Friday Favorites: August–My 5 Favorites Concerning Writer’s Conferences.

Autumn is usually a time in which I get to enjoy some writing events. I have found writing conferences to be valuable both professionally and personally. I have met so many wonderful people and have become a better storyteller.

If you’re a writer, journalist, fellow-blogger, reader, author-stalker, I’ve got my five favorite things about writing conferences here!

1. Meet industry professionals

I hate networking. It makes me feel schmucky. But writers conferences give you a chance to meet authors and publishers in a relaxed setting. It’s been really great to learn that networking is not just getting to know people to use them in the future. Not at all. It’s really just getting to know people.

And it turns out people in the publishing industry are pretty cool. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to people while at a conference or writing event.

2. New books!

Some of the best books I’ve read in the past few years are those I heard of or bought at a writers conference. And there is usually a bookstore at these things. Seriously. It’s pretty great!

3. Know trends and tools of the industry

Want to know where things are headed in the writing world? Want to learn how to do things more efficiently or closer to industry standards? Writing conferences are great to get this kind of information directly from the horse’s mouth!

A lot of what I learned about blogging has been from writing conferences. It’s a great way to get pointers on building a platform as an author, learn how to put together a proposal, or even just find out what it takes to get a book to the public.

4. Better your craft

Want to be a better writer? Read a ton, write even more, and go to a conference. Seriously. These elements are what have helped me improve the most as a writer. But I’m still not great, so I find going to a conference so valuable. It’s like vitamins for your writing life.

Presenting authors share their struggles and what they’ve found to help. Getting a peak inside the mind of a more experienced writer can really encourage and give you some thoughts to make your own writing better.

5. The community

By far my favorite thing about writing conferences is catching up with writing friends. Western Michigan has a pretty tight-knit writing community that is so wonderful to be a part of. The best part is that it is tight-knit, but so welcoming to new comers.

Writing conferences really foster relationships between writers. We are there to encourage one another and share what we’ve been learning.

If you’re in western Michigan or don’t mind traveling here, there are a couple awesome writing events coming the the next couple months.

The first is Jot. I’ve talked about this free mini writing conference before. This time it is being held on September 21 at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids. Held in just one night, presenters give a fifteen minute hyper-session chock-full of great writing tips and tools. I highly recommend this for someone afraid to make the time or financial commitment to a full writer’s conference.

The second is my favorite writing conference, Breathe. The Breathe Conference is held every year. It is geared for everyone from beginning writers to publishing veterans. The discussions and sessions are rich and the folks in attendance are generous and so friendly. I highly recommend this conference to anyone.

The Breathe Conference is being held this year on October 10-11 at the Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Food is included in the very reasonable cost, so you can’t beat that. And you might even run into me there!

These are my five favorite writer’s conference things. Have you ever been to a writing conference? What are some of your favorite experiences?

The Five Unfortunate Phrases I Use Unironically

I really do love words. I promise

There’s just a small thing. When I hear a word I think is less than, well, usable, I tend to use it. It’s usually just too ridiculous not to!

When I was in Ireland, our host introduced our group to the word ‘Craic’ (pronounced ‘Crack’), which is defined as:

Craic is a term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, particularly prominent in Ireland. It is often used with the definite article – the craic.

At first, we didn’t believe that this was a term actually used by people, but I looked it up. It’s not commonly used. According to one slang commentary, it’s only used by sleazy guys in track suits.

Never the less, I was enchanted by the ridiculousness of this new phrase. So I started using it ironically. And then I just started using it period. Not gonna lie, I attempted a one-woman campaign on twitter and instagram trying to get #totescrack to trend.

But I do this often. I encounter a word or phrase I think is dumb or unfortunate and I begin to use it to make fun of it. And then little by little, it works its way into my vocabulary.

So here are the five phrases I can no longer use ironically:

1. Totes
This is an abbreviation of totally and just makes anything requiring an adverb sound silly. Sad but true, I pair this with a lot of words.

