Monday, February 15, 2010

Writers Rock

As you know, I spent this last weekend at the LTUE writers conference. To sum it up in a single sentence, it was an absolute blast.

Highlights of the trip

#1 Hanging out with my writer friends: Candice, Natalie, Jenn, and Kasie (the shy one.) These ladies are equal parts brilliant and hilarious.

#2 Meeting a bunch of you blogger friends. It was fun to see you walking and talking, all three dimensional. Meeting you all made me resolve to get more involved in the blogs, so that I can get to know you all even better.

#3 Being a giddy fangirl. Who knew it could be so much fun? Also, who knew that hot shot writers like Brandon Sanderson and James Dashner would be so down to earth and cool? Seriously, I'd hang out with those guys any time. (Brandon? James? Any takers? *whispers* Call me.)

And, #4 Just mingling with a ton of fellow writers. Yes, the classes were interesting. The topic useful and inspiring. I learned a lot. But overall, one of the coolest things about it was to see so many people just like me. It inspired me, actually. Fired me up to work harder and really go for my dreams.

Anyway, that's my wrap up. I had a such a great time. I'd recommend any of you out there to try and attend a writer's conference if you get the chance. It's a great way to charge that battery and have a few laughs in the meantime.

P.S. To those of you who were at the banquet. I gave my husband the spinning ballerina test, and it showed him as LEFT brain. And then I new the test was invalid. ;) Seriously though, I Googled it (yes, dorky, I know) and found an article stating that not only is the test no more than a fun optical illusion, but the whole notion of Right Brain people vs. Left Brain people is outdated, and no legitimate indication of one's skill set or way of thinking. So there! *hugs self, rocking back and forth on ground* I am creative, I am creative, I am creative . . .

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Intuition . . . (I have none)

So I've decided that my ears are deaf to the whisperings of the Universe. My career as a psychic is doomed.

I was pretty sure the Colts would win the Superbowl.

I had a dream that I would get The Call . . . yesterday.

And, lastly, I was 100%, absolutely and completely, beyond any doubt positive that I was pregnant with a boy. But ultrasound results came in and it's a girl. I made the doctor check three times.

( Have I not mentioned before on this blog that I'm pregnant? I meant to. And I should have. It could have better explained my long absences and general crankiness ;) )

So anyway, there it is. I apparently have no intuition. Ah well. I suppose there are worse flaws.

*worst segue ever coming up*

Speaking of flaws, I plan to learn how to improve some of my writing flaws at the conference I'm attending this weekend. (Told you it would be bad.) I'm super excited! I'm going to meet some very awesome writer friends of mine and generally have a good time. Because of that, I probably won't post again until next week. But I'll return, hopefully with great advice and/or amusing stories to share.

Friday, February 5, 2010

How to be Great 3

I meant to post this two days ago, but then things got quite busy and, well, you know how it is.

At any rate, today I'm going to show you Jim Collins' method for finding that golden concept, the one that is both simple and consistent. The one that can make a company (or a book) Great. He actually has a nifty diagram.

Truth is, I could leave it there. My interpretations of this diagram, and how it relates to writing is just my opinion. You may see it differently. That said, however, I'll tell you what struck me about this.

Disclaimer: I'm using this diagram to find a concept for a novel that could bring success, as in commercial success. Let it be said, loud and clear, that commercial success is NOT the only purpose, or the best purpose, or even my own personal purpose for writing. But I don't think I'm far off from thinking that it is a goal for many of us. And with that in mind, it can help to think about our writing from a commercial viewpoint. We good? Good. Moving on . . .

What are you passionate about?

This one's easy. When choosing what to write, it has to be something that we love. We shouldn't just write the vampire book because vampire books are in. Right? Right. Without our passion involved in the process, it won't go far. Passion! It's the easiest thing to focus on, and for most of us, our favorite thing to focus on.

What drives your economic engine?

Does this one seem in conflict with the first? I think some people would sneer at the idea of having your "economic engine" in mind when it comes to writing. I feel that way from time to time myself. However, if we are looking at writing as a business, meaning we want to sell our work, we have to have it in mind.

So in order to determine what drives one's economic engine when it comes to writing, I think we need to study the market. And I DON'T mean writing to trends. I mean knowing what kind of ideas are more commercially viable than others. Because let's face it, we all have a few ideas that we love, but deep down, we know they'd be a tough sell. Like my idea about the reincarnated young man who comes back in the womb of his lover. Yeah . . . I'm thinking that one would be a challenge.

Similarly, if you know your market, you know when an idea has good commercial potential. You can just tell. And if you feel that you don't have that skill, I think you should try to hone it.

What can you be the best in the world at?

This one is the hardest of all. I don't think I could be the best in the world at anything. So I'm sunk? Well, not quite. The way I interpreted this is knowing yourself and being realistic with your personal talents. I have this killer idea for a literary novel, but I KNOW that I don't have the skill to write it yet. It's simple as that.

