Friday, May 31, 2013

Why Enjoying Solitude Helps Me Meet Conventions Full of People

A while back, Ferrett Steinmetz wrote a great blog post called Surviving Cons: A Guide for Socially Anxious Writers. I recommend that post for the many excellent tips it contains. There's another reason, though. In the post, Ferrett recommends me as an outgoing person who likes to introduce friends to each other at conventions. He's correct: that's what I do! But after six years of going to conventions, it's still funny to me that I am that person, because whenever I go to a convention my first step is to get psyched up for some alone time. My approach to being social ends up being different from Ferrett's, but I think that between the two of us there's an idea for just about anyone who wants to have a better time at these things and meet more people.

Part of the problem with social anxiety, I think, is the expectations that go with it: feeling like at any given event you need to act a certain way, impress people, and make a ton of friends immediately, or you will look like a loser. That's a lot of pressure to put on yourself in a situation, and pressure is a known reducer of fun. I'm a proponent of easing up on yourself and taking a slow, easy approach to making friends. Yes, conventions are for meeting people, but no, you don't have to meet all of them all at once. It takes practice to shift your attitudes and expectations, but in my experience, it's been worthwhile.

As I was saying the other day, I learned to have good relationships with people by learning to treat myself well and enjoy solitude. Because of that, when I go to a convention I get prepared to happily hang out by myself all weekend. I know that I can go to panels alone, browse for books and jewelry in the dealers' room alone, lounge alone in my room in the morning without having to rush off anywhere, sit in a restaurant and eat alone, and it will be nice. It will be a relaxing break from my normal life, and I will have a good time.

Because I feel this way, I can walk into a convention feeling comfortable even if I don't know anyone, and I end up meeting people easily because there's nothing terrible at stake. I don't need them to like me or spend time with me. I'm there to take in the event by myself, but I try to spend my time in public areas to give myself the chance to meet people if I want to. If someone says something interesting on a panel, at the end I'll go up to introduce myself and chat for a minute. I'll compliment the cool outfit someone's wearing. If one of the book dealers is feeling talkative, I'll hang out and have a conversation with them and anyone else who comes along when I'm standing there. No pressure, and we can all wander away in a minute. I'm happy to meet people—ask anybody, I love 'em!--but I don't feel like I have to be with people all the time.

But the magic sometimes happens when I see one of those people around again, and we end up having a drink in the bar. Or maybe we'll bump into each other at a party. A couple of joking remarks later, we're in a real conversation, and they introduce me to their friend who comes over. That leads to another friend, and another. Or not. I might move on and introduce myself to someone else, or decide that I'd rather go and read a book. Feeling relaxed, and intending to fulfill my own emotional needs, tends to put me into the right state of mind for enjoying the moment I'm in, rather than thinking about what I may be missing or what will come next. That helps me to pay attention, remember people's names, and think of questions to ask them so that the conversation flows freely.

Why does this work? It's a matter of managing expectations. By lowering my expectation of what others should provide for me, and raising my expectation of what I can provide for myself, I go to the event with the plan to make my own fun. Instead of looking for the solution of getting attention from other people, I'm free to be spontaneous and have attention to offer out. I don't have to worry about getting something wrong; I can just be, and see what happens.

When a conversation develops, it helps to watch the other person's cues: to listen for hints about what they'd like to talk about, or detect visible signs of whether they want to keep talking or move on. Being responsive to what the other person wants is the nicest thing you can do. In my experience, people act like they appreciate that at some level, even if they never articulate it. I'm not saying to ignore your own preferences, but it's helpful to be willing to make the conversation more fun for the person who's in it with you. It's easier to have that attitude if you're not feeling needy.

After six years of attending science fiction and fantasy conventions, along with keeping in touch with people I meet online, I don't know if I could find a convention where I wouldn't know someone anymore, not that I'm looking for such a thing! Part of the fun of going is being able to see friends and acquaintances, and part of it is being able to introduce them to each other. But I still like to know I won't be disappointed if I'm on my own.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

WisCon Book Haul

Over the weekend, I spent a lot of time at WisCon 37, socializing and doing my best to make sure other writers don't starve (also known as buying books, my favorite strategy). I feel the need to tell you what I selected.

