Been to a Writers’ #Conference ? #Writing

All APW conference photos published with permission from Tim and Deedle Tomlinson.

All AP writers conference photos published with permission from Tim and Deedle Tomlinson.

One of the things I love about writing is the ability to do my job all scruffy, hiding behind my desk, or some nondescript cafe table. A conference? No, thank you very much.

But last week I did attend a conference (the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators Conference), my very first. I admit I’d gone there just for the workshops– they sounded great. One of my first ever ‘writing’ books was Tim Tomlinson’s Portable MFA in Creative Writing, and he would teach a workshop. Dr Sally Breen from Griffith University would lead an editing workshop, and Francesca Rendle-Short would do a session on voice.

I attended all three, and let me tell you– if you ever hear of a workshop from any of them, queue up. My only wish for those sessions?  They should have gone on longer. (I’m sure the others were equally good, but they either didn’t relate to my fields of interest, or clashed with these three.)

A few things I learned from the workshops:

1. Fragments strung together can make a story/ novel, you just need the right connectors.

2. It is perfectly acceptable to write with your left hand, eyes closed, when working around a writer’s block. Or otherwise.

3. Look at each word you use while writing. Take away as many as you can when revising, leaving a spare, beautiful structure.

AWP Writers' conference

All AP Writers conference photos published with permission from Tim and Deedle Tomlinson

I had a short editorial consult with Literary agent Kelly Falconer, and her insights were helpful. Her comments would help me polish my work further.

I also went to book launches. I watched authors read, talk in panels, and chat with each other during breaks. Authors are some of the most interesting people you can meet– they talk about everything from speculative poetry to sunflower seeds and everything else in between. They are also kind, generous, and courageous souls with a sense of humor, who stand up against injustice. (There could have been bitchiness and negativity somewhere, the stuff writers’ events get a rap for, but I didn’t see any that I can report. Quite the opposite!) It all ended in a great open mic session with singing and poetry. Couldn’t have ended on a better note.

So if there’s another writer’s conference I can go to, I’ve decided I will.

Especially if it is organized by Jane Camens, because if not for her help, I wouldn’t have been able to register for the conference or the workshops during weeks of traveling madness. Besides, throughout the conference I saw her add that touch of compassion and good cheer to each event I saw her at– it brought home to me why at the heart of writers’ events we need writers. Not just a great organizer, or fundraiser, but someone who understands writing and writers. (For more details on the conference, read this excellent article.)

What writing conferences have you taken part in? What was your experience like? What advice would you give me and the Daily (w)rite audience on writer’s conferences?


Is Your #blogging eating into your #writing? : #IWSG

Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for again organizing Insecure Writers’ Support Group along with his wonderful co-hosts Tina Downey, Elsie, Elizabeth Seckman, and Julie Flanders! Go here to see the other participants.


Insecure Writer's Support Group

Insecure Writers!

This month, I’m all tuckered out, been sick and missed a lot of writing. That’s not all of it. I’m co-hosting the A to Z Challenge, (the one blog event worth signing up for, imho) and participating in it via two blogs. I have to pre-schedule everything– that’s 52 posts for two blogs, and I’m not done with even one of them yet– though I hope to change that today.

One of them is going to be all done with 26 shiny posts tonight, if it kills me, waiting to go out into the world in April. I had hoped to avoid doing this work in March, but life, health, and everything else has caught up with me.

I’m trying to get the second draft of my WIP finished as well, and feel as if it is suffering due to my involvement in my blogs! Add to that my freelance writing commitments, and we’re talking serious time-crunch here.

Sometimes I wonder whether I blog too much for my own good, but at others, I realize it is my support system as well, a place online I can escape to and meet friends when my fiction is driving me up the wall. Which, let’s face it, is most days!  I have cut back on blogging this month, one post a week per blog in order to fit everything else in, but I shan’t give up on blogging entirely. Have you ever felt this way– that your blog is running away with you and there’s no time to write?

On a good note for my writing, however, I had a flashfiction piece published in an international feminist journal , When Women Waken, so that was a good feeling. My WIP has feminist overtones, so I think my writing is able to reach out, which gives me a measure of confidence.

Has Your Blog ever eaten into your Writing?


If you’re a writer clipping away at #amwriting each day, join the Insecure Writers’ Support Group!

