Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Preparing for a Conference

Once you are active in the writing and submitting process, you will be networking more and more.  You know the importance of getting your name out to the public before you publish, so when you do publish, your name will be recognized.  By now, you've probably connected with writer's groups in your area.  But how about local conferences?  It's a great place to start meeting other writers and connect with editors and agents on a more personal level than at national writer's conferences. 

Later this week, I will be attending the Chicago-North Spring Fling conference.  I already know some of the people who will be attending.  But I'll meet many more.  In order to make the most of the conference, I will go prepared. 

First, as with all conferences, I will confirm the dates and times of the conference, arrange any necessary travel (taxi, airplane, etc.) and confirm my hotel reservations if staying overnight.  If driving, I'll print out driving directions, even though I have a GPS, because it's not always accurate.  I write the phone number of the conference site or hotel on the directions in case I get lost or traffic has me delayed. 

Before I pack, I check the dress code, and select outfits accordingly.  I always bring an extra set of clothes just in case there is a wardrobe malfunction or other emergency.  I pack outfits that coordinate with each other to keep shoes and accessories to a minimum.  And I always pack a sweater or shawl, even in the middle of summer because conference rooms are usually cold.  Bottled water is a must to keep me hydrated.

Once I'm taken care of, I collect all the business-type items I will need, like notebooks and pens, and a bag or tote to carry everything.  Even though the hotel or conference sometimes supplies these items, I don't want to take the chance, so I come prepared.  If I'm presenting, I'll need my laptop, or at least my presentation on a flash drive, my notes, a newsletter sign-up sheet, and any giveaways or handouts I'll have for the audience.  I always check with the coordinator to see what guidelines they have for promotion/advertising.  I also like to bring my name tag, just in case there is an error with the conference tag.  My camera is optional, as I can use my phone for that also.   

Most important, I'll bring plenty of business cards.  This is vital when meeting someone.  It gives both of us a way to connect after conference.  When first meeting someone, I ask for the other person's card first before offering my own.  After accepting their card, I take the time to make a notation on the back, identifying where I met the person, what they write, and any other interesting facts about them.  For example, if I meet another historical writer who has been to London recently and talked about the wonderful book stores there, I'll write that on the card.  When I'm planning my own trip, I can look through my cards for the "London book stores" note, then drop the person an e-mail and ask them for the names of the stores.

I'll probably meet agents and editors at conference.  If he/she hands me their card, and mentions they like Victorian romances, I'll write "Victorian" on the card. Then, when I'm ready to submit, I'll try them first, since I know they like the time period about which I write.

I maintain a professional image at all times while at conference.  I never talk about anyone in the industry (unless it's good) in the elevator or at gatherings.  I don't know who knows whom, and might take it back to that person.  The writing industry is small and I don't want to give bad impressions to anyone.

Finally, conference doesn't end when I walk out the door.  If an agent or editor asks for a submission, I send it out as soon as possible.  I also drop a note to those persons whose cards I collected and thank them for their time.  This is a good time to invite them to visit my web page, "LIKE" me on Facebook, sign up for my newsletter, or follow my blog.   I don't ask for this all at once, though!  I'll usually invite them to visit my web site, then add links to the rest in my email signature. 

Writing is fun, and competitive!  Being prepared can make the difference between failure and success.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Guest Blogger - Laura Moore, author of Trouble Me

Hi Michelle!

Thanks so much for having me as a guest blog on The Organized Writer.

First, everyone, I have a confession to make. I’m not the world’s most organized writer. I tend to prefer scraps of papers with scribbled ‘notes to self’ to spreadsheets or electronic files with labeled with helpful headings. On my writing desk are stacks of books. Some of these I consult obsessively. They look as if they’ve sprouted yellow sticky notes. Others are just there. It’s as if I’ve placed the tomes beside me in the hope I’ll absorb their information by proximity. Next to the books are the pictures, tear sheets, and articles, thick folders full of them that I’ve collected about any number of subjects, from architecture to circus acts to sugar daddies, as well as my dog-eared notebook that has ideas, snatches of dialogue, and snippets of scenes from my work in progress jotted down whenever the mood has struck me.

