Sunday, May 25, 2014

Reflections On My 6-Month Twitter Anniversary

When I think back on when I first opened my Twitter account back in November 2013, and reflect on my attitude about it at that time, it went something like this:

You mean I've spent three years writing the epic novel that has captivated me heart and soul beyond all reason, given up nearly everything in my life, spent hundreds of dollars and thousands of hours learning the craft of writing, and now you're telling me it's all meaningless because I don't have 3000 Twitter followers???

This was in response to an article I read in Writer's Digest Magazine, something to the effect of "What Do Agents Look For In A Potential New Client?" I don't know which agent said it, but it went something like this:

I'd never take a look at a new author who had less than 3000 Twitter followers.

Disgusted, I tossed the magazine to the floor, stomped on it, cried, told my husband all was lost, researched if it was possible to actually purchase Twitter followers (it is, but knowing what I know now I'd never do that in a million years!).

In short, I freaked. This was mainly due to the many years I'd spent mingling around the people that I knew in my own "circle" (actually, more of a dented, bent polygon) of family, friends, clients and co-workers. My experiences with others of the human race had given me the impression that I was not particularly a "people" person. I've never felt reviled by people or repulsed by them, but I've never felt like I would have any hope of winning a popularity contest either, which was what the goal of 3000 Twitter followers sounded like to me.

To make it all even more tragically ironic, I'd kind of given up on popularity, and was in a good place about it. For years I had tried to be what I thought the world wanted of me: rich, successful, popular. Though I'd managed along pretty well, I wouldn't say I was winning any awards on any of those fronts. Plus, I felt uninspired by what I was doing. Nothing ever really fit right or even seemed particularly interesting to me in the "normal" world. Still, I soldiered on, unable to imagine doing it my way, going it alone.

I'd always known that I was really a creative type–an artist, if you will–and had gotten the impression that artists were loners. That had always been a scary thought for me, looming up over my shoulder. Like if I ever became who I really was, I'd end up like Emily Dickinson, sitting alone, lovelorn, corresponding with the outside world only through letters.

I'd decided I just had to accept that I was going to be a loner and get on with it. In my mind, I was making a sacrifice in order to create something beautiful and meaningful. The more I got into that mindset, the more I liked it. Especially when creating epic fantasy, it helps immensely to be able to disconnect from the real world. Gone went the meaningless arguments with my family about the pros and cons of Obamacare. Gone went the nightly news; the morning scroll through Facebook; the updates about Sally's Farmville achievements and the announcement that Jimbo was now mayor of Foursquare.

I thought that getting off the merry-go-round was a price that I was paying because I didn't belong on it. I wrote in solitude because I thought it was the only thing the world was willing to let me do.

I wrote three books over a period of three blissful years in which I was completely creative every day, unencumbered by petty thoughts of comparison to other people's successes, the number of Facebook friends I had accumulated, or whether or not my hairstyle was in vogue–all the while thinking I had really struck upon my essence and what was to be my contribution to the world.

Then I emerged from my cocoon and found that my personal catharsis was meaningless without that essential key ingredient: popularity.

Almost defiantly, I logged in and made a Twitter account. It all looked like gibberish for the first month or so. I had no idea of what any of the #hashtags and @accountnames meant and how they related to my general wellbeing. It felt like that scene in The Matrix, where Neo is sitting there staring at the screen full of binary code, stoically parsing it all with his mega-technical superbrain. Only mine was not that megatechnical or super. I was just confused. I hated it!

Time went on and I signed up to attend a writer's conference where there would be agents and editors circulating among the crowd. It was suggested that you could look these people up on Twitter to get an idea of what they were like and which ones you might want to meet. Finally, I had a goal! Finally I began to understand!

Flash forward to today, 6 months later  --

Today I logged in to find that I now have 500 (!!!) Twitter followers! And even more amazing than that is the fact that I quit even counting back at around 99. Because over time I have grown to truly and deeply love Twitter. I love hearing so many other people's perspectives on things and talking to people I've never met before. Through exposure to a much vaster ocean of people, I've come to understand that my own early experiences with the dented polygonish cluster who surrounded me on a daily basis was not in any way representative of the whole of mankind. Hallelujah!

