Monday, March 28, 2016

How To Pack For A Writer's Conference

*an updated post from the archives*

Writing is a private affair. It's a locked-in-a-closet, introspective exercise most often engaged in by textbook introverts who dream in colour, compose better than they speak, and birth their darlings upon pages only to weep over their death-by-edit later.

To take the writing creature and plop her down in a crowd of like-minded beings is to invite anxiety and excitement and fear and hope and a whole plethora of other emotions.

This Friday, along with a lovely friend and fellow member of Writer's Jam, I will be hitting the long road to Ottawa, journeying hour upon hour to participate in a one day Writer's Conference.

Because of the distance we will spend two glorious nights away, tucked neatly into a charming French hotel, across the Ottawa river, minutes from the conference location.

Perhaps it's strange, to dedicate an entire weekend to such an endeavor, but I look at it as an investment into my passion and I will do it without apology, with many pee and coffee breaks, while happily embracing the adventure of it all.

I'm really excited!

{I'm also really sick. I've basically been bedridden since Saturday. Today I woke up with absolutely no voice. The only sound I can make is a barking cough that feels as bad as it sounds. I'm like a sweaty, phlegmy creature from the deep. I have horrid bags under my eyes and I've been wearing the same hoodie since Friday night. Needless to say, I'm not at my best. I miss feeling pretty. And I really need to get over this before we leave on Friday—the flu is not something you want to pack for a conference!}

This will be my fourth writer's conference experience and I have learned a little bit in the area of preparation. Let me share with you The Four 'Don't Forget Them' Things. {and by four I mean about one hundred, but bear with me}:

Something to wear.

Something to show.

Something to write with.

Something for comfort.

Something to wear: 

Once you have registered for your conference you should receive a package detailing things like schedule and accommodations and yes, how to dress. Mine states 'Business Casual' to which I say, "phhhhhttttttt!"

Of course, this should be self-explanatory but, because I lack corporate confidence*, for me it is not. I googled 'Business Casual'. Once again, "phhhhhhtttttttttt!" Not that I have anything against it. It's just not who I am {remember?} I wear jeans to work. I try to picture myself in a pants suit and all I feel is sad.

My advice to you? Pack the clothing you feel comfortable in—that you feel your best self in. Whether you actually believe it or not, giving off an air of confidence will do wonders when you're sitting in your meetings with editors and agents.

At a prior conference I had a meeting with an agent {a darling southern gentleman in a ten-gallon hat} and I asked his advice on making myself attractive to an agent. After complimenting me on my firm handshake he said, "I must say, you've already made yourself quite attractive!" Guess what I was wearing? Jeans! He said nothing about wearing a blazer.

Pack nice clothes that can be mixed and matched into various comfortable outfits. And layers—you might be moving between buildings and rooms, from air-conditioning to outdoors to non-air-conditioned spaces {hooray for cardigans!}

Be sensible with your shoes. In a continuing class last year I sat beside a beautiful editor in three inch heels. She looked amazing and put together and super professional but all I could think was, 'her poor, poor feet!'

Something to show: 

Two conferences I've attended without business cards. How lame! If you take nothing else in the way of self-promotion, take business cards. I will admit that I do feel a little bit silly at the idea of handing them out—like I'm some self-important chump out to boast my own wares BUT everybody else will be doing it and people will ask for it and you don't want to be like I once was: "Ummmm, I didn't even think of that..." {I had my cards printed through Vista Print and was very pleased with how they turned out.}

Bring samples of your writing. Each conference will offer different things. In the past I've taken pieces for blue-pencil editing sessions, and a few pieces to share during the Night Owl readings which is ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING {if you're as awkward and shy as I am} but I think it's an invaluable exercise. Because this particular conference is only one day, I'm not sure how much opportunity there will be to share but I'm at least going to bring the first chapter of The Church In The Wildwood—you never know...I could find myself sitting at a lunch table with an agent! {There was opportunity to submit a piece for critiquing from a professional editor. I did seriously consider this BUT when I looked up the website of said editor I was incredibly underwhelmed and so decided against it. An extra cost was involved in this option and I wasn't going to take that chance on a professional who didn't present professionally.}

Have your pitch ready. There will be many opportunities to share what you're working on. Share it confidently {gulp!} Remember that you've been dedicating much of your time to this endeavor and it's okay for the passion you feel for your project to shine through! Be ready to share it with editors, agents, publishers, and other writers.

