Rocky Mountain Writer #59

Photo of J.v.L. Bell by Mary Lynn Gillaspie.
Photo of J.v.L. Bell by Mary Lynn Gillaspie.

J.v.L. Bell & The Lucky Hat Mine

The Lucky Hat Mine is J.v.L. Bell’s first novel and it officially launches on Saturday, Oct. 1. The novel is a “light mystery” for all ages—it’s set in the 1860’s of Colorado, more specifically, Idaho Springs.

On the podcast, Bell talks about what inspired the story, her approach to research to get the details right and how she found beta readers on Goodreads. She also reveals that she found her publisher through unusual means—her search for a cover artist, at a time when she thought she’d publish the book herself, led to a chance introduction and a contract. She also talks about the production of an audio book of The Lucky Hat Mine—something she wanted right alongside the print version.

J.v.L. Bell is a Colorado native who grew up climbing 14,000 ft. mountains, exploring old ghost towns, and hiking in the deserts of Utah. Whenever possible, she and her family can be found hiking, rafting, or cross-country skiing.

She loves reading and researching frontier history and incorporating these facts into her novels.

This podcast includes a brief clip from Nancy Yu’s narration from the official recording of The Lucky Hat Mine.

J.v.L. Bell's website.

Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

THE CURSE OF THE WANDERING PROTAGONIST

Originally published in Nelson Literary Agency’s monthly newsletter

Here are three examples of a formula I’ve seen many times in our query inbox. See if you can figure out why the formula doesn’t work…and why we’re probably going to pass on reading the sample pages:

Example #1: Middle Grade

“Protagonist and his friends go on many exciting adventures. Along the way, they encounter a band of pirates, a herd of mystical unicorns, a swarm of angry fairies, and one club-swinging giant who just wants to find his way back to his home in the Mountains of Malfesioria.”

Example #2: Coming of Age

“It’s the last summer before college, and in the wake of his father’s death, Protagonist needs to figure out who he really is. He takes off on a cross-country road trip in Dad’s old Jeep. Along the way, he meets a wise homeless man who teaches him about gratitude, a scrappy orphan who teaches him about forgiveness, and a blonde cocktail waitress who teaches him about love.”

Example #3: Crime Fiction

“In her quest to capture a serial killer, Detective Protagonist must interview one quirky character after another: a past-her-prime exotic dancer who bakes the world’s best chocolate-chip cookies, a grouchy old chess champion with an eidetic memory, and a cynical comedian whose dark sense of humor has managed to offend nearly everyone in Setting City.”

Each of these story-summaries is based on the same formula—a formula I call “The Wandering Protagonist.”

Keep in mind that there’s nothing inherently wrong with a novel in which the main character goes on a journey. And, of course, anyone on a journey is bound to meet interesting folks (human or otherwise) along the way. However, journeys and interesting side characters are neither story nor plot. As such, these three summaries have all missed some very crucial marks. What they’re missing, in the immortal words of Debra Dixon, are Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. I’d also add stakes. (Donald Maass puts his lesson on stakes at the very beginning of his book The Breakout Novelist.)

Let’s look at each example a little more closely.

In Example #1, our middle-grade protagonist has no goal—at least not one that’s mentioned in the query letter. (Hint: The protagonist’s goal should be present in the query letter!) What does he want? What is he looking for? Why? (That’s motivation.) What happens if he finds it, or doesn’t? (That’s stakes.) How can you (the author) make me (the reader) care about Protagonist’s impending success or failure? While this example does hint at conflict (pirates, angry fairies, a club-swinging giant), none of that conflict is directly hooked into the protagonist’s goal. Do the angry fairies want the same thing Protagonist wants, and will they do anything to prevent him from getting it first? Are the pirates the swashbuckling sort, or are they another antagonistic force standing in Protagonist’s way? Do our heroes end up helping the giant get back home? While the author might answer all that in the manuscript itself, this summary, unfortunately, is too vague and does little to pique my interest.