I'm just saying all this to say this: If you feel like you don't fit in, or for some mysterious reason not very many people really dig you, it could be because you just simply do not know enough people yet. There are gobs and gobs and megagobs of people who are crazy and weird and gorgeously unique, just like you are!

Twitter helped me realize this.

I will be eternally grateful to that little blue bird. 

If you feel like giving it a try, I'm always happy to meet new tweeps! 
Follow me here:

Monday, May 5, 2014

My First Writers' Conference

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the esteemed DFW Writers' Conference, where I listened, learned and talked more than I probably have in the last ten years. Whew, what a workout for this typically quiet gal who works from the comfort of home! But I have to say it was definitely worth the effort. Here is a rundown of my conference highlights:

Donald Maass' Workshop: Writing 21st Century Fiction

This was a 4-hour class on Friday with one of the VIPs of the publishing world, super-agent Donald Maass. He's an extraordinary speaker, sharing with us his observations about what separates good novels from great ones. Maass told us that the "holy grail" in publishing was a story that combined the excitement of genre novels with the beautiful writing and bigger meaning of literary works. I found this to be very encouraging, as this has always been my aim in my own writing.

He also stressed the importance of grabbing a reader's attention and empathy for the protagonist within the first five pages. Ideally, within the first page. I had heard this before but never really accepted it until he acted out what a typical reader in a bookstore does before buying a book: skim the first few pages. Due to this advice, I'll be swapping the order of my first two scenes so I can get my protag front and center on the double.

I encountered Maass a few other times during the conference, even having the pleasure of speaking with him personally. His enthusiasm for story is infectious. The vibe I get from him is one of near-obsession with finding stories that offer meaning. That is one feeling that I can identify with all-too-well.

Query Critique Session

Here, sitting around a table with several other spec-fic writers, I read a sample of my query letter aloud for agent Jennie Goloboy and editor Amanda Rutter to comment upon. I was pretty nervous about this one, since I was scheduled to pitch to Jennie later that afternoon. As it turned out, I had good reason to be nervous, because my query letter was completely off the mark. I had attempted to follow advice that it was important to keep a query letter simple, focus just on the main character and most gripping story line. In the case of my story, that happens to be a tale of unrequited love that is the impetus for the hero undertaking the quest that propels the overall story arc. My treatment of it in my query letter, however, turned out sounding to Jennie and Amanda like a romance novel! Obviously, this is going to require a trip back to the drawing board.

Pitch Session with Jennie Goloboy

After my dismal performance in the query critique session, I was pretty sure this was going to be a bust as well. However, Jennie put me at ease at once. She said she could tell that my query letter didn't exactly match my story, and wanted me to tell her a little more about the overall world. Now I was cooking with gas! It's so much easier to explain my complex, philosophically epic world verbally (hand gestures are really necessary to do it justice) than in a one-page letter format. Here, I was able to describe in better detail my world's "spiritual cosmology," which she seemed very interested in. She asked me for the first three chapters so she could examine my writing style. Now I have a whole new reason to be nervous!

Punch Up Your Prose by Tex Thompson

Of all the events I attended that were billed as classes, this was BY FAR the one that I got the most out of. Taking the class all the way back to the ancient historical roots of the English language, Tex explained why certain sentences sound better than others, arming us with concepts like assonance and consonance. These are things that, as writers, we often do intuitively without realizing it. But once we actually become aware of the phenomena, we can more actively use it to emphasize certain parts of our writing. Very simple, very easy, very EFFECTIVE.

In addition to being so informative, Tex's delivery was among the most entertaining of any class I've ever attended. Normally, I have a hard time sitting still and listening to a lecture for more than 30 minutes, but was completely unfazed by the 90 minutes Tex took to illuminate us on the hidden secrets of our language. She has an equally entertaining and informative blog here.