Colorado Gold 2014: Great Conference But What the Tech?

Earlier this month, I attended RMFW’s Colorado Gold Conference. Wow, what a whirlwind weekend, packed with informative sessions on fiction writing and the writing business and so many great people to meet. Every day felt like two days because they managed to cram in so much great content. Although the sessions and keynotes were excellent, that’s not really the aspect of the conference I’d like to address.

One of my primary goals for the conference was networking, meeting other writers and sharing stories and experiences, and in that regard the weekend was a great success. I’m not usually a hugely outgoing person, so often in large groups such as this I find myself on the outside. However, as I mentioned in my previous post, the RMFW anthology Crossing Colfax, in which I have a short story, debuted at this conference, which certainly helped.

My conference badge included an “Anthology” ribbon so some attendees would see that and ask about my story. I also got to meet and chat with most of the other included authors—generally easy to spot because they also had the “Anthology” ribbon. The anthology has fifteen stories, and all but one of the authors were at the conference. Even before the conference, I’d begun following many of the authors on social media, so the conference was a nice opportunity to meet in person.

Smashwords CEO Mark Coker at RMFW Colorado Gold 2014

Keynote speaker Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, speaking during one of his sessions at Colorado Gold 2014.

In case I’ve not made this clear before, I’m a big believer in the power of social media. A conference such as Colorado Gold is a perfect chance to meet people face to face—but social media still can play a part. So, as I said, I planned ahead, following people’s blogs and Twitter handles who I wanted or expected to meet. In the days leading up to the conference, I began watching Twitter for the conference hashtag, #RMFW2014, to find other attendees to follow and engage with. And during the conference sessions, I tweeted out key points and quotes from speakers as they occurred, or retweeted what others had to say about sessions I didn’t attend.

This social media approach to conferences is something I learned when I attended technology conferences as a journalist. At those conferences, the IT pros in attendance frequently had two or three different mobile devices, all needing a connection, because in some cases they might need to be on call for remote assistance back at the office—therefore, a strong, reliable WiFi signal throughout all areas of the conference floor, including session rooms, was a must. At Colorado Gold, having no WiFi in the session rooms was a bit of a shock.

This technological omission caused me to evaluate how others at the conference appeared to use technology overall. So, as I sat in session rooms, taking notes with OneNote on my laptop and ready to tweet on my smartphone, I’d look around and see what others were doing. I was really rather surprised to see that most people, if they took notes, were doing so by hand: pen to paper. How very old school! Although I didn’t do any firm counts, I’d estimate that probably no more than 15 or 20 percent of attendees used a laptop or tablet for note-taking.

Long ago, I abandoned taking notes longhand because, one, I know I won’t go back and re-read them, and two, I probably couldn’t read my own writing if I did. Of course I know plenty of people feel there are benefits of using a physical pen and paper in helping you remember what you’re writing. My counter to that would be that I don’t need to remember—well, no more than a keyword, anyway. If I have some idea what someone talked about or who said it, I can search for a keyword—I don’t have to remember how long ago it was or what physical notebook it was in—and I can pull up the material. As long as I’m using something like OneNote on cloud storage, I can pull up that information not just on my PC/laptop but also on a phone or tablet—anytime, anywhere access.

Twitter also serves as a repository of notes: Whatever I tweet during a session or keynote remains in my tweet stream for later access as well. As mentioned previously, using the conference hashtag also makes tweets available to other conference attendees who might have missed that particular session. Additionally, when you get a lot of people tweeting from the same conference, it creates a sort of buzz around the event for those not in attendance—and quite possibly making them want to attend the next time.

During the conference, I had a conversation with three of the founding members of RMFW, Kay Bergstrom, Carol Caverly, and Jasmine Cresswell, about the early days of the organization. At some point, the discussion turned to writers’ use of technology, and Kay Bergstrom remarked that in the 1980s, writers in her circle were all early adopters of PCs and related technology because they saw how it made the business of writing easier. To my mind, writers today should take advantage of social media, cloud storage, and other current technologies for the same reason.