In Example #2, we have a goal, but it’s not a very strong one: Protagonist wants to find out who he really is. We’re missing motivation: Why does he need to find out who he really is (whatever that means), and what happens if he fails (stakes)? We are given hints of conflict: He’s mourning the death of his father, and apparently he needs to learn about gratitude, forgiveness, and love. But in this example both goal and conflict are internal to the protagonist. Remember that there are two kinds of dramatic conflict—internal and external—and that a good story develops both. Give this protagonist an external goal (to visit his grandmother in Sedona, or to scatter is father’s ashes at Niagara Falls, or to return something his father stole to its rightful owner) and some external conflict (the Jeep keeps breaking down, or the scrappy orphan steals his wallet, or his sister is chasing him across the country to stop him from, say, returning the object their father stole, etc.).

In Example #3, we have a goal that’s both clear and genre appropriate: To capture a serial killer. The motivation is implied: To stop the killer from killing again. The stakes are also implied: If Detective Protagonist fails, someone else will die. (Hint: For higher, better stakes, make the killer’s next target someone close to Detective Protagonist. Make the stakes personal.) So far so good. However, the author then wanders off into Wandering Protagonist territory, and there’s zero conflict in the rest of the summary. Perhaps this author, like the author of example #1, hopes to hook agents with his cast of quirky characters. But any author who thinks his secondary characters are more interesting than his plot probably needs to take a long, hard look at his manuscript!

To see if your query letter’s pitch paragraph is solid, print it out and grab a highlighter. Highlight your protagonist’s goal, motivationstakes, and conflict. If they’re all present and accounted for, you’re on the right track!

 

AngieHodappAngie Hodapp has worked in language-arts education, publishing, professional writing, and editing for the better part of the last two decades. After completing her master’s thesis, a work of creative nonfiction, and leaving academia, she gave herself permission to write what she really wanted to write: speculative fiction and romance. Angie is currently the contracts and royalties manager at Nelson Literary Agency in Denver. She and her husband live in a renovated 1930s carriage house near the heart of the city and love collecting stamps in their passports.

On Being a Waffle

Yeah, that’s me. The human waffle. No, I’m not running for office, but I am trying to be Elastic Writer Girl and make my story fit all the different opinions I managed to attract at Colorado Gold.

waffleSee, I have this great story. Everyone I’ve talked to loves it. So of course I submit it for a Critique Roundtable, Pitch Coaching, Hook Your Book, professional editor discussion, and Pitch Sessions. Because, everyone loves it, right?

Hmmm. Not so much. My first indication that Houston has a problem is when I get in the Friday round table and the agent says they really don’t like the paranormal aspect of my mystery and suggest I “skirt around” that concept. Maybe just a hint of “unusual.” OK, that’s just one opinion, you know?

Then I have a pitch coaching and it’s a real struggle for my coach to come up with a concept that can be shoehorned into a short and snappy pitch. It gets done, while sort of downplaying the paranormal aspect. Hmmmm.

At Hook Your Book I get one “I don’t really think this concept will work” and another, “Great concept, but you might need to play the paranormal down if you really want to sell this.” Double Hmmmm.

The professional editor thinks I need to consider going Fantasy with Mystery, but it’s really not a fantasy and I can’t make it so.

And then another agent at a pitch says she likes the concept but tried to sell something along the same lines and couldn’t get a bite. “Could you just have your character have a bad feeling instead of ‘knowing’ something?” She was very gracious and offered to read chapters and a synopsis either way, but warned me it might be a tough sell.

So there I am, taking my first several chapters and writing multiple versions to see how I can alter the story, and still be true to THE STORY. I’ve talked my dilemma over with a couple BFaW (Best Friend and Writer-types) and they laid it on the line: WRITE THE STORY I want to write and not what someone tells me it should be to be marketable.

Yeah. I know. But… Ouch.

So I said to myself, “Self, just get on with it and quit waffling.” Really. I did. Just like that. And so I did. Quit waffling. I decided that while I COULD write the story with intuition and “skirt” the paranormal I didn’t like it as much. It was too vanilla. So, damn it, I’m writing the story I started with. I hope to hell I’m a good enough writer that when they actually read it the editors/agents will be so in love with the characters and the concept that it won’t even occur to them that it might be a tough sell and they will be my champion with the powers-that-be who try to tell them the story doesn’t fit in the box.

pancake
So, as a Human Waffle turned to a fat, syrup-sucking pancake, I’m writing the damn story. Just as you should make your story YOUR story.

