MileHiCon 48

mhc48This is a bit last minute, but I’m finally stealing the time from something else to invite you to come out to MileHiCon 48.

I’ll be there.

Come say hi!

Here’s my schedule:

Friday

9 PM: Writer Meetup at the Bar

Pikes Peak Writers volunteers will be there (with deelie-boppers on!) to host a get-together for all writerly types. It’ll be just outside the bar area on the second floor. Come mingle! Come drink (if you want to, not required)! Come chat! We’re all nice folks and won’t bite.

Saturday

4 PM: Brewing/Vintning Round Table

Come join me and four others as we sit around in a quiet room and talk the ups, downs, messes, successes, and wonders of homebrewing your own beer and wine.

Sunday

11 AM: Open Mic

Instead of specific author readings this year, we’re doing an Open Mic session for 90 minutes. Come read a bit (about 5 minutes worth, so we can get to everyone) from your book, poetry, short story, flash fiction, or some other form of writing. Try to keep it PG-13 if you can.

Misc

When I’m not at one of the above things, you can either find me in the general area of the con, in a panel, or at the Pikes Peak Writers table selling tickets to the Pikes Peak Writers Conference at an early-bird rate!

Five More Tips for Making a Conference Great

I’ve been thinking about my first post that contained five tips for making the most of a conference. I jotted down a few notes on adding five more tips, and I wanted to share them with you here.

1) Practice Your Pitch

If you’re going to be pitching your book to an agent or editor, then you need to know it inside and out. Depending on the conference, you only have a few minutes to “sell” the idea of your book to the person sitting on the other side of the table. They will have questions. You will have questions. Leave some time for those queries to flow across the table. As an example, my pitch takes roughly 70 seconds. That’s only a little over a minute, and I wrap it up by asking them what else they want to know about the book. Don’t get nervous about answering the questions. You’ve written the book. You know the book. It’s come from your soul, so you probably know it better than you own child. The questions are usually easy to answer. I’ve had a few people ask me if their manuscript needs to be completed before they pitch. I used to answer, “Yes, always,” but I’ve come to soften that stance a little. If you can finish the novel in a high quality manner in a professional period of time, then you can be close to done, but not quite done. If you can polish things off within a few weeks of the end of the conference, great. If you can send a full manuscript their way within a day or three of the agent/editor asking for it, all the better! Here are some resources from Linda Rohrbough and Delve Writing that may help. Check out the Delve Writing link sooner rather than later. It’s a class that happens very soon. What happens if you get a “Send It!” from the agent/editor? Well, I’ll cover that in the next day or two as it’s a large topic. It’s something you should be prepared for, so keep an eye out for that future post.

2) Plan Your Schedule

As soon as you can get your hands on the schedule of classes, look it over. Make plans. Combine the scant information in the schedule (the font can only get so small, and the boxes are only so large) with the expanded information in the conference program. Get the information online if you can. If not, get to the registration desk early. There will be lines. Plan on that. Once you’re through registration and have your hands on things, find a quiet corner to scour the schedule. Have a two different colored highlighters handy. Use one color (I usually use yellow) for the primary thing you want to go to. Use the other color (blue, for me) as a backup session in the same time slot. If you get to the primary and find all the seats taken or the doors already closed due to fire safety measures, hustles to your second pick. Near the end of the current session, quietly pull out your highlighter marked schedule and find out where your next #1 session is going to be. This will help guarantee that you’ll be one of the first in and will be able to pick a prime seat.

3) Don’t Bring Your Manuscript With You

There’s no need to have a copy of your manuscript with you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a copy on a thumb drive or a perfect-bound copy you had made at the local copy store. People interested in your novel will want you to contact them via their already established methods. Agents/Editors at a conference already have enough crap to haul back to their home. Many of them are from out of state and will be flying home. They don’t want to haul more paper back with them. “But a PDF on their laptop won’t make it heavier!” Yeah. I know. But that inadvertent virus on your thumb drive can destroy everything on their laptop. You don’t mean to do it. You might be the most cautious computer person in the world, but they don’t know that. They can’t risk their laptop (which is probably tied to their livelihood) when they already have an established manner for you to get your novel to them. Just bring a notebook and jot down how they want you to send it and follow the instructions.

