Tag Archives: Pamela Nowak

Becoming an Old Timer

I am now an old-timer.

I realized this last weekend, at the Colorado Gold conference, and the new-found awareness of the role is a bit daunting.

Twenty years ago, I attended my first RMFW conference. I was new to RMFW, having joined earlier in the year after hearing a published member’s presentation on how supportive the organization was. I was a new writer and it seemed just the sort of thing I needed to launch my career, which I was (erroneously) convinced was going to rocket.

Back then, I was still a long way from realizing my potential as a writer and from emerging from my shell of introversion. I knew exactly two people at that conference. I hugged walls, stayed in corners, and observed. I was both eager for someone to talk to me and scared to death that I would have to respond if someone did.

I watched those who were long-term members and active volunteers with their lengths of ribbons and easy conversations. I heard about new contracts and bought stacks of signed books from my idols. I sat in awe as speakers stepped up to the lectern and award winners crossed the podium. I dreamed of one day doing the same.

Over the years, I grew in craft. I was more selective in the workshops I chose because I finally knew the basics. I also began to emerge from my shell. I knew more people each year and looked forward to visiting with them. Yet, there were many long-time members I lacked the courage to approach. I still marveled at long rows of ribbons and those who won awards. I pitched nervously every year and wondered when I would find a publisher.

Several things happened to change all that. My writing became better…I knew I was getting closer to publication and wasn’t so nervous about whether or not I belonged in RMFW. I had a great support network within my critique groups and I began to identify myself as a writer not as someone who wrote. About the same time I contracted my first book, I experienced some pretty devastating life events but emerged stronger as my writing family reached out to me and I discovered strength I didn’t know I had. A move to the Denver metro area allowed me to attend more writing events and to volunteer.

All of a sudden, there was no doubt that I belonged. I took on more responsibility and sported more ribbons each year. Today, the ribbons no longer seem to matter. I’ve published and signed books and presented workshops and won awards and crossed that podium and spoken to the entire Colorado Gold group. I haven’t stood against the wall for years and nobody puts this baby in a corner (which doesn’t necessarily mean I am any less introverted—I just refuse to be defined as in introvert).

Still, I saw myself only as a seasoned writer. I didn’t put myself in the same league as the idols I’ve had all these years. I still don’t.

But…this year…there was a difference.

This year, as RMFW president, I spoke to first time attendees in an official capacity. Their reactions stunned me. Approximately one-hundred fifty people saw me as an expert. They eyed my ribbons with amazement. They approached me and said, “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but….” They were afraid to sit at my table during meals and treated me with deference. They all seemed to know my name…I was “the president.”

It felt odd, being looked up to that way—the way I used to look up to others. After all, I’m just a writer who volunteers.

That’s when it hit me.

I have become an old-timer.

There are still many who have been members of RMFW longer than I have. There are myriads of more experienced, more well-known, better writers than I am. They remain my idols and I don’t pretend to claim equality with them. But my role has changed.

I have responsibilities.

I am now a leader in RMFW and my duties include making sure the new members and fledgling writers find all that I have discovered within this organization. I hope I was able to at least make a start toward doing so.

Me…an old timer? Gee whiz!

Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers — Part II

As promised, we’re back with more great advice for conference-goers from a few of your regular RMFW Blog contributors

Liesa Malik

1) Remember that all people at the conference are approachable, but it’s best to have a few questions to ask. Things like “what do you like best about writing?” or “where do you see your publishing career a year/five years from now?” are a start. Just be sure you’re interested in finding out the answers.

2) Go to the sessions. Yes you get a lot out of the networking, but many of the sessions are absolute gold for information and training in your writing life.

3) Buy CDs and books. The CDs are helpful reminders (and the keynotes are almost ALWAYS motivational) and the books are generally by people attending the conference. How better to support the people who are sharing their gifts with you?

Pamela Nowak

1. Workshop sessions are valuable to every attendee–we can all learn something–but select carefully. Read the descriptions and choose those aimed for your craft level and step-in-the process. If you’re a new writer, stick with the basics and concentrate on where you are in the process so you are not overwhelmed. Advanced writers should focus on advanced craft or marketing or writing life sessions to complement their social recharging.

2. Take advantage of the FULL conference experience. Boost your knowledge by attending sessions. Energize by socializing with other writers. Charge up your commitment to writing by setting new goals.

Katriena Knights

1. Don’t beat yourself up for not doing it “right.” There are many ways to take in a con experience. You can go to the same con five, six, ten years in a row and never follow the same pattern.

2. Don’t be afraid to take a break. In the past, I’ve spent so much time trying to do everything I thought was important that I wore myself down. If you end up flat on your back from exhaustion, con crud, or whatever, even what you’re able to take home from the con isn’t going to do you as much good as is could have if you listened to your brain and your body.