When I wrote my first four novels these tools stood me in good stead. More than good stead in fact. I have a decent memory and an active imagination so remembering my characters’ names and their particulars wasn’t that difficult over the course of four hundred pages. But when I received a contract to write my Rosewood Trilogy, the first I’d ever attempted, and began thinking about its structure, one where subplots were woven through the three stories and where the cast of characters expanded with each successive book, I realized something new was needed. Otherwise my head would explode.

For a period I was at a complete loss as how best to proceed. I began to fear that I’d bitten off more than I could chew. Luckily I had a friend who was a professional writing coach in Chicago (Nancy Beckett, founder of the Lakeside Writing Studio) and she gently guided me to a solution. I realized that I didn’t need to jettison my old yet beloved ways of collecting information and storing ideas, I simply needed to adopt new ones to manage this bigger and more complex world. The trick was finding ones I’d actually use.

For me, the answer wasn’t to be found in spreadsheets, admirable though they are. My personality is better suited to blank spaces without boxes. So I simply began to make lists. I made lists of all the characters in each book and included all relevant information: age, occupation, where they lived, and their importance to the story. I made lists of places—stores, homes, restaurants, schools, to name just a few--and included rough descriptions of their location in Warburg, the fictitious town I created where much of my trilogy unfolded. And since the trilogy was centered on Rosewood, a large horse breeding and training farm, one of the most extensive lists I compiled was of the horses bred, raised, and sold.

This sounds ridiculously simple, but without this basic organization I would have been lost in the story. Moreover, I found these lists increasingly crucial as I moved from the first book, Remember Me, to Believe in Me, and then to the last book in the trilogy, Trouble Me for they helped me to recall crucial details I’d mentioned in the first four hundred pages.

Another challenge I faced was to devise a quick and easy way to remember the key events that took place in the trilogy. As my trilogy story was about three sisters, there was a great deal of history--of family lore and unexplained events—that needed to be included. The tool I found most useful to chart all the sequence of events was a timeline. Or rather, four timelines. I made one timeline for each novel and then because I wanted to see how the events spanned the entire trilogy I created a kind of super-timeline that incorporated the significant moments in the ‘history’ of this family.

The most important thing I learned about trying to organize my approach to writing was how idiosyncratic a process it is. What I found to be useful, you may not. Whether fancy and high tech, or barebones-simple, the only thing that matters is if it works for you.

Happy writing,


Friday, April 13, 2012

Coming April 18 - A visit with Laura Moore

Laura Moore, Contemporary Romance Author

Come visit us Wednesday, April 18 when romance author Laura Moore will be our guest. She will share with us how she organized her characters, settings and timelines for her Rosewood Trilogy.

Comment and have a chance to win a copy of her latest release, Trouble Me, third book in the Rosewood Trilogy.

See you then!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Don't Interrupt Me Unless You're Bleeding, Or How to Balance Family and Writing

Writer Wednesday

One of the greatest benefits of being a writer, is the flexibility it gives you with your family’s schedule. You can work around school events, play dates, family parties, etc. You can put in a six-hour day while the kids are at school, but still be there when they get home. Or you can take a Friday off for a long weekend away with the spouse.

But the benefit is also the down side. Working from home can give family members the impression that you are available at a moment’s notice to take care of their needs. That you can drop anything and drive them around on their schedule.

This is where the problems begin. The more you say yes at the beginning, the more they will ask. The more you give over time, the more they will take, until you are doing more for others than you are yourself. Consequently, the writing suffers because you don’t have enough time to devote to it.

Here are some techniques to help you to work from home, and create a good balance of work and family.

Value Your Time—Your time is a precious commodity. Therefore, you should place a value on it. What would you charge per word if freelancing, and how many words can you write in an hour? Keep this figure in mind when someone asks you for a favor, or when there is work to be done around the house. Is it worth your hourly rate to do this chore or errand yourself? Or would you be better off hiring someone?

Prioritize—Plan ahead and see what absolutely has to get done that day, week, month. Prioritize your tasks accordingly. For example, you have a workshop presentation coming up on the 15th of the month. Start preparing weeks ahead—create an outline, write the workshop, practice, prepare handouts, etc. If you wait until the 14th to start preparing for a large project, it won’t be done to the best of your ability. Also, create a Command Center for the family. Have a calendar out in the open for all to see and use. For yourself, use a planner with both family and business so you don’t double-book. Look at your planner and calendar on a regular basis, so you can prioritize your tasks for each day.