So, let’s get with it and Write ON!

Concerning Conferences: A noob’s thoughts on time, worth, and industry

It's our honor to introduce new victim blogger, Josh Dorne, who you might've met at the Colorado Gold.

Take it away, Josh....

Let's pretend, for one second, that I know what I'm talking about. For our current intents and purposes, it doesn't matter. I mean, come on! This is the Internet. But as of this writing I've only just attended my second ever writing conference: Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's, Colorado Gold 2016. So let's just say I've got some learning to do. That being said here's my perspective on writing conferences from the view point of a relative newcomer. At thirty-eight years old, I'm a bit late to the party. But regardless if you're younger, older, or simply just prefer words to things like real-life social interaction, a writer/author should always be moving forward in his or her writing career. Yes. It's a career. Maybe even a life choice...possibly an ill-advised one. But if you're reading this it's probably too late for you, so let's get started.

Is a writing conference worth your time?

Short answer...yes. Or no. Possibly, maybe. In the grand scheme, a weekend (as most conferences tend to last) is not a significant period of time. And if you're new or struggling (like me) in this highly competative industry where thousands of books are self published each day, and the traditionally published duke it out Thunderdome style, this is something you should consider including in your publishing/writing journey. Why? The answer's simple: Networking. A content loaded word that strikes fear into the hearts of men, women,  and whatever gender I might be by the time this posting is done. But something to remember: Everyone you meet at a conference is in a similar boat to you. Not only are conversations extremely easy to start, i.e. "What do you write?" "Are you published?" But the contacts and the people you meet are, in themselves, worth the price of admission. In my first conference alone I met two great people (and many more besides) whom I hope will be in my life and share my publishing/writing journey for many years to come.

Is a writing conference worth the money?

This question is more difficult, as is putting a price on things that are subjective depending on your position in life. Nothing can be promised inside of a conference. An agent connection or book deal cannot be guaranteed, nor should you expect one. The main things you can expect to get out of a conference are three-fold: connections (with other writers, agents, and editors), learning (such as how to write a bestseller, or the 3 Act plot structure), and experience (pitching, querying, and writering). I don't know about you, but before my first conference, not only did I have no idea how to query, but the thought of it sent my hizzie into a complete and total tizzie...because I'm hip, and with it.

So, is a conference worth it or not?

The answer to this is ultimately going to be up to you. Different people will take different things from the same experience. But if like me you're new to writing, new to publishing, or just need a new perspective from which to chase this elusive career choice, then for me the answer is yes. If you're expecting a miracle, or to be discovered and become the next JK Rowling, then it's possible that your expectation might need a slight (or drastic) adjustment. But if you want the opportunity to learn from people directly involved in the industry, speak to successful authors who've gone through what is currently keeping you up nights, and meet some cool people in the exact same boat you're in and possibly make some friends who you'll have for years to come? Then take the plunge and register for a conference near you today! You might only regret it a little bit. And that's nothing if not the dream.

Rocky Mountain Writer #58


jasonevans10Jason Evans & Writing Authentic African-American Characters

The guest this time is writer Jason Evans, who discusses the highlights of workshop he presented at Colorado Gold called "Writing Authentic African-American Characters."

He's reprising that workshop on Saturday, Oct. 15 at the Belmar Library in Lakewood. (Check the events page for more detail.)

On the podcast, Jason offers ideas for giving African-American characters something he calls “agency." He has a few book recommendations for research and he talks about what inspires him to write historical fiction set in the late 16th century in Ireland.

Jason Evans is a writer and educator with two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree. He has run an online magazine and has published two short stories and one essay.

Jason's website.

Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Get out of jail–er, writer’s block–card

getoutwriterblockcardw-url2

To escape writer's block, douse the raging fears and critical inner voice, and find a route to fresh thinking. For me, that route has been to write to my friend, Pam, and explain what's blocking my writing.