3. But…don’t be afraid to try anything and everything. Don’t limit yourself because you think an individual workshop might be “too hard” or “too basic,” or not in your genre or whatever. If it looks interesting, or if something’s just tweaking your brain about that event, go. There’s so much to choose from that I’ve been known to close my eyes and point at the program to decide where to go. OTOH, I’ve been to conferences where I picked through the program and created a throughline for myself, following a specific topic from presenter to presenter.

I guess my basic advice is honor yourself even if you feel like you’re wimping out, because you’re probably not, and don’t think because you didn’t do what you think you should that you didn’t get what you could have gotten out of the con. I have no idea if that makes sense, but I know I started enjoying this kind of thing a lot more when I started honoring my need to just get the hell away from everything and everybody from time to time.

Jeanne Stein

1. I think the most important piece of advice I can offer is don’t be afraid to approach an author you’ve read and liked and tell them how much you enjoy their books. That’s a great ice breaker. After an intro like that, every author I know would be more than willing to answer a few questions and perhaps share a tip or two about succeeding in this crazy business. And where to find the authors? If not on a panel, the bar is always a good place to start!!

Again, feel free to add your own conference tips in the comment section. And if you’re attending Colorado Gold for the first time, have a wonderful time.

Oh, That Nasty Practice

As I pondered topics for today’s blog, my mind skipped past several ideas and latched on to a practice that seems to come very naturally to me: procrastination.

Ah, I see some nods of agreement out there. We all know this skill is one many writers have honed well. Deep down, we know there are a host of reasons for letting other tasks run roughshod over our writing.

Writing is difficult. When the Muse is with us, we can spend hours at the keyboard without being aware of the passage of time. But, much more often, we write and rewrite and rewrite again in futile attempts to keep the flow going and get the words just right. The funny thing is, the more we procrastinate, the harder it is. The routine of writing everyday actually makes the words flow easier. Once we get out of the habit, we defeat ourselves.

Many of us have sub-conscious fears. Fear of failure and fear of success seem to haunt a large percentage of writers. We are afraid what we write won’t be good enough, won’t satisfy our readers, won’t be accepted by our publishers. And if it is good enough, how will we maintain that level? We will have new expectations to meet, additional tasks, marketing.

Excuses abound. Family members need attention. The house needs cleaning. Other commitments can’t be ignored. We need to exercise. Groceries haven’t been purchased for a week. Noise is bothersome. The dog needs to be walked. A jigsaw puzzles calls for our focus. Email and social media and computer games clamor for priority. Our favorite TV program beckons. Our day jobs tire us out.

I think I have personally used every one of those excuses.

Now, I’m not saying we can’t prioritize and I refuse to say that “if you truly want to be a writer, you must make writing a priority.” I think those are personal decisions based on our personal situations. There was a time in my life when my family HAD to be my priority and the day job had to be built into the schedule. That didn’t lessen my desire to be a writer–it simply meant that I needed to adjust my goals and my routine to fit my life.

What I am saying is that “if you want to be a writer, you must learn to avoid procrastination like the plague.”

Wow.

I have the time, I have the space, I have a supportive man who takes routine tasks off of my shoulders. So why am I not writing every single day?

My personal excuse is “other commitments.” I find it difficult to say no and tend to over-extend myself in volunteering for committees and boards. It isn’t that I’m looking for other things to do. I care about the organizations I belong to and want to contribute my skills. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is that I have taken on so much that I had to shift those tasks into my writing time in order to honor them and now I’m in a negative habit of NOT writing.

I knew saying yes to those tasks would rob me of writing time but I still did so and I recognize it was in direct response to being asked to alter my story visions in order to satisfy mass market publishers who were nibbling at my manuscript as well as an attempt to rush an unfinished manuscript that just wasn’t flowing right. Once I realized that, I adjusted my publication goals and now have a new offer from Five Star Fiction. Two manuscripts await attention.

But I still have those multiple lingering volunteer jobs to finish up. Thankfully, many of them now almost completed—enough so that this morning, I made a commitment.

I will return to a DAILY writing ritual. Because I have upcoming travel that will disrupt routine, I will start this in September. I will use the upcoming RMFW Colorado Gold Conference to re-energize me and jumpstart this practice. I will not volunteer in multiple roles for multiple organizations and those volunteer tasks that I have yet to finish or agree to take on in the future will be regimented to a specified time slot each day—after my writing.

Anyone want to join me?

All Those Potential Stories

One of the most frequent questions writers hear is “where do you get your story ideas?”

Well, to be honest, where don’t we?

A couple nights ago, we were clicking through channels and landed on a PBS program about nineteenth century unsolved crimes. The episode was about a string of murders in Austin, Texas in 1885. I was immediately hooked, scribbling notes with vital information so I could later look up the crimes and explore the details again. My head kept telling me there was a story there. Well, it was actually a bit like alarm bells.

