René Penn

Author wannabe. Blogger. Follow me.


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Only 20 Minutes of Social Media a Day for Writers?

my_tweet-4At the writer’s conference that I mentioned in my previous blog post, the conference guru led a session about social media and blogging. He suggested that we writers spend only 20 minutes a day on social media.

I’m curious to know what your reaction is to this. Because for me, his statement triggered an eye-popping, gag-choke-laugh reflex that has never quite happened before. Social media is what I depend on when:

I need a writer’s break. Short breaks help with productivity; they are as important as eating, sleeping, and watching Outlander.

I am having a mini-writer’s-block. This happens about 20 times a day, so there goes the 20 minutes of social media time right there.

I need some inspiration. After you get past my onion layers of sarcasm and cynicism, there is a gal who appreciates a good dose of #inspiration and #motivation.

I need a laugh. A couple of days ago, I discovered some Twitter handles related to P.G. Wodehouse, and my life is now complete. See @inimitablepgw, ‏@DailyPlum ‏and  @wodehouseoffice.

I want to see what other writers are doing. Just trying to keep up with the writer-Jones’s. Holler!

I need a brain break. All this geniussness that I put on paper makes my brain hurt sometimes. (Wait, geniusness isn’t a word?)

I am in between scenes. Sometimes I just need to clean the mental slate after I end a scene, especially if I’ll be switching from one character’s POV to another.

I want to goof off. Okay, that’s the same as the first bullet point above. However, goofing off is less proactive than a writer’s break and leads to writer’s guilt. *sad face*

I am curious about what’s trending. How else will I know when it’s National Taco Day or National Ice Cream Sandwich Day? I am very patriotic, you know.

I want to look at images instead of words. When the words on your screen or paper start to look like writer’s mush, sometimes you just want to look at pretty pictures and puppy memes.

Well, maybe the conference guru has a point. Perhaps I should curb my behavior a little bit. Set a timer? Maybe even one that is tied to electroshock probes?

Photo by Kyra P on Unsplash. Caption with it is my own.


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6 Reasons to Attend Writers Conferences

Last week, I attended the LaJolla Writer’s Conference and had a blast. jeremy-bishop-151531If you’ve never attended a writer’s conference before, I highly encourage this one—which is known for its small workshop sizes, easy access to authors and agents, and lack of slimy salesmanship. Whether you attend this conference or not, it’s a great experience for writers to go to one—preferably one each year, at least. Here are six reasons to attend writers conferences.

  • Immerse yourself in the writers community

Going to a conference gets us out of our solitary, isolated fantasy world. And that wasn’t just a pun for fantasy writers, it goes for all of us. A conference provides a different experience than a writer’s group, and exposes you to a variety of resources and information that is hard to match outside of the conference spectrum.

  • Learn (or re-learn) tips for story structure, one-sentence summaries, etc.

I learned at least 10 story-plotting methods last week, like “M.I.C.E.,” “Snowflake” and the “3-Act, 9-Block, 27-Chapter” methods. Many of them I already knew, a few of them I didn’t. Most of them are just variations of the three-act structure. The “Plotting Magic” workshop of 15 plot steps led by Marni Freedman really resonated with me, which follows the Writer’s Journey/Hero’s Journey concept.

  • Meet new friends who are quirky like you.

I don’t know about you, but most of my friends aren’t writers. As incredibly supportive and encouraging as they are, they don’t know that “muffin top” or “spare tire” aren’t what I mean by “sagging middle,” though it can be just as traumatizing. Writers conferences provide a safe zone for writers to be the quirky clan that we are, and to meet others who are like-minded.

  • Hear from authors, agents and editors.

For some writers, this is the main reason they attend conferences. Many times, you’ll have the opportunity to pitch your idea directly to an agent—or in my case last week, be able to sit with one and nine other writers during dinner. Conferences offer the chance to get contacts in the industry that you may not make, otherwise. And if one is genuinely impressed with what they hear from you, you never know what may come of it.

Also, hearing from authors who have already crossed the publishing threshold—how long it took, the road they traveled to get there, and the sacrifices they made—is an inspiration.

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Fantasy writer Eldon Thompson and crime writer Meg Gardiner shared their wonderful journeys during keynote speeches at the 2017 LaJolla Writers Conference.

  • Learn about various genres.

If you write memoirs and are interested in fiction, for example, you can get a crash course on other genres. I attended sessions about screenwriting and non-fiction, just to mix things up a bit. Who knows where creativity may take me in the future?

  • Get inspired.

