Get Ready for WriteOnCon!

WriteOnCon is near and dear to our hearts at the Winged Pen because it’s where a lot of us first connected. I’ll be attending this year and I hope you will be too! If you haven’t before, here’s some tips on making the most of it.

What is WriteOnCon?

WriteOnCon is an online writing conference. No pricey registration fees. No hotel rooms required. No extended time away from the family. All you need is $5 and Internet access.

And if you’re asking yourself if it’s worth $5, let me tell you, it’s worth a whole lot more! Not sure? You can check out a the keynote presentations for free. If you want access to everything, pay a few dollars more. Check this post for all the details.

The presentation schedule opens this Friday, the 9th, but the forums are open now. Check them out!

How Do You Do WriteOnCon?

First, Register and Create Your Profile

Register here. You can add as much or as little info as you like in your profile, but remember, what you get out of WriteOnCon depends on what you put in. Yes, you can be anonymous and just view/read the presentations. But we’re writers so it’s all about the words. Don’t you want to meet some writers in your favorite genre and/or category?

A quick bio is all you need to introduce yourself to other attendees. Don’t have a bio? Start with a simple one. Just give us a glimpse of what you write and a bit about your personality. Need an example? There’s one at the bottom of this post and every other Winged Pen post.

Don’t forget to include your social media accounts. You can keep up with new writer-friends more easily after WriteOnCon if you’ve followed each other on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Check Out the Schedule

There are three-days’ worth of presentations, some video and some written. The conference covers everything kidlit from picture books to young adult. And new this year — new adult! Craft topics include researching historical fiction, creating strong character voice, writing romance, outlining plot and character arc and more. Gain insight on the publishing industry by checking out talks by literary agents and the truth about being a New York Times best-seller from Beth Revis. You can even pitch agents your manuscripts! Whether you’re a newb or have been writing for years, there is something worthwhile!

The Forums: Get Feedback on Your Writing and Help Other Writers

Now that you’ve gotten your feet wet, it’s time to dig into the central part of WriteOnCon, the words. You can post your query, the first page of your story, and/or your first five pages for feedback by other conference attendees. You can also pay it forward by helping other writers hone their words. To do this, go to the forums. The forums are broken up by category, so head over to picture book, middle grade, young adult or new adult whichever is appropriate. Remember to be kind and use the critique sandwich – something you liked, something you think can be improved, and a last shot of encouragement.

If you get a great AH-HA! moment from comments you receive, revise real-time. Post revised queries or pages at the top of your entry so that new readers will see that, not point out the mistakes others have already noted. And remember, the best way to get help revising your own work is to reach out and help others.

Superheros

The WriteOnCon Superheroes are authors, agents and editors who will be visiting the forums and providing pro-level critiques. This is a great opportunity!  Because the early fund-raising campaign for WriteOnCon was so successful, the superheroes will be trying to provide feedback for everyone. I can’t image how they could make it through all the queries and pages. There were hundreds of posts last year. But that’s the plan. Look for superhero comments on your own posts and on others because you can a learn a lot from their critiques even if they aren’t on your writing.

Will I see you at WriteOnCon this week? I hope I do! Stop by and say hi! And remember amid the rush to hear all the presentations and to give and receive tons of feedback, to relax and enjoy the words and make sure you make a couple new writer-friends!

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She reviews young adult books, is a judge for the CYBILS YA Speculative Fiction book award and fangirls all things bookish. Find her on Twitter and Instagram, or on TheWingedPen.com.

Twitter 101 for Writers: Building Your Twitter Writing Community

Twitter 101 for Writers, Building your writing community

Back in February, I wrote my first post in the Twitter 101 for Writers series. That post covered the Twitter Writing Community hashtags writers can use to find resources for every stage of the writing journey, from getting words on the page to finding a literary agent. At that point, I had the idea that Twitter 101 could be a series, but wasn’t sure what to cover next. Then I met Abby Matthews, who was new to Twitter but trying to get up to speed fast so she could publicize her new podcast Mom Writes, featured on this blog last week. Abby asked me questions about Twitter and as I answered them, I came up with material for several more posts. This first one will be about Building Your Twitter Writing Community.