2. Adorbs
An abbreviated form of adorable. Thanks to the Lizzie Bennett Diaries, this is probably one of my most common pairings with ‘Totes.’ If something is cute, it really is only appropriate to use cutsie words to describe it, yes? Yeah, so that’s how this one became incorporated into my vocabulary.

3. BTDubs
By the Way! I became acquainted with this one my freshman year of college. Who would use BTW when you can use BTDubs? I mean, really.

4. Supes Dupes
Super Duper. This is probably my least used ridiculous phrase. Probably because I never even use ‘Super Duper’. Supes Dupes is just so fun to say, though!

5. The Biz
The business–as in what’s the business? or what’s up? This is probably the worst phrase I use the most often. If someone is giving me an update or walking me through a task, I will probably respond with ‘Cool biz.’ over ‘Sounds good.’

If I have lost your respect, I am quite shocked that didn’t happen sooner… I try not to use these phrases too often in my actually writing, but in day-to-day conversation, yes, I definitely use these gems.

There you go, I’ve confessed to my word crimes! What about you? Do you have any pet phrases that are less than acceptable?

…#totescrack

When the Going Gets Tough

For the past week, working on my novel has brought a sensation similar to extensive dental work. My 500 word goal, once easy to surpass, has become difficult to come close to.

I stayed up late the other night, just trying to force a few words down, but it was such a struggle. I was exhausted after a hundred words or so. And then something occurred to me that hasn’t yet in the course of writing this novel:

Why don’t I just give up?

What scared me most about the question was not that I asked it, but that it made sense.

Things have gotten hard. Life has gotten busy. My room has become a mess.

I’ve let so many things distract me, fill my time, and take my energy that I have not given myself any space to be creative.

It’s draining.

I have filled my time with good things, things that need to be done. But am I making time to do the work I was called to do?

Probably not.

For me, what does this mean? It means I need to be more intentional about how I spend my time. Working part-time from home, I will have to have set hours for work and set hours for writing, and I can’t take from one to give to the other. I will have to set aside moments for house work while still guarding those moments for creativity.

I also need to stop suppressing creative urges just because they are not convenient. For whatever reason, I have stopped carrying around my beloved notebook and I’m seeing how my creativity is suffering because of it. I am not providing a way to capture my ideas. That’s not fair to my work or my sanity.

So no, I am not giving up. I have made it this far and have too many cheerleaders willing to help me along. I can’t ignore either of those things. This novel will get written, but I need to make that a possibility.

Some re-prioritizing is in order.

What about you? When it gets hard to complete something that you’re passionate about, how do you push onward? I’d love to hear so please comment!

xo,
          –Lex

I No Longer Believe in Writer’s Block: Part II

So last week I discussed why writer’s block is no longer an excuse for me. So now a question has emerged that I’d like to address.

So what happens when you’re stuck?

Well, I’d like to say I don’t get stuck, but that would be a bold-faced fiction. I get stuck a lot. And usually it’s not something time will just solve like I’d like to think.

When I’ve written myself into a corner, there are usually two things causing the issue.

The first issue I have to solve when stuck is usually connected to plotting. Usually I’ve taken an easy fix to a problem or have not been true to the story. Either way, I haven’t done my job. I usually have to go back and rework a scene that was written to quickly or change a plot-line that I didn’t want to think about when I wrote it initially.

The second and more common issue is characterization. If I’m trying to make one of my characters do something the weren’t meant to do or not meant to do in that way, things seem unnatural and stilted, and harder to write. I get stuck because I’m missing something. Either a character isn’t fully fleshed out, or not being true to themselves. Sometimes I don’t have a relationship between characters fully nailed down. This takes some thought and sometimes some experimentation. Sometimes it’s even helpful to interview a character. (And no, I don’t think my characters are real people, but sometimes it’s just easier to operate under the assumption that they are when I’m working.)

Writing isn’t cheap. Making any art isn’t cheap. It takes work and sweat. It takes a bit of yourself to make anything. Usually the end benefits outweigh this cost, but while in the trenches it’s hard to see this. This is where I get tempted to give up.