4) Get A Room!

While looking at the published schedule, you might notice that things end between seven and nine in the evening. You think to yourself, “Self. I can just drive home after things and come back in the morning. Ah, the joys of sleeping in my own bed.” What you may not realize is that there are unofficial, after-hours events going on. Some of it happens at the public bar. Some of it happens in other attendees’ rooms/suites. Some of it may happen in a semi-official (or completely official) “con suite” where drinking, talking, networking, and other socializing goes on. These after-hours events can go until two, three, even four, in the morning. Wanna lose some vital sleep while driving home and back again? I think not. Getting a room for the night is a vital way to snag another hour or two of sleep that night. When you’re only getting three-to-five hours a night, losing two hours (or so) can be a direct path to coming down with ConCrud. No one wants that.

5) Attend BarCon

As I’ve said above, there are some after-hours events. Go. To. Them. Hang at the bar. Chill out (if invited) in someone’s suite where the party (and, sometimes, absinthe fountain) is at. While you’re in sessions, you’re learning. Your brain is being filled, but that social animal in you is being ignored. There’s hardly any time between the sessions to truly socialize and network. Meals are a great time to meet people, but you’re at a table with (at most) nine other people. You need to expand the chain of people you know (and that know you!) more than those nine people. Hitting BarCon is the way to go. The most powerful words to get someone’s time and rapt attention at a conference are, “Can I buy you a drink?” It’s not a cheesy pick up line. It’s a ice-breaker. It’s a door-opener. Maybe that door that opens is the one that will lead to a great leap forward in your writing career. You never know!

Five Tips for Making the Most of a Conference

Pikes Peak Writers recently hosting our second annual Write Your Heart Out Event, which is a free half-day showcase of what to expect at our annual Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Congrats to Shannon and her staff of volunteers for putting together a fantastic event!

I had prepared a series of interludes between the main speakers in which I was going to cover five tips for making the most of a conference. When we sat down to hash out speaker order, timings, and such, it turned out we were going to be over our allotted time for the event. My five tips was removed from the programming, so we didn’t go over.

So my humongous time and energy efforts don’t go to waste, I’m posting the tips here…. Okay… I can’t lie. My “humongous” efforts boil down to a single side of a 3×5 index card. 🙂

Here are the tips for you to use to get the most out of your conference experience:

1) Business Cards

PPWC has around 300 attendees, staff, and faculty movin’ and shakin’ through the rooms and hallways. You’re going to meet quite a few of them. You’re going to connect with some, and will want to maintain those connections long-term. Let’s assume you want to foster those long-term connections with a mere 15% of the people there, that’s about 60 people. In addition to meeting people, you’re going to sessions, meals, events, and BarCon in the after hours. That’s too much for your brain to take in and lock down tight. Everyone else is in the same boat. I don’t care how interesting and wonderful you are. If you don’t have something to hand to your new connections, they’re going to have a hard time remembering you in full detail.

To this end, you need business cards. Here are my rules for business cards.

  • Matte, white (or ecrue or eggshell or something like that) card stock. If it’s black or glossy, pens won’t work too well. If the other person wants to jot a mnemonic note, it’s impossible unless your base cardstock supports that.
  • Clear text with only the contact information you’re comfortable giving a stranger. I have web site, Facebook, Twitter, and email. My phone number is not on my business cards. If I want someone to have it, I write it on the back.
  • Be professional in the layout and imagery on the card. These are business cards after all.
  • An image/icon/logo/photo is fine, but remember to keep it simple. This will keep your costs down, and that “perfect” headshot of yours will look like crap scaled down to a small picture on the business card. Save your money and go with a logo/icon of something the recipient will remember.
  • Have a few in your wallet. Have even more in your briefcase/backpack/purse/messenger bag. Have even more in your luggage. Have even more in your room. You might run out of the “easy to grab” pile and will have to restock. I also stash a few in my Nook, my laptop case, and other vitals that I might lose track of during the conference. These “stashed cards” are invaluable at ensuring I have the best chance possible to have my item(s) returned to me.