Abby’s question:

“To me Twitter is a lot of it is SNIPPETS of stuff. That’s where it loses me. I always feel like I’m eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation and it makes me totally uncomfortable. Plus, the vast majority of people I follow on Twitter are total strangers. So I’m like, WHY? Why would I want to listen anyway? I’m great at Facebook, but I think because Facebook was initially geared towards people you actually know in real life, I always felt more comfortable there.  

How you turn the Twitter Writing Community from a bunch of strangers writing snippets to a group of friends who will help you along your writing journey is a complicated question. Some of my friends on Twitter I’ve met in real life and that certainly helps. Others, I’ve met through in-person or online writing conferences and we had that connection, but they would probably be gone from my life without Twitter. Then there are people who I really met through Twitter. And there’s the Winged Pen which is a whole other thing. I think the best way to show how I created my Twitter Writing Community is to give examples of how Twitter helped me build relationships of different types. Continue reading “Twitter 101 for Writers: Building Your Twitter Writing Community”

First Pages: My Search for the Un-put-downable Start of a Story

I’m revising manuscript number five of my not-yet-illustrious writing career. The story is complete, has been read one critique partner and revised, and is ready to go to beta readers. This story has heists, fight scenes and even kissing (new for me since my prior stories were middle grade), and I’m very excited about it. I dream of agents begging me for this manuscript…if they get past the first five pages.

Sigh.

The story’s good, but the start…meh.

With past manuscripts, I’ve polished my first pages. Changed my start from the bus on the way to summer camp (which apparently rates as low as waking up in bed for interest level), to something more active. But I wasn’t looking for small improvements here. I’d really like manuscript five to be “the one,” so I pulled out all the stops on rethinking my first pages. I don’t want okay first pages. I’d settle for good, but not before trying for great.

Can I get to great?

Not sure. I hope so. (The gremlins are whispering probably not even as I write this). But I thought I’d share what I learned by trying.

What had me worried about my opening pages? Critique partners said they were “really close” but not quite there. I tried:

  • starting just before my main character’s life changed (two different ways),
  • just after her life changed,
  • a flash forward to near the climax for the “How did I get here?” effect,
  • a flashback to the incident that set the chain of events in motion,
  • the first confrontation with the bully, and
  • the first confrontation with the other main character/love interest.

once-upon-a-time-719174__480I was pretty desperate for a set of first pages that would draw cries of “YES! THIS!” from critique partners and propel the reader into the manuscript. But kept getting the same very kind, sympathetic response. “Really close.”

What did I do wrong? In retrospect, it’s easy to see that some of my starts were destined to fail.

  • “No action,” said the critique partners.
  • “Scene 1 is too disconnected to scene 2.”
  • “What does this scene have to do with the story you pitched in your query?”

I felt in my gut that there was a set of great first pages for this story out there somewhere. There was this one scene, the scene the 2nd or 3rd in the manuscript depending on which first chapter option I was trying at the time, that worked. Critique partners said, “Things really started happening here.” I knew if I could just introduce the main character enough to set up this scene, that I could pull the reader in. But what words would do that, without getting my query slotted into the form reject pile before an agent ever got to that great scene?

I complained to the Pennies, because that’s why you have a writing group, so someone can pat you on the shoulder when you need it, and I found out something interesting. Julie Artz, whose lovely, heartfelt middle grade story I’d read months before, said she’d been through five versions of her first chapter. In fact, each of the first four chapters of her story had at one point been her first chapter. What? I felt like slightly less of a loser for sweating version after version of my first pages after that. Tara Lundmark, who I met at WriteOnCon when looking for more feedback on my pages, said she’d written ten different first pages for one of her stories. Armed with this knowledge, I dropped the angst and decided to just give in to as many rewrites as it took to get it right.

At this point, I’ve written 8 different versions of the start of my story, as well as polishing several versions, including the one currently titled “Chapter 1” in Scrivener. This is what I learned through the process of trying to make the start of my story unputdownable.

