Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Conventions, Conventions, Conventions!

Hey all,

First of all, I wanted to thank everyone who said a kind word about my story “Super. Family.” either here or on the Realms of Fantasy forum site. I can’t tell you how much such things mean to me.

Second, just got back from Polaris (Trekcon Toronto) and it reminded me of a post I was going to make. One of the most common questions you hear as a writer is: Do you have any advice on getting into the field? Now, I wouldn’t presume to offer anything as concrete as advice at this point in my career, but I do have two strong suggestions based on my experience and the mistakes I’ve made on this strange and wonderful road. One is a classic: Write every day. I’ll touch on this in a future post because there’s a reason why everyone says it, but for a simple concept, it’s often misunderstood.

The second suggestion is no less important: go to conventions.

Being a writer of prose or poetry is, in many ways, a solitary pursuit. I work a fair bit in the improv and acting communities in Toronto. As such, I’ve been surrounded by writers for the past twenty years. Just not my type of writer. Theatre, film, improv and sketch are all social arts. With any writing you do for these arts, you're likely to get feedback from peers and from an audience. Through the process of rehearsal and performance, you’ll naturally intermingle with peers and, in doing so, feed off each other. Even long before you succeed professionally (ie. Receive a paycheck for your work) you’ll receive a great deal of visceral gratification in the form of support, applause, and affirmation of your work. And not merely from friends and family; often you’ll receive support and affirmation from strangers and even professionals in the field as well.

None of this naturally occurs with the pursuit of a career in prose writing. Even breaking into smaller, non-paying magazines can be a process of rejection for some time. It can be difficult to get large-scale feedback, especially professional feedback, without paying for it. Hell, it can be difficult to find others at your peer level. So it isn’t hard to end up wandering in the woods, so to speak. Lord knows, I did.

One recent development, the online community, provides an outlet for many of these issues and potentially makes breaking into the field within the last ten years a far less lonely prospect. That said, nothing beats human contact, and for that…go to conventions.

My first convention was Ad Astra last year and within an hour I’d learned more about my field than I did in my first ten years. I remember thinking, you idiot, you should have done this when you were twenty (it was trickier finding out about such things when I started, but that’s still a poor excuse).

At conventions you’ll hear advice from the best in the field, and I’m a firm believer you’re more likely to take advice seriously when it’s directly infront of you. You’ll learn things that you knew you needed to find out about and you’ll learn things you didn’t even realize you needed to know. You’ll meet your peers.

I found my writer’s group because I was at a convention. I found my second writer’s group (I’m in a Sci-Fi and a YA group) because I met someone at a convention. I got my NY agent (Miriam Kriss, who is awesome) at a convention. I met the author (Adrienne Kress, who is awesome) who told me about the convention where I got my NY agent at a convention.

Do you see where I’m going with this? And I haven’t even mentioned the bathtubs full of beer at Anticipation last year.

So that’s my biggest personal suggestion if you’re breaking in. First rule: Write every day. You can’t escape that one. But after that, go to conventions. Meet everyone you can. And by the way, if you’re like me and a little shy in these situations, I’ll let you in on a little secret: Most of us are. So say hi anyway. If you see me, I will never shun you, promise. If I’m with a group or someone I know, I might only be able to give you five minutes right then and there, but I will say hello, and if you want to talk, I’ll try to let you know when I’ll be free to give you a decent amount of time. And I suspect most writers, editors and agents at the cons feel the same.

So go find the convention for your genre in your area. There’s probably more than one. Then tuck your pen or netbook into a bag, grab a snack, and walk through the doors.

Your people are waiting.



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