2) Avoid ConCrud

ConCrud. Yeah. It’s real. You’re already taking vacation time to attend a conference. Don’t burn more of it while you recover from that mystery bug you picked up while shaking peoples’ hands. There’s lots of that going on, and with each handshake you up your chances of getting a bug. I’m not trying to scare you into a weird phobia of touching people. It’s just a fact you should be aware of. There are some things you can do to avoid ConCrud:

  • Hydrate — Water intake (especially at altitude) will help keep your immune system purring along smoothly.
  • Hand Sanitizer — A small bottle of this stuff can go a long way. Keep a stash of some spare bottles in your room or bag.
  • Wash Your Hands — I sometimes hit the bathroom just to wash my hands. I use lots of soap and get the water as hot as I can stand it.

3) 3-2-1 Rule

You’re going to be running around like crazy as you meet new people, find old friends, attend wonderful sessions, and stay up way too late at the bar and the after-hours parties in the rooms. It’s a wonder you’ll get any sleep at all. Well, it’s vital for you to take care of yourself. Nothing sucks more than paying for three, four, or even five days of programming only to bonk hard on the next-to-last-day and spend the last day commiserating in your hotel room.

To this effect, I have my 3-2-1 rule. I really don’t remember where I picked this up from. If someone knows the origin of this rule, please let me know, and I’ll gladly give credit where credit is due.

Three hours of sleep per 24 hours — minimum. (Get more if you can.)

Two meals per 24 hours — minimum. (Guess what? PPWC provides these!)

One shower per 24 hours — minimum. (This last rule is not for your benefit! It’s for everyone else!)

4) Note Taking Devices

I take tons of notes at conferences. I’m “old school” in that I use pen and paper. At the 2012 PPWC, I was in an all-day session with Donald Maass as a speaker. I had a brand new gel pen, and a brand new spiral notebook. There were about 40 minutes left in his teaching for the day when my pen just stopped working. I don’t know if it jammed, gunked up, ran dry, or what. I didn’t care. What I cared about was capture as much of Donald’s brilliance as I could. I jammed my hand into my messenger bag and come up with a writing device…. A Big Fat Sharpie. Crud. Well, the last 8-9 pages of my notes from that day were written in Big Fat Sharpie. Hah! My point? Keep two writing devices immediately handy and plenty of paper. I actually recommend having two pens per day of the event already in your bag. If you don’t go through them all, then you have some spare pens for the next conference.

If you’re the type that has to take notes on an electronic device, don’t assume you’ll be able to plug it in. Actually, assume the opposite. Power cords are trip hazards. This means they are generally not allowed within the sessions. Make sure your laptop, tablet, phone, or whatever, has the battery oomph to last 3-4 hours with continual use.

5) Relax

Now for the most important rule. RELAX! You’re going to be running at an engine’s equivalent of “red line” for many days without much time to stop and breathe. Force yourself to skip a session. Maybe you chill in your room for 20 minutes and you get to BarCon late. That’s okay. Endurance racers don’t spring (or red line their engines) for the entire race. It’s a pacing thing. Find your comfortable pace and stick with it. If you find yourself dragging a little, take a small break. It’s okay to miss a session or two during a 3-4 day event. Maybe more if the event is 5-6 days in length. It’s okay to show up late to BarCon. You also don’t have to shutdown the bar and be the last to stumble to your room. Different people have different endurance capacities. Find yours, and stick to it. There’s no need for you to force yourself to keep up with someone that has those abnormally huge energy reserves.

I hope this post helps someone out there get more out of a conference!

If you have any tips of your own, drop them in the comments. I’d love to see what folks have to say.

Time Management for Writers

This is based on a presentation I have at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference earlier this year. My co-presenter was Cindi Madsen, but these thoughts here are based off my notes and what I wanted to present.

I’m putting this here because I attended the Castle Rock Writers Conference today, and one of the sessions I sat in on was how to juggle writing and a full-time job. Most people consider me an expert in this area because of how much I get done when I’m not at the Day Job.

However, I’ve been slacking on my writing these days, and I felt I needed a refresher course. The session helped me out a great deal. While I didn’t learn anything new, I was reminded of several tips and tricks that I had let fall by the wayside.

In an effort to remind myself further of how to manage my own time, I’m putting this together for everyone out there to learn from. Let’s get started!