How my BFF helps me escape writer's block

Dear Pam,

Here I am again, writing to you because of writer’s block.

Have I ever told you what magic it is, tapping your powers to unblock my thoughts and words?

When I have overwhelming doubts about my writing, the blank page stares at me. The curser blinks, taunting me, and I can’t move forward.

What works for me every time is to start writing to you, just as if we were on the phone, only on paper. I know I can joke with you, confess my fears and stumble along, and something happens. It’s like the doubts and fears vanish. My pen and paper melt away and I am in tune with my novel.

It’s been a long, successful escape for me, spanning decades.

It started in high school during study hall. I’d be procrastinating, avoiding work on an essay or report, unable to decide on a theme or position despite the looming deadline. In lieu of disaster, I stumbled upon this method of turning to you, and you have never failed me.

Let me count the ways you have helped me.

 #1. Reassurance.

Dear Pam, I have discovered fiction, and am so excited I’m paralyzed. I’m writing my first novel. It’s a time travel. I know the setting is England, but I can’t decide on which time period I’d like to visit. What makes me think I can write a novel? Okay, let me show you some time periods I've considered, and why...

 #2. Making decisions.

Dear Pam, On the advice of a literary agent who loves my writing but doesn’t represent my genre, I’m leaving the time travel genre to write a straight historical romance. I’m agonizing over dialogue. If I try to be accurate to the fifteenth century, only a few people will understand it. If I write with contractions will I be a laughingstock?

#3. Finding focus.

Dear Pam, I’m writing a contemporary women’s fiction novel loosely based on my mother’s trauma with Alzheimer’s. I’m scared, so scared I can’t plot the darned thing. What I’m sure of is …

 #4. Trusting my vision.

Dear Pam, my first book released! I’m writing about Gypsies, and rather than arm-candy, they are my protagonists. I want to make it a character-related series, but this second novel just sits there, frozen after the first chapter. I worry that the hero is too bigoted to be likable. Do you think it would be helpful if I...

 #5. Moving forward.

Dear Pam, I’m in the saggy middle and sinking fast. I’ve written myself into a corner, and I’m trying to find the way out. I can trash all I’ve written and start over. There has to be another option, though. Let me see. What if I…

You get the idea. I tell her my problem. Like a Dear Abby column, I lay it all out, crying on her shoulder, and in the process I discover my own answer. I have never sent any of these letters, but they always give me new ideas. It’s a simple strategy that works.

I’ve heard of other ways to break writer’s block that may also work for you. One friend of mine relies on showers to get the thoughts flowing. Works almost every time, she says.

Another has a special tea she brews and places on her desk with three lit candles.

Another walks in the park. Yet another meditates.

Many of my friends believe in the power of BIC (butt in chair), not budging until the words flow and if desperation sets in, writing stream of consciousness or drivel until ideas are nudged into motion.

Thank you for always being there, Pam.

And how about you? How do you escape writer’s block?

Denver, the Literary Capital of the West?

I’ve lived in four major cities beyond Denver during my life – Detroit, Tampa, Dallas and even London, England for a year.  Guess you could say I’ve been around the block a time or two. And in my experience, one of the things I’ve found to be unique and special about Denver is the vibrancy of the writing community here.  Over the past couple of years, therefore, I’ve toyed with the idea of how we might establish Denver as the Literary Capital of the West.

Whoa! Literary Capital? Can we truly think about this? 

As creative writers, I know we can. Let’s play that brainstorming game, “What if?” and see what happens . . .

What if Denver were the literary capital of the West?

If that happened, wouldn’t we then see an influx in great and world renowned authors living and visiting our area?  Jack Kerouac traveled here and wrote a significant portion of his “On the Road” based on life in Denver. Alan Ginsberg, also a leader in the Beat Generation of the ‘50s, established a school of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder. We need more established authors to represent today’s writing superstars. People like Doris Kerns Goodwin might do an updated history of our wild west. Or Stephen King might come by to add to his “The Shining” with maybe a story or two about the haunting of Cheesman Park or the Denver Children’s Home. Or maybe with big name writers around, the level of our own local talent would continue to zoom ahead of the rest of the country. We have great authors at RMFW. Denver needs to support them and get the word out on them so they can sell more books, and make a living in this adventure.

