The NaNoWriMo Experience

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This November was my first year participating in National Novel Writing Month.

People always talk about the community NaNoWriMo creates, and I believe it is a huge reason this program works. The forums are so helpful, and I found myself spending hours reading about people’s questions and answers and creations and stories. I loved getting to know other NanoWriMo-ers, and it helped to see that other people had the same struggles as me.

NaNoWriMo has been my first group-ish writing experience since I graduated from college. I am so thankful that people are creating places for writers to find each other and share stories. I have missed it more than I realized, and I will be participating in NaNoWriMo every year, and I hope to have a more successful year in 2015.

But what meant the most to me was what the experience revealed about myself as a writer. Here are just a few of the things I learned and obstacles I faced throughout NaNoWriMo.

Sometimes you don’t get your ideal writing environment.

Before NaNoWriMo, I somehow convinced myself that the only time I could write something halfway decent was in the morning after breakfast and drinking my first cup of coffee for the day. I thought if I wrote outside that time, it would be crappy and awful and worthless. But that isn’t true. I found myself writing after dinner, at midnight, during breaks at work. You have to write when you can.

Even more than this, sometimes you have a cat knock a glass off your desk. You have to stop mid sentence and grab a rag to clean it up, and when you get back to your desk the words are gone. Sometimes a child will run into your room and tell you they’re hungry, or bored, or sad and you must stop to help them. Sometimes your doorbell rings, or your laundry is done, or you have to pee. Life is full of interruptions, and it will be a rare day when you can write without stopping.

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Sometimes you get stuck.

There are days when you have no motivation at all. There are days when you stare at your computer, fingers floating over the keyboard, waiting for the first bout of inspiration to carry you through your 1,600 words for the day. And sometimes it never comes, and you drag yourself to bed, or to work, or to chores with a heavy heart.

NaNoWriMo gave me an understanding that everyone has that experience, even J.K. Rowling and Oscar Wilde (though he would never admit it), and everyone has to fight through it. And all you need is a small spark. This spark can be found in yourself, in others, in an event, or a word. It can be found anywhere, but you have to be looking.

Sometimes you think you’re a pantser when YOU ARE NOT.

I thought I had figured myself out as a writer in college (BA-HA-HA, I know I’m naive). I thought I needed a bit of an outline to get me going, and then the words would just come to me. That’s how it usually worked with short stories, at least. But novel writing is a completely different thing.

I had outlined my novel a lot, but as soon as I got to the point where my outline ran out, I was stuck. I had nothing to write about, and my characters were running around with no goal or point. NaNoWriMo taught me I’m a planner. And thank goodness I know that now and can write novels the right way for me.

Sometimes it is extremely hard to write in a room full of non writers.

While I was on this journey, I was the only one to keep myself motivated. No one in my household is a writer, and often when I voiced I didn’t feel like writing, instead of encouraging me to go sit my ass down in the chair, they said thing like, “Well you wrote yesterday!” Or “You need to give yourself a break every once in awhile.”

Not the most motivating thing in the world, bless their hearts. I know they were trying to make me feel like I had done enough, BUT IT WASN’T ENOUGH. You must write wonderful new words every day, or else you feel like you can skip a day every now and then and you CAN’T. Every day, write.

But most of all…

this experience reminded me that writing is HARD. And any day you sit down in front of a computer and melt words together to create something beautiful is a damn awesome day.

I didn’t win. I didn’t even make it halfway to 50,000 words. But I wrote everyday. I watched my characters grow and change and love and lose. And I remembered why I became a writer in the first place.

Guiding Authors through Social Media at Midwest Writers Workshop

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This was day one, and a very excited me.

Midwest Writers Workshop took place July 24-26, 2014. I had the privilege of being a Social Media Intern. This means I helped authors understand how to effectively utilize their online presence to actively participate in conversations about writing, publishing, and of course, how to build their platform without being pushy and awful about their work (AKA the “BUY MY BOOK” disease).

