Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What I Learned at the GLVWG Conference, or, 5 Timeless Writing Tactics from Horror Master Jonathan Maberry

This past Saturday a few gals from my writers’ group and I had the great pleasure of attending the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers’ Group’s annual Write Stuff conference in Allentown, PA. I look forward to this event every year and always pick up some useful nuggets of info. This year was no exception. I attended a fabulous morning workshop led by literary agent/keynote speaker Donald Maass (Writing the Breakout Novel) and, appropriately, had to fight off writer’s cramp on and off throughout the day because I was taking so many notes (unlike past years, where I was content to merely listen or jot down a gem or two, this time I was determined to retain as much info as possible so I took copious notes). But my favorite session was the last one of the day—“Making a Living as a Writer” with Bram Stoker Award-winning author Jonathan Maberry (Rot and Ruin, The Wolfman, Cryptopedia, among others). I’ve heard him speak at this event a few times before, and I get such a boost from his presentations. Maberry is a writer’s writer—he’s had numerous books, over 1200 articles, and countless poems published, among projects in many other genres—so I knew I’d get the same jolt of inspiration that I had from past sessions. Over the course of his talk, I picked up 5 tactics that he mentioned for sustaining a writing career. This isn’t new advice, exactly, just tried-and-true writerly wisdom that works:

  • Persistence pays off. Maberry said that when he was starting out as a writer, he had no idea how to write a query. “If there were 25 things that editors didn’t want in a query, I had all 25 plus a few more thrown in,” he’d said. The first editor he pitched thought the query had been a joke. Maberry called to explain that no, he was serious about his writing, he just didn’t know what a query looked like. The editor sent him a few examples, Maberry followed the format, and landed quite a bit of work from the editor over the years. He was also relentless about querying editors when he was a magazine writer, proving once again that you shouldn't take no for an answer.

  • Don’t limit yourself—try new things. Maberry has written greeting cards, instructions on seed packets, song lyrics, magazine articles, novels, and—most recently—comic books. He said, “Did I know how to write (insert project-out-of-left-field here)? No! But I didn’t tell them that.” Staying diverse and open to new challenges helps to build your skills and confidence as a writer. It also keeps things interesting.

  • Stick to a schedule. Keeping to a self-imposed deadline or target keeps you accountable to yourself. Maberry said that he’s taken 3 days off in the past 25+ years, and now spends 10 hours a day on his writing projects (which also includes reviewing contracts, giving interviews, etc.) He writes something like 3,000 words a day, no matter what. If he comes up short one day, he’ll do double the next.

  • Reward yourself. Maberry puts $1 in a jar every time he reaches his word count for the day. When the project is finished, the money in the jar must go toward something fun. That could be something as small as a massage or as extravagant as a vacation. You’ve worked hard—now treat yourself.

  • Bring your “A” game to each project. You may not love every single thing you’re writing about (lawn fertilizer, home heating systems, and projects that involve techie-speak come to mind), but he suggests falling in love with some aspect of the project and bringing your very best writing to it. Editors and clients don’t have to know that you burned the midnight oil wrapping up the project because it bored you to tears; they do have to know that you delivered what they hired you for and would happily do it again if they asked.

What about you? What useful advice have you gotten lately?

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