On Being an Insecure Writer : #IWSG #amwriting

Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for organizing and hosting this event every month for two long years! Go to his blog to see the other participants.


Insecure Writer's Support Group

Insecure Writers!

This month, I’m all tuckered out, been sick and missed a lot of writing. Feel tired and in need of a holiday.

Well, I’m all whine, whine, whine, so I’ve decided to chip away at it..the whole mountain of stuff I’m lagging behind on.

I’m lucky I have all the time in the world this week to recover from the last two, and I’m just going to make the best of it. Right? Yes, right, no whining, because whining never does anyone any good.

What has everyone else in the group been up to in the last month?


If you’re a writer clipping away at #amwriting each day, join the Insecure Writers’ Support Group!

On Being an Insecure Writer : #IWSG #amwriting

Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for organizing and hosting this event every month for two long years! Go to his blog to see the other participants.


Insecure Writer's Support Group

Insecure Writers!

I’ve been a pretty inconsistent (insecure) writer.

At times I’ve felt burnt out with blogging and missed the IWSG post, at others been felled by life. Last month I missed the post cos I forgot! Alex has been kind enough to keep me on the list despite my irregularity and for that I’m grateful.

I think blogging brings out the best in writers– we become a sympathetic, helpful community (which sometimes doesn’t happen in real life.) IWSG has become a safe place for blogger-writers on the web, and I personally have learned a lot from some of the posts I’ve read, be it writing advice or publishing tips.

Can’t believe IWSG is 2 years old today! Kudos to Alex and the bloggers who have hosted the group each month– it isn’t easy.

I hope to be more regular from now on, schedule my IWSG drafts so I don’t miss out.

This month I’ve found the Muse elusive, and have had to bring myself out of negative swirls of vicious self-loathing– so I find some of the IWSG posts just what I needed! Thank you to the bloggers on this group who encourage those like me who find it hard going, this life as a writer.

Here’s to many more years of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group!

Here’s to Insecurity Between Drafts

Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for organizing and hosting this event every month. Go to his blog to see the other participants.


Insecure Writer's Support Group

Insecure Writers!

I’ve been away for the last two IWSG posts. Too shot down by life to consider blogging about it.

Now that I’m back, I know I have to face the monumental task of rewriting my novel– look that first draft straight in its beady eyes, stare it down, and begin.

Part of me is looking forward to it, the other is like, ‘Are you Crazy? You don’t even know where to begin!’ Which is true. I’m not sure of my story yet, I’m worried my characters aren’t real enough, that the plot is falling apart.

But I’ve been through this with short stories, so if I could get over those blues, I can try and get over this one.

How’ve all the other writers in the group been doing lately? Do you feel Insecure or Inspiring?

What did you feel like when you finished writing your first novel?

Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for organizing and hosting the Insecure Writers Support Group every month. Go to his blog to see the other participants, and understand what the group is all about.


I’ve been away the past two weeks, traveling, writing, offline. I wrote the last two chapters of my novel. They came easily, but also gave me a lot of anguish. I don’t know how much of myself I’ve put in the novel, in the characters, or the plot, but it is clear that parts of it upset me. The darkness of the subject matter, I suppose. Nearly all my writing has dark undertones. Though I almost always end on a note of hope, it is definitely painful for me and those who live with me!

tside my window in Malaysia

The view outside my window in Malaysia

This time, I had a beautiful horizon to gaze at while I wrote (thanks to a very kind Malaysian friend who lives in front of this view), so the words came easier. Something about gazing at the open seas makes me feel small, unimportant, and with little responsibility. That’s how I want to feel sometimes — because then the onus of finishing, say, a 91,000-word manuscript, is not so much on me. The sunsets were gorgeous, and made me think not-so-sadly of the sunset of my characters.

Sunset from my Malaysian window

Sunset from my Malaysian window

I lay down and did not get up for four days after I finished, flattened out by a series of backaches and headaches after I came back home. No amount of stretching and medication helped, so I went into hibernation. I’ve emerged after the weekend, shaky, sore, and ready to take on the world. I’m not sure what caused the systemic breakdown, but I’m glad it’s over.

Now, a break while I brush my blogs (namely, the A to Z Challenge — sign up now, if you haven’t already!), short stories, my reading, and my life. Then it is back to the novel — the grind of revisions, of edits, re-writes, more revisions.

What have You been up to in the last month?

Does Your Story Choose You?

