Writers’ Rendezvous Roundup

Once a month, here in Westport, CT, I run a Meetup for writers’ at the local Barnes & Noble store. The September one was held in September 16th, and here’s a summary of what we discussed – good tips and hints for any writer, though some of the activities are local. 🙂
We had another great meeting, with two last-minute guests, Carol Dannhauser and Tessa Smith McGovern.
Carol came just to see what it was like, but I asked her to talk about the writing classes she leads that are starting today (September 21). The first is a class of memoir prompts, which you can find out about here. The second is her Writers’ Workshop of Fairfield for writers with some experience. The classes are held at Birdcraft Museum and begin Sept 21. Email dannhauser@aol.com for info.

Tessa McGovern wanted to sound us out on the various courses and services local writers might need. Tessa teaches at Sarah Lawrence and her company, Book Girl TV does various things, including interviewing well-known authors and running online classes in social media for writers. She is organizing a free evening event at Barnes & Noble in Westport on October 27th at 6.30pm, with a panel of writers and publishing insiders, with a chance to mix and mingle afterwards. Among the panellists are authors Linda Fairstein, Jane Green, Pat Dunn and top editor Caitlin Alexander, publishing consultant Cynthia Mason and literary agent and author Marilyn Allen. Unmissable.
Tessa also mentioned the New York Pitch Conference for novelists to be held on December 10-13. It seems like an extraordinary chance to find out whether your book has a chance of being published, but it’s not inexpensive. It’s part of the Algonkian conferences, which include some writers’ retreats too.
New member Leigh Stein told us about the conference, Bindercon,she’s helping to organize for women and gender non-conforming writers in New York on November 7 and 8. Check the link above for information.

Online Scrivener classes started last Monday (14th) but I’ve just signed up today because I’m already somewhat familiar with Scrivener and want to brush up rather than begin as a compete novice. I’m including a link here to the site which is run by Gwen Hernandez, author of Scrivener for Dummies. The advantage of the courses is that they can be tailored for either Mac or Windows. And you can sign up for her newsletter on her site.

Adair Heitmann is leading a prompts-based monthly workshop, free at the Pequot Library in Southport, CT. It’s on a drop-in basis so you can attend any month on the third Saturday from 10-12pm. And the Darien Library (CT) is starting a fiction writing class on September 22nd.

We talked about writing productivity and one of us said they used the Pomodoro technique to make sure they wrote. You can find a description of it here. And there’s an app called Freedom which turns off your internet for times you specify so that you can’t be distracted and are forced to write (or clean out the garage).

For those who want to know how to write a good query letter for your fiction, there’s a blog called Query Shark
which has draconian rules for submitting a query letter to be critiqued. But the critiques themselves are interesting.

And for those of you interested in joining a writers’ community online, here are a couple, recommended by Writers’ Relief.

Five key ingredients for a successful social media recipe

I first met Adair Heitmann at a friend’s book launch, but we’ve become closer friends online. That’s because she’s easy to find on Twitter, Linked in, Facebook and other social media. Having an unusual name helps (try Googling her.) She’s a creativity and wellness expert as well as an award-winning author, popular professional speaker, and a fine artist. She writes a regular blog for the Fairfield Writers as well as her own,  and gives regular workshops on how to use social media to promote your writing, so I asked her to write me a guest post on the subject:

 

Social Media has become a fact; any writer who wants to be taken seriously, be published, and stay published needs an online presence. Just as the basic ingredient for chocolate mousse is chocolate, it’s important for writers to use Social Media as a way to build their author platforms.

Social Media is also like chocolate mousse; if you’ve never tasted it, it’s hard to describe the velvety smooth texture or appreciate the rich bittersweet taste. I must confess I love chocolate mousse, and, full confession, I adore Social Media. However I think it’s easier to use Social Media then it is to make a good chocolate mousse.

As a writer, originally I was a snob, thinking that I was above the Social Media game. “My time should be spent writing,” I proclaimed, “not engaging in social networking trivia.” Then I tasted the power of Social Media and was hooked.

Various Social Media vehicles attract different personality types. In my workshops and programs I like to say, “LinkedIn is for introverts, and Facebook is for extroverts.” I’m an ambivert so I have found ways to navigate both. Every day however, there seems to be a new online communications tool – Google+, Branchout, Pinterest, Etsy, Prezi – the list goes on and on. As in any good recipe I suggest that you start with the five basics: LinkedIn, Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Having Fun. Once you’ve mastered those you can add others (or not) to suit your own time and taste.

1. LinkedIn. Join LinkedIn first. It’s the world’s largest professional social network. LinkedIn is a living breathing, walking and talking résumé of you and your professional endeavors. It’s free, and you key in your profile on your own time. True story: I met a speaker at a health and wellness conference in Westport, CT. We exchanged business cards to meet over coffee at a later date. (Yes, you still need to have those in your pocket.) She then moved to San Francisco, so it was two years later when I added her to my connections on LinkedIn. I already had my writer’s website in place, and was a contributing author to two professional blogs. She got to know me through my online presence, not over coffee. I didn’t know that she was the editor of an online journal of women’s wisdom until she invited me to be a contributing author to that journal.

2. Blogging. If you have something to say, beyond your online résumé, and website, then you can start a blog. Blogging is free and you make it all your own. Defend your cause! Educate the public about your mission! Enlighten! Entertain! Blogs are like water to yeast, when used in the right amounts they can expand your platform and help you rise above the competition. Blogs can also be a perfect, soft-sell, e-commerce tool. Belgium-based nature artist, Paula Kuitenbrouwer, has a blog. Either she read my creativity and wellness blog first (through a LinkedIn writing group) or I read hers, but we have been subscribing to each other’s blogs for about a year. Her recent blog came into my email box. She is now using Pinterest on her Mindful Drawing. Pinterest is a content sharing service that allows members to “pin” images, videos and other objects to their pinboard, and includes standard social networking features, plus a link to Etsy. Through Etsy she sells her hand-made note cards online.