And, what if our booksellers wanted to get involved?

I’m heading to the Mountains & Plains booksellers conference next week with some RMFW published authors where we’ll meet up to 250 booksellers interested in the books by us western-based authors.  Okay, so Portland, Oregon has Powell’s Books, but the Tattered cover is adding steam to their engine with some new owners we’re all excited about. We have a solid community of great independent booksellers and plenty of Barnes and Nobles to excite the reading public. What if we set our relationship with this group and created new markets for our books to be sold at?

If we were better formed as a publishing force, could we also contemplate encouraging big publishers to come west, or maybe create big publishers from the small and start-up organizations that already exist here? Could we evolve the face of publishing by working together on goals and needs to grow and fulfill demand for our work?

What would happen if we had more writing groups?

RMFW is huge. Over 700 members work in our critique groups, come to our annual conference or visit through our monthly programs. But RMFW is only one writing group in Colorado.  I have heard that there are more than 40 groups where writers constantly keep current and grow their writing skills and aspirations.  Think Pikes Peak, Lighthouse Writers, Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers, Sisters in Crime and many more.  Perhaps the question isn’t what if we had more writing groups, but what if all the writing groups came together at one huge event?

What if we had a Denver Lit Book Festival every few years?

We might have books, authors, publishers, agents, professional story tellers, play writes, librarians, and more.  Wow! Can you imagine that?  We could have poetry slams, book readings, music and food—always good food. The blue bear at the convention center might become a great reading example if we hung a book inside the windows for him to read.

So What If we had more and better examples of readers?

8th-grade-reading-scores-coloradoMaybe we’d re-inspire the governor’s book club, give more support to Dom Testa’s “The Big Brain Club” or start our own programs for literacy in Colorado.  Did you know that only 38% of eighth graders tested in Colorado are reading at a proficient level?  We can do better. Maybe we writers and authors could team up with some of our terrific literacy programs and help make reading popular.  It’s good for the kids, it expands our marketplace, and it helps people live better lives.

Can you envision all of this?

What thoughts can you come up with when you ask, “What if Denver were the literary capital of the West?”

Rocky Mountain Writer #57

headshot-resizedClaire L. Fishback & "Remembra"

The brand new short story anthology from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers is called Found and on the podcast we start an occasional series with the writers whose stories were included.

First up is Claire L. Fishback. On this episode, we chat with her a bit about what inspired her story “Remembra” and we hear about some other projects she’s got going, too.

Claire L. Fishback lives in Morrison, Colorado with her loving husband,Tim, and their pit bull mix, Belle. When she isn’t writing dark and twisty stuff she enjoys mountain biking, hiking, running,baking, and adding to her bone collection, though she would rather be stretched out on the couch with a good book (or poking dead things with sticks).

Claire L. Fishback

Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Open Letter to Robert J. Sawyer

Dear Robert J. Sawyer,

I wanted to talk to you at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Conference this year, but I never made it over to you. So much excitement, intrigue, and chatting with my tribe. Since I couldn’t speak to you in person, I figured I’d write an open letter, saying now much I loved, loved, loved your talk on Saturday night.

Yeah, it wasn’t all fuzzy puppies and inspiration, but what you said blew me away. My mouth hung open the entire time, and I kept glancing over to see if the publishing industry was sending in shock troops to pull you down from the podium. You were a firebrand, and dang, I kept thinking, “He can’t be saying this stuff. Someone is going to stop him.”

But no one did because you were speaking the truth. Authors are either abused or ignored much of the time. We get paid pennies for our words, even at the professional rate, and we don’t get raises. Pennies a word, like it was the 1920s while agents went from 10% to 15% and publishers are having record years.

I am signing up with the Author’s Guild and I promise to do my part for the resistance.

Yet, the problems authors face are legion. Part of the problem lies with us scribblers ouselves. Maybe all of the problem lies with us.