I always look for the technology solution. Whether it’s attending sessions at a writing conference or sitting alone at my computer to do some writing, I’m pretty sure there’s some trick, some procedure, that can help the day go a little smoother. But I recognize—and glancing around those session rooms at Colorado Gold was a great reminder in this—that not everyone, certainly not every writer, has the same approach to technology or the same abilities.

For the writers out there, I’d be interested to hear what role technology plays in your writing life. Do you struggle with social media and creating an online presence? Or do you navigate the online world with ease? Do you worry about how to handle backups of your digital assets (i.e., writing)? Do you wonder what the best program or application for writing is? Or do you have recommendations about any of these topics to help your fellow writers? Are you committed to writing longhand at least part of the time? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Other posts on RMFW Colorado Gold 2014:

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins

RMFW Colorado Gold Conference: Looking Forward

Here we are, post–Labor Day. According to the calendar, it won’t be autumn for another couple weeks, but around here, it feels like fall already. The days have grown noticeably shorter. And although the trees haven’t really started to turn, the writing community will get to experience some Colorado Gold this weekend.

The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) Colorado Gold Conference is an annual event held in the Denver area; this year it’s in Westminster at The Westin, this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Of course, if you haven’t already registered, you’re out of luck: As of a couple days ago, the conference was announced as sold out. Better luck next year!

For those attending, or wanting to know what to expect from a writing conference such as this, the schedule is packed with sessions on writing craft as well as the business of writing (submissions, self-promotion, agent pitches, and so forth). There’s also a healthy dose of sessions about e-books and self-publishing, which is a viable route for many authors these days; in fact, one of the conference keynote speakers is Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords, a highly successful self-serve publishing service.

In addition to the sessions, attendees have the chance to meet and pitch their latest projects to editors or agents in attendance. It’s also a great opportunity to network with fellow writers, which is one of the things I’m most looking forward to. This will be my first time to attend Colorado Gold, although I’ve met a few people I expect to be in attendance through their blogs or other online presences; it will be nice to finally meet in person.

RMFW Anthology: Crossing ColfaxOn Friday night at the conference, there’s a book signing. This is also the launch for the RMFW anthology, Crossing Colfax. As I wrote several months ago, I have a story included in this anthology, so I’ll be on hand for this event, certainly, and I’m looking forward to meeting the other authors. I’ve read the collection already and was thoroughly impressed by the quality and variety of stories included—an eclectic mix, to be sure! You never know what you’re going to get with an anthology, and naturally I’m a little biased since I’m in this one. But this is a book I can recommend to anyone. Crossing Colfax is available now on Amazon.com.

I was surprised to read on the conference website that they don’t have Wi-Fi in the session rooms. I’m used to attending technology conferences where everywhere access to reliable Wi-Fi is essential throughout all conference areas. I mean, how else are you going to live blog the proceedings? Maybe for a writing conference, it’s not so important. However, I for one am not too happy about this omission. I’ll have to wait and see how much of a data hit it causes for me.

Anyway, I’ve got to start packing and getting ready for the weekend now. If you’re planning to be there as well, track me down and say hi! Tweet me @bkwins if you want to grab a coffee or other libation.

Bad Writing & the Effect of Bad Marketing

I was asked recently what super power I would choose if I could have one. Because I couldn’t choose invisibility (someone else already had that one), I said I would want to be able to instantly fix everyone’s grammar in order to rid the world of bad and unclear communications. Sure, I’m a word nerd—maybe that could be my super hero name. So it’s no wonder I get annoyed when I see marketing and advertising copy that appears to be written by uninspired third graders.