Make Time

You can not find time. It’s not a quarter on the ground waiting to be picked up. You are allotted the same 168 hours in a week that everyone else gets. There’s no way to get extra (except for maybe that pesky hour shift during daylight savings, but an extra hour a year won’t make a difference to anyone.) You have the same time as everyone else. What you make time to do is what matters. Every time I hear someone say, “I’d love to write, but I can’t find the time,” I grind my teeth. Here’s why I react so strongly to such statements:

Flashback to 2010

The busiest time in my life was in 2010. Here’s what my typical week looked like during this year:

Activity Hours/Week (168/week)
Full Time Graduate Student 20
Full Time+, Lead Software Engineer 45
President of the CSFWG 8
Webmaster of the CSFWG 5
Commute to/from Work 8
Sleep (~6 hours a night) 42
Family (Wife + 2 Year Old Son) 25
Writing 15

I’m not posting this chart to brag. I’m showing you this to illuminate how busy Real Life can be. I was left with a mere 15 hours each week to work on my writing. During this year, I wrote (and finished) most of a novel, and roughly a dozen short stories. This is not counting the endless pages of critiques I did this year.

Because of my busy life during 2010, when someone claims they can’t find the time to write, I call bullshit. Everyone can make the time to write if they are passionate enough about it.

Now to the meat of things. How do you go about making time to write?

Stolen Moments

You don’t have to block out hours on end for writing (that does help, though). You can steal moments from your life with which to write. This means being prepared to write at any location and at any time. Make sure you always have a writing device and some paper with you.

If you can, drag your typical writing implements with you everywhere. This can be your laptop if that’s your preferred writing method. At a minimum invest in a pen that is comfortable for your hand and a few Moleskin (or similar) notebooks. Keep one in your car. Keep another in your purse (for the ladies). Keep another in your office desk. Keep another in your back pocket if you can. Scatter them around your life. You never know when you’ll have a moment or five to write.

Last winter, I hit a pretty hefty patch of ice and found myself up against a fence and in a bar ditch. I couldn’t get out of my car, but I was unharmed. After calling my wife to let her know what happened, I called AAA for a tow truck. They told me it would take about an hour for the tow truck to arrive. I pulled out my notebook and outlined five short story ideas. I didn’t get to write any of them as I was in “idea mode,” but it was still forward progress on my writing. This was a stolen moment for me.

Here are some places/times where you can steal moments. These are all things where waiting and doing nothing is common.

  • Emergency Room
  • DMV
  • Lunch Break
  • Driving (voice only or percolate on your story)
  • Public Transportation
  • Oil Changes
  • Waiting on others
  • Auto repairs
  • Napping Baby
  • Child goes to bed early

Make sure to keep your laptop battery charged at all times. You never know when a moment will strike to write!

Schedule Time

Stealing moments of time is great, but if you can schedule time, even better. As a writer, you are a small business. Yes, you are also an artist, but remove that “artist hat” for a moment, and put on the “business hat” for a bit.

As a one-person small business, you have to treat your writing like it’s a job. Sure, it might be a part-time job for some of you, and a full-time job for others. Whatever the case may be, jobs come with meetings. We all hate them because we feel horribly unproductive while sitting in a conference room instead of being at our desks doing what we do best.

However, in this case, putting something down on your calendar can pull you away from your Real Life distractions (the dishes can wait) and put you in a place where you can get some words down on paper.

Make meetings for yourself in your calendar. Stick to those meetings. If something non-essential comes up during your meeting, decline it. Tell people, “Sorry, I have a meeting during that time.” If you want, you can tell them it’s to write, but you don’t have to. If you just stick to the line I’ve just given you, people will understand and know that you are busy at that time.

If you get to the meeting early, or if you stay late after the meeting is over, reward yourself. Maybe you get to go to the movies on Friday night, or have a date night with your spouse. Perhaps you get to buy that book you’ve been eagerly awaiting. Maybe it’s a spa day or just a candy bar from the local corner store. Set up appropriate awards for yourself that reflect how much of a “dedicated employee” you’ve been while working for your small business.

If you are late to a meeting or miss one entirely, then it’s time for punishment. Think about what your boss might do to you. Maybe it’s more work or additional meetings (e.g.: additional writing time). Maybe you don’t get to go to the movie. Maybe you don’t see it at all until it’s out on DVD. Maybe you have to get black coffee at the coffee shop instead of a frappachino. Maybe you call your massage place and cancel your appointment for next week. While you’re not going to the movies or getting a massage, guess what you’ll be doing? That’s right! You’ll be writing! (See how that works out?)

