Category Archives: LTUE

Evolution of a Writing Conference Attendee


The premier writing conference in Utah (if you write science fiction and fantasy) is arguably Life, The Universe and Everything Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Symposium (LTUE) that happens every February in Provo, Utah. This was my third year attending. When I sat down to recap the experience, I compared this year’s attendance to the prior conferences and found that each year was markedly different.

My first year, 2014, I was a new writer, relatively speaking. I had been writing for several years without knowing there were such things as writing conferences where I could learn from more experienced authors – three days of multiple panels to choose from every hour, in fact. That year I was wide-eyed and hungry for knowledge. I wanted all the inside secrets, all the things I didn’t know yet, on the craft of writing. I gobbled up the how-to and the writing craft panels and left with what I needed to take my writing to the next level, beyond hobby writing. This was a business and I’d just found the insider track.

I spent a year applying what I’d learned, networked and joined professional organizations, wrote short stories and gotten published in my first anthology. At LTUE 2015, I was focused on the excitement of launching the book as part of the conference and didn’t put a lot of thought into the conference itself, other than being there. I did the same thing as the first year, picking panels on the craft, and was disappointed that I didn’t get much new information out of the ones I attended. I left feeling the conference wasn’t as useful as the year before and wondered if I’d already grown beyond what it had to offer.

This year, I was a seasoned conference attendee committed to getting the most out of the three days of programming offered. I’d also spent the last year getting to know more successful authors and learning there are tricks to conferences. I analyzed the offerings every hour and picked only the panels that applied to where I am currently with my craft and my publishing path/career. Turns out there are so many choices because there are so many ways to look at the business of being a writer. (Those whose job it is to put together programming at this thing are genius.) Here’s the ones I attended:

  • “A Glimpse of Horror” showed me how to grab and amp up the emotional response of my reader through the different levels of horror.
  • “Ten Things Every Writer Should Know About the Brain” taught how to write so my work is appealing to a reader’s brain without them knowing why – I didn’t get in because it was full, but I got great notes from a writing pal.
  • “Time Travel and the Nature of Light” gave me details on such incredible science that my brain has taken off plotting about three different story tangents that I could write as either novels, novellas, or short stories (or all three).
  • In the keynote address, Shannon Hale talked about the unconscious bias of sex in literature affecting both women and men (when boys can’t read a story because it’s too sissy or women authors don’t get read because they are women) raising awareness in order to fight it. It changed the way I look at what I offer my kids to read.

This year, I also did something new. I spent a lot of time writing – soaking in the vibes of all those writers and their creative energy over the weekend. In the past I was away from home taking little advantage of the distraction-free time that opportunity offered. I’m drafting a novel now and it was great to continue making progress instead of pausing for almost a week while I attended the conference. (I also started writing a short story because it was screaming at me from the depths of my subconscious and wouldn’t go away until it was at least a living document on my hard drive…) This addition to the conference activities was uniquely valuable to me since I have to squeeze every moment of writing time from an already full schedule. Finding large chunks is not easy but I found at least three of them while attending this year.

Another addition this year, I was honored by a friend and fellow writer who asked me to fill in for him on several panels when he was unable to attend last minute. I moderated two panels – Marketing Through Book Signings, and Hooking Your Reader – and got to talk about upcoming scifi/fantasy/horror movies as a panelist. It was so much fun, a lot of work to prepare last minute, and something I would love to repeat in the future. Who could have predicted that I would be one of the seasoned veterans others come to learn from in just three years but that’s what happened. I hope I helped someone like those veterans helped me in years past.

One of the best parts of any conference is talking to people. Having the support of fellow artists and creative folk who understand the struggles we face as writers is invaluable. This year I consciously helped foster the kind of community I want others to have available – you know, Madam President and all that… Most creative writers are introverts, more comfortable walking past a stranger than engaging in conversation. I’m a rare “extroverted motivator” (according to one of those self-help business books my boss made me read a couple of years ago to find my five greatest strengths) who happens to be a creative writer.  I used my powers for good and collected groups of people to sit and talk craft and foster friendships. It was nothing short of amazing.

If you’re a writer and you’re not attending writing conferences, find one in your city or close to you to attend. They are invaluable no matter what stage of writing you are in or what your goals are. If you’re in Utah, LTUE is a fabulous and affordable conference to attend.