I have never been to any other conference but this one, but many Tweets from the conference agree. No other conference is as friendly and intimate as Midwest Writers.

My days were extremely full. There were so many authors looking for help building their platform, specifically through social media. A majority of them came to me asking, “What is Twitter?” Between countless sips of coffee, I would try to show them the ropes in the world of retweeting, hashtaging, favoriting, and following. One cunning client told me a hashtag (#) used to be called an octothorpe, and it has become my new favorite word.Octothrope

But it wasn’t all Twitter. I taught authors how to create lists on Facebook. How to operate WordPress and Blogspot. How to use their time effectively on Twitter with Tweetdeck. How to create websites or a blog and what to write about when they have a blog. I showed authors social media they had never heard of, like AboutMe. I advised authors how to manage themselves on social media, and what to talk about.

I met mystery writers, and legal thriller writers, christian writers, and memoir writers. Every one of them had a story to tell, and each one of them wanted to tell other people about these stories. I gave them as many tips as I could, but there truly is only one answer to this question. You must care.

You must care about the writing world, and this means caring about other writers just like yourself who are trying to make it. Be influential. People will realize you are more than just another writer, you are a supporter of other writers. This is worth more than any story could ever be. Be connected with the writing universe, and they cannot help but connect with you back because you CONTRIBUTE SOMETHING.

Social media is used incorrectly too often, as I told many of my clients. So now I will tell you.

Many people see social media as a way for people to pay attention to them, and I used to be one of them. “Look at me, I look so pretty today.” “Look at me, I’m hurting other classmates/friends with my words on social media to disguise my own pain.” “Look at me, I have so many followers/friends on this screen.” “Look at me, LOOK AT ME.” “Look at me!”

Social media should be a place to showcase the positive about yourself AND OTHERS. Mostly others.”Look at me” should instead be, “Look at you”, or “Look at this.”

If you need to be convinced further, check out the term Literary Citizenship. Literary Citizenship speaks specifically about using social media, and your entire life, in order to promote writing and authors you love, but really it can apply to anything you want. Supporting things that interest you and people that make the world better will make others interested in you. There is no better way to get others interested in you than being kind, relevant, and helpful.

But really, Midwest Writers is the best conference on the planet. Next time you are itching for some writing inspiration/advice/feedback, check out this conference. It will be worth your while.

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All the interns! From left to right: Linda Taylor (our beautiful supervisor/superhero), Morgan Aprill, Heather DiGiacomo, Me, Sarah Hollowell, Jackson Eflin, Brittany Means, Haley Muench, and Becca Wolfey

Make the Most of Midwest Writers Workshop 2014

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Last summer I had the opportunity to attend Midwest Writers Workshop on scholarship. I am not exaggerating when I tell you my life will never be the same. It was the first writing conference I had ever been to, and it was the greatest experience in my young writing career to date.

It’s the people. Hundreds of them in the same building with the same passions, and ultimately, the same goal: to get their stories out. To show the world something. Every single one of them have stories to tell you. And all of them are worth listening to.

Having been to this conference once, I have gained some insight on how to get the most out of this phenomenal experience. Here are a few things you should take advantage of at Midwest Writers Workshop 2014.

1) The Down Time

There is very little of this, but when you do find yourself twiddling your thumbs, here is what you need to do instead: TALK TO PEOPLE. There are so many great minds and stories and people at this conference. Try to collect them. Sit at a different table with different people every time you go into the big lecture hall area. You will not regret it.

 2) The Hashtag (#MWW14)

The great thing about the people at Midwest Writers is that they love to tweet. Last year, you could look at the hashtag and see snippets of sessions you wanted to go to but didn’t. This is called “live tweeting”. You tweet quotes, thoughts, or activities that you think are helpful about a session so others can experience it too.

The hashtag is a great way to stay connected to the conference as a community, as a whole, as one big pulsing passion for writing. Use the hashtag, and watch how you expand your online community as well as enhance your experience at the conference.