Don’t give yourself that option. Know that making your art is going to cost you now, but it will be worth it to see your work completed.

I No Longer Believe in Writer’s Block: Part I

If you were to ask me a month ago what my biggest challenge with my novel was, I would have told you writer’s block.

Fast forward to now, I’d tell you that it’s me.

I’m lazy. And writing is hard!

For the past three months, I have balked from writing some hard chapters. It was easier to write a pithy blog post that didn’t mean much to me than to do the hard work of cultivating my fiction. That’s not writer’s block. That’s being a wuss.

So do I think you can get blocked while writing? Of course! but I think it’s more a creativity block that needs to be worked. In my experience, a novel is like a rubik’s cube. It needs to be worked at and arranged. It may not fit all together the first time through–that’s what revising is for. But there comes those moments where you get stuck and you need to strategize.

In fiction, you’re not only juggling words, but a plot–with multiple scenes and plot lines–and characters–lot’s of them with relationships and points-of-view and faults and conflicts–and symbolism and research. There’s a lot going on!

It’s easy to reach a creativity bump and just give up for a little bit. I am pushing myself to no longer put down the rubik’s cube, but to work with it, to think through the knots in a plot line or the issues with a character. It’s hard, but so worth the trouble.

xo,
            –Lex

The Power of Stillness

I am an introvert. I’m very comfortable with people and enjoy my time with people, so this surprises those who know me, but it’s true.

Interactions with others, though very fun, do not energize me like time alone does. I was reminded of this a couple weeks ago as I scheduled a social event every night for two weeks. By the time I was reaching the end of that time, I was finding myself drained and craving alone time…and maybe slightly on edge.
I had the privilege of going with a friend to see The Head and The Heart perform in Grand Rapids. It was a wonderful show and I’ve liked the band for a short while, so it was exciting to see them perform live.
One of their songs struck me and got me thinking of my artistic life. ‘Let’s Be Still‘ is the title track of their sophomore album and is usually interpreted as a sweet love song about a couple ignoring the pressures of life and those around them just to be together for a little bit longer.
While listening, I began to think that the song may not just be about a love story, but also an artist lamenting the pressure surrounding their work.

You can get lost in the music for hours, honey,
You can get lost in a room.
We can play music for hours and hours
But the sun’ll still be coming up soon

The world’s just spinning
A little too fast
If things don’t slow down soon we might not last.
So just for the moment, let’s be still.

An artist can get lost in their work for a time, but we have to return to reality, fulfill responsibility. Life can easily carry us away with it’s demands and distractions. It’s important to take time away from life for the sake of our art. To be still and enjoy creating. To be recharged by writing or drawing or singing or cooking or running or whatever it is you do.

I am realizing that it is important to let myself recharge–not just socially–but artistically as well.

Also, this is just a great song and a wonderful band.

From here in the stillness,
                   –Lex

Carbonated Holiness Among Other Things

I had the privileged of attending the Festival of Faith and Writing hosted by Calvin College two weeks ago. What a wonderful opportunity to be refreshed and taught by so many amazing writers. It was also great to connect with old writing friends and make some new ones. Plus there were some networking opportunities… ew. Networking.

Coming away from such a very full weekend, I discovered I had a lot of things to process, notes to sift through, and books to read. I am now excited to share with you some of the pieces of wisdom I took from the weekend. The following quotes are either from speakers or where used by speakers throughout the weekend.Some of them may not make sense, I’ve tried my best to take them down in context… it also becomes the Anne Lamott show in the middle there…with closed captions provided by Bret Lott (serious gold coming from those two!). I hope you’re able to get a small piece of how wonderful the weekend was.  Enjoy!

Art gives us a map of who we are and where we fit. The next generation will need that map.
–Gene Luen Yang

Make good friends with really accomplished dead people.
–Scott Cairns on reading well 

We are people of the word. Words matter because they carry ideas and ideas rule the world.
–Richard Foster

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightening and a lightening bug.
–Mark Twain

And What I believed in I wished to behold
–Charlotte Bronte 

It was the stuff I needed to write to get what I was after
–Anne Lamott

I all have to offer as a writer–as a Christian–is my version of things.
–Anne Lamott

You don’t take God to the lovely living room. You welcome him into the bedroom and say ‘I think there’s a couple drawers you need to see.’

