Category Archives: Insight

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Guest Blog: “Do You Still Love It?”

Do You Still Love It?
a guest blog by novelist Lauren Morrill

 

While gearing up for roller derby practice and complaining about a mountain of deadlines recently, one of my teammates says to me, “You became an author because you always loved to write. Now that it’s your job, does that take any of the love out of it?”

Since most roller derby conversations consist of how to care for those oozing blisters on your feet and which compression shorts are least likely to creep up your butt during a game, I was a little surprised. So I thought about it for a few seconds, and then gave her my answer.

“Nope. Not at all.”

But why? How? Aren’t deadlines and reviews and expectations crushing my spirit?

Nope. Not at all.

Ok, a little bit about me: Part of the answer lies in the fact that I am both a hopeless procrastinator and a very fast writer. Depending on your perspective, those characters combine to be either a very very good, or very very bad thing. As a procrastinator, I’m always trying to find the next book to read or show to Netflix binge (Dance Academy, anyone?). But as a fast writer, I can do all those things and still get my words down at the 11th hour.*

But the deadlines! The humanity!

Turns out? Deadlines are great, because they’re a reason to finish (and, just a little tip from me to you … finishing, is the first step towards being a successful writer). I find that I do so much better now than I did when I was wandering in the wilderness with my writing, when publishing a novel seemed like a far off fantasy. Having expectations and people who depend on me means that after I’m done watching the sixth season of Law and Order, I’m going to sit down and crank out a few thousand words.

But the expectations! They’re crushing!

The expectations? They’re motivating. I love thinking about the teen reader who finds my book at her local library or better yet, pulls it off the shelf at her local bookstore. I remember how much I loved to curl up with a good book, and knowing that there are folks out there doing that with something I wrote? Yeah, that’s a major incentive.

But still, don’t read the Goodreads reviews.

Sure, there are times when it feels like work, when the words aren’t flowing, when I’d rather just close my laptop and walk away. And when there are contracts and checks and professional relationships on the line, there are moments when it can definitely feel overwhelming. But ultimately, I remind myself of the best parts of my job: the readers, and the fact that I get to do my job in my pajamas on the couch while getting the most our of my Netflix subscription and eating ALL THE CHEETOS.

So has becoming an Author with a capital “A” spoiled the writing life for me? Not a bit. Despite the hardships and the stress, it really is as good as I imagined it would be.

*Yes, I recognize that this sounds braggy, but I believe in turning your weaknesses into a strength like you’re supposed to do in job interview (you know, “I work too hard” or “I care too much”).

 

LAUREN MORRILL grew up in Maryville, Tennessee, where she was a short-term Girl Scout, a (not so) proud member of the marching band, and a trouble-making editor for the school newspaper. She graduated from Indiana University with a major in history and a minor in rock & roll, and now lives in Macon, GA with her husband and their dog, Lucy. When she’s not writing, she spends a lot of hours getting knocked around playing roller derby. Publisher’s Weekly called her debut YA novel, Meant to Be (Random House) “entertaining and quick-witted.” Her second YA novel, Being Sloane Jacobs (Random House), releases January 7, 2014.

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Three reasons to enter a writing contest

Take the next big step in your writing journey by joining the community at Crossroads 2013. Learn more here: CrossroadsWriters.splashthat.com

You’ve been dedicated. You’ve scribbled, drafted, edited, revised and polished. You’ve even given your work over to trusted friends for feedback. Now, you want to see your writing stand up on its own two and walk. Maybe run.

So, have you checked out writing contests?

Here are three good reasons to consider entering one:

  1. A deadline – Even the pros with scores of books under their belts suffer from either procrastinating to write or never finishing their revisions. Having a hard and fast deadline can be a good cure for either problem.
  2. Gut check – Most contests cost something up front — usually between $15-$35 — but that should serve as a mini-moment of truth. Is your writing ready for public consumption? And is this contest the right one for your work?
  3. Payoff – Yes, winning a contest has its benefits — publication, a little cash and an ego boost — but even if you don’t land the prize, you should be proud because you wrote; you polished; you gave it a shot. The only failures are when you aren’t trying.