Below is a very simple tweet I tweeted from last year’s conference. I met the two authors (Liz Lincoln & Lori Rader-Day) who responded, and we still are connected through Twitter today. You should follow them too, they’re funny.

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3) The Books

Yes, there are books at Midwest Writers! There is a chance one of the writers you meet will have their book for sale at the conference. If you meet them, like them, and want to support them, BUY THEIR BOOK. It’s simple.

4) Pitching to Real Agents

Midwest Writers offers you a chance to pitch your novels to an agent. If you feel your piece is ready to be in print, DEFINITELY take advantage of this. Oh you know, that DIVERGENT book? Veronica Roth was discovered at this conference. These agents are serious about books, and if they like you, there’s a chance you could be their next client.

Even if your novel is not quite finished, I still recommend you utilize this opportunity. An agent will tell you the ways in which your novel is perfect for the publishing world, and in which way is it lacking. Rarely will you be face to face with an agent who is willing to give you feedback again.

5) Social Media Tutoring

I’m not just saying this because I am one of the social media interns. Unfortunately in the writing world, a lot of the time it falls on the author to let others know their book exists. Social media is an efficient way to accomplish this, as well as help promote other authors in the exact same position. You just need to know what you’re doing. That is where the social media tutoring comes in.

And there you have it. 5 simple tips for optimizing your Midwest Writers experience. I have referred to Midwest Writers as a home of sorts. A place where I feel understood and cared for by other writers who have been fresh out of college without an idea of how to make this writing thing work. This has not changed. Midwest Writers is a beautiful place to be.

I am inexplicably excited to meet new faces at this conference. I am equally delighted to help writers understand how social media works and why it is important.

I hope to see you there.

In Defense of Trigger Warnings

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about trigger warnings. Places such as the LA Times and New Republic are speaking out against them. Many think trigger warnings are some silly signs of weakness, some mark of humanity becoming more and more fragile as time goes on.

These people are just wrong. trigger

Let’s think about the word trigger. Trigger. A device which sets off a weapon. A chain reaction. A tiny little explosion that propels a piece of metal to collide with…flesh? Other metal? Fur? They’re dangerous. Triggers are dangerous.

Humanity is becoming more violent as time goes on. Many people are experiencing rape, abuse, PTSD, death each year. And more and more people are speaking out against their experiences. Human fragility isn’t increasing, the need for humans to treat one another with care is.

In my personal experience, I have seen an increase of people willing to share their experiences with trauma. They are some of the bravest, nicest, most wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure of calling friends. Trigger warnings are a way of showing these people who have seen and lived traumatic things some respect.

Why would you want to cause someone unnecessary harm?

A trigger warning is a way of telling people, “Hey, this has some nasty stuff in it. You don’t have to read/watch/listen/see/feel/witness these things if you feel you can’t handle it.” This very act gives people who have experienced some awful things the power to control their life. The power to say no, I would not like to relive that memory/feeling/trauma again.

Why is this a sign of weakness?

This topic came up on Facebook in a group I am a part of. It began with this post.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 4.28.15 PM I understand this writer’s frustration. Being asked to change a piece of writing by people who do not know you or your work can feel offensive. However, I do not think these people were being unreasonable. Even in the quote, they did not tell the author to change the language of the piece. They only asked to provide a warning. A sign to let people know there is a dead end ahead, maybe you should turn around.

Because that is what triggers do. They stop you dead in your tracks. They can cause severe emotional, psychological, and physical trauma. Really. Triggers are serious business. They can cause panic attacks, hyperventilation, nausea, flashbacks, and a slew of other awful things. Everyone reacts differently to different triggers, but one thing is common among all of them. Pain.

I understand that we cannot have trigger warnings for every single possible trigger out there. There are some obvious possible triggers that we can deduct: rape, war, violence, and abuse. Maybe one person’s trigger is the sound of a fly buzzing. I understand we can’t know that. But why in the world wouldn’t we expose the obvious ones and lessen possible harm to other human beings?