Before and Afterlives, by Christopher Barzak. From the back cover: "These are tales of relationships with unearthly domesticity and eeriness: a woman falls in love with a haunted house; a beached mermaid is substituted for a lost missing daughter; the imaginary friend of a murdered young mother stalks the streets of her small town; a teenage boy is afflicted with a disease that causes him to vanish; a father exploits his daughter's talent for calling ghosts to her; and a wife leaves her husband and children to fulfill her obligations to a world from which she escaped." In case you were wondering what kinds of things I like to read about in short stories, now you know. It sounds like a great collection, and I have already enjoyed reading the first story in the book, "What We Know About the Lost Families of – House."

Seeing Things, by Kater Cheek. Description: "Coffee shop barista (and part-time treemaker) Kit Melbourne’s life turns upside down when her tea-leaf reading brother predicts that someone will rob her, break her heart and oh yeah, murder her. Kit suspects it has something to do with the priceless jewel she inherited from their infamous witch uncle. As the jewel’s powers begin to reveal the secret, supernatural side of the town of Seabingen, Kit realizes she has to uncover the mysteries of her uncle’s past, to find out which of his many enemies wants the jewel badly enough to kill for it." I've read enough of Kater's short stories to know that I enjoy her writing style, and I'm always psyched up to read about the secret, supernatural side of anything.

Trampoline: An Anthology, edited by Kelly Link. This book is not new—it came out about ten years ago—but I had been meaning to get this for a long time. It is a matter of public record that I'm a huge fan of Kelly Link's stories, so I'm certain that other stories she chose to put together will also make me very happy.

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, by Annalee Newitz. From the book jacket: "In its 4.5 billion–year history, life on Earth has been almost erased at least half a dozen times: shattered by asteroid impacts, entombed in ice, smothered by methane, and torn apart by unfathomably powerful megavolcanoes. And we know that another global disaster is eventually headed our way. Can we survive it? How?" You might not know this about me, but this topic is something I fret about. A lot. I'm also curious about what other people have to say about it. Given the fact that Annalee Newitz is a particularly interesting person (and also fun to chat with!), I can only believe that this book will be just right for me, especially since it seems to be angled toward fascinating science and optimism.

Which books have you picked up lately?


Disclosure of Material Connection: None! I have not gotten and will not get any financial compensation for mentioning these books. I don't do affiliate links.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

What Fates Impose Progress, Plus WisCon this Weekend

Today's exciting news is that I have seen and declared my approval of the cover art for What Fates Impose, which I commissioned my own self because MY PUBLISHER IS AWESOME. I'm not ready to post the image yet, but I love it and you'll see it soon. I can tell you that the artist is Steven C. Gilberts, who, by the way, is great to work with.

I've accepted the stories that will appear in What Fates Impose. I am so looking forward to revealing the table of contents for this book! I'm still considering the order of the stories, but no matter the order, the authors are amazing and they've written fiction that I'll be proud to send out into the world. At this point, we're working on story edits, and then I'll go into more detail with line edits, but the prose was already at a high standard when it came in.

We're also polishing up the details of our funding drive through Kickstarter, which will begin very soon. Reward levels will include digital and print versions of the book, as well as selected other titles from Alliteration Ink, and there's talk of offering cover art prints and other goodies as well. I'll post the link here when it's ready, of course, and I hope you'll consider checking it out.

As you may have gathered from the title, this weekend I'm going to WisCon, the World's Leading Feminist Science Fiction Convention, which is located in Madison, Wisconsin. The convention goes from Friday through Monday, May 24th through the 27th, but I will only be there during the day on Saturday and Sunday, since I'm commuting instead of staying at the hotel. I'm looking forward to the people, discussions, books, art, and probably jewelry I'm likely to engage with there. I don't think I've ever gone to a WisCon without buying jewelry from either the art show or the dealers' room. But the main thing is the people—it will be great to see friends there and have the chance to meet new ones.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How To Say No When You Need To

Making decisions is hard. Disappointing people is no fun. But it's impossible to do everything, so sometimes I need to say no to people who ask me to do things. Here's why it's important to do that, and how to make it easier.