 1. Don’t Fall in Love with One Set of First Pages.searching-for-the-un-put-downable-start-of-your-story

I was stuck on Version 1 of my first pages for hours even after being told by trusted CP’s they weren’t right. I was stuck on Verion 2 for weeks. I loved the setting and how those pages developed my character. Allowing myself to get stuck on that idea blocked other ideas for how to start the story from flowing. Once I decided to not settle for meh, the ideas flooded in, as demonstrated by the fact that I ended up with 8 different starts. And, really, what’s the harm of trying something different? I wasn’t going to delete those words I loved, just tuck them out of the way. I could always go back to them if my new start wasn’t better.

2. Look to Master Books for Ideas.

Okay, admit it, you laughed at that flashback start. Everyone knows not to start with flashbacks. Except when they work. I was pulling ideas from master books. Both Harry Potter and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo start years earlier in their main characters’ lives. The idea for trying a flash forward came from Twilight and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Flashbacks and flash forwards can be done well, just not by me, at least not for this manuscript. But turning to master texts for ideas is great prep for brainstorming the start of your story.

3. Get Fresh Eyes.

I am blessed with wonderful critique partners who love me even when my words aren’t working. My closest critique partners had been hacking at this story idea with me from the idea stage, seven months before I hit my first pages wall. So when I got stuck, I wasn’t the only one too close to the story to see the pages clearly, they were too. That was stressful! Who do you turn to when that happens?

I found a couple great options: Adventures in YA Publishing holds a monthly first five pages workshop that is fabulous. (We also host our 4 on 400 contest monthly, but I can’t sub to that one!) WriteOnCon hosts an online writing conference with forums for posting your work and exchanging critiques with other writers. If all else fails, you can find a new critique partner. Someone I met on the WriteOnCon Forums asked if I wanted to exchange chapters, and since we’d already critiqued each others’ first five page and her comments were helpful, it was an easy decision. Just what I needed! A new reader who knew nothing about my story and had no worries about disappointing me.

4. Remember that Your First Pages Aren’t Your Only Pages.

I was jealous of Gita Trelease’s gorgeous first pages. They’d been right from soooo early in her revision process. Then, I was reminded that she was sweating her climax. The grass may look greener over by your critique partner’s writing desk, but there are weeds in everyone’s lawn.

Also, eventually you need to let those first pages rest so you can fix up the all the other pages in your manuscript. Don’t worry, they’ll still be there for you to take another look at later.

So, after writing 8 versions of my first pages, workshopping at Adventures in YA Publishing and WriteOnCon, and polishing the final pick, are my first pages unputdownable? Sigh. No. But they’re pretty good. Good enough that I’m going to take my own advice and move onto revising the rest of the story.

Maybe version 9 of my first pages will come to me while I revise.

Or maybe I’ll figure out how to polish this version until it’s unputdownable.

DON’T STOP HERE! If you made it through this post, I bet you’re a writer. And if you’re a writer, you’ve written some first pages and have something to say on this topic. HOW MANY VERSIONS OF FIRST PAGES DID YOU WRITE FOR YOUR WORK IN PROGRESS? WHAT HELPED YOU FIND THE RIGHT START FOR YOUR STORY? I’m no expert! Let’s learn together. Leave comments below!

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Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure and young adult thrillers with heroines much braver than she is. She’s on Twitter and writes for The Winged Pen here.

 

 

Twitter 101 for Writers

womans-hand-writingOver the holidays, my father-in-law mentioned that a friend had just written a book, his memoirs about the Vietnam War. Since my father-in-law knows I write, I felt like I should offer to help his friend, but I write middle grade and young adult stories. What useful advice would I have?

Then I asked if his friend was on Twitter. He wasn’t. That opened up a wealth of information and connections that could help him revise his manuscript, find an agent, or self-publish his story. I thought we might have a few Twitter newbies following the blog, or others who got the “my friend wrote a book” prompt over the holidays, so I decided it was worth a post.