In this day and age, anyone can write a book and publish a book. I find that amazing, exciting, and wonderful. I think there has never been a better time to be an artist because distribution has been solved. The internet has opened the world up and as artists, we have a platform we can use. Yes, it’s never been noisier and books have never faced the competition we face now.

For example…

Dude, I can watch Sword Art Online on my phone. I can play amazing video games with mind-melting graphics day and night. And TV has never been better. Jessica Jones, man, Jessica Jones.

When I was a new writer, I heard Andrea Brown, the literary agent, speak and she said I’ll hear that books are dead, the publishing industry is in trouble, and it’s the end of days every year for the rest of my life. I will hear that the book business is a goner until I die. So being an author has never, ever been easy. Never.

If all writers wrote books as a business, I think the entire industry would be different. We would be paid better and things would be more fair. However, not all writers write to make money. That, I think, is the crux of the problem.

Some write for status, and I talked about that in a blog post for RMFW last year. I love that post. Here is the link.

Some write books because they love them, and yeah, they publish them, but it’s not really to make money. Andrew Weir wrote The Martian on his blog because he loved hard science fiction. He never really wanted to publish it, but his fans insisted. And he hit it HUGE!

E.L. James wrote because she wanted a sexier Twilight. And she hit it HUGE! And she admits she is not a writer. She just got stupidly lucky.

So what are we to do?

People will always want to read books. Books are magical, and you can’t get the same experience with movies, TV, or video games. Reading is a unique experience.

You are totally right in saying we need to unionize and demand to be treated fair. Whether we can all be loud enough to change the industry, well, I just don’t know.

For me, I am going to write and I am going to publish and I hope to transition to full-time writer at some point, but I have a day job. Like I said, I’m with you. We shall storm the gates of hell.

I’m a hybrid author, I have some Indie stuff, I have some small press stuff, and I’m looking to break into the big game to use their marketing arm, though I’m doubtful about that action working out.

It’s funny, any power I have as a writer comes from readers. Look at what Taylor Swift did with iTunes because she had the clout of her fan base. She forced their hand. I think really successful writers can do the same.

I have a series with Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press, and working with the WFP team has been great (the contracts are extremely author friendly). We are a coalition of independent authors who support each other, and what we do at sci-fi/fantasy conventions has proved very effective in selling books. I feel very lucky.

In the end, we authors do have power. Yeah, Amazon doesn’t have our best interest at heart, but having your own website and selling directly to the customer has never been easier. If I can get enough of a fan base, my options become greater.

So for me, it goes back to writing what I love, playing the game, and continuing the march forward. Staying open and aware to all of the possibilities.

But dang, what a wonderful keynote you made. Moving, shocking, and in the end, I did find it inspiring.

We are a beleaguered group of feisty heroes, marching against an army we have no chance of defeating. We are children of a grand legacy of artists, who have always been out numbered.

And yet, we will soldier on.

Because that is what we do.

Sincerely,

Aaron Michael Ritchey

 

After the Conference: Dealing with the Sea of Gloom

The Post Conference Sea of Gloom should be on a map, located somewhere off the shores of the State of Despair. It should have  its own psychiatric diagnostic code. It should be included in the manual of All the Things Writers Need to Know. (By the way - why has nobody written this reference book yet?)

But nobody really talks about the post conference slump.

What you hear about writer conferences is all glowing and wonderful. Come hang out with other writers! Learn new skills! Get inspired!

And this happens. Boy howdy, does it happen. For a few days we are swimming in a writing sea where everybody speaks the language of books. By the last day, we are ready to take on the world. Nothing is going to stop us. Nothing can get in the way. We are WRITERS! What do we do? WE WRITE! We are going to go home and take the world by storm!!

And then we get home.

Our families are overjoyed to see us and we are overjoyed to see them. Home is good. It's wonderful to sleep in our own beds and even to eat familiar foods. But there's a downside. Everybody needs something from us. Groceries need to be bought, houses need cleaning, meals need preparing. Kids and pets and loved ones might seem extra demanding. Friends make noises of interest when we spill over with all of the exciting things that happened at the con, but quickly glaze over.