Laughter is carbonated holiness.
–Anne Lamott 

To be a writer you have to be a good liar. So how do you lie for Christ? You must write with the integrity of Christ. You must write the truth–in love and compassion, but with dark reality.
–Bret Lott

I thought what you did was a tool–a utility. I had the idea that art was a utility; it wasn’t a manifestation of God. Our creativity is a manifestation of God’s image.
–Bret Lott 

The self-importance of being ‘a writer’ leads to the arrogance of metaphor and similie and overly adjectived sentences. The author’s gotta be the last person you hear from.
–Bret Lott

You strip out everything you think the story should be about and write the story. We must be humble before the story–humble before the words.
–Bret Lott. 

There something about writing fiction that is like wearing your underwear in front of the world
–Suzanne Woods Fisher (This was the second time I had heard this sentiment, the first was from a friend and fellow fiction writer–One of those moments of ‘what have I gotten myself into.’)

The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven; and as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shape and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.
–William Shakespeare 

Five Hundred Words

So last week, I was talking about being challenged to just write my novel.

I was talking with a writer who has written–and published/going to publish– five novels in the past year. Count them. Five! Seriously. And I’m not feeling inadequate that five is the number of years it has taken be to work on my own novel. Not at all. Me? No… Alright fine, perhaps a bit.

He not only challenged me just to write the novel–to just get it done and off my back–but to give myself a word count. I have to reach that word count every day and if I do not, I have to make myself feel really

guilty.

Seems like a good enough method.

My daily goal is at least 500 words every day. That’s 3,500 words in a week–give or take Sunday. I am excited to hold myself to this daily. It’s been so long since I’ve given myself permission to write like this! The creativity block I felt is crumbling just by giving myself the freedom to create and play with my work.

What is something you’ve been working on that you’d like to complete? What is a baby-step you can assign yourself on a regular basis to get it completed?

To my writers out there, what do you do to keep yourself motivated and writing? Any goals or tricks to make it happen for you?

Happy creating!
                 –Lex

The Pep Talk You Didn’t Know You Needed!–Susie Finkbeiner Guest Blogs

I met the wonderful Susie Finkbeiner through the wonderful Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing (April 10-12) and have loved getting to know a small bit of her heart for writing and her wonderful sense of humor through the Breathe Conference, her splendid blog, and her first novel, Paint Chips. Her latest novel, My Mother’s Chamomile, was released just last month and I highly recommend you check it out! In the midst of her novel promotion hubbub, she has been gracious enough to send a postcard Preppy Bohemia’s way. I was encouraged by her words and I now you will to! Don’t forget to give her a follow either by blog or by twitter, or a like facebook-way too!

I wove my very first fiction in kindergarten. I told a tale of a master ballerina, age 5, who stunned audiences with her spinning and twirling and leaping.
The ballerina was offered a job dancing on a big stage. However, she turned it down so that she could go to school. The tiny dancer’s name just happened to be Susie. And, well, she was me.
And, no, she couldn’t demonstrate the moves at school. She didn’t want to show off. And when I say “she”, I mean “me”.
My very first fiction was a big whopper of a lie.
I learned that day that I could take life and look at it from a different angle. I could see what was and make it into what could be.
Really, that’s all that fiction writers do. Even the ones who write about mythical creatures such as unicorns and vampires and Amish. Hold on. Amish are real. Right?
Flash forward an undisclosed amount of years. I’m now a working author. I’ve written two novels and am working on the third. I get paid to do this. And if that’s not the biggest gas in all the world, I don’t know what is. That’s not to say I get paid a lot. Still, I get some cash out of the deal. I love where I am now, making up stories, hoping that people will believe them.
But, somewhere in between ballerinas and published novels, I matured from a liar to a novelist. Was that transformation magic? Did I wish for it to be and it was so? Did I fall down the lucky tree and get smacked by every branch?
Nope.
I’m happy to let you in on my secret. I’d love to share how I wound up sitting at my desk, wearing pajama pants, and making up novels. Come in close. Here’s my secret.
I worked really, really, really, really hard.
There you have it, folks. The magic, sparkly bullet is hard work. Oh, and a lot of perseverance and determination added on top.
From the day I lied about being a ballerina to this day, I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words. Possibly even millions. I don’t know. I’m a writer, not a mathematician. I’ve read thousands of books. I’ve had more rejections than acceptances. I’ve fallen on my face more than I’ve soared.
Can I tell you a little something about the down-side? The rejections? They’ve made me better. Stronger. More confident. Because I get back up, put my fingers on the keyboard and keep working. Also, they make the successes that much sweeter.
Are there short cuts? Ways to bypass the hard work? Sure. I suppose there are. But, would good writing be the result? It’s not likely.
It takes hard work. And when the work is done, you start over again. You work even harder. You strive to