I'm writing this post because a few months ago, I sent out invitations for people to submit stories to my forthcoming anthology, What Fates Impose. I got three types of answer: yes, no, and "no response." Those non-responses left me feeling a bit freaked out, with many unanswered questions on my mind about why I didn't hear back. I'm not here to try to make anyone feel bad about not responding. In some cases, they may not have received my email, or other things I didn't know about may have been going on. However, some of them may have felt uncomfortable with directly saying no, as many people are, or they may have believed that it didn't matter.

Here's why it matters. We all have the same amount of time: not enough. I understand if you don't have time to work on a new project. I often have the same problem. That's why I'd rather get a quick, polite negative answer than wait around for an answer that never comes. I just want to know where I stand with you, so I can proceed. Here are two easy notes you can send to tell me no ANYTIME YOU WANT:


1. If you don't want to work on THIS project, but you might want to work with me in the future:

Dear Nayad,

Thank you for inviting me to submit a story. Unfortunately, I can't commit to this, but please think of me for other projects in the future.




2. If you don't feel convinced you want to work with me at all:

Dear Nayad,

Thank you for inviting me to submit a story. Unfortunately, I can't commit to this, but I hope the project goes well for you.




(You don't have to wish me well on the project if you REALLY don't want to work with me, but it's a nice touch. SOCIAL SKILLS, Y'ALL.)

These basic templates are easy to customize. If you know the person, include a little personal note. Ask about their cat. Sign off with "Best" or "Take Care" or, if you're really close, "Hugs." If you really would have said yes, but there were unavoidable obstacles, mention that. Ultimately, though, it is way better for your business and personal relationships if you say SOMETHING rather than NOTHING.

Monday, May 20, 2013

How I Learned to Be Social Despite Having Introverted Parents

The other day I wrote about How Being Social Helps Me as a Writer and an Editor, and now here's my post about how I learned how to do that.

My parents are both very nice people, and they are thoroughly introverted. Their home is their restful place away from other people. They don't get the notion to invite friends over. It's just not their thing, and that's okay.

Anyone looking at me when I was a child, if they were inclined to think about introverts and extraverts, would surely have thought I'd turn out to be an introvert. I was shy and quiet. I liked to read. I played by myself, and didn't really understand other kids. I didn't smile much, and when I did it was with my lips closed. I was SERIOUS.

Anyone who saw me then and saw me now, with a gap in between, would think that the child they'd seen had been replaced by someone else. Anyone who knows me now would be SHOCKED at the quiet mini-me, if they could see her. I'm just so different. So what happened?

We moved from a small town to the suburb of a big city just a couple of weeks after I turned twelve, when I was in the middle of sixth grade. The move was a big change, and I was suddenly around a whole new set of kids who had no expectations about what I was like. I didn't transform all at once, but I was trying new things simply by having to meet new people and make new friends if I wanted any, and then over the next few years I was increasingly interested in boys, too. I had the inclination to be extraverted, but it took me a while to develop some of my social skills because I needed to be around more people to learn them. It worked well for me to learn the ways of introverts when I was younger, fitting in with my family, but as a teenager I found that I wanted to expand outward and understand how to interact with people better.

Then I went too far with that and became clingy and needy, which made people push me away. That was upsetting, so I turned to self-help books.

The best one, strangely, was called Intimate Connections, by David D. Burns, M.D. I say "strangely" because the premise of this book is that in order to develop good friendships and find love, you need to learn how to really enjoy being alone. How to treat yourself as well as someone you would date. So I was learning how to be social by learning how to be alone. It's odd that a person growing up with introverted parents would need to learn that being alone is good, given examples of people who craved alone time, but I did. This was a life-changing book for me at a time when I really needed it.