The Twitter writing community is awesome, a great resource at all stages of the writing process. While you’re writing, it can be the water cooler, the place to chat for a few minutes between projects. It’s also a great source of craft advice. Once you’ve finished a manuscript, it’s a source of advice on revising your project to make it the best story it can be. You can also find critique partners to exchange your work with and get feedback from. When you’re ready to get your work out into the world, Twitter can help you learn about literary agents or participate in writing contests. Or if your plan is to self-publish, you can find out how and connect with professionals who specialize in packaging books. And it doesn’t take much time on Twitter to see that it’s an avenue for book promotion.

Where can a writer go on Twitter to dig into these topics?

Continue reading “Twitter 101 for Writers”

Secrets of a Great Author Photo: An Interview with Pam Vaughan

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Jennifer Jacobson. Photo by Pam Vaughan.

I met Pam Vaughan at my first NESCBWI (New England Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators) Conference in 2014. At the time, I was overwhelmed by the awesome authors all around me and my mind buzzed with all I was learning from the great workshops on craft and the publishing industry. I kept catching glimpses of Pam running around everywhere with her camera.  I soon realized she was the conference photographer and was trying to get a picture of each of the 600+ attendees!

 

After the conference, I checked out Pam’s photos on the NESCBWI Facebook page. (I’m not sure she got all 600, but it seemed like she was pretty close!)  Her pictures were awesome! They let me relive the weekend. I even came across a picture of myself sitting at breakfast with another author (who was trying to turn a query letter I’d written into something that might actually get a request). This reminded me that I’d heard several times at the conference that I needed to be on Twitter. I liked the picture and with a download and a crop, BAM, I had a photo to replace the egg on my newbie Twitter account.

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Deb O’Brien. Photo by Pam Vaughan.

Fast forward to the 2016 conference – that picture still on my twitter account as well as my blog, The Winged Pen blog, and my Google+ account. When I ran into Pam again, I asked her if she’d be willing to take an “official” author photo of me since I was ready for an upgrade. I was psyched when she said yes!

I asked Pam if she could share some of her photography insight.

Rebecca: Your pictures are fantastic! How long have you been taking pictures? What types are your favorites to take?

Pam: I’ve been taking photos for years. My father has taken photos since I was young so I’ve learned so much from him. I’m constantly picking his brain about everything photography. I take pictures at sporting events; it’s great when I can capture the action and emotion of the athletes. I love to photograph nature; birds, animals, landscapes, especially things around the ocean. I was asked to be the NESCBWI conference photographer for 2014 & 2015. It was a wonderful experience!

Rebecca: When we met to take my photo you brought another author also. That was great! I find it hard to smile naturally with a camera pointed at my face. But Deb was so funny, she made it easy to ignore the camera and just smile. What other secrets do you have for taking great author photos?

Pam: The secret to taking great photos is, “Take a lot!” With digital cameras it’s easy to

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Rebecca J. Allen. Photo by Pam Vaughan.

take a myriad of pictures. I like to move around and take shots from different angles, and sometimes vary the poses. I never know which ones will end up looking good. I also think people look their best when they are relaxed and comfortable. Having someone else there doing the same thing makes the session so much better. People talking and engaging with each other makes the interaction less awkward and more fun, so it’s easier to take more photos. Plus, everyone enjoys meeting people this way, and we all walk away with new connections!

 

Rebecca: You mentioned that you were “working on the photos” on your computer. What kind of magic do you do behind the scenes?

Pam: Well if it’s magic, I probably shouldn’t divulge! Joking aside, compared to outdoors, taking pictures indoors is much more challenging. The lighting can be difficult.  Also, in a large conference like NESCBWI it’s hard to get just the right subject in my frame. The editing I do involves adjusting the lighting, cropping and sometimes cloning. That means if I see something distracting, like a fire extinguisher next to someone’s head, I’ll take that out. I have a few other tricks, but I can’t tell you all of them!

Rebecca: I heard in a talk on school presentations that it’s important to have an updated picture on social media so that the students and teachers recognize you. Are there other benefits to having a good author picture?