Reduce External Interruptions

When you’ve scheduled that meeting with yourself, get rid of external interruptions. These are (usually) things out of your control that try to steal the time you’ve made for yourself. Some of these are within your control, so grab them by the neck and wrangle them to your will.

Here are my tips for reducing external interruptions:

  • Close the door (if you have an office or bedroom to use)
  • Put a sign on the door warning people away.
  • Go somewhere else.
    • Coffee Shop
    • Library
    • A mostly vacant diner late at night
    • Panera Bread
  • Turn the ringer off on your phone. (Don’t even let it vibrate!)
  • Turn off the WiFi on your laptop.
    • The Internet will still be there when you’re done with your meeting. I promise.

Most of these are establishing solitude for yourself. However, don’t become a hermit. You still need to have fun with family/friends and socialize. Balance your life.

Reduce Internal Interruptions

Internal interruptions are probably more destructive to the time you’ve made than anything else. These are things you do to yourself to keep you from writing. I’m not talking about writer’s block or anything like that. I’m talking about activities that you actively engage in that distract you from your writing.

  • Again, turn off the Internet. If you need it for research then avoid:
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • Tumblr
    • Pinterest
    • etc.
    • Email
    • Non-vital research
      • Avoid rabbit holes.
      • Set a timer to limit research

Idle Your Engine

You obviously can’t be productive ever moment of your day/week/month/life. Attempting to do this will lead to a miserable life, and will only burn you out on the concept of writing. This will, of course, kill your productivity, and that’s not what we want to happen.

You need to, from time-to-time, step away from the keyboard (or pen) and just let your brain run at a slower pace. You’ll be amazed at the ideas that spring forth when you’re not actively thinking about your prose. Again, be prepared to capture these moments with a pen and notebook handy.

Things you can do that idle your brain:

  • Laundry
  • Dishes
  • Vacuum
  • Change the oil on your car yourself
  • Go for a countryside drive
  • Shovel some snow
  • Walk the dog (or alone if your dog-less)
  • Play with your children
  • Talk with your spouse

Increase Your Productivity

We’ve talked about ways to avoid productivity killers, but there are some tricks to increasing your word count during a scheduled meeting. These are broken down into external and internal motivations. These can be used in combination with each other.

I’ll say this up front, though. Some of these work for most people. Some don’t. Give them a try. If you find something here that doesn’t help you out, then either adjust it until it does work, or you can walk away from the suggestion. It won’t hurt my feelings either way.

External Motivations

Find the #1k1hr Twitter hashtag and participate! Wait. I thought I told you to turn off the Internet and Twitter? Well, the 1k1hr hashtag on Twitter is a challenge you share with other writers during the same hour. The goal is to write 1,000 words from the top of an hour to the top of the next hour. Guess what? This means you fire up the Internet and hit Twitter just before the top of the hour and join in the fun with a tweet. Then you kill the Internet and close the Twitter tab in your browser. Just before the one hour is up, get back online and prepare to compare word counts with your fellow writers.

Find a “support group.” This can come in the form of a critique group, beta readers, or writing partner. They are your initial audience for your writing. They expect submissions from you. They want your words. If you haven’t written anything by the time the next meeting (or scheduled email) date rolls around, they’ll be disappointed. Don’t do that to them! This kind of motivation can help you churn out the words.

Similar to #1k1hr on Twitter, you can sometimes find a “word war” going on at Facebook with your fellow writers. Perhaps you challenge someone to a word war. Sometimes you put out the fact that you want to be challenged. The idea behind this is to set a time limit (usually 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour) and see who can crank out the most words during this time period. It’s actually great fun to cheer on someone else ‘s word count at the end, and you get cheered on as well.

