Yurt Talk Part 1: Tips for Writers

This post is an overview of an invited talk I gave to the Carroll County Chapter of the Maryland Writers Association, April 2014, in the Yurt at Piney Run Park. The invitation asked me to describe how I do what I do, with the number one question being “how do you find the time?” If you find the info useful, click the Donate button.

Making time for writing

  • Always carry a notepad and pen or pencil to jot notes, send yourself email or voicemail–you never know what might trigger an idea.
  • Make use of waiting time; even if not actually writing text, you can: outline plots, note story ideas, make lists of rhyming words (part of my poetry writing process is to explore rhymes for subject-related words), select character names.
  • Use TV time to write or edit — often I use the TV as background noise, but if I’m doing detailed writing I turn it off.
  • Make use of “second sleep” phenomena — Many people have two sleep sessions a night, with a period of wakefulness in between. Recent studies have shown that this was a common pattern before the advent of electricity (and artificial light)–it’s even referenced in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. This mid-night wakefulness can be used as writing time, free from normal household distractions.

Improving your craftsmanship

  • Examine commercially published books carefully to see what is in the front matter, and how they are formatted. Look specifically at the genre you are writing to see trends in cover design, back cover blurbs, and chapter headings.
  • Attend panels and workshops at writers conferences, make use of online tutorials. Specific recommendation of Allen Wold’s plotting workshop at Capclave.
  • Get organized: for short fiction or poetry you really do need a spreadsheet to track submission status, for novels you need to track characters and settings, for business you need to track expenses and mileage.

Marketing your writing and yourself

  • Network! Use business cards, bookmarks, speaking engagements, local groups, online groups (FaceBook, LinkedIn), conventions, blogging. Be prepared with an “elevator speech” to answer two questions, “what do you write?” and “what’s your book about?”
  • Make yourself memorable at conventions: sit up front or on an aisle (where you can be seen from the podium); be prepared to ask a “smart question” (read the speaker bios, so you can reference something specific about their expertise); if you encounter speakers later, thank them for the info they shared in their panel.
  • Have a “go bag” ready for events (saves time and reduces risk of forgetting something vital). I use a rolling cart with: my books, business cards, bookmarks, tablecloth, receipt book, table decoration, clear plastic bookstands, and misc. office supplies (scissors, velcro, binder clips, notepad, pens). Several members of the Carroll County group participated in a book signing event at the Mount Airy Library last December, and stood out by their attention to detail. For table decoration, Kerry Peresta had a scented candle and a laptop presentation; she used a red tablecloth to bring out the color in her book cover. Jack Downs had a small Christmas tree (seasonal), a baby buggy (featured on his book cover), and calendars of his upcoming appearances. I displayed a blue dragon statuette and used blue table draping to tie to my imprint, Blue Dragon Press. Other writers had houseplants and/or posters of their book covers. Several had signs advertising their availability for speaking engagements.

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