Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Taos Toolbox Postmortem

I came. I survived. My head hurts.

I’m still processing much of my Taos Toolbox experience, but I’m feeling inspired, if overwhelmed, by all the information and feedback that was crammed into fourteen days as well as all the new writer comrades I made.

Every workday, we met in the common room at 10am for a morning lecture by Nancy Kress. That was followed by critiques of people’s work, which usually straddled lunchtime. Then there was an afternoon lecture by Walter Jon Williams. The rest of the day was reserved for critiquing, assignments, and drafting a new story for Week 2.

Critiques followed the Milford model, where the authors must remain silent as the rest of the writers take turns sharing their thoughts on the story. It was an intense process but ultimately very helpful as I start to contemplate revisions for the projects I shared at the workshop.

We also had a frank and informative guest lecture by Daniel Abraham on what it takes to have a successful career in SF/F. Hint: Multiple brands (ie, writing in different genres with associated pennames) to hedge against the quirks of the marketplace.

Weekends, I took every opportunity to hike in the Taos Ski Valley during the day and at night I drank my share of New Mexico made Gruet Blanc de Noirs champagne and discussed the writing life with my fellow participants. After all, this workshop was a celebration of sorts—rewarding how far I’ve come and acknowledging future opportunities, so long as I’m in a position to capitalize on them.

For some participants, this was not their first workshop, but there were others like me who had no preconceived ideas what this experience would be like. Though there was a range of experience levels, everyone was dead serious about perfecting their craft and learning what it takes to be a professional writer. And I’m proud my fellow attendees will be my publishing peers to come!

For more insights into the Taos Toolbox experience, check out fellow Toolboxer Catherine Schaff-Stump’s evolving collection of interviews and links of participant experiences.

Finally here are some tidbits I gleaned from the lectures over the last two weeks, which are hopefully as helpful to you as I found them:
  • Sometimes it’s more important to be interesting than clear when writing SF/F 
  • You can almost always cut “locomotion” writing that gets your characters two and from the real scenes 
  • Exposition works so long as you’ve earned it 
  • If scene(s) don’t build towards the explosion at the end of an act or the book’s finale, cut them 
  • The end of a sentence, paragraph, section, chapter, book is the power position 
  • If you get stuck, ask yourself what else can go wrong 
  • Attach emotions to observations
  •  A writer’s only job is to set reader’s expectations and then meet them 
  • Readers shouldn’t be worrying about what is happening in your story—they should be worried about what happens next.
Happy writing!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Taos Bound

I wrote this on Sunday after arriving in Taos for the writing workshop that will takeover the next two weeks of my life.

To say I’m anxious would be an understatement. I’m not quite shaking in my boots though because as intense as the workshop will be, I know it’s also the next logical step for a writer in my position. I’m no longer a newbie, but far far far from being an expert, and that’s exactly who this workshop is tailored for.

And you’d be surprised at just how much the knowledge that this is the right time for such a step settles the nerves.

After spending the last week and a half reading other participants’ work, I know that they are all in that in-between place I’m in—with different strengths and weaknesses—and most importantly, with things they can teach me. This is a self-selected bunch of serious writers, and I’m proud to count myself among them.

Add on top of that, two SF legends as our teachers, and there’s no excuse for me not to learn something. A lot of somethings…

I know all this. But still…scary.

As I mentioned in Know Your Genre, I fear I’m not as well read as I should be. Then when Week 1 submissions were expected sooner than I anticipated, I sent out a panicked SOS to my CPs and local group. Of course, everyone was very helpful, and I managed to apply their feedback and suggestions in time to send my work off to the workshop participants. But instead of feeling relieved, it just made everything seem more fraught.

Then there’s the fact that I know no matter how positive a workshop experience could or should be, there’s going to be some hard parts too. People will point out things about me and my writing that’s going to be hard to hear, and sometimes, even worse, harder to fix.

But I guess the whole point of something like this is leaving yourself open to new experiences. Giving yourself every opportunity to learn, and when it’s all over, find ways to adapt and change and better yourself and your craft.

So that’s me for the next two weeks. I look forward to catching up with you when I get back.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

RIP Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury passed away today.

I read every book and short story of his I could get my hands on growing up, and the dogeared books still grace my bookshelves.

We read "All Summer in a Day" in my eighth grade English class and that story almost made me weep. His work explored every aspect of the human condition, a feat made more impressive by his output.

Here's an interview with Bradbury, where he discusses his work. It's a half-hour long, but time well spent with one of the most influential figures in speculative fiction.

Also, he discusses his inspirations in writing science fiction in this recent piece from The New Yorker.
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