To me, this is the most valuable part of a conference. Inspiration is a by-osmosis experience that happens no matter what—even if a critique during a workshop stung a little or a pitch didn’t go as planned. I always leave a conference writing more than I did before I arrived.

Overall, it keeps you motivated to continue writing. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

 


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Should I, Can I, Try to Write the Great American Novel?

When I was in my early 20s, I started to tell people that I wanted to be a novelist. Many would respond with something like, “Oh, writing the Great American novel?” Yes, I’d say, naively. thumbnailI thought it would be awesome to have my name in conversation with the literary greats—Ernest Hemingway, Toni Morrison, etc.,…and me. Graduate students in literature across the country would analyze my works for their theses and dissertations. I could be Toni’s BFF. I thought that was what writers were supposed to do: aspire to literary greatness, work on penning the Great American Novel, and dream of having tea with Toni. But the more I wrote, the more my perspective started to change.

I started noticing that I was developing a voice, and that voice wasn’t “literary.” It wasn’t very sophisticated, nor polished, nor grand. The vocabulary used didn’t require a dictionary. The descriptions didn’t drip in eloquence for pages and pages. Of course there are many exceptions for Great American Novels that don’t adhere to those criteria, but it’s what I noticed for the majority of them. I started to panic. The differences between the work of the greats and my far-from-great work were vast. I couldn’t write the Great American Novel. Perhaps I should stop.

Even with that doubt, I couldn’t stop writing. Characters still formed in my mind. Conversations still flowed in waves. Writing was involuntary, a compulsion. Not writing meant that something was missing in my life—not writing meant sometimes I’d get a little cranky. The act of not writing wasn’t an option.

CHECK OUT: Writer’s Don’t Write to Get Published

I decided to accept my writing “limitations.” I would write just to write. I would take classes, try to get better and enjoy the craft. I would read more books that weren’t of the Great American Novel ilk. Many of them, I would enjoy, as flawed and imperfect as they were. (I’m flawed and imperfect, too, aren’t I?) Those novels were attainable. They inspired me. Those books made me want to keep writing. If I can fall in love with, and be motived by, a less-than-Great American novel, maybe someone will feel the same way about mine.

What about you? How do you feel about writing the Great American Novel?


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How Do I Update My LinkedIn Profile to Show that I’m Working on a Novel Full-Time?

The last day at my 8-to-5 job was Friday, so yesterday I decided to update my resume on LinkedIn. (Can you tell I’m excited for this new phase in my life?) I clicked on the “Add new position” link, which took me to a drop-down menu. I froze at that point, because I wasn’t sure what title to write. I immediately thought of late-night TV icon Jimmy Fallon, whose self-description on Twitter reads “astrophysicist.” Could I go there with my profile? Uh, no. Funny idea for Jimmy on Twitter, bad idea for me on LinkedIn.

So what exactly is my new position? I’m working on a novel, but I certainly can’t call myself a “Novelist.” I’ve always considered a novelist to be someone who has crossed the publishing threshold. I view the title “Author” the same way. Though I did read a compelling case for why you should call yourself a novelist, regardless.

Needless to say, I typed “Writer” as my new position. After that, it provided autofilled options, like “Freelance Writer” or “Independent Writer.” 20171003_091549Nah, those didn’t seem quite right, either. They imply that I’m a contractor or freelancer, which isn’t the case. The next thing to complete was “Company.” I was at a loss there, too. I decided to go with “Self-Employed.” That could also be slightly misleading, but it was the best fit among the choices offered. Plus, LinkedIn wouldn’t let me save the entry until the “Company” field was completed.

Last but not least was the description. “Writing and blogging” was what I wrote. It looked pretty skimpy compared to my previous 8-to-5 position, which was chock-full of communications-manager goodness. After some noodling, here’s what I decided to go with:

Writer and Blogger

  • Writing a fiction novel, currently a work-in-progress with 42,000 words written
  • Writing weekly blog posts and managing the website, using the WordPress platform, for renepenn.wordpress.com
  • Writing a romantic comedy screenplay, currently a work-in-progress with 45 pages written

I specified word and page counts to make the concept of fiction and screenwriting, which can be somewhat mysterious to non-writers, more tangible with hard-and-fast numbers. The blog and WordPress mentions indicate commitment to a weekly deadline and knowledge of a commonly used, widely respected website platform. I added my blog website for proof—plus, a little plug and cross-promotion never hurts.

Updating my LinkedIn profile was an important step. It shows that I’m no longer treating my writing as a hobby. It’s now a career path that I’m taking as seriously as any of my previous jobs. Any other ideas on how I can jazz up my profile even more? How have you updated your LinkedIn profile to reflect your writing?