Bring a one-sheet. If you want. I labored over this for an earlier conference and I didn't hand out a single one. I think this could be a valuable tool if you have already established yourself in the field of writing. If you're more like me and all you can say is 'well, I write and blog and I'm working on some stuff...' maybe leave it for another time.

Something to write with: 

I am an old-fashioned soul when it comes to taking notes. I love the scratching of the pen, the frantic scribbling of great thought and the turning of filled pages. I will arrive at the conference center with a large spiral notebook and an arsenal of pens and pencils. I will also bring my laptop and/or tablet for possible blogging or writing during down-time, and my cell phone so I can keep in touch with the people I love—which means I must remember all the various charging cords and a bag to carry them all in.

Something for comfort: 

Comfort is so important. I want us to sleep well the night before and the night after. I want us to come home feeling invigorated, rested, and ready to confidently tackle our projects.

That does not happen if nights are spent in a seedy motel with mildewy bathrooms.

I spent hours searching for the right accommodations for my friend and I. There must be a hundred options—probably more—but I had specific requirements in mind and I wasn't willing to settle. Or break the bank.

I made a list of demands and I refused to concede on any point.

  • no less than three stars
  • free parking
  • free breakfast
  • modern
  • clean
  • good reviews
  • complimentary WiFi
  • affordable
And I'm happy to report, my final decision claims all the above. Here's hoping there's still honesty in the world!

I am also bringing along my travel mug. My registration fee included coffee breaks and, because I like to sip my hot drinks slowly, I bring my mug so I can take it with me to workshops and classes. I'll also be able to top it up at the hotel breakfast in the morning before we leave, saving us a time-wasting stop at a drive-thru.


On top of all these things mentioned, I will also bring cash for the book table.

So here I go, off on the big adventure, hopefully returning fully motivated and inspired to carry on and keep pursuing this crazy, crazy dream!

But first I need to get over this crazy sickness! Send good thoughts my way, friends!

* corporate |ˈkôrp(ə)rət| confidence |ˈkänfədəns; -fəˌdens|
one who navigates a professional field with self-assurance and poise

corporate |ˈkôrp(ə)rət| dingbat |ˈdi ng ˌbat|
1. one who navigates a professional field with awkward small-talk and self-deprecating 'humor' while wearing flip-flops and jeans.   2. me

Friday, March 11, 2016

Where Ideas Come From {Animals Don't Talk on The Moon}

I recently read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and it rocked, rolled and moved my whole world. If you have any desire to live a creative life you simply HAVE to read it—not because it's perfectly written {it's not!} but because it will help you look at your own creative journey in new ways and that's powerful for anyone wanting to move forward.

[you can read my quick Goodreads review here]

One of the things she talks about is IDEAS. And she doesn't talk about them as flighty things, she talks about them as owned things—things you must run with or they will be lost to you.

And that scared the daylights out of me!

where ideas come from, elizabeth gilbert, big magic,

If an idea comes to you and you're not in a place of readiness for it to take root and spout into something of merit, it will flit off and find a more suitable creative to harvest itself in. tells a story of a book she had completely worked out—spent years on plotting and research—but then she got distracted and set it aside AND SOMEONE ELSE WROTE THE SAME STORY.


I feel like this is slightly far-fetched. I don't want to say she wasn't telling the truth but I mean...the very same story?

Still. It scared me. Because I have all these ideas and I don't want to waste them and I certainly don't want someone else to take them. So, whether I believe her story or not, I came away with this: OWN IT, WRITE IT, BE IT.

So. Where do ideas come from?

Everywhere. And nowhere. As long as you're open to them, they will come. And the more you open yourself up the more you are bombarded until you feel positively overwhelmed and torn over where to spend your energy. It's a horrible, awful, wonderful problem.

I found myself torn when it came time to turn my attention to a new project. So many ideas, so little time. Ugh. But also, Yay!

Blackbird, the novel I poured into through NaNoWriMo, sits waiting for me; yet, when I opened it up and began to read, I felt the weight of its content and knew I couldn't focus there. The Church In The Wildwood was heavy and I need a bit of levity in my writing world. I need some just-for-fun.

And so...