Finish what you start

I just sent off a short story to my writing group in preparation for our critique meeting next month. And now I’m ready to tackle something else. When I started thinking about my writing as a job, it ramped up my productivity even more than I imagined. Each time I finish a project, I find it easier to jump into the next one. This milestone had me thinking about ‘finishing’ in general both from a reading perspective and a writing perspective. There is something so powerful in finishing. Doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, finishing ‘it’ is sometimes the best part. The finish line of a race, savasana at the end of a yoga practice, a big project completion, birth after pregnancy, summer after a school year is over, ‘The End’ of a good book…

So why is it that so many stories I’ve read recently DO NOT HAVE ENDINGS? It seems like the current trend in genre fiction – or maybe I just picked all the wrong books to read lately? Either way, it couldn’t turn me off more as a reader. So you’re writing a series and you want me on the hook to read all of them? Guess what, you better give me satisfaction with at least some kind of conclusion to the conflict central to that specific book or I’m never going to pick up the next one. No matter how good the writing was or how interesting the characters are. I understand wanting to leave some kind of a hook at the end so I want to keep reading but don’t end on a cliffhanger with absolutely nothing resolved and expect me to pick up another thing you’ve written. Ever.

One of the themes at LTUE and asked in panels over and over again was how to sell a series if you’re not a published writer yet. Without fail, every publisher and agent who was asked this question said (and I’m paraphrasing) that you write the first one, query it as a standalone “with series potential” and then move on to other projects. Those other projects they all said should not be the second or third book in the series. It makes sense. Why spend all that time and effort of novel writing if there’s no market for the first one. (Of course, if you are going the route of independent publishing one could argue differently. However, I would still say it’s safer to write one and see if the demand for another is out there before I spent another year on a series.) Never once in any of these panels with professionals did they say, just write half or almost a novel, sell it and hope your readers will pick up the “series potential” in the second one. No one wants to read a book that doesn’t have the ending. So why then are there no less than five novels (most of them young adult but not all) that come to mind that got professionally published without endings? I won’t name names but pressed to do so I could rattle them off. Why? Because I was SO MAD when I read them that the lack of ending is what stuck with me. For all of them.

When it comes to writing, it is harder than I thought this finish something then move on to a new project. I’m taking my own advice right now as difficult as it is. The story I just wrote started as an idea for a novel-length work but I decided to write it as a short story. Why? So I can submit it to writing contests and other market avenues that may go further in progressing my career toward publication. I can always go back and add the rest of the story in later if there is a market for it. Or I decide I want to because I’ve finished something else and have no new ideas for the next project. It may be that this fabulous world and characters with tons of things I alone know about them right now may never get written by doing it this way. I’m looking at it as working smarter not harder and, for the moment, I’m trusting the professionals and gambling a bit for the payoff.

Tell me, how do you feel about unfinished books when you read them? Are others more indulgent of their favorite authors or am I one of the few readers who find this an unforgivable offense? As an author, I vow I will never publish a story without an ending! (I know, never say never will probably come back to haunt me but I will be surprised if it ever does in this regard…)

Surprising Things I Learned

It’s the end of the first week with my new part-time job. What? You didn’t realize I have a new job? Yeah, it’s called being a writer. And it can be described no more eloquently than how I heard it from a very successful author: “butt in the chair, hands on the keyboard”. I know I should remember exactly which famous author from LTUE said it but truthfully I can’t remember if it was Larry Correia, Michaelbrent Collings or Johnny Worthen. (How’s that for name dropping, huh?) In fact, I think all three of them might have said it which is why I can’t remember exactly who it was.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. The work gets easier the more consistently I do it. And I’m more consistent when my writing time is scheduled in my calendar and everyone knows that’s what I’m doing in that time slot. It may be that I slid easily into this habit because it’s the same way I navigated writing in November when I did NaNoWriMo, but I also suspect that my logical and organized mind just needed it laid out like another commitment I had to fit into my crazy schedule.

2. Even if I only have a couple of hours on most weekdays and one day of the weekend to devote to writing, I still got FAR more accomplished than I thought I would this week. This was a pretty big surprise for me. In my corporate life, I usually need large chunks of time devoted to enormous projects to make real progress. When I don’t get that, it usually is more counterproductive to get going just to have to stop. Writing has proven far different. I can plug away in smaller time increments and still get lots of things done. This week could be an anomaly but I’m guessing it isn’t. Even my ‘Marathon Sunday’ of writing this week included time to get my house clean and my laundry done while taking advantage of my built in breaks. Since my family got my undivided time on Saturday and I wasn’t some recluse they didn’t see all day on Sunday, my guess is they may just think I’m messing around on Facebook like nothing is different. Won’t they be surprised when I have more than a Facebook feed to show for my efforts? Another bonus: I got more sleep this week than I usually do on top of doing more every day. How does that work, I wonder? I’m not complaining but I suspect not watching television has much to do with it. 