Delegate—Get the cooperation of everyone in your family. Assign age-appropriate chores—even the youngest can help out. Hire out what can’t be done by family members. For example, is it worth it to have a weekly lawn maintenance service, or would you rather spend several hours a week mowing the lawn? Can you hire someone to pick up after your dog in the yard, or should you continue to do it?

Eliminate Interruptions—When you are home and have set aside time to work, don’t answer the phone (except in an emergency). Don’t reply to e-mails as they pop up. Save and reply to them all at once. Place a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door, and make sure your spouse and children respect your wishes. Have them understand that they can’t interrupt you unless they are bleeding.

Make the Most of Your Time—Make lists so you don’t forget anything. In meetings, have an agenda and follow it. Go to only one store instead of shopping three different ones for sales. The time and money you save in gas will be worth the extra you spend in groceries. Also, if you are having a repairman over to fix the plumbing, schedule the furniture delivery or furnace check the same day. Don’t take two days away from your work.

Work Wisely—Don’t over-schedule yourself. Don’t be a perfectionist all the time. Learn to delegate. Don’t procrastinate. And concentrate on the task at hand. Multi-task only if it doesn’t compromise the outcome. For example, phone calls from the car can be distracting if you are trying to write down phone numbers or check your calendar. But phone calls while cooking or watching soccer practice can be beneficial.

Play Wisely—Schedule in fun time with the family and date time with the spouse. Make it clear to family members that if everyone helps, everyone wins.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Business Side of Writing

Writing is a solitary profession. We sit at home in front of our computers, write our articles or manuscripts, then send them off in an email to an editor or agent. Unless we attend conferences or meetings, we rarely come face to face with others in the world of writing. But when we do, whether it's publishers or fans, it's imperative that we make a good impression.

Manners can make or break a relationship. Being considerate and respectful of others, shows sincerity in wishing them well. Making others feel good will make you feel good.

Here are a few tips for maintaining professionalism in a business setting.

--that innocuous little addition to your carefully planned wardrobe that becomes suddenly garish on your silk blouse. But they have a purpose, and can better serve that purpose if handled correctly. First of all, print your name clearly. Do not use script. A printed name is easier to read. If you want to be referred to by your first name, print it larger than your last. If you want others to refer to you by your title, include it on the nametag. Always wear the nametag on your right shoulder or lapel. It is easier to read when shaking hands with someone.

Meeting Colleagues--First opinions are instant, therefore you must be poised and gracious, your speech and actions confirming a favorable opinion. How do you do this? Make the other party feel as if he or she the most important person in the room. Look them in the eye and stand still. Don't rock back and forth on your heels no matter how nervous you are. Speak clearly and in complete sentences. Shake a hand if it is offered. In the work force, the highest-ranking person would initiate the handshake. That may be you, so feel free to do so.

Introductions--It is a common business practice to introduce oneself with first and last name only, although persons who have worked hard for their titles sometimes use them. Rank plays a role in introductions, but customers rank over everyone except dignitaries when it comes to business. The lower-ranking person is introduced to the higher-ranking person. The subordinate to the boss, the colleague to a customer. Verbalize the highest-ranking person's name first. For example, if Sue is the colleague and Mary is the customer, the introduction is as follows: "Mary, I'd like to introduce Sue to you. Sue, this is Mary."

Err on the conservative side when addressing a new colleague. Use their title (Mr., Ms., etc.) until they give you permission to address them by their first name. Never take the liberty of using a nickname unless it is offered. Be sure to repeat a name in greeting and during ensuing conversations. Not only will the person appreciate it, but saying it helps you remember the name for the future.

After the initial introduction, move on to small talk. Ask how they are, then add a compliment or other statement. In the business world, this should not be personal, that is, relating to clothes, family or the like. Also, in a group of people, never single out a person and compliment them. If you must compliment someone, compliment the group as a whole.

Conversations--A good rule of thumb is 'Think before you speak.' Listen to what others are saying before you jump in. Stay away from negative comments. Be generous with praise and careful of criticism. Be considerate of other's feelings. Avoid slang, and don't dominate the conversation. And by all means, be discreet. Confidences are just that--confidential.