If you’re looking for a writing contest to enter — be it for short stories, poetry, non-fiction and essays, etc — check these websites for some of the best:

  • GlimmerTrain.com - The good folks at Glimmer Train are among the biggest supporters of new, emerging writers. They only publish the unpublished and have  a nice variety of contest options. Good place to start.
  • Poets & Writers – This huge database includes grants and fellowships too, so if you’re on *that* level with your writing, it can be a big help. It’s fairly easy to search and sort.
  • NewPages.com – Clean and dead simple to figure out. This list is sortable by deadline with enough details to get you started and a link for more information.
  • TerribleMinds.com – Our buddy Chuck Wendig doesn’t pay winners but he doesn’t charge either. Instead, ol’ Cherk wants to push you to be productive and creative. Baby-step into contests with one of his Flash Fiction Challenges.
  • Writer’s Digest – They’ve recently added a Self-Published Book Award to their big annual Writing Competition and the slate of genre fiction contests. The prizes include cash and a bundle of other goodies.

So start with these, give it a spin. Tell us your writing contest story. Has it helped you? Did you run into a scam? Have you won a contest before? Do you think Crossroads should do one?

We always want to hear from you!

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Chuck Wendig’s Talk at Crossroads 2012

So: I also run this blog called “terribleminds.” Is that the word for it? “Run?” I write it? I curate it? Whatever — let’s just go with, “I pull blobs of dubious writing wisdom that get caught in my brain filter and smear them on the Internet’s walls.”

This blog, which is nominally focused on writing, obviously draws a lot of writers of various experience levels — from the never-written to the never-published to the often-published.

The after-after party with Chris Horne, Chuck Wendig, Paul Barrett (photo by Paul Barrett)

And with writers — particularly those from the more inexperienced end of the spectrum — come questions. Questions of how to *do* this thing that we do. Some questions are very specific: how do I make my characters pop, how do I outline, how do I write a query letter?

But then there’s a category of question I like to think of as, “Questions From The Department Of The Overwhelmed, The Bewildered, The Insanely Frustrated.”  These are questions that are *gibbered* more than *asked* — if one were to ask such a question in person it would sound like, “Whuh? How do I… what do I? Wh… where do I begin? How do I start? Muh? Guh?” More a series of squeaks and whimpers that ultimately culminate in communicating a feeling of helplessness, confusion, and abject frustration.

Thing is, I understand this sense of helplessness.

We step up to the blank page — this snowy tract of tabula rasa that hasn’t earned even a single footprint across its virgin expanse — and the potential overwhelms us. Or, it has me, at least — once upon a time upon starting a new story I’d feel like I was standing drunk on the ledge of a skyscraper. Vertigo overwhelming as if even typing one letter would send me dropping down in that cavernous wordless abyss. And this sense of woozy dizzy gonna-fall-itis is compounded by the heavy burden we put upon our own shoulders — that burden of potential, of a story that has all our hopes and dreams shoved into it, a story that to earn its place in our lives must do more than merely exist, a story on which we hang our lives, our careers, our families, our futures, OH MY GOD I CAN’T FEEL MY LEGS I CAN’T BREATHE THE PANIC. It’s enough to make you curl up on the bathroom floor and pee your pants.

These stories are like children, in that way — we want everything for them. We with our uttermost desire hope they’ll go out into the world and cure cancer and solve the down economy and grow up rich and happy and maybe be a lawyer, too, and a nuclear physicist, and don’t forget about that litter of hyper-successful darling children and grandchildren, too.

We see our stories like we see our children. We just want the best for them. We want them to be great. We want them to win awards and climb to the top of the bestseller mountain and maybe, just maybe they’ll change somebody’s life and in the process help earn us a big fat sack of cash which will allow us to buy a jet-boat or an oil drum full of 18-year-Scotch or hell, maybe a jet-boat that runs on 18-year-Scotch.

