in five or ten minutes (or thereabouts).

From the title of the panel, I thought it was going to focus more on the former — which is what I desperately need help with — but it actually focused more on the latter. No matter — that proved most interesting and informative too.

I’ll quickly summarise a few of the insights provided by the three panellists:

  • The elevator pitch is essential. Even once your book is requested, the one-sentence pitch is used to describe your book quickly to sales and marketing teams and all manner of other people involved in the publishing process.
  • In the pitch, you need to be able to describe what your story is about, PLUS what it’s “like” (ie a recent similar genre novel). This can sometimes be considered the second half of the elevator pitch.
  • In the pitch, you need to highlight the kernel that makes it original, the hook that’s going to make your book stand out from all the others. Especially if it’s a fantastical world. (AA)
  • MG said several times that he considers a formal pitch like a job interview. He wants to see a professional individual who can potentially deliver a manuscript every 8 months (yikes) for a few years. He wants a clear indication that you have more books in you.
  • TW said she also wants to gain insight into the person behind the pitch — she wants to see evidence of passion and another well of ideas.

The most interesting insight I gained from this panel, however, is that every one of these agents/publishers want to hear about your story.

Yep. That’s right. Despite all the horror stories about drunken pitches in bars and manuscripts being shoved under toilet doors, these guys will still listen to you and/or take a look at that first page if it’s put before them.

They’re so eager to find something great, they won’t rule anything out without at least a glance. In fact, it’s highly likely they’ll request at least a partial after a pitch, simply because there’s still a chance the writing will be fantastic. (Of course, it could get scrapped very quickly after that!)

The moral of this story is: Make sure you’re ready for that moment when opportunity strikes.

NOTE: I am not advocating acting unprofessionally, ever… But if you do happen to be chatting in the bar, and the question comes up… BE READY and at all times professional.

The importance of this was borne upon me during the convention as I actively avoided one-on-one situations that could get sticky if the “what’s your novel about?” question was asked… And when I found myself getting tangled and defensive when trying to tell one or two others about it.

You see, I haven’t really practised the best way of describing my current novel WIP, and it matters. Because there’s nothing worse than launching into a description and making it sound dreadfully dull, so much less interesting than it really is. (You hope.) I certainly don’t want to come across all glib and rehearsed, but I’d rather like to sound coherent, and as though I have some idea about what it is I’m doing.

I learnt I definitely need to lift my game in this department. I need to practise telling people about my work, discussing it, not being defensive when they ask perfectly natural questions with the best possible intentions. It’s something for me to work on — and is probably my major take-away from this convention.

Does anyone else have any pitching (or not pitching) horror stories they’d care to share? Or success stories? Any tips for developing pitches and becoming comfortable talking about our work? I’d love to hear from you.

***

ADDENDUM 4 May: As luck would have it, Marcy Kennedy has a guest post on Kristen Lamb’s blog about how to develop the perfect pitch. It breaks it down wonderfully well. Go and check it out!

More on building fantastical worlds

I recently attended the Australian National Science Fiction Convention — Conflux 9 — a fabulous four days of hanging out with other writers, industry professionals and speculative fiction fans.

The convention offered many valuable panel discussions and workshops (among other things); I attended a worldbuilding session with Glenda Larke, an Australian epic fantasy author whose innovative and multi-dimensional worlds regularly garner much acclaim. As regular readers of this blog will know, worldbuilding is important to me and I thought perhaps Glenda might reveal some of her secrets.

She did! And I’m going to share some of the key points here today.

To start with, the following two points were emphasised. A successful fantasy world is dependent on two quite separate factors:

  • Building the world
  • Introducing the world to readers

Building the fantastical world

When creating a fantastical world, it’s essential to make it solid and believable — and give it some pizzazz. The author must know more than is revealed to the reader to give it that multi-dimensional quality, that sense the world extends beyond the immediate story.

Some authors spend a great deal of time developing a fully realised world up front, and allow the story to unfold within it. (As I have done to-date.) Glenda, on the other hand, develops her world in parallel with the story.