I’m not sure what it was…the historical period, the unsolved nature of the crimes or that they likely the work of a single person (an early serial killer), the fact that law enforcement never connected them, or perhaps the potential to create my own plot around them…something reached out and grabbed me.

It isn’t the first time that’s happened watching TV.

The same thing occurs when reading travel or history magazines—a lot. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve torn out pages and filed them away because I see the spark of a plot or core of a character within them.

Special news sections in papers are just as hard to resist. When I lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I used to look forward to Frontier Days and the multi-page spread with stories of life and events of the early community.

I’ve bought more books than I can count for the same reason. Book stores with large regional history sections are tempt me. Book sections within historic site visitor centers or museum gift shops seem to have tentacles that grab me and suck me in. I leave with a bag and an empty purse, story ideas shouting at me all the way home.

Historic hotels or bed and breakfast inns that have unique histories hook me, too. Next thing you know, I’m chatting with the manager about the past and where I might find more information.

Maybe it’s the penchant for research that lives within me. Maybe it’s the writer. Put them both together and I’m pretty much doomed.

So, all you writers out there…where do you get YOUR ideas?

Growth

by Pamela Nowak

The other day, I began working on my presentation for two upcoming conferences and a thought slammed through me. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have even imagined myself in such a position.

Ten years ago, I wasn’t published. I had—finally—placed in and won a few contests after years of attending critique group, entering again and again, and plugging away at rewrites. At that stage, I was “getting close” and my critique partners were telling me I would sign a contract “any day now.” Still, I hadn’t crossed that threshold. I didn’t think I’d learned enough, and I certainly didn’t think I had anything to share in front of conference attendees.

I remember my first conference…twenty years ago. Twenty years ago, I sat in awe of the presenters. And, here I am, preparing a presentation…my tenth one, I think. Growth is an amazing thing!

But growth doesn’t occur in a vacuum and it doesn’t occur without effort. It doesn’t happen because one calls oneself a writer for a few (or more than a few) years. It doesn’t appear because one claims membership in a few writing groups. And it doesn’t get bestowed upon us just because we tinker around with writing and call ourselves writers.

Growth happens when we practice our craft, when we put our work out there and allow others to give us feedback. It occurs when we listen to critique and learn from it. We grow when we read books and observe what others are doing. We stretch ourselves each time we attend a conference or a workshop or class with the attitude that we will gain something from it. There is always a technique or tool that is new, another layer, a unique way of seeing an element of craft if we open our minds to seeing. We need only recognize that our work always needs improving and look for ways to make our writing better.

I find, even in preparing for the workshop, that I am growing. Each element I prepare to share with others leads to more growth of my own writing. As I glean examples to share with attendees in my session, I realize there are techniques I need to apply more often to my own writing.

And as I recognize that, I renew a promise to myself. This year, in all I do and in every conference I attend, I will look for ways to grow and things to learn. Whether it be in socializing with old friends, interacting with attendees as a presenter, or seeking new knowledge while sitting in the audience at a workshop, I will open myself to learning all I can and growing further.

Join me?

The Curse of the Critique Button?

I’m cursed. I can no longer watch a movie, attend a play, read a book, or (now) enjoy television without the writer in my head critiquing. And while that means I’ve finally internalized many craft lessons, it also means entertainment is much more complex. Last week, when I started griping about the slipping plotline on The Following, my man just rolled his eyes and nodded.

This was something I first noticed several years ago and, because I used to direct community theatre, I thought it was a result of directing experience. I found that I paid more attention to what other directors did in terms of lighting, costuming, and set construction. That was bad enough. When I became hyper-aware of choreography, line delivery, and how actors developed their characters, I realized writing was the culprit. I’d translated craft lessons first into my directing, then into how I watched a play.

Then, it was books. It became nearly impossible to shut off the critique in my head when I read. That aggravates me because I love to read. I focus on favorite authors but run out of books. That puts me on a search for new authors which sometimes means I grumble for a while—until I find the joy of a new discovery. I’ve learned, over time, to overlook small things but it still gets to me when I come across unmotivated characters. Especially because that makes me look closer at my own characters and necessitates editing. That’s a good thing, in the end, but it does make me complain. Ken just smiles.

Recently, though, I find it’s bleeding over into movies and television. I used to always notice costuming. Now, I see lack of motivation, manipulated plots, and lack of character arc. I leave movies knowing that I once would have been entertained but now see flaws. Television shows I enjoyed before now prompt negative comments. I can’t seem to turn off the darn critique button! I suspect it drives my family as batty as it does me but I have to give them credit for not laughing.