So: this frustration, this wordless soundless exhortation of terror and performance anxiety — I get it.

And to those who have it — and, in fact, to all writers everywhere — I offer a piece of what initially must sound like the most horrible advice in the world:

Care less.

That sounds foolish — we enter into this thing because we love it, because it’s a part of who we are and because it is an expression of our very being.

And yet, my answer remains the same: care less.

Because here’s what you have to understand:

You’re not curing cancer. You’re not disarming a ticking time-bomb. The lives of a hundred adorable schoolchildren do not hinge on the quality of the tale you’re telling.

There’s no real risk to writing except your time. (Well, and maybe your sanity, but let’s be honest — the fact that you chose writing as a profession suggests an already disintegrating mental health score.) In fact, you get as much time as you like. Writing is one of the few careers out there where you can take the time you need to finish the work — and, even then, you have an unlimited number of do-overs and take-backs to fix the story in post. You get your first draft and as many drafts as you need to make the story what you always hoped it would be.

You free yourself by caring less. By dumping the dueling goblins of Fear and Expectation out the back of a C-130 into the mouth of an open and active volcano.

It’s certainly helped me, this attitude. I come to the page knowing I can’t control the publisher, the audience, the sales figures… or the lack of sales figures. I can’t control what editors want, what trends are popular for the next 17 minutes, what the 800-lb gorilla known as “Amazon” is going to do. I can’t control whether Barnes & Noble hangs itself in the hallway closet or whether the Big Six publishers start putting clauses in their contracts about how, upon publication, I am to donate until them my least favorite body part. I can’t control any of that.

I can only control what’s right in front of me. At the start of the day it’s not about fine art. It’s about fingerpainting. It’s about gleefully making mistakes. It’s about letting failure be an instructional manual written in scar tissue. It’s about reducing pressure. It’s about obliterating expectations and unloading the burden. It’s about caring less.

Because when you care less — when it becomes as much play as work, when a bad day of writing doesn’t feel like the fucking apocalypse, when you realize you can jump off the cliff just to see what waits at the bottom — you work better. You work faster. You work in a way that puts you and your story first on the page.

To those who are saying that this *still* sounds like a bad idea, that it seems like instead the answer  would be to care more — after all, how can you possibly care enough? If this is a thing you want to do and a thing you love, well, why not give it all the caring you can possibly muster?

To that I answer: it’s because we can smother the things we love by caring too much. Sometimes you gotta let your kids play in mud. Sometimes you gotta let a dog be a dog. Sometimes you have to let your story just be a story.

So that, I maintain, is my answer to so many writing questions:

Care less.

And write more.

 

And have fun doing it.

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Delilah S Dawson: The advice would I give myself if I could go back in time…

We tasked the awesome and cool Delilah S. Dawson with applying her ample imagination to this question: If you could go back in time to the very start of your writing career, what advice would you give yourself?

Considering how far this Pocket/Simon & Schuster published author of “Wicked as They Come” and associated editor for CoolMomPicks.com has come, we thought it was a perfect question to have her answer.

When you come to the conference, you’ll be treated to more of Delilah’s insight (she may or may not wave a cupcake). Specifically, she’s going to speak on being “shipwrecked” as a writer and what to do with yourself while you’re waiting on your writing ship to come.

Until then… enjoy!

 

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Christina Ranallo: Write a Book No One Can Put Down

You are in the middle of novel, you dive deep into the plot with a character you care about, worry about, maybe even fantasize about and you carry that book around rife with the anticipation of opening page after page to more scenes, more succulent words to bring you deeper, closer to the resolution you (and that character) long for.

You hear your stop coming up, and you leave the book on the train. Didn’t it feel like you left somebody on the train?

WANT TO HEAR CHRISTINA IN PERSON? REGISTER WHILE THERE’S STILL TIME!