She said several times that one of her starting questions is “Who has the power?” and then “What do they do with it?”. Everything derives from here. She continuously adjusts the world to fit the plot, and sometimes even the map is changing right up to the final draft. The world exists to fit the story.

This doesn’t mean she skimps on the worldbuilding. But she says she doesn’t need to know everything at the beginning of the story — so long as by the end she has a comprehensive understanding.

Moreover, it’s important to identify at least one thing to make your world original, different from all the others…

As for the details, there are any number of questionnaires and worldbuilding templates available online to assist authors these days. It’s not usually necessary to fill out every single item on each list, but it can be helpful to have an idea, however roughly formed, about aspects such as economics, geography, climate, social structure and so on.

This is all assuming the fantastical world is not based directly on a particular period of our own. If that is the case, then comprehensive research from original sources is recommended.

Introducing the world to readers

Here, the key is achieving the perfect balance between what the author knows and what the reader needs to know. There’s no sense revealing irrelevant details — they’ll only bore the reader and create false expectation.

Moreover, (we all know this, but I’ll reiterate it anyway), authors must avoid the info-dump. The secret to introducing the world to readers is inserting threads of detail gradually, so the reader builds up a picture one tiny element at a time.

Some of Glenda’s tips for subtle inclusion of world detail are:

  • Creating small incidents, which also convey important characterisation, plot information, etc
  • Creating curse words to reflect culture
  • Using calendars of festivals, religious celebrations etc
  • Using unique similes and metaphors in the narrative and dialogue to convey culture and world detail
  • Referring to historical and cultural events

Finally, Glenda says don’t get hung up with getting it right the first time round! She says layering and texturing of the world can take place in subsequent drafts and revisions.

And I agree — my favourite part!

Does anyone else have any worldbuilding tips? I’d love to hear thoughts on fantastical worlds. Let me know your favourite fantasy worlds and their authors too. I’m always on the lookout for great new fantasy reading experiences.

***

Coming up soon will be a post exploring something else I learnt at Conflux — how important it is to be prepared to talk about your work! We’ll be talking pitching and dealing with that innocent question: “What’s your novel about?”

 

The secret ingredient to productivity

They say one of the keys to being successful at any creative endeavour is perseverance. Discipline comes in handy too. Yeah yeah, there are also talent and self-belief, but they’re very hard to control…

There is another secret ingredient I’ve come to value very highly over the years — and that’s friends. More specifically, friends who share my creative passions. Kindred Spirits. People who ‘get’ my need to spend hours and hours chained to my second career. People who understand the down days and comprehend just how amazing the good days are.

These days, social media is a fabulous vehicle for forging friendships with like-minded souls. One of the best things I ever did was join up for Kristen Lamb‘s blogging bootcamp, which provided me with an instant (more or less) community of kindred spirits on facebook and twitter. I just know if we lived close enough for coffee . . .

Fortunately for me, however, Melbourne is not devoid of kindred spirits. I’ve managed to find several I can and do meet for coffee — as well as a whole lot more.

Writing retreats

I’ve just spent a fabulous four days away with a dozen members of my writers group, SuperNOVA (warning: fledgling web site!). We rented a massive house on a lake, and the aim was to write, write, write. We did get up to some other mischief (which has been summarised here and here*), but mostly the house was silent except for the clacking of keyboards, the scrape of pens, and the screeching of cockatoos out the window.

The general consensus, I believe, was that most participants (I don’t claim all) were more productive than normal. This may have been simply the act of getting away from the distractions of home, but I like to think it was at least partly because of the atmosphere, the camaraderie, of being amongst other writers. There was an almost audible hum of energy in the room . . . OK, I’m possibly being fanciful and cliched, but you get my point!

Over the past few years I’ve been on several weekend writing retreats, some with as few as two of us, others with more. Every time, I get a lot more done than if I take myself off on my own for a weekend — which I do periodically. I think having a kindred spirit present helps with both discipline and perseverance. There’s also the added bonus of having a ready-made sounding board for nutting out tricky plot points, or debating word choice etc, if necessary.