make the next better than the one before.

Goodness gracious, this sounds really hard, doesn’t it?
That’s because it is. Here’s the thing, though. It’s worth it.
I don’t know your dream. I’d love to hear about it. Truly I would. Maybe you want to be an actor on Broadway. Possibly you want to invent something really cool that will enhance our lives. You might really want to be a Geometry teacher, in which case, God bless you. Seriously. Whatever your dream, I guarantee it will take a lot of work to achieve. It will take training and education and discipline. You will have to make sacrifices and give of yourself.
You will have to work really, really, really, really hard.
I promise, you will.
But hear me out. It will be worth it. Even if the biggest stage you stand upon is in a community theater. Or if you invent something that is cute, but not hugely useful. Even if all of your Geometry students fail miserably. I will tell you this, if you give your heart to it, no matter what, you will be a success.
If I wake up tomorrow and have a big, huge, “no thank you” letter in my inbox from an editor, I will still write.
If next week I find out that fiction is a bust and that nobody wants to read it anymore, I will still write.
Why? Because I love it. Even if no one ever reads another word I write, I’ll keep putting in the work.

I truly hope you will, too. 

Plotting the Course–How Do I Run This Thing?

Of all my favorite books, the ones that have really struck me are ones with complex, meaningful plots. You know the ones; everything that is described, everything that happens has a wonderful and intentional purpose. Not a moment is wasted and all the complicated knots of story smooth out to become a wonderful tale with an ending you did not see coming.

This is what I aspire to.

I understand that not everything can be a Christopher Nolan movie, but I love the ending you don’t see coming, but were totally set-up for. I chalk it all up to plotting. As an aspiring novelist, I love plotting. Dreaming up where things are going, back-stories, foreshadowing, twists, pitfalls, redemption–I love it! I have a notebook that goes with me everywhere. It’s a well-loved Moleskine filled with all my ideas–the majority of which deal with plotting. So here’s the rub:

I’m afraid to plot. When I come upon a story I’m moved to write, I usually have a rough idea of how its gonna shake out in the end. I have an end-zone in mind through the entire process, but getting there, I like to leave my options wide open. I feel that if the plum-line is laid, character will fill in the rest of the structure. I don’t want to become attached to a certain chunk of plot and sacrifice my characters or their journey.

What I usually do to safeguard my character-driven novel is only plot details to a certain point. This usually means I’ll only jot down detailed ideas in my idea notebook for future chapters and then compile them as I prepare to write the chapter they were intended for. I’ll look at what works, what progresses the story as well as the characters and go with what I feel is best.

This is my process, but there is no one way to plot. I’d love for all the fiction writers out there to weigh-in! Let me know what your process is and why it works for you!

If for whatever reason your comment is not posting, please email your thoughts to me and I’ll make sure they are posted at my nearest convenience. preppybohemia@gmail.com

In other news, my instagram account has changed! It was becoming too difficult to keep up one for the blog and my own personal account so the two have been combined. Please follow to see what’s up in Bohemia!

Enjoy the journey!

xo,
           –Lex