Pam: People are using photos in so many places now. Blogs, Websites, Facebook, Twitter, just to name a few. Authors and illustrators are also using their photos on their book flaps, business cards, and promotional materials. You don’t always want the same photo in all places, so having a few options is helpful.

Rebecca: I didn’t realize when I downloaded and cropped that picture that I should have been giving you a photo credit all that time! Sorry! What should be included in a photo credit?

Pam: No problem. For me, you can simply say, Photo courtesy of Pam Vaughan or Picture taken by Pam Vaughan. Or even a simple thank you often works. I can’t speak for everyone. I think it depends on the photographer and his/her individual policies.

Rebecca: How can people contact you if they’d rather entrust their photos to you than take their own?

Pam:  They can email me at pamvau11@gmail.com. I’m also on twitter @pamvau. I live in central MA.

Rebecca: When you aren’t taking picture what else do you do?

Pam: I attend the NESCBWI conference because I write middle grade and picture books. I’m on the Board of Directors at The Writers’ Loft (www.thewritersloft.org) and I’m one of the co-directors of the SCBWI Whispering Pines Writers’ Retreat (We’re working on our website). I’m planning on taking some author photos at Whispering Pines next year. I also present workshops on Leadership, Mental Toughness and Team Building (www.pvteamconsulting.com).

Rebecca: Thanks Pam! Thanks also to Jennifer Jacobson and Deb O’Brien for allowing us to use their photos!

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Photo by Pam Vaughan.

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade and young adult stories that blend mystery and adventure. Her best story ideas come from her two crazy kids. She’s on Twitter and is also a contributor at The Winged Pen.

How I Hit My 2015 Reading Goal in June.

2015 was the first year I had a goal for the number of books I wanted to read. In previous years, I read books, but not as many as I would have liked. There were always books that came up in writerly discussions that I felt I should have read, but hadn’t gotten to. I had all the typical excuses: “I don’t want to cut into my writing time” and “I read a lot for critiquing and beta reads.” But I decided that this year I was going to get past the excuses and pick up the pace.

How did I do it?

I set an achievable goal. Well, as it turns out, I set my goal way too low. I saw other writers on Twitter talking about their goals to read 50 books. A book a week? It just didn’t seem possible with writing and critiquing and kids/family commitments and life. I set my goal at 25.

Clearly my goal should have been 50. I read 27 books before June 30th and I haven’t even had my beachy, read-a-thon vacation yet. I’ll easily hit 50 books easily by the end of the year. But if I set my goal at 50 initially, I wouldn’t be able to write this blog post…so there’s that.

I tracked my progress. I set up a simple excel spreadsheet where I could type in a new title as I started a book and mark it as read when I finished it, then get excited about the next title I was going to add. It’s the tiny rewards in life that keep us plugging away.

I read in all formats. At any given point in time I have a few different books going. I have a physical book I’m reading, I have an audio book I’m listening to when I’m driving or when chopping vegetables (see my post on Why Writing Podcasts Are Better Than Brocolli to find out more about my love of anything that turns errand time into productive time), and I usually have a second audio book I’m listening to when my kids are in the car. The “kids’ book” strategy started when my son needed to make it through Tom Sawyer as a summer read. Too classic for a 12 year old boy, I thought, but not so! We all loved it and listened to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as well. “Reading” in the car not only cuts down on squabbling in the back seat, but also means my kids are reading more too. Audio reading with my kids means that there are more 39 Clues titles in my “read books” list than I would care to admit. I love Halli Gomez’s voice in this series, but still would have dropped it after book 3 if it weren’t for the back seat’s insistence.

Since I had a little spreadsheet tracking my books, I also tracked the format of the books I was reading. Seven were hard cover, 4 were paperback, 2 were kindle and a whopping 14 were audio books. My take-away is that for me, this “made” reading time from listening to audio books is key to getting more books read.