Vrishchik Chaturvedi: Character Storyboard

Vrishchik Chaturvedi: Character Storyboard

The last few days, I’ve been researching my latest project, (I dare not call it a novel yet) and some of it has been nauseating.

I had to figure out everything possible about flaying  (don’t ask me why) and I was a little apprehensive–material like this would be hard to find, I thought. Apparently not. When I fed various sadistic keywords related to skinning a human body into Google, I was shocked to see the graphic details available on certain websites.

I have now borrowed books from the library which have diagrams and descriptions, and am making notes in between drinking camomile tea to keep myself calm. It is kind of hard to comprehend what humans are capable of doing to other humans.

All this begs the question (which someone asked me yesterday) : why do I have to write on a subject I can’t study with a straight face?

Because, like I told my questioner, I can’t help it.

The story has been haunting me for a while, three years, to be exact. It started with a voice that wouldn’t be denied, a character who spoke first in my notebook at a group writing session, then at a blogfest, and several times afterwards, including this week at another blogfest. His name is Vrishchik Chaturvedi. He is real now and has known it for a while– has said so, too. And his story is now taking shape, and tormenting me while at it.

I’m in control in the outside world, but he’s the lord of the world of my writing, and that is why I find myself, a girl who is afraid of the dark, who cannot sit through gory movies (not even relatively non-heavy-duty, harmless ones like I Know What You Did Last Summer), now writing about this guy who scares the living daylights out of her.

My story has chosen me, and I’ve decided I might as well get it out of my system.

So my question to the writers amongst you: Do you choose the story you’re going to write, or does the story choose you?

On Days When I Don’t Want to Listen…

….I write quite a bit, because:

Writing to Shut You Up

Writing to Shut You Up

This is true. When I keep writing, I don’t really have to listen to anyone other than me and the characters in my head, and that is a blessing for those times when listening to real people in real life becomes tiresome.

Do you ever write to shut out the noise?

Writers, Why Are Character Lists a Waste of Time?

Different writers have different takes on building characters.

Last week you read Melody Kaufmann’s take on Characterization, and this week we have writer Derek Flynn with his take.  Would love to hear what other writers think…tell us your take in the comments!

Handing over the blog to Derek….


Characters, characters

Characters, characters

As aspiring writers, we all search out any and all advice on writing that we can find. When I started writing seriously, one of the pieces of advice that I saw a lot (when it came to creating characters) was to compile a list of your character’s traits, likes, dislikes, etc. Often, you would find huge lengthy lists which you were to fill in so as to get to “know” your character better. Having written for a number of years now, I can safely say these “character lists” are a complete waste of time. (In fact, they’re up there with the “Write what you know” rule. If we all only wrote what we know, there’d be no science-fiction, no fantasy, no horror, and so on. All we’d have is novels where people went to work every day, watched some TV at night, and went to the cinema at weekends. Exciting!)

Now, before I go any further, I’m not here to disabuse anyone of any techniques that work for them. Whatever floats your boat. This is just my two cents.

So why are “character lists” a waste of time?

In my time on Twitter, I’ve seen so many writers talk about a voice or a character entering their heads and how they just had to tell that character’s story.

This is very true. It happens to us all as writers; we’re inspired to write a character’s story. And we KNOW the character. We must do. They’ve inspired us enough to want to tell their story after all. We don’t know everything about them. We may not know what kind of car they drive, what they eat for breakfast or what TV shows they watch, but we know the kind of person they are. And that’s enough to begin with.

We can start the story there and as we write we will find out more about the character. Indeed, that’s the fun: watching the character grow organically as you tell the story, rather than requiring them to meet some preset list of traits. Surely, if we want to create believable characters – characters that readers will empathise with – they should react to the situations we place them in, rather than merely have them ticking off a checklist? (Drives a Porsche? Check. Eats muesli? Check. Watches True Blood? Check.)

Joseph Campbell famously outlined the journey of the “hero” character in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, describing a set of stages that is common to all myths and stories.

And while this may be the case – while there may only be a finite number of plots or character types – the fact is, every character is different. Every character should react in their own idiosyncratic way to whatever situation they find themselves in.

As author Neil Gaiman has said: “I think I got about half way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself thinking if this is true – I don’t want to know … I’d rather do it because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is.” And I have to say, I agree with him.

Am I wrong? (It’s very possible. It wouldn’t be the first time.) Let me know what you think in the comments below.