No matter who is the main character in your novel, the symbols of your own life and experience come through. The same positive and negative extremes you apply to your own ethics and morals will be the ones your characters embrace. It is as inevitable as what you see in the mirror. That’s why the hero’s journey is more than a model for writing; it’s a model for life. A reflection of life. And because of that it breathes life into your writing.

Joseph Campbell studied and taught religion and mythology for decades and his remarkable book, The Hero of a Thousand Faces is the basis for what writers and psychologists call the hero’s journey. Campbell recognized the commonality of all myths no matter where in the world they originated. There is universal phenomenon of any story that follows the hero’s journey.

It’s the book we can’t leave behind.

TO READ MORE OF CHRISTINA’S BLOG AT PENPAPERWRITE.COM, CLICK HERE

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Don’t Be Boring: the Susannah Breslin interview

When we at Crossroads HQ asked Makenna Johnston to interview writer Susannah Breslin, it wasn’t just because they’re both so damn tall. They share another important factor. Mak is not, as us Southerners are sometimes wont to say, “from here,” but this big-minded outsider has made a home here and at the same time, made it a safer place for cool ideas to flourish. Like giving Macon its own licensed TED Talk conference this past spring.

As a writer, Susannah Breslin has made her name working on the outskirts, showing us the other side of people who dwell on the fringe. And from the same pen also flows career advice for Forbes.com and INC.com. She is an expert on the “Gig Economy”—the cultural shift from steady jobs to off-shift and temporary positions, freelance, etc—and the lessons she offers extend beyond the nuts and bolts about how a writer can function in this era.

WANT TO LEARN MORE FROM SUSANNAH? IN-PERSON? REGISTER FOR THE FREELANCERS SUMMIT.

Yes, for freelancers, Susannah is a gold vein of heady knowledge, but take a step back and you’ll see that a lot of her advice is just as valuable for writers of fiction, screenplays, memoirs, comics and poems as it is for bloggers and magazine writers. When you finish reading this interview with Susannah, check out her website and explore her work.

Without further ado…

Makenna: Freelancing is a tough gig, we all know this.  Your piece “Why You Shouldn’t be A Writer” is brilliant. But, if you could give a prospective freelancer a single piece of advice (other than, ‘don’t do it’) what would it be?

Susannah: Don’t be boring. This is more challenging than you’d think. Most people think they’re interesting. Therefore, they think their pitches are interesting, their writing is interesting, their stories are interesting. Most of the time, it isn’t. Think about it. The editor you’re pitching is getting hundreds of stories daily, weekly. They’re looking for a reason to delete you. How do you stand out? How high is your bar? Are you reinventing a genre, breaking news, doing something that really hasn’t been done before? And if you’re not, why bother?

M: You talk a lot about ‘the hustle’ specifically that being a good marketer, traffic pusher, and editor of your own writing is increasingly important in the freelancing world.  Any specific tips and/or suggestions on how to become a kick ass and take names hustler and/or improve one’s hustling skills?

S: Your article isn’t going to read itself. You published something online, and nobody’s reading it. That’s probably because you thought writing it was enough. It isn’t. Send out the link to your piece to anybody of influence who may be interested in it. That’s networking on behalf of your prose. It’s not enough to write. You must also work to be read.

Start a blog or Tumblr if you haven’t already and update it at least once a day, five days a week. Tweet links to your work. Ask your friends to share links to your work on Facebook. Read people who are good at stirring it up online like Penelope Trunk and James Altucher.  Read Romensko and Media Jobs Daily. Get PR tips from Cassie Boorn’s Ask a PR Girl. Ask someone to do something for you every day and offer them something in return.

M: Being a freelancer often comes with a ton of ‘up in the air, oh crap where is my next job coming from’ moments. How do you handle that with grace and dignity and without looking like a crazy person?

S: Well, I think, counter-intuitively, I act like a crazy person. Some of my most popular work involves me acting crazy: They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?, The Business About My Breasts. I’ve written about my suicidal tendencies, my cancer, my PTSD. TMI is good for you because it asks you to be brave. Others respect bravery. That gets you work.