All that said, I’ve also developed a wonderful appreciation for things done right. I adore a well-written novel and will praise the authors who write them to no end. A well-scripted, well-directed play leaves me smiling for days. Great movies stay with me, becoming those I purchase to watch again and again.

This past month, I began to notice timing, motivation, conflict, character development, and surprise hooks as well as flaws in series TV. My list of favorites has narrowed, but I’m seeing a lot more “things done right.” This season, I’ve praised The Good Wife, True Detective, The Big Bang Theory, Mom, and Game of Thrones—an eclectic collection, each doing something different but all of them discussed in the living room as well-done.

So, yes, I’m cursed…or am I simply seeing things differently?

I suspect we all are, those of us who write.

What about you? What does your critique button have you noticing?

Being in Community with Other Writers

By Pamela Nowak

In the twenty years I’ve been writing (well… writing with publication as a goal), there are two things that I’ve come to learn are vital:  learning craft and being in community. Since many of us often talk about craft in our blogs, I thought I’d talk about community and how important it is to the writer.

Writing is a solitary task. We sit down at our keyboards and immerse ourselves in the worlds within our minds. We write in our pajamas, our hair a mess, not seeing anyone all day long. At times, we emerge from a muse-inspired streak amazed that hours have passed. Sometimes, we tweet or update our Facebook status to brag about our frenzied, pajama adventure.

But we’re still alone.

Oh, but when we get a Like or a Comment or someone tweets back, something happens—a gooey warmth because we realize we aren’t alone in our solitary task.

When it comes down to it, those times when we discover others do exactly the same thing, we feel a sense of belonging that buoys us up and gets us through those times when we get discouraged by the writers’ block and the rejection letters and the editors who are making insane demands of us.

This incredible sense that I am not alone is one of the things that has made RMFW my family.

And who can’t use more family, right?  (Well, as long as they don’t interrupt the muse!)

Family, though, is more than being part of a community.  It means being “in” community together, interacting.

Interacting?!  Talking to people?  People you don’t know?  (Reader sticks head in sand).

Small steps can get you there and bring you the surprise of your life!

For me, the first step was joining a critique group. I got lucky the first time out. I discovered a genre-specific group I fit with well, one I could learn from, one in which I felt comfortable laying myself bare. When that group moved too far away from me (I lived in Wyoming at the time), it took a bit more effort to find a group that felt right.  Several of us created a private on-line group and I joined a multi-genre group.  Throughout those early years, I learned far more than I ever imagined was possible about craft and made friendships that nurtured me and allowed me to grow as a writer and a person.

I also began attending conference…standing in the corner looking on mustering every bit of my energy just to avoid fleeing to my room.  It took several years for me to venture out of the corner and interact but I spent those early years learning craft. But every year, I knew more people and discovered that the time with them provided me with a boost that inspired months of writing.

Still, it was my move to the Denver metro area that really allowed me to discover the meaning of community.  Someone asked me to help with the editor/agent critiques for conference.  A few months later, I was recruited to chair conference. I was fully, completely, in community. Nearly six years later, I still volunteer for several conference committees and serve on the RMFW Board. I also serve on committees for another writers’ group, WWW. Being involved has allowed me to get to know so many of my fellow writers, to be part of a family with them, to become a bigger person.

So…to the point of my rambling…

If you’re writing but still feeling that constant isolation, still expending lots of energy at conferences and feeling lonely while you’re there, I invite you to be in community with other writers. Join a critique group if you haven’t done so and allow yourself to develop friendships with your critique partners.  Let those friendships stretch beyond your monthly meetings. Attend monthly education events and talk to the person sitting next to you. Go to conference and step outside your social box. Spend time getting to know other writers. You have something in common to talk about, after all. Volunteer.  It doesn’t have to be for anything big. Even small tasks make you part of the bigger family and bring you in to contact with other writers.   Again, you already have something in common.

You’ll discover that we are all introverts that write in isolation but that we can thrive in discovering others who share our same hopes, dreams, fears, and struggles. And, once we share, we grow stronger and increase our energy until it becomes a big snowball.  And who doesn’t like snowballs?

The first steps toward being part of community may be difficult but they are so worth it.

For more information on community:  critique groups, education events, retreats, conference, or volunteering, check out the RMFW website:  www.rmfw.org.

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Pameladownload Nowak writes historical romance set in the American West. In addition to widespread critical acclaim, her books have won multiple national awards. In love with history and rich characters for most of her life, Pam has a B.A. in history, has taught prison inmates, managed the Fort Yuma National Historic Site and run a homeless shelter. She was named the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year in 2010, chaired three conferences, and now serves as president. Pam and her life partner Ken live in Denver. Their combined families include six daughters and several grand-children. Together, they parent two dogs and a cat.

Pam loves hearing from readers and invites them to visit her on her website, Facebook, or Twitter.