3. Revision isn’t as bad as editing when you look at it as part of the same process of writing. I always thought of the editing process as something separate from writing your first draft. Truth is, once you get the rough draft down, you just keep going and revising (or re-vision-ing as I like to think) until you can’t improve it anymore. Even then you will need another set or two of eyes to see what else there is you missed and then if it’s good enough to sell to a publisher you’ll have to do it all over with their editors. Now that I realize I can’t compartmentalize or avoid revision, it is a much more enjoyable process.

I’m currently working on several things. Which I also never trusted could be done when authors talked about writing one book and editing another. I’m brewing a new story in the back of my subconscious while I work on revisions of the novel I wrote last November. I finished reading through the first draft after I let it sit for a couple of months so I was reading with fresh eyes and a memory that had faded a bit. I found lots of plot points that needed to be fleshed out or tweaked for consistency and now I’m seeing the entire whole for places that can be improved. I find so much excitement working with a finished draft because the bare bones of the story are all there and now I’m just adding organs and connecting tissue to bring it more fully to life.

I love going back and seeing how things shift for me years down the road so I’m going to keep documenting what I think of as “My novel project” for my own hindsight as I explore what works for me and what doesn’t. Why have a blog if not for your own personal benefit, right? I’ll also keep regaling my faithful readers (all ten of you?) with the craziness of the rest of my life. Hopefully you’ll remain entertained and keep coming back. If I learned anything from attending LTUE it is that I’ve grown as a writer the last four years even if it was in miniscule steps I didn’t realize until I look back and compare then to now. If you need me, I’ll be reading, drinking excessive amounts of coffee, running around with my hair on fire to keep up with where me or my kids need to be, and writing into the wee hours of the night. My goal is to have my revisions done of my current novel by the end of the summer.

Being a Writer – a new perspective

I just attended Life, the Universe & Everything (LTUE) – a science fiction and fantasy symposium geared mostly toward writers. It was my second writers conference and the first I’ve attended in its entirety. I went with my amazing writing group so it was also one of the funnest girls weekend trips I’ve ever taken. I came away energized and excited about writing in a way I never have been. I attribute this to two reasons.

First, because I got to be the nerdy geek girl I really am at heart. And I mean got to be her FULL OUT. For an entire three days. From sunrise to sunset. I’ve read science fiction since I picked up “Battlefield Earth” by L. Ron Hubbard when I was in sixth grade and it changed me forever. I found fantasy and horror not long after that and never went back. I loved being able to gush about being literally feet away from my favorite fantasy author (Brandon Sanderson of course). Got to hold in my hand a copy of his latest book that no one anywhere can purchase yet like the holy grail it is. And no one thought I was weird for doing any of it. I was surrounded by my people. And it was heaven. I even ventured into fan-girl insanity by dressing up as a character from one of my favorite novels at the banquet. Which paid off when Brandon Sanderson himself stopped in the middle of his toastmaster address to say “I’m sorry, are you wearing mist cloaks?” and proceeded to complement and make inside jokes about not ‘dropping coins’ or ‘licking the dinnerware’ while my writer’s group stood for all to see how cool we were. (Sorry if you aren’t a nerd and don’t get the references. If you want to, read Mist Born!)

Second reason is the perspective I took away from the panels I attended. I realized I’ve been envisioning this whole ‘being a writer’ thing in an entirely wrong fashion. Being a writer always looked like: me at a desk in my house, by myself, working hard, and then someday selling books and “making it big”. What a bunch of vague and empty terms with no specifics! What I learned is that being a writer – at least the kind where you get paid to do it and make your living solely by writing – can be summed up on a very basic level. IT IS A JOB. Which means you have to build your skill set, start at the bottom, get a ton of experience to put on your resume so you can get the best job. [LIGHT BULB] Just like trying to get a corporate job. Which I already know how to do!

After I appeased my OCD by transcribing (and color coding and organizing for action items) all my handwritten notes from the weekend, I sat down with Hubby and made sure he was on board with me taking on a part time job. Because that’s what I’m going to do from here on out. I already proved as recently as this past November that I can have a life and still write fifty thousand words in a month. So, I’ll continue to do that every single month from here on out. I’ll further tune and hone my skills then build my resume until I land a position with an agent willing to sell my work to publishers. Because those are the nitty-gritty specifics of what it really takes to be the kind of writer I want to be. Finally a project plan for my writing!

Wouldn’t it be super cool if one day I was on one of those panels at LTUE? Look out world, the ultimate overachiever has taken things to a new level. If you need me, I’ll be somewhere with my hair on fire I’m quite certain!