What I learned was that there's a reason for this phenomenon most people know about: when you're single and looking for someone to date, or you're lonely and looking for friends, it's often hard to find them because you have a needy vibe. People sense that you want them to fix your life, and this is off-putting. When you stop looking and start to enjoy being single and don't even want to date, instantly you meet people who want to date you. It's because you're happy with your life, and happiness is attractive. Therefore, depending on a relationship to make you happy, or friends to make you happy, will limit your ability to have relationships and friendships. It's important to find your own happiness. The trick is to like yourself.

Everything I've learned about being social since then has been layered on top of that principle. It's not about being selfish or putting myself first; it's about treating myself well, and maintaining my own stability so that I can give affection to others, and listen, and be helpful whenever possible. This means knowing my own limits so that I can say "no" when I need to. I can't help everyone all the time. I have to do my own stuff. But if I have some time and there's something I can give freely and without resentment, I give it.

Coming soon: Why Enjoying Solitude Helps Me Meet Conventions Full of People

Also coming soon: How to Say No When You Need To

Friday, May 17, 2013

Five Books for Leveling Up in Writing and Life

There are hundreds of beginner-level writing books available for someone just starting out, but it's harder to find books that help with ongoing improvement after that stage. I have a few recommendations. The nifty thing is that these books all have a lot to offer for developing general creativity. Anyone from beginner through advanced in writing could get something out of reading these. They contain useful stuff for the rest of life as well, in my opinion.

The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle. This is the most generally applicable book on my little list, because it's about the kinds of practice that lead to mastery, and what's happening in the brain as that mastery is growing. It covers deep practice, ignition, and master coaching, each of which are important in reaching high levels of success in creative work and sports, especially. My favorite thing about this book is that it gave me ideas about how learning to be an excellent writer is more like high achievement in soccer than it's like mastering the violin, because the former relies on learning to flexibly access a wide range of options, while the latter is about perfecting the one correct way to play any given note. Anyone interested in developing any kind of talent should read this!

Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer's Resistance, by Rosanne Bane. THIS BOOK IS SO GREAT. I've increased my productivity so much since I started to follow the practices suggested in this one. The great thing is that, although it's a book specifically about writing, the information is EASILY transferable to pretty much any area of life. It's about recognizing the ways in which stress prevents creative thinking, and how to establish easy, helpful habits that will prevent the stress response from taking over and blocking you from doing what you want to do. The book explains how to establish methods of process, product, and self-care to keep yourself in the right state of mind for creative thinking. This gets my highest recommendation.

Making a Good Writer Great: A Creativity Workbook for Screenwriters, by Linda Seger. Okay, I know the title says it's for screenwriters, but really it's for everyone. Who doesn't need more creativity? This book includes chapters like "Pushing Your Mind to Another Creative Level," "Exploring Your Themes and Ideas," and "Mining the Riches from Your Dreams," as well as chapters more specifically dedicated to improving writing skills. The examples are about screenwriting, but any writer can benefit from them. I like to read books about screenwriting to learn from a different angle. They tend to give me a better appreciation of movies, too.

Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, by Lisa Cron. Why do people enjoy stories? Our brains get interested in stories for specific, explicable reasons which are covered here. Learning what makes people curious, and what holds their attention, is useful for writing fiction. It's also crucial for giving good presentations, getting along with others, and being an interesting person. In a time when social interactions online and in person are more important than ever before, as people become increasingly adept and sophisticated in the social realm, this is valuable information.

2k to 10k: How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love, by Rachel Aaron, has a really self-explanatory title. All right, this one is strictly about writing. It's especially good for planning and outlining novels, so that you know what you intend to write on any given day. That helps with getting started and allowing the words to flow faster.

I am always looking for good books to read, so I hope you'll comment with your own recommendations!


Disclosure of Material Connection: None! I have not gotten and will not get any financial compensation for mentioning these books. I don't do affiliate links.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How I Get Back to Work after a Vacation


I am back from eight days away, visiting lots of people! I spent time with friends I've known for years, and I met several seriously awesome new acquaintances. The trip was fantastic. And now I must settle in, somehow, and start being a productive member of society again, and how does that work again? I forget.