M: You have an incredibly audacious style and voice that is rather unique to you.  Do you think that has been crucial to your success as a freelancer?  Has it at times not worked so well in your favor?

S: I’ve been pondering this lately. I don’t think my style or voice has hurt me; they’ve helped me. But I do sometimes wish that I hadn’t burned so many bridges. I wish I’d spent a couple years working as a beat reporter at a newspaper. I wish I’d been an editor at a glossy. I’ve always been very interested in staying outside the circle, but I suppose that choice has limited me, as well.

As for being outspoken, that has never been anything but good for me professionally. You do, though, get criticized. Someone once called me a boil on a neck or some such thing. But, you know, the peanut gallery always has something to say.

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The Secret to Writing by Chuck Wendig

Novelist/blog guru/screenwriter/bearded gent Chuck Wendig knows the “secret to writing” and in this quick-hitting video, he shares it with you–TWICE! (Double your fun…)

Best yet, the secret is writing and doesn’t involve drinking unicorn blood (you have to watch the video).

TO GET MORE DELICIOUS TIPS FROM WRITERS LIKE CHUCK AND SAVE BIG ON REGISTRATION CLICK HERE

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It’s Not Even Past: Tina McElroy Ansa, Terry Kay, Lauretta Hannon & Robert Perry Ivey

SAVE BIG ON THE CONFERENCE AND GET GREAT SWAG WITH A REGISTRATION PACKAGE

At Crossroads 2011, we assembled a few really interesting panels but this one featuring novelist Tina McElroy Ansa, novelist Terry Kay, memorist Lauretta Hannon and poet Robert Perry Ivey still has people talking. Maybe that’s because it was a panel dedicated to Southern writing (thus the Faulkner quote) or, because Tina and Perry are Macon natives, Lauretta hails from Warner Robins and Terry Kay is published by Mercer University Press.

Either way, you’re sure to find a few nuggets of knowledge in these snippets.

GET MORE GREAT INSIGHT LIKE THIS BY PRE-ORDERING THE CROSSROADS GUIDE TO THE WRITING LIFE & SUPPORTING SCHOLARSHIPS FOR WRITERS-IN-NEED

Tina McElroy Ansa answers a question about what she learned from another famed Macon native, John Oliver Killens, who co-founded the Harlem Writers Guild and inspired the name of our conference in his novel, “Youngblood,” set in Macon’s fictional counterpart, Crossroads, Georgia.


Asked whether Southern writers are mired in stigma when they leave the region, poet Robert Perry Ivey says sure, maybe… but have fun with it.

Memorist Lauretta  Hannon talks about working as a Southern writer with a New York publicist.

Novelist Terry Kay talks about how he approaches writing as a Southerner and the privileges a Southern writer used to have.

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Tony Grooms: “The Role of Luck”

Unfortunately, Tony Grooms can’t join us this year so, as we share the good news that novelist Ravi Howard will come down for the weekend, we’re kicking off the first of our audio clips from Crossroads 2011 with Tony disabusing the room of this myth:  If you work hard enough, publishing will happen.

“It isn’t true. I think a lot of people work very hard, are very good writers, who have tremendous things to say to our society, and yet are ignored through conventional publishing. So in some ways, I am grateful for the Internet because, finally, it isn’t so much about making money–not for literary writers, at least– as it is about having readers.”

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The lesson here? There are several perhaps, but again, we find ourselves fixated on THE JOURNEY of writing instead of the destination, which is out of our control. Tony also speaks a little about the role of luck, re-emphasizing the fact that we are not in absolute control of our destiny or destination.

But what a writer can control is their focus and dedication to the journey, the craft, the art–whatever you want to call it. That’s one reason we call Crossroads a conference for creative people. Sure, we want our registrants to go on to major book deals but what we want more is for you all to lose yourself in the work, to embrace being a writer, to create more and better work.

Check out the rest of what Tony has to say in this clip!