3. Facebook. Facebook is free; you set up your page, and reach out to friends and colleagues. You can become magnetic, offering mentally stimulating posts, or be the information conduit about local writing conferences. I find out more about what’s happening in my writer’s world through Facebook then through any other medium. I learned about both NaNoWriMo and The Sketchbook Project first on Facebook. Are you into images? A local writer shows pictures of her colorful garden on her Facebook page. You don’t always have to write about writing. Some of the more interesting Facebook pages show diverse sides of a writer’s life. Author of Your Book Starts Here, Mary Carroll Moore, highlights her pastel paintings on her Facebook art page.  If you are stymied about what to say on Facebook use my rule-of-thumb: If you have something to say, say it, if you don’t have anything to say, don’t. Instead you can comment on other people’s posts or share their helpful information with your friends. You don’t have to do all the talking.

4. Twitter. Twitter is a fascinating social networking tool. For any writer I think it is the coolest thing since dark chocolate became available in grocery stores. With Twitter you have to say what you are going to say in 140 characters or less. It’s a great tool for honing your writing craft. Twitter is a micro-blogging free service. You can tweet your way to success! Before I added Twitter to my communications toolbox, I researched the funniest tweets of all time. The book Twitter Wit: Brilliance in 140 Characters or Less edited by Nick Douglas showed me that I will never be as funny as many tweeters out there. It did inspire me though to take a stab at tweeting. I use it to share information about literature, the arts, creativity, wellness, and all those things that interest me. I’m still searching for my inner twitter wit, but while I’m exploring I’m building a fan base of followers.

5. Have fun! Embrace your inner spark. Be fearless when learning new technology. If you enjoy doing something you are more likely to repeat it. I recently heard an introverted author interviewed on NPR. Sorry I forgot his name, but I remembered his niche is cats and writing about cats. His Facebook posts are all about his life from the point-of-view of being a cat. Brilliant! He’s an introvert but he’s using Facebook in an extroverted way, but, no wait it isn’t him talking, it’s his cat. Only an inventive writer could do that.

LinkedIn, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter are communication tools that are all about building relationships. I encourage you to let your online relationships naturally evolve. Remember to avoid forcing anything and to set clear boundaries for yourself. Gauge how much or how little time you want to spend on Social Media and stick to it. Present yourself online in thoughtful, constructive ways. Support and promote other writers in your own Social Media platforms; it’s not all about you. Take time to reflect on who you are and to develop your unique brand. As a writer your business is writing, so promote yourself professionally. Lastly, whenever possible, refer people back to your writer’s website.

After you’ve added the Social Media ingredients, mix them well because they will help build your author’s platform. Then be sure to walk to your refrigerator. Swing open the door and take out that chilled, parfait glass full of light, airy, and rich chocolate mousse. Dip your spoon in, close your eyes, savor, and enjoy.

Go on – I dare you

Okay – I’ve done it again. Signed up to do something creative that I’m not actually sure I can manage. But at least this thing has a lo-o-o-ng deadline (January 2013). It’s called The Sketchbook Project. The Brooklyn Art Gallery in New York is affiliated with the Art House Co-op, an independent company that organizes global, collaborative art projects.  And they’re not kidding. Their flagship endeavor is the Sketchbook Project: an evolving library featuring more than 12,000 artists’ sketchbooks from 100 countries and counting. When I’ve added mine it will be 12,001. The point is that you don’t have to be an artist. You can fill the book with any creative effort. You choose a theme (usually, but not compulsorily) and then you have a year to fill the sketchbook they send you. There is a cost to enter. Prices start at $25, which gets you the Sketchbook, entry to the project, your book catalogued in the library, exhibited in NYC, and your artwork included in the printed book. That’s plenty, but if you want more, check the website.

Here’s what the Art House Co-op say about themselves:

By focusing on the intersection of hands-on art making and new technology, Art House Co-op nurtures community-supported art projects that harness the power of the virtual world to create something real.

I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I do know that my friend Adair Heitmann just sent in a book of haikus. Her topic: The writing on the wall.

In the meantime, in order to get your creative juices flowing (and in order to help raise money for the Project), there are things you can do without signing up for the whole Sketchbook Project.  Over the next 10 weeks (which is when the Sketchbook Project 2013 launches) they’re offering a weekly project you can participate in. Or not, as you choose. Here’s the first one, which I thought sounded intriguing. There are only 500 spots per project. I’m # 27 for this one, since I just signed up for it. The deadline for signing up is March 1, and the deadline for sending stuff back is March 15th.  Go on – I dare you.

Week One: Letters to Home

What would you say to your childhood home?

It’s been awhile, and the house you grew up in is starting to wonder about you… If your childhood home could hear you, what would you say? Letters to Home is a community art project that asks creative people like you to write a letter to your childhood home. Share an epic backyard adventure, ask a lingering question, or reveal a long-kept secret — we’ll transform our storefront exhibition space into a mailbox from the past. The letters will join us as a mini collection on the Sketchbook Project 2012 Tour!

They also have a free project called ‘The Meal’. Here’s their description of it:

One moment. One meal. One photograph. Let’s eat.

On February 24th at 12pm EST, join thousands of people around the world in a simultaneous global meal. Whether it’s breakfast in LA or a midnight snack in Beijing, let’s take a moment from our hectic lives and share it with strangers around the world. Snap a photo of yourself and your meal and mail it to us — we’ll create an exhibition from these self-portraits, documenting the world’s largest communal snack.

You can manage that, can’t you?