Deadlines--Not only should you be on time to work or for appointments, you should meet any deadlines and keep any promises you make. Emergencies sometimes creep up, but if you have a reputation for reliability, you will more likely be granted that extension you need.

Dress--While acceptable attire varies from business to business, there are some general guidelines to help choose the wardrobe right for you. Look at what your boss or supervisor is wearing and dress similarly. Keep as conservative as possible. Shorts don't belong in the office setting, nor do gaudy nails or glitter and sequins. Skirts should not be higher than just above the knee, or fall below mid-calf. Shoes should be well kept, with heels no taller than two to three inches. And that perfume you love so much? Wear it for your enjoyment only.

So the next time that editor meets you at a conference, smile, shake hands and say hello. Make them feel as important as they are. You will be remembered not only for your manuscript, but also for your manners. Make that lasting impression a favorable one. Once back in your hotel room or home, you can kick back, relax, throw on the jeans and have that chewing gum again.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Get Rid of the Crap

This article arrived in my Inbox today, and I thought to myself—how appropriate. It is from Mark Henson at Spark Space, and I just had to share. It is geared toward an outside workplace, but is also applicable to your writing space at home. If you have a dog, you can identify with this analogy.

Get Rid of the Crap

Every workplace has crap. Every life has crap. It's inescapable. The problem is that we try to plow ahead with our projects, our deliverables, our day-to-day work, and we keep stepping in it. Our messes slow us down, create unnecessary chaos, and end up contributing to work that stinks.

To make powerful progress, you have to clean up the crap first.

So what does crap look like in the workplace? It can no doubt show up a million different ways, but here are three of the most common, ranked in order from easiest to hardest to clean up:

1. A MESSY SPACE. Never, ever underestimate how much a messy space slows you down. If your office, desk, storage, etc. is always in disarray, you are losing countless hours in productivity every day. That could mean hundreds or thousands of hours of lost productivity every year.

Also, never, ever underestimate the mental and emotional stress that a messy space causes. You might not think it does, but it does and here's the proof: clean up your space and THEN see how you feel. You will feel like a weight has been lifted, I promise.

The Fix: Do I really have to say it? Clean up your space! Even if you have to stop all work for a whole day or two to really deep clean and organize. Your energy, positivity, and productivity will explode once you've given it a clean space to play! This is always, always, always time well spent.

2. BROKEN STUFF. It might be something physically broken, like the filing cabinet drawer that you have to jiggle seven times and say a short prayer to get it to open. It might also be a system or process that's broken. This can take a bit longer to figure out and to fix. Is your invoicing system too cumbersome? Do you get consistent complaints about a particular feature of your product or service? Are there too many layers of permission required before a team member can move a project forward?

The Fix: This fix takes two steps: 1) Recognize what's broken. This might take a formal review of systems, physical space, etc. to really identify things that could be fixed or improved. 2) Fix it. As soon as possible.

3. POOR COMMUNICATION In most workplaces, this is the biggest, stinkiest, most ignored pile of crap of all. Poor communication can be caused by broken systems, conflicting personal agendas, and people who hoard information. But more often than not, it's caused by a lack of clarity about what good communication looks like in your organization, combined with an unwillingness to hold every team member accountable for practicing it.

The Fix: There are entire libraries of books written on the subject, but a great place to start is by having a candid conversation with your team to define what great communication should look like. Identify some specific areas of improvement and work on them one at a time. If you need some help, one of the best books on the subject is Crucial Conversations.

The most successful people, teams, and companies take the time to clean up their crap on a regular basis. They don't overlook it or sweep it under the rug. They proactively and methodically clean their "back yard" before they play in it.

One last thought, and it may be the most important thought in this entire article:

Realize that sometimes -- many times -- the crap you have to clean up is not your own.

In my backyard, I'm cleaning up the mess left behind by my two adorable golden retrievers. In your workplace, you might have to clean up space, fix some stuff, and improve communication problems caused by some of your adorable co-workers. This does not mean you shouldn't hold people accountable for their own messes. You should absolutely do that. But sometimes -- many times -- to move forward effectively, to create your best work, to impact the world in the positive, powerful way you know you can, you'll have to clean up someone else's mess first.