Therefore, it's time to turn to my old standby, the list. Basically that's all I can do at this point. The first workday after a trip is practically another vacation day as I wander around aimlessly, poking at the keyboard now and then as if to check whether or not it still lives. Usually I get a little irritated with myself toward the end of that day. I may or may not, at that point, also be showing symptoms of the cold I will have picked up during the trip.

Day two is when the list comes in. By day two, I'm DEFINITELY showing those cold symptoms, and I'm moving kind of slowly on all things, still, so just identifying things I could possibly do next is a struggle. I have to go stream-of-consciousness on the problem first, freewriting until the guilt of having been gone comes pouring out of my mind in the form of stuff to catch up on. Then I can take all that garbled mess and arrange it into a list of priorities, and just pick a few important ones to hack away at until I'm warmed up and functioning again.

This blog post was on that list! I told myself to make it a short post so that I could say hi and then cross "blog post" off of the list. So hi! Here I am, a little achy and sneezy, but back from my time off and working my way down my list. I hope you feel as good about this as I do. I'll write something longer next time.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Things You Might Like to Read While I'm Away from the Keyboard

This evening I'm leaving town to go to Mo*Con in Indianapolis, where I expect I will have a fabulous time or get arrested trying. Disclaimer: I have actually never gotten arrested, so I'm not sure I understand the process. But you never know. You never do know.

After the weekend, I'm moving onward for a vacation next week. Since I'm not taking a computer, I don't expect to be posting in this here blog during that time, so I'm going to leave you with some links to read. BECAUSE I CARE ABOUT YOUR NEEDS. I'll have my phone, which means I'll be showing up on Twitter and Facebook. But here are those links!

My two most popular blog posts:

  • Five Things I've Learned from Reading Slush (July 11, 2011), from back in my days of reading submissions for Clarkesworld Magazine (which, by the way, has a new, free, excellent-looking issue posted for May, so in my opinion you won't be sorry if you click).
  • Five Great Books for New-ish Writers (July 18, 2011), all of which I still recommend, but this reminds me: Coming Soon: Five Books for Leveling Up in Writing and Life.
  • Other blogs I recommend:

  • Start here for a list of blog posts exploring depression and creativity, written by people who will be at Mo*Con. Links to the rest are at the bottom of the post. This year's theme is The Mind and Spirit of the Artist.
  • Inkpunks, where a bunch of fantastic writers I know post consistently thoughtful and helpful posts about writing. I'm never disappointed when I visit this blog.
  • Penelope Trunk's Career Blog, where Penelope expresses a huge personality with interesting things to say, bringing in stories from her personal life to illustrate her widely respected ideas about career development. Many people disagree with her conclusions, but she offers a lot to think about. I don't know her, but my cousin does! If you want to see what she's like, here's a post that includes a demo reel from when some people wanted to make a reality show about her life.
  • Booktrust, where author Matt Haig is the writer-in-residence. He has a blog on his own website, too.
  • Ferrett Steinmetz's blog, in which he writes about writing, gaming, polyamory, beekeeping, politics, and all sorts of other things. I am solidly on Team Ferrett.
  • That should give you plenty to choose from! I hope you have a great week. If all goes as planned, I'll be back to blogging in mid-May, which is not terribly far in the future.

    Wednesday, May 1, 2013

    Anthology Submission Strategies that Work for Me

    As I've mentioned before, all of my published fiction is in invitation-only anthologies. Now, I still haven't published huge numbers of stories, but my acceptance rate for anthologies has been very good. I'm here to tell you what I did, in case it might be helpful for you. I know for a fact that as an editor, I appreciate writers doing at least some of the following things.