Write-ins are great fun, but only if done right. A proper write-in will start at a certain time, and the first 10-15 minutes are for socializing. This allows everyone to get set up, get the chatting out of their system, and then it’s down to business! The rest of the time is spent hammering the keyboard, except the last 10 minutes or so when everyone compares word counts. The energy (even when the only sound is the skritch of pen on paper or the clattering of keys) in the room is palpable. It’s a great time. Another thing I’ve sometimes seen at write-ins is that everyone brings a book they no longer want. The person with the highest word count production at the end of the write-in gets to take all of the books home. I recommend bringing books on the craft/business of writing as rewards, but any kind of book is cool. There seem to be more write-ins during November and NaNoWriMo than other times of the year, but they do happen year-round.

Internal Motivations

How do you get into the right headspace to write? How do you stay there? What triggers those mysterious Alpha Waves in your brain that drive your creativity?

You can write to music. Some people can do this. Some people can’t. Perhaps you think you can’t, but maybe you haven’t found the right music yet. Some writers make a playlist for their story and put it on repeat. This helps keep them in the mood and tone they need to be in to execute their story properly.

Personally, I find the music that fits the current scene type that I’m writing. If I’m writing a fight scene (I do lots of those), then I put on some heavy metal. If I’m writing dialogue, I put on more lyrical and melodic tunes. If I’m writing narrative or description, I put on music without lyrics.

As I’ve mentioned above, you can reward yourself for accomplishing certain goals. Set a reward at certain word count markers. Set a big reward for typing “the end” on a story. You’ve earned the reward! Make sure you claim it. Just make sure it’s appropriate for the level of accomplishment reached. On one of her episodes of I Should Be Writing, Mur Lafferty said she will reward herself with an hour of Skyrim on the XBox for every two hours she writes.

Magic Spreadsheet

Another thing I learned from Mur’s podcast relates to this magical creation called The Magic Spreadsheet. You can earn points for each consecutive day in which you write. If you miss a day, you reset back to zero points and start over. You can create different awards for yourself for attaining more points. Set up larger rewards for larger point levels.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are tons of ways Real Life can get in the way. There are also ways you can get in your own way. There are methods to battle these distractions, and also approaches to increase your productivity when you write.

I hope this (rather lengthy) blog post has been useful to my fellow writers. If you have any tips or tricks of your own, please drop them in the comments.

Writing from the Peak :: My Presentation on Computer Security

My friend DeAnna was at my Practical Computer Security for Writers workshop, and she has written up a great set of articles about the presentation. Apparently, I dropped so much information during my few hours in front of some very great people that her editor has cut her report up into three different segments. Wow! I didn’t realize I had given forth that much information in such a short amount of time.

You can check out part 1 and part 2 of the article by following the links. They were released while I was away on vacation, and I’m catching up on things today. When part 3 is out, I’ll link to it as well.

Enjoy the read!

Pikes Peak Writers :: June Write Brain

Please join me on June 19th for the Pikes Peak Writers June Write Brain. Here’s the Facebook event link. The event starts at 6:30 and runs until around 8:30. The address of the Write Brain is 4980 Farthing Drive, Colorado Springs, CO 80906.

Here’s the run-down of the event:

This Write Brain will cover important aspects of computer security as it relates to writers. Learn how to protect your data, files, work, and (in some cases) livelihood from being lost to the great bit bucket in the sky. The session will also include information on how to write computer security in a plausible manner from the point of view of the defenders that protect data and the intruders who wish to steal or destroy data.

Here’s the short bio I put together for this event, since it calls out my areas of expertise on the subject matter:

J.T. may as well have grown up with a computer embedded in his brain. He started programming in 1980 at the tender age of seven, and by the time the early 1990s rolled around he was already on the fledgling networks which would become synonymous with the thing we call the Internet. J.T. very quickly learned that, like in dim alleyways, there are some very malicious people out there. He started delving into the world of computer security at this time and has gone on to earn his master’s degree in information assurance and has been a Certified Ethical Hacker since 2009. He’s worked for a variety of tech companies in a security role, and his primary focus in day-to-day life is web security. J.T. is a also a fantasy writer and is the president of the Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group.

If you’re planning on going, please visit the Facebook link at the top of the post and let the nice folks at Pikes Peak Writers know you’ll be making it.

Here are some more details about the location to help you find it:

This month’s Write Brain will be held at Colorado Springs Fire Station 16 in the Broadmoor Bluffs area.  The address is:
C.S. Fire Station 16
4980 Farthing Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80906
The fire station is set back from the main road, behind Oak Meadows Park.