Apparently the busiest and most exciting day of a writing convention is right in the middle. Or so it seemed to me. The first day is for the introductory stuff, to whet your appetite and get you excited for what’s to come. The final day is a little bit more subdued, with no less interesting panels and workshops but a schedule that becomes less packed as the day comes to a close. The middle day – Saturday, in this case – is the intense one. Why? Because there’s so much to do.
I basically went from beginning to end on my second day of Can Con, opening with a 10 a.m. workshop and sticking around well into the evening. Since there was a lot going on, I’ve organized my recap with some convenient subheadings to guide you through.
The Good, the Bad, and the Gremlin via Workshop
My day started with a two-hour workshop hosted by Julie Czerneda, entitled “Destroying Your Story Gremlins.” What is a story gremlin? It’s Czerneda’s term for whatever is standing in the way of finishing your writing projects. We all have them. Lack of time, too many ideas, difficulty starting, difficulty finishing, lack of a convenient space, etc, etc. The neat thing about Czerneda’s workshop is that we spent most of the two hours actively writing. She would throw an exercise or a prompt at us, say “go,” and we were expected to produce. For a writer, this can be an incredibly frightening thing: “What do you mean, just write? I need to plan, I need to get in the zone, I need to…” I think Czerneda’s big message was that all of that hesitation and worry is just another gremlin getting in your way. If you want to write, figure out a way to do it, and just sit down and fucking write!
One of the things I noticed immediately at this workshop was that there are two types of writers: those that jump on a challenge and those that don’t. With the very first exercise, there were writers at my table whose automatic response was: “That’s not how I write.” And so while everyone else fervently scribbled down ideas and played with them, these people sat in silence, letting the minutes tick by. One of the things that I tell my students all the time, and which I continue to work on, is being adaptable. When someone throws a twist at you, run with it and see what happens. I really try not to judge or criticize people here – unless I’m really frustrated about something – but to sit back and say “Well, I can’t do that” is the worst possible thing you can do as a writer. You need to challenge yourself if you’re going to improve. Which is why I walked away from Czerneda’s workshop with the outlines for two new stories 🙂
Can Con had so many great-sounding panels on its schedule that I had to make some really hard choices on which ones to attend. One that I particularly enjoyed centered on “leveling up” in your creative career, and featured a variety of writers, including two of this year’s Guests of Honor: Gabrielle Harbowy and Jay Odjick. In addition to being really entertaining, the panel provided a variety of tips on how to push yourself to excel, keep rolling when you don’t get the success you want, and maintain a positive attitude.
I want to highlight Jay Odjick specifically here. If you haven’t heard of him, Jay is an Algonquin writer and artist who specializes in graphic novels, and whose project Kagagi has just been released as a television series on APTN. The reason why I want to highlight Jay is because he is easily one of the most modestly brilliant and approachable individuals you have ever met. I was lucky enough to talk with him a few times during the conference, and from the moment the conversation starts Jay is treating you like an old friend or colleague. Throughout the “leveling up” panel and a later one on the “craft” of writing, Jay was a great source for words of wisdom, and was quick to admit when a particular question wasn’t something he felt qualified to respond to. If you ever have the opportunity to speak with him, do so. And check out Kagagi – it looks like a truly excellent production.
The other panel I want to discuss was concerning slush piles, and how to get noticed in a positive way. As writers, we know that any magazine or anthology submission has to fight with hundreds of others for a few choice spots. You have to worry about an editors particularly tastes and the possibility that your work is really good, but there just isn’t enough space for it. Probably the greatest piece of advice from the panelists was to follow editors’ formatting guidelines to the letter. Nothing frustrates them more than when a submission doesn’t do so – and apparently it happens a lot.
Book Pitches, Anyone? Hold on While I Gather My Nerves
I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m working on my first real novel. One of my goals was to complete the manuscript in time to pitch it at Can Con – which I was able to do. I won’t be discussing here whether my pitches were successful … though the following emoticon will probably give you some indication – 😀 Pitching is just one step in the potential approval process, though, and I’m not one to jinx myself, so we’ll leave it at that.
For any writers who are nervous about pitching their first book to publishers: that was exactly how I felt going in. Honestly, I was terrified. Not because I was worried about rejection – I’ve had hundreds of those over the past few years – but because I was worried about not presenting my novel in the best light possible. Thankfully, I think I managed to do that. My advice to you, fellow writers, is to take the plunge. Gather up your nerves and go make the pitch. The worst thing that happens is the publisher or agent isn’t interested. Oh, well. Try someone else.
One of the writers I met at the convention, Timothy Gwyn, describes his experience pitching in a little more detail on his blog, if you’d like another perspective.
There was a ton of other stuff going on at Can Con – the dealer’s room, conversations with other writers, readings and promotions – far too much to discuss at length. This reflection is already long enough. Overall, let’s just say Saturday was a blast 🙂
Coming Soon – Can Reflection: Day 3!