The 27 books I read even include 2 on craft. I’m pretty bad about spending precious reading time on craft books rather than getting lost in a novel, so I’m particularly proud of having had two on my list. I have to credit this to awesome critique partners who gave me great recommendations: Bird by Bird and Save the Cat. Both were great! In fact, I’m sure I’ll reread Save the Cat since I’m trying to get better at plotting

What will I do differently in the second half of the year?

From July on, I’d like to be a bit more mindful about the audio books I suggest to my kids. Too many 39 Clues titles. ‘Nough said.

I’m considering an Audible subscription. I’ve held off on buying audio books because they’re more expensive than Kindle or paperback. Of the audio books I read in the last 6 months, one was purchased, the others were borrowed from the library. But my little study of how much more reading I can do when listening rather than having to find time to sit down with a book makes it pretty clear that audio books helped a lot.

The Audible subscription comes down to being mindful about listening to the books that will be the most enjoyable and will most help me improve my writing. While browsing the library’s audio catalogue led to some great finds, it also limited me to their catalogue.

Next week’s post will be about the books I most enjoyed over the first 6 months of 2015.
Do You Have a Reading Goal for 2015? How’s it going? Feel free to leave a comment! (The comment button is right under the post title.)

Why Writing Podcasts Are Better Than Broccoli

It’s a happy day when I can curl up in an armchair and get lost in the story of a kick-butt heroine or the little guy taking on the forces of evil. But while I cringe to admit it, I am awful about setting aside precious reading time for books on craft. They are the broccoli at the buffet.  Sorry, the fettuccine alfredo and triple fudge cake have filled up my plate. No room for you!

So I was incredibly excited to find a way around this conundrum of needing to focus more on craft and not wanting to give up fun reads…writing podcasts. Writing podcasts are like getting Hermoine to lend me her time-turner. They take boring errand time – driving to the bus stop to get the kids, grocery shopping, and even chopping vegetables for dinner – and turn it into time to focus on craft. They even provide encouragement to get over those days when the cursor seems to be taunting me, and insight into business aspects of publishing. What could be better?

The Writing Excuses tag line is “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart.” But show’s four hosts, Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells, are that smart. Their podcast for newbie fiction writers focuses on one topic on craft or the business of publishing each week. They are in their tenth season of this podcast, so there’s a lot of good stuff in their archive. Since the hosts’ writing ranges from horror to epic fantasy to online comics to historical romance, they approach each topic with a variety of perspectives and great insight. You can find Writing Excuses at  http://www.writingexcuses.com/ and on iTunes.

Mur Lafferty hosts I Should Be Writing: The Podcast for Wannabe Fiction Writers. Mur is amazingly forthright about the ups and downs of writing life. She talks about everything from getting rejections to writer’s block in a way that makes you feel like you’re not alone, wasting your time slogging away at your computer. Mur wants you to keep writing great stories. For some of Mur’s Momma Hen encouragement, find I Should Be Writing at http://murverse.com/podcasts/ and on iTunes.

A relatively new podcast I’ve started following is Ditch Diggers. Mur Lafferty hosts this podcast with Matt Wallace. While I Should Be Writing is targeted toward newbies, this show is focused on the realities of making a living as a writer. Mur’s openness about the good and the bad of writing as a career are pushed to brutal honesty by Matt’s pull-no-punches style. And these guys take on the issues no one talks about in public: when your agent doesn’t like your new book, when your publisher decides to change the terms of your already-signed contract. They’ve had great guests, including Kameron Hurley and Chuck Wendig. Mur promises that Ditch Diggers will show up at murverse.com, but it’s not there yet. Look for it on iTunes.

For a podcast that goes deep into craft, turn to Helping Writers Become Authors. K.M. Weiland puts tons of research into her podcasts, delving into a different craft topic each week. You can find Helping Writers Become Authors at http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/resources/podcasts/ and on iTunes.

So from me, here’s a big thank you to Mary, Brandon, Howard, Dan, Mur, Matt and K.M. for making learning about craft and the business of writing more like chocolate fudge cake than brocolli. And you, reader, have no more excuses. Go download some writing podcasts today.