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I Quit My Job to Work on My Novel

I turned in my resignation to pursue a dream. My dream is—and has been for years—to be able to make a living by writing novels, to sustain myself, financially, from doing something I enjoy. I never thought that it would be necessary to quit my job. I could surely cobble together enough writing time while working my 8-to-5, to get closer to my dream. It seemed doable. It seemed simple enough. But it hasn’t been.20170929_104626

Throughout my career, my dream has hung over me, shadowing my decisions. It led me into a career in ad writing, marketing and communications. Writing and editing have been the bedrock of most of my jobs. No coincidence there. It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed it or found it dissatisfying. I’m certainly proud of what I do at work. It just hasn’t been enough. Now that my last week at work has come to a close, it’s all so clear. All of these years, I was trying to fill a void that no job could fulfill.

During my mass-transit commute, mornings, evenings, and weekends, I’ve spent time working on fiction or screenwriting. I’ve had quite a few start-stop projects. Too many to count. But there was a turning point, when I wrote and helped produce a 12-episode web series in 2008–all while continuing my regular job. It was a body of “published” work, and it had a small group of very loyal followers. The opportunity raised my confidence about my writing abilities beyond the corporate brochures and internal communications that I cranked out for corporate America. But nothing happened after that. I wasn’t expecting a writing team at HBO to stumble upon the web series and say, “Her! We want her. No, we need her!” Though, that sure would’ve been nice. So I kept writing.

I finished a novel manuscript a few years ago. I woke up 30 minutes before work every day for over a year to write it. The finished product was decent, but definitely not great. 1506797324537-314911186-e1506797447273.jpg
I knew it needed work before I could shop it around to literary agents. I sent it to a freelance editor who gave me great advice. Most of all, I was happy to learn how much she genuinely liked reading the story. I worked on the rewriting process. I surprised myself by doing a genre switch, converting it from a novel format to a romantic comedy screenplay. I got halfway through, and then I started working on a historical romance novel, my current work-in-progress.

Sometime during the three years between the rom-com rewrite and the beginning of the historical romance manuscript, I met a great guy and got married. With his support, it was easier to make the decision to quit my full-time job and work on my novel. It wasn’t easy putting in my notice at work. A mind-shift had to occur before handing in the resignation. I’d been doing the same thing for so long—focusing on my job and treating my writing as a hobby—that I had to reprogram my thinking.

I had to think back to how I felt years ago when I took the job. This is going to be my last job, I had told myself, because I want my writing to take off. I’m going to work on my hobby until it becomes my next “job.” I put in a lot of hours, a whole lot of time, but I never reached my main goal. I finally realized that it was time to take the full leap of faith—no more of this part-time, on-the-side, hobby stuff. I needed to go all-in. Because my dream deserves this chance. Because sometimes you have to quit something to raise your chance of success.


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Who Are Your Author Peers?

I first learned about this concept–“author peers” or “peer authors”–about two years ago. It’s been a game-changer for me, and certainly an ongoing educational process. But this whole writing thing kinda is anyway, isn’t it?

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

First, let me explain what I mean by author peers. If you were published, author peers would be writers whose books are within the same category as yours. It’s the “these authors write books like what I’m writing” group.

Here are reasons why it’s good to identify your author peers, whether you’re a published author or not.

  • It solidifies what you like to read, and therefore what you may like to write

This is how I pinpointed my interested in writing regency-era historical romance. I also researched how these novels are set up to see how I can adopt similar tactics in my own work.

  • It helps with your query letter (or during a conversation with your aunt)

By mentioning who your author peers are in a query letter, you immediately clue in an agent to what your writing style is like. Using an author’s name to describe your style can ground a person a lot faster than a four-sentence description.

  • It helps you identify your target demographic

You can trim a lot of guess-work by simply researching the reader’s demographics of your peer authors. Is their audience male? Mostly Millennials? Do they chomp on short, fast-paced chapters or languish in long, verbose descriptive bits? If your author peers attract a specific type of reader who love a certain writing style, your work may likely achieve success in that genre by adopting similar concepts.

  • It provides inspiration

Once upon a time, your peer authors were unpublished, too, waiting for the chips to fall their way. Eventually, it happened; they got published. If they did it, why can’t we?

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Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

  • It gets you thinking like a published author

I’m obviously not published yet, but it doesn’t mean I can’t think like it, right? I personally think there’s something healthy about visualizing one’s name in the scrolling section of reviews that reads, “If you love this author, you’ll also like <insert your name here>.”

What did I miss? Why else is it good to identify peer authors?