Everyone thinks they know how to write, but doing it well requires practice and dedication just like any other endeavor. Marketing departments all too frequently seem to think that a business degree automatically confers “writer” status on its holders. Witness this pitch for a technology conference that landed in my Inbox last week:

[ConferenceName] is just over a month away!
Have you registered yet? You won’t want to miss out on one of the industry’s most diverse and informative technology conferences of the year. With over 180+ in 5 different tracks from speakers that are the best and brightest in their fields, [ConferenceName] has something for everyone. Use can use our promo code, [withheld to protect the innocent], to save off your registration price too! So, why wait? If you haven’t yet, join us today. If you have, see you in September! [link withheld to protect the innocent]

This whole brief paragraph is written poorly; really, it’s not an effective pitch for the event. Continue reading

The Dog Days Doldrums: Or, Be Good to Yourself Even When You’re Doing Nothing

It’s the dog days. It’s the doldrums. It’s the nothing’s happening time. When I was growing up in sunny SoCal, this was the deep middle of summer, which for us ran from when school was out in early June until school started again after Labor Day. Endless days, warm nights. Lots of time with nothing to do but run the imagination. Read a book. Play solitaire (with cards; didn’t have computers then). Try to stay cool without A/C. A lot of time doing nothing.

I don’t know if any of that has anything to do with why I can’t seem to focus on getting anything done now. I’m eager to write. I have a number of stories I’m trying to push forward, but mostly I just keep pushing things back and forth, side to side. What am I doing? I don’t know.

The other day, while trying rather unsuccessfully to focus on a story, I ended up stumbling on a blog post by my advisor from my MFA days, the author Stephen Schwartz. The post is called “Feeding the Lake,” and it’s full of great advice for writers. But perhaps the one that struck me the most was this:

Realize that you’re writing even when you’re not. It’s called wool gathering. Lying on the couch daydreaming, mulling over a story in the shower, waiting to pick up your kids from school, spacing out in a staff meeting. Give yourself credit for all these.

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Growing Up Under the Mushroom Cloud, Waiting for the Hammer to Fall

It was about a year ago that I started this blog. Although I’m not a big marker of milestones, I’d say it’s definitely been an interesting time. The past year has seen me rise from the dungeons of utter obscurity to the lofty heights of absolute anonymity. Which is to say, not a lot has changed, but it’s been a fun ride.

The first thing I posted here was an examination of a song by my all-time favorites, Queen, rock royalty and my personal “Shakespeare of Music.” The song was “Machines” from the album The Works, which has always been one of my favorite Queen records. It’s music that takes me back to the summer days of my youth. So now, with summer again upon us, I want to look at another track from The Works, one of the greatest rockers in the Queen canon, “Hammer to Fall.”

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Would You Die for the Things You Believe In?

I lived most of my teen years during the 1980s, which is to say I pretty much grew up during the 80s. Musically speaking, I’ll always think of this as the video era: the MTV generation, the time when image—specifically, what a band or artist looked like and how they presented their music in videos—meant the difference between success and failure. Yes, it was a time of glorious excess.

Because of the reliance on videos, I’m sure some music became popular that never would have gained an audience without the visuals, and probably as a result of poor video choices, some artists failed whose music deserved a better fate. MTV promoted the airing of a new video by a big-name band for weeks ahead of its debut, much like movie releases. Some of the best videos were high-quality mini-movies, with intriguing storylines, special effects, and large casts.

And then that fad faded. MTV got into broadcasting all sorts of content besides music videos. No one really seems to spend much time on videos anymore.

So imagine my surprise when I came upon a music video made just a couple of years ago that took me back to the halcyon days of music videos. Continue reading

Titles Are Hard—But These Tips Make Them Easier

I’m in the midst of a dilemma as I need to come up with a new title for a story. The story in question is one that’s been accepted for publication and the title change is at the request of the editor, so of course I’ll change it. I wasn’t wild about the title I had when I submitted it, but I did feel it fit, and now it’s grown on me, which makes the change more difficult.

The thing is, titles are hard. Sometimes good titles seem all but impossible. There are times when the “right” title seems obvious; it comes to you during the writing process, it fits the work on multiple levels, and it sounds good to boot. But those cases are probably fairly rare. Yet you know that when you’re trying to sell a story or novel, the title is your first bit of marketing that an agent or editor or reader is likely to see. So, you want to get it right.

On the other hand . . .

How important are titles, really? Continue reading