    First thing! If you want to improve your chances of getting invited to submit stories for anthologies, it is very helpful indeed to:

  • Go to writing conventions focused on the genre of your choice, and meet and be friendly with as many people there as possible, regardless of whether they seem like they can help you. BE NICE TO EVERYONE. Listen to them. Don't talk about yourself all the time. Ask about their work before you talk about your work (ideally, don't even talk about your work until they ask you about it). Have a cool business card and give it to them; ask if they have a card, but give them yours even if they don't.
  • Find a non-obnoxious way to let the world know that you like working with guidelines to write stories. Some writers actually hate doing that. I LOVE IT (<--see what I did there?). If you're going to be obnoxious, like me, be obnoxious in the best way you can!
  • Have a blog in which you write about things that interest you a couple of times a week. Penelope Trunk has excellent advice about that for you. Also, her career and homeschooling blogs are both outstanding, and she is hugely influential in my life right now. As she says, blogging lets people know your ideas about working in your field, and it helps them to know when and why to hire you. MAKE SURE YOUR CONTACT INFO IS ON IT. Many writers are super-cagey about their email addresses these days, presumably because of spam and trolls, or maybe because they haven't learned how to politely say no to requests, but speaking as an editor, it's hard to send you guidelines if there's no email address to send them to. I may be a weirdo, but I don't like those email forms people have on their websites.
  • Okay? So next, whether you have an invitation to submit or you're taking a whack at an open-call anthology, here are my tips.

    Crucial, In My Opinion

  • Read the guidelines at least twice before you do anything else.
  • Know how long it usually takes you to develop and write a story, and schedule time to do that work, plus a little padding to cover things like getting sick, dealing with emergencies, having story troubles, general stress, and wandering in beautiful meadows to clear your head.
  • Write the deadline down on a calendar that you will use (paper or digital). Also write a reminder on the date you need to start working on the story. Otherwise you may forget all about it and miss the opportunity and have to admit to the editor that you forgot (I'm your editorial witness to the fact that this happens).
  • The first idea you get for a story? Don't use it. The second idea? Don't use that, either. Push into the territory of three or more ideas, twisting things around as much as you can, before you pick one to develop. Make it as "you" as you possibly can within the framework of the guidelines. Find the idea that only you would think of, because those first two ideas are pretty much guaranteed to be the ideas everyone would think of.
  • Turn in your story ON TIME at the LATEST. As in, on the date of the deadline, no later. I know time is hard! But still. Really. You might get an acceptance for a late story, but you won't look good doing it.
  • It's much better for you and your chances if you turn in your story EARLY. As in, as much before the deadline as you can manage while still submitting a reasonably finished and clean manuscript that you've read over a couple of times, and edited.
  • If it's really, truly impossible to turn in your story on time, like for emergency reasons, and an editor is expecting it, then email the editor as soon as you know you're running late, and be genuinely apologetic for the inconvenience, and grateful for any extension she can give you. But really try not to be late. Don't be late because you can't miss your favorite TV shows, or whatever. Keep your commitments.
  • Write a story that's within the length range specified in the guidelines. That's provided for a reason. If the guidelines say to query about longer stories, then query. If the guidelines don't mention ways to work out exceptions, don't try to work out an exception. Give the editor what she asked for.
  • Also Helpful, Possibly

  • If you know of anthologies on a similar theme to the one you're writing for, read at least a handful of the stories in them if at all possible, and look at the titles. See what's already out there, and get a sense of which ideas might be different enough to get your story noticed.
  • If you can, take a look at the editor's previous anthologies to see what kind of stories she's accepted before. This may not be very helpful, because tastes change and you need to stay true to your own voice when writing anyway, but, for example, if you hardly ever see a first-person POV in her previous anthologies, consider not using that POV for your story. Things like that are worth considering.
  • Depending on the editor, it may be okay to ask questions to get more information. Be careful about this, because some editors don't like to be bothered. I'm happy to answer writers' questions about my opinions and preferences when I'm editing. If I were running a contest, I'd have to give everyone the same information and not give anyone an advantage. If I'm soliciting material for a book, I want to get the best possible stuff for the book, so I appreciate it when people are motivated enough to find out what will work for me. This is probably another area in which I'm a weirdo, but I will cheerfully accept that designation.
  • This is getting long! Let me know if there are other tips I've missed.