Another important note. PEOPLE OVERUSE/DO NOT UNDERSTAND/INCORRECTLY USE  THE TERM TRIGGER WARNING. Not everyone knows what they are talking about. Sometimes I search trigger warnings on Twitter and see people using the hashtag “trigger warning” in the same way they would use the hashtag “spoiler alert”. Some people get it wrong. It is those people that are not helping others see trigger warnings as a valuable and important integration into the artistic field.

rated-r-logo-black-stock3004My friend Haley Muench brings up a number of valid arguments in her blog post about trigger warnings being beneficial and necessary. One of the most important points to highlight is the fact that other forms of art have trigger warnings. She uses the example of movie rating. Yes, this is a way for the audience to know if their child should be watching this film/T.V. show or not, but it also offers information as to disturbing or triggering events. This little square at the beginning of a movie, which you barely notice, is all people  with traumatic pasts are asking for.

A way to know what they’re getting into. And an opportunity to get out.

Acts of Literary Citizenship: A Twitter Adventure

For the past week, Haley Muench and I were put in charge (yikes) of the @LitCitizen twitter account.

Running social media for myself is one thing. Running a Twitter account for a broad concept which has a strong community is quite another. We needed a plan. We needed to figure out what the community wanted to know about, what they wanted to know from us.

Have you ever tried to figure out what people you haven’t even met want from you? It’s some pretty difficult stuff.

Then, we thought of Acts of Literary Citizenship. These are actions that people can take to show their dedication and passion for the literary world. After all, what good is a passion for something if it isn’t shared?

As our professor, Cathy Day‘s, class has evolved,  a list of about 40 Literary Citizenship Acts were already compiled. We added about 10 more due to our twitter experiment, and I think they are pretty brilliant.

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Just think.

If people would do one of these acts once a month, the entire literary world would benefit. Being a writer myself, I understand how vital having a supportive community can be. So many writers give up on dreams (and possibly extremely wonderful books) because they feel like they don’t have a shot. All it takes is one person to say, “Hey, this doesn’t suck.”

Literary citizens and these acts of literary citizenship could change the life of an author (and therefore the life of a book).

Thanks to the wonderful additions to our list from our witty followers, we are now up to 50 Acts of Literary Citizenship. As a class, we hope to have 100 by the end of the semester. Which means, we may need your help. If you have an action that would help spread the word about authors, books, artists, or freaks, let us know in the comments below.

We’d love to hear from you.

Help Artists be Artists, but Keep Your Secrets

Artists need other artists. We just do. Otherwise, who else will encourage us to drop everything we’re doing and chase a caravan of gypsies? Or buy a cat for the sole reason that when it walks across the keyboard, maybe it will come up with something brilliant?

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This is the one I chose. A little useless, but he’ll get the hang of it.

Literary citizenship is about helping artists be artists. We need support. Without it, too many promising people give up on their dreams. In order to support those people, we have to speak out! Talk about the anchor sculpture made of chewed gum and the book that made you cry.

As a senior in college, I have accepted my fate as a confused and lost soul in the world of politics and rules and professionalism (but I’m very capable). I am in the reminiscence stage, remembering what I’ve learned and where I have come from. One of the greatest memories I have is of creative writing workshops in class. Other writers, just like myself (meaning new and still gooey), would tell me all kinds of skills to improve and techniques to try. The realization that outside of the University no one cares dawned on me pretty quickly.

What will I do without my classroom full of wonderful minds to help me sculpt and pick and sift through my work?! How will I survive?! BUT WAIT, there’s Social Media. And of course books such as Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon.

Literary citizenship is about being connected. TALK to people on the Internet and try to help them with whatever it is they need help with. Share techniques and ideas and motivation. SHARE ALL THE THINGS.

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Except maybe your secrets. Keep your secrets. Keep the tricks that make your craft soar. Keep it secret. Keep it safe.

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