It was more than a year ago. I was in the car, navigating the road between home and my husband's work—one of those many commutes to pick him up after his shift away—and I was listening to a mock-news comedy show on CBC. The host was interviewing a 'caller' who was promoting a petition to have every book that contained a talking animal removed from North American libraries. And that was it. That five minute clip tied a fully formed children's story with a bow and a thank-you-very-much and plopped it in my head in a real bossy JUST DO IT manner. It even came with a title. And I was brilliantly excited about it BUT I was eye-balls deep in writing The Church In The Wildwood and couldn't afford to spread my energies elsewhere. it sat. In my head. Its bow getting just a little droopy and sad...and then Elizabeth Gilbert told me someone was going to snatch it away and I was like NNNNOOOOOOO! Because I adore this idea and I have to do it.

And so I am.

I began last week and I'm so excited about it. How thrilling to be able to build a world from scratch. And the freedom of writing for children who are willing to suspend their belief without question, who believe in magic and mystery...and talking animals? feels like a holiday.

If you're curious you can read a fun little snippet of the first bit of writing I've done on this project. I'm only at 2000 words but I have high hopes for a full children's chapter book when I'm done!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

How To Make The Best Of A Whirlwind Vacation

Making a '24 Hour Hotel Holiday' count.

VACATION: late Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin vacatio(n-), from vacare ‘be unoccupied

There's no rule saying a vacation must consist of a certain number of nights far away from your home. I take a firm stance that says a vacation can be short and close to home as long as you take full advantage of each precious moment you're given!

the 7 P's of a successful mini-holiday

My husband had to go to The Big City for a five day course. It was a work thing and it kind of sucked because it had to be during the week he's normally home. {For those of you who don't know, he works on a week on, week off basis. This means I am a single parent every other week. [It's fine, it works for us, don't feel bad.]  BUT, when extra things like this come up it basically means three weeks apart. [Okay, you can feel bad for us now.]} While navigating the suckiness of this situation, it occurred to us: why couldn't we all go with him for one night? It would afford us some time together plus be like a mini-vacation...a little warm-up for whatever we end up doing over March Break.


He had a suite booked by the organization he works for. The hotel had a pool and offered complimentary breakfast AND dinner.


We saddled up and made the trip!

Perhaps you're thinking twenty-four hours isn't enough to earn that fuzzy get-away feeling but I'm here to tell you, you're wrong! If you do it right, it will go a long way to bringing some refreshment and fun.

punctuality, patience, prioritize, permission, pamper, participation, pleasureThe Seven 'P's' of a Successful Mini Holiday

Punctuality. If you have only twenty-four hours, every single moment counts! Leave home early so you can arrive right at check-in time. Travel time is not vacation time—don't fool yourself and don't cheat yourself. Vacation lasts from check-in to check-out. Take advantage of every minute in between.

Patience. There are many arguments I could make against bringing your children with you on a mini-holiday but let me make a few pro-youngin's comments: 
  • they bring a wide-eyed energy and appreciation to a situation
  • you like them {hopefully} and it's a great opportunity to spend time together away from home
  •  it creates good memories of fun family time

BUT...patience. Even big hotel rooms are small when you fill them with a family. There will be wrestling and pillow fights and moments of begging to go to the pool even though you just returned from the pool. Take a deep breath. Remind them how lucky they are to be there. Remind them what an amazing parent you are for bringing them, then distract them with an in-room movie while you catch a nap ;) 

Prioritize. Know the reason for your night away. Write a mini-vacation mission statement and do everything in your power to see that mission fulfilled. {We, the Rusnak's, shall enjoy twenty-four hours in this beautiful facility in which we promise to rest, relax, play, laugh, eat junk food, and enjoy each others company without the pressures and distractions of 'real life'.}

Permission. Allow yourself to soak into it. Ignore your work email or looming deadlines. Consider this a segue from your real life and just enjoy. Give yourself permission to set everything aside but your aforementioned mission statement. 

Pamper. Lay in those pristine hotel linens a little longer, basking in that heaven that's as comfortable as Morgan Freeman's voice. {Our bed at home is a little more like laying yourself down on Rosanne Barr's yeah...we appreciate a good hotel bed!} If rest and relaxation was one of your goals then, by all means, indulge in that king-sized comfort!

Participation. Get in there and do it! I wanted to read and write and play. And guess what? I read, I wrote and I played! Mission accomplished!

Pleasure. Because isn't that the goal of any vacation? To enjoy yourself? So do it! Standing by the other 6 P's will guarantee you a delightful time. I mean, I'm not going to guarantee it—that's on you to make it happen but you'll be well on your way if you follow my sage advice!

Cheers to vacations—long and far or short and near! May the road lead you where you want to go.

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