We go back to work and the familiar old boring routine sucks us in.

At this point, some of us get caught in the undertow that pulls us out into the Sea of Gloom. All of the goals that seemed so possible and exciting at the conference now seem distant and unrealistic. That agent you pitched to - the one you're sure is your soulmate and destined to guide your career forever - doesn't respond when you send in the manuscript pages she requested. You log into Facebook to discover that a bunch of your new BFF writer pals are off having fun at yet another conference while you're stuck at work. One of them announces that she just signed with your soulmate agent, who still hasn't commented on the pages you sent. Some other author has a brand new book deal and yet another has hit the bestseller list.

You try to get back to work on your manuscript only to find it impossibly full of flaws and now you're all kinds of embarrassed that you ever dared to show it to anybody. Life stretches out before you, bleak, empty, and dull. All of your dreams wither up and die.

Sound familiar?

Maybe you've only dipped your toes in a Puddle of Gloom. Or maybe the gloom thing doesn't hit you at all.  This is wonderful, and I am happy to know there are such emotionally healthy, well-adjusted writers out there in the world.

For the rest of us, I have some thoughts to offer.

1 This reaction is actually normal.

Any mountaintop experience is likely to be followed by a plunge into the valley of shadow, or at least a return to the level plain. We can't live on the heights forever.

2. Introverts are drained by exposure to people.

Most writers - not all - are introverts. This doesn't mean we don't like people, it means we get our energy from alone time. Hanging out with other people (even awesome, exciting writer people) drains our energy. During a conference we are adrenaline-charged and fired by passion, and often don't notice that we've expended our energy supply and are running on fumes. There is a cost for this, and sooner or later we have to pay the bill.

3. We need time to process

There is no possible way to intellectually process everything that happens at a con. Too much happens too fast. Information, relationships, ideas, and opportunities pepper us at warp speed and we're only able to grasp a small percentage with our conscious brain. The subconscious, though, is hard at work on what we've missed. It will spend weeks processing, cataloguing, filing, and storing, feeding us little bits and pieces at random (and usually inconvenient) moments. This, again, requires some of that energy we don't currently have because it was depleted by all of that peopling we did.

So what do we do? How do we swim out of the Sea of Gloom? 

  1. Be kind to yourself.  Simple acceptance of the fact that you are an introverted human being who has been immersed in an intense sea of emotion and human contact carries you a long way toward shore. Tell yourself this is a normal reaction and that it won't last forever.
  2. Rest. Take a little time to recharge your physical batteries. Take care of your exhausted body by feeding it good food, getting some extra rest, drinking lots of water and indulging in gentle exercise. If you can manage time in nature, do this. If you're a city person, find some trees, the more the better. (I dare you to hug a tree, while you're at it. You're a writer. Everybody already knows you're weird.)
  3. Refill. Nurture your emotional self. Take a couple of days off writing and read a fantastic book. Resist the urge to compare your writing; just read for pleasure. Consider a brief Social Media break. Breathe. Do Yoga. Pet the cats or the dogs or the llamas, whatever type of friendly animal happens to be available. Hug a child. Listen to music. Do a non-writing craft. Draw pictures. Color in an adult coloring book, or a child's coloring book for that matter.
  4. Catalogue. Get out a journal and start making sense of your experience. If you're a logical sort, make lists of what you learned, what you plan to do, and how you plan to do it. If you're more freewheeling, do some daily free writing to help clear some of the backlog.
  5. Visualize. After you've taken a couple of days (or a week) to rest and recover, it's time to dive back in. Find five minutes of quiet and solitude where you won't be interrupted. Close your eyes. Take three deep breaths. Now, think back to the moment at the conference when you felt most inspired and motivated and excited. Recall how that felt. Draw on the physical sensations you experienced. Remember the thoughts that skipped through your head. Tap that motivation, that sense of possibility and hope and let it fill you to the brim.
  6. Go forth and do all the things. Pick a goal, break it into concrete tasks over which you have control, and run for the gold.