Derek Flynn

Derek Flynn

Derek Flynn is an Irish writer and musician. He’s been published in a number of publications, including The Irish Times, and was First Runner-Up in the 2011 J. G. Farrell Award for Best Novel-In-Progress. His writing/music blog – ‘Rant, with Occasional Music’ – can be found here . You can also find him on  Twitter .

What D’n D Taught me About Characterization

As part of the continued guest post series, today we have writer Melody Kaufmann, a lovely blog-friend and twitter buddy!

I love the characterizations in her work, and invited her to talk about it in this post. Take it away Melody!


D&D is a group of friends essentially “acting out” a story, not unlike a movie.  In any story, good characterization is essential. Good characterization, in a novel, avoids author intrusion, and provides the reader with what my oldest child calls “movies for the brain”. For this to occur the author needs to “build the characters” which is what each player does at the start of a D&D game. In both there is a challenge and reward to “artistically representing human character and motive” in a believable and engaging manner.  The purpose in both cases is to create a story that others will enjoy.

Everything I know about characterization I learned by playing D&D. Ok not everything… but many things I learned while role-playing influence the method I use to create my characters. Webster defines characterization as “the artistic representation (as in fiction or drama) of human character or motives”. Characteristics and motives are what the reader uses to identify each character as an individual. Any writer can become published but real success for a writer comes from being read. Characterization is a part of what determines whether or not a work will be read. Here are a few tips for making your characterization work:

1>    Don’t kill everyone – parents, siblings, extended family give a character, particularly a main character, depth. If they have nothing to lose & no one that matters to them then why do we care about them? Relationships forge a character’s personality. Would Dr. Yueh betray Duke Leto if he had no one he loved? The Pet Sematary is only a local legend if Dr. Creed is a single man with no family.  The ties that bind sway character actions, change the entire plot, provide a WHY, and make us laugh. Don’t cut them.

2>    All good / all evil = boring – Even Voldemort’s back-story is one that evokes a certain amount of pity.  Batman is more popular than Superman because he is a less-than-perfect Dark Knight unlike the Man of Steel. Humans are rarely flawlessly good or entirely evil. This is why there are so many different alignments in D&D. A character’s identity is built from education, race, religious beliefs, and cultural background. Who he/she is and how he/she thinks should flow from the logical impact of each of these elements.

3>    Individuality is important but so is commonality – Characters with commonalities in same education, race, religious beliefs, and cultural background will share similarities. This doesn’t mean that all characters of a certain race or religion will be identical. It doesn’t happen in life so it doesn’t make sense in writing (unless you are writing about clones).  The point is that you must balance logical commonality with character individuality.

4>    Give your character a voice – Writers must think carefully about how each character sounds and behaves.  Different speech patterns and personalities add flavor to a story but not if it flies in the face of logic.  Favored sayings, personality quirks, and speech patterns should make sense as the by-product of the character’s background.  A lot of what connects readers to one character over another exists in the form of facial expressions, movement, and personality traits. This is the meat of characterization– getting the reader intimately acquainted with the characters. Here is where the reader decides who they like and who they hope doesn’t make it.  Characterization is the writer’s tool for sculpting the reader’s opinion.

5>    Make a Question list – I have a list of 20 questions that is indispensable. The idea came from my amazing husband who did much DM’ing (Dungeon Mastering) over the years. Moving from basic things (place of birth, appearance) through personality details (their goal in life, would they sell out) brings each character alive. I have multiple versions for short stories, novels, and series. An abbreviated version is usually enough for supporting characters. The list reminds me what the reader wants to know. It gets me fully acquainted with my characters. Not every bit of it appears in my story but as a writer, intimate knowledge of a character is an utter necessity to maintain consistency.

Sample Characterization List

There are many other things I’ve learned and not all of them from role-playing. Characters can save or ruin a story.  Invest in them and your reader will become invested as well.


Melody-Ann Kaufmann

Melody-Ann Kaufmann

Melody-Ann Kaufmann is a Systems Developer for University of Florida, wife of a techno genius, a student completing her MS in Information Security, mother of two autistic children, writer, geek, gamer, anime & manga consumer, avid reader of eclectic works, web comic connoisseur, and the owner of a horse-sized dog. She can be found on Twitter @Safireblade & FaceBook here. Her fledgling website can be found at