Tag Archives: writing

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

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.

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

Writing Characters: Playing the Cruelty Game

Think about your favorite characters in your favorite stories or novels. For me, that would be people such as Cory Mackenson from Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life. Or Frodo from The Lord of the Rings. Or Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Do your favorite characters travel a straight road, or rather are the beset by obstacles at every turn?

When you fall in love with a character as a reader, you might wish that they had things easier, that they could solve the mystery, defeat the monsters, win their true love, or whatever it is they’re fighting for. But if they actually do all those things easily, if there aren’t obstacles or the obstacles aren’t sufficiently challenging, your reading experience won’t be rewarding.

So, as writers, we need to remember this and make sure we put our characters on a twisting, rocky road: Be cruel to your characters in order to be kind to your readers.

At times, I know I have a tendency to go easy on my characters, to let them off with a warning, let’s say, when I should be cracking them over the head with a ton of bricks. I like my creations and I don’t want them to suffer. But it’s time to get serious and start doing some damage—I’ve got to put away my feelings for my characters and get cruel. I need to remind myself, again, of my favorite characters that others have written. Let’s take a look at Frodo’s journey. Continue reading

Fun Writing Is Fun—And Successful

I had a spot of good news this week. I had a short story accepted for inclusion in an anthology that’s due for publication this fall. Although I’ve been writing professionally for years (i.e., getting paid to write), this is my first fiction piece accepted for publication professionally, so naturally I’m fairly excited.

The story was written specifically for the call for manuscripts for this anthology, which is being published by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) organization. The anthology will include stories that explore Denver’s Colfax Avenue, “the longest, wickedest street in America,” according to Playboy magazine. When I first saw the call, I thought it sounded interesting, but I didn’t have any stories or ideas for stories that would fit. So I passed the call off to the members of my writing group, prepared to ignore it myself.

Fortunately, the historic nature of Colfax and its multifaceted personality continued to swirl in the back of my brain. A few other ideas from unrelated sources came into the mix. Then suddenly, a couple days later, I had a story. And I knew I had to write it, whether or not it would make the cut. By that point, I wasn’t even sure I could get it done in time to submit for the deadline. Continue reading

Writing Obsessions

The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld: A Memoir, by Justin HockingA friend from my grad school days was recently in town to do a reading from his new book, The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld (Graywolf Press). In this creative nonfiction memoir, Justin Hocking writes about his move to New York City after grad school and a difficult breakup, and how he becomes obsessed with surfing, the ocean, and Moby-Dick. It’s a fascinating mix, told with raw honesty and wry humor.

It was great seeing Justin and having the chance to catch up a little; it had been twelve years since we’d completed our MFAs and gone our separate ways. Reading Justin’s book has been a somewhat odd experience. The book is excellent. But it’s weird reading such a personal “story” about someone I know. When we were in writing workshops together, I recall some of Justin’s stories involved skateboarders and I knew he was heavy into skateboarding himself, but I never knew how much this sport dominated his life.

Justin’s book shows how skateboarding is replaced by surfing in New York. It gets him outside the suffocating city, and this new attachment with the ocean helps him overcome anxieties related to his dislocation. Surfing becomes an obsession and an escape. In fact, there are all kinds of obsessions in this book. It’s got me thinking about the role of obsession to writers in general. That is, is it necessary to have obsessions to be a writer? Or do writers write because they have obsessions they’re working through?  Continue reading