I think finding your niche can be tough because we writers tend to either think we ROCK at everything or that we SUCK at everything. Sometimes we jump back and forth between the two. So obviously, it can help to have some outside opinions. Get some beta readers. Post some of your work online maybe. Try short stories in the genres you're considering. Overall, if you stay brutally realistic with yourself (remember the Stockdale Paradox?) it should be clear to you where your talent is.

I'm posting this diagram again, because I want to emphasize the point of this entire Hedgehog Concept. That golden idea is one that has overlaps of all three circles. We need to include our passions with what we know we can write best with what we know has commercial potential. And remember, you may decide to stay solidly in the Passion circle, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm just giving those of you that want to sell their stories one perspective for finding potential commercial success.

Because, let's face it, like it or not, publication is a business. Writing doesn't have to be, but publication is.

So, seeing as how this post is already quite long, I'm going to post again soon with my wrap-up/closing thoughts on Good to Great .

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How to be Great 2

Another of the great, writing related themes in Good to Great is called The Hedgehog Concept. There's lots of meat here, so I'm going to break it up into two different posts. So today we have:

The Hedgehog Concept: Part 1

The Hedgehog Concept is all about finding the right concept. The concept that is a hedgehog to build your business on. Allow me to explain.

Imagine a fox chasing a hedgehog around in the forest. When the moment comes for the fox to strike, what does the hedgehog do? It rolls up into a spiny ball and blocks the attack. Nothing fancy. Nothing flashy. Nothing grand. And yet it works every time.

Collins makes the case that all of these Great companies share the common trait of simplicity and consistency. There are no bells and whistles to what they do. No secret tricks that only the Big Guys know. No magic. These companies find a simple concept that works for them and go about consistently delivering it. That's it.

How does this relate to writing?

Well, of course "simplicity and consistency" in regards to writing could be interpreted in many different ways. What I related it to in my mind however, was the types of stories we write. The concepts.

I know when I start to develop a story ideas, sometimes I can get a bit carried away. I just want to make it AWESOME, you know? I feel the impulse to include numerous exciting elements and characters and crazy situations, and the next thing I know, the story that started off as a simple idea has turned into a huge, monstrous undertaking that's just too fancy for it's own good.

If you look at the most successful books out there, most of them are based on a simple concept. And they stay consistent to that theme through the entire book, meaning the book doesn't start off as, say, a girl who loves a werewolf and then turn into a high stakes legal battle of Big Business vs. the Little Guy. Or something like that.

We often hear the term "high concept," and I think it's applicable here. According to my definition, "high" concept is really another way of saying simple concept. Simple and consistent. A hedgehog.

The best stories out there don't try and go for flash or try to fill as many of the current trends and tropes as they can. They just have a simple concept, which they deliver with consistency.

Now, the obvious question left hanging here is: how do find these hedgehogs? Believe me folks, I've wondered this very thing. Coming up with a "high concept" idea or a "simple and consistent" idea is MUCH easier said than done.

But have no fear! In Part 2 (coming tomorrow,) I will show you Collins' formula for finding just such a concept. It's a model he's created from his study and interviewing of those Great Companies, so it's pretty legit, and I found it quite helpful.

Stay tuned . . .

Monday, February 1, 2010

How to be Great

*According to NY Times Bestselling author Jim Collins. (No relation.)

My husband is a big reader. Not of fiction, mind you. He told me once that he likes to read books that are "useful" and "actually teach me something about the world." As is, not fiction. You can imagine, I had a hotly worded response.

But I digress. I wanted to tell you about a book he's been reading which I have actually found surprisingly "useful" as well. The book is the huge bestseller Good to Great by. Jim Collins. (Again, no relation. I only wish.)

Basically, the book chronicles Mr. Collins' study of the top, or Great, companies in America. He carefully analyzes and breaks down why these companies make it and others don't. What they have that others do not.

Now, you may be wondering if I am planning to make a venture into business. To that, I would say, aren't we all? The business of writing. In fact, as my husband and I have discussed much of the book, I keep likening it all back to writing. And it fits quite well. It's rather fascinating. Therefore, for the rest of the week, I plan on sharing some of the things I've learned from Good to Great and analyzing how that applies to us, the writers.

Just to start the week off, I'll leave you with one tidbit that really struck me in my current situation. One of the attributes that Mr. Collins noticed every single Great company having is what he calls the Stockdale Paradox. (And just try to tell me this doesn't relate to writing):


Retain absolute faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND, at the same time, confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

Facinating, isn't it? And oh, so relevant to us writers. What I think is so interesting about it is that it's advice we've all heard before, and yet it's clearly more than just quaint sentiment. According to hard research, it's the mentality of winners.

More from Mr. Collins tomorrow.