Writing in cafes and pubs

If a weekend retreat is too much, a companionable session in a cafe (or the pub!) can be very effective. I’m currently meeting a few of my writing friends on a weekly basis for a Saturday brunch/afternoon writing session in one of my local cafes. We sit in the back section for up to five hours, ordering occasionally, computers fired up. What I love about this is:

  1. It forces me to write on a Saturday (or Sunday), when otherwise I might feel compelled to do housework. Or something away from the desk.
  2. It combines socialising with ‘work’.
  3. I have ready-made sounding boards for tricky bits.

Last year (when I wasn’t working), a few of us met regularly on Tuesday afternoons in my local pub. And earlier this year, we tried Friday night gatherings for a few months. Those were both awesome habits for the same reasons. It’s very easy to get really busy at work (ahem) and stop writing all together . . . at least if I have a weekly writing session planned, I’m locked in for that time at least.

An epiphany . . .

This post stemmed in part from an epiphany I had on the weekend, as I sat in the corner of the hive, pen in hand, mulling. These were after all my friends I was hanging out with, not just the ‘other writers in my group’. I’m sure I’m not the only writer to despair occasionally, to consider throwing this writing gig out the window and live a ‘normal’ life. (OK, so I was having black thoughts.) But then it struck me that if I did throw it all away, then I’d lose my connection with all these people, these friends, who have become a huge part of my social network. And I don’t want to lose  them. I realised that I’m committed, in for the long haul. This life defines me now. There’s no going back . . .

So . . . If you’re a fellow creative, struggling with all these things, how do your friends and networks support you? Have any writers out there ever tried cafe writing — alone or otherwise? Care to come to Melbourne and write with me?

* If you click through to Jason’s blog post, I’m the one sitting in the middle on the dock… and the one carrying the case of wine…

Donning my resolved-and-determined hat (at Continuum)

Last weekend I attended the Continuum 8 convention, which this year was the Australian national science fiction (and fantasy and horror) convention, held in Melbourne. It’s an event where writers and fans of the speculative fiction genre come together and pow-wow. We’re not a large community, so our natcon is always a fabulous opportunity to catch up with friends, talk shop and envelop ourselves in inspiration.

I’ve been attending Continuum just about every year since it began, and always have a fabulous time. I love listening to other writers talk about their process, about trends and industry issues, about their general publication experiences. It’s essentially a weekend spent hanging out with ‘my kind of people’, and this year’s con was no different. Aside from listening to a couple of panels here and there, I spent most of my time in the hotel/con bar and/or in cafes and restaurants in nearby Lygon Street.

But the more cons I attend, the more people I know. And this means more writers… writers with published stories, collections, novels. Or contracts for novels. While it still gives me rather a thrill to hang out with all these accomplished authors, it does also leave me feeling a little inadequate. OK, a lot inadequate. It’s hard to accept that I’m still grafting my way up the learning curve… that I’m not there yet…

In fact, last week (before Continuum) I decided (again) that I was giving it all up, that I’ve been fooling myself that I can do this, that I think I’ll just sit back and read all the glorious books that other people write and stop stop stop all this fruitless effort. By the time the con rolled around, I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to go at all, because I would just be confronted with my own failure.

Needless to say, I turned up, but I was in rather a weird place. It seemed almost a relief to announce during casual conversation, when asked about my progress, that “This week, I’m giving it all up”… only to have them answer, one after the other, “Oh, you’re having one of those weeks.”

Yes, I had indeed been having one of those weeks.

I haven’t completely resurrected my “I can do this” state of mind, but I do feel better after talking to people during the convention. Everyone understood where I was at and no-one judged — no matter where they are in their careers right now, they’ve all been at the point of deepest doubt, they’ve all struggled with some mountain or other.

And that’s the best thing about attending conventions — the sense of community. The knowledge that these are my people.

Happily, more often than not during the weekend I found myself donning my resolved-and-determined hat: all that’s needed is for me to pull my finger out and keep going. Just keep going. One day, perhaps one day in the not too distant future, I want to attend a convention with my own sense of accomplishment — whether that’s a completed novel manuscript, a published short story — or something better.