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Taken Out of Context

September 30th, 2014

Context 27 LogoContext always ends too soon. Three amazing days of panels, readings, special events, and networking — and suddenly it’s over for another year. Alas!

I’ve been attending since 2007, and in that time Context has become one of my favorite regional SF cons. It’s a small affair with big ambitions, and it always manages to attract some of the top names in the field (this year’s GoHs included Jonathan Maberry and Betsy Mitchell) as well as a healthy contingent of readers, fans, and aspiring writers.

It’s been said that the people make a great convention . . . and that certainly applies to Context.

My first event was a panel on MFA writing programs where I expected to be joined by my good friends Lucy A. Snyder and Tom Waggoner.

Upon arriving, I learned that Tim couldn’t make the panel, so Lucy and I convinced Chris Phillips, one of our Seton Hill MFA students (who also happens to be managing editor of Flash Fiction Online), to take his place. It was Chris’s first panel, and he proved to be a knowledgeable conversationalist. It was good having him onboard.

Greg Hall and MauriceOther highlights included a live podcast of Gregory Hall’s The Funky Werepig Show, where I joined guests Maurice Broaddus, Michael West, Matt Betts, Gerry Gordon, and others talking about writing, publishing, and pork donuts (not necessarily in that order). An archive edition of the podcast will soon be available at the TMV Cafe. Watch this blog for a link as soon as one is available.

photo (14)I also got the change to join some amazing storytellers at The Beatnik Cafe, where the event’s host Gery L. Deer awarded me with a button that made me an honorary member of The Western Ohio Writers Association — a button that I wore with pride for the rest of the convention.

I understand that WOWA holds readings all over the Western Ohio area. If you ever get a chance to catch one of them, be sure to do so.

Performing at Context (2)My final event was performing some songs at a party hosted by R. Scott McCoy and Stygian Publications. The highlight of the event was backing up Gregory Hall in a resounding vocal performance of “Tequila.” He assured me before we started that he knew all the words, and he did.

The next morning, it was all over. Or so I thought. I walked to my car, preparing for a lonely drive back home, and there — resting on my windshield — was an autographed photo of the Funky Werepig himself. The inscription read: “You are my very best friend, Greg Hall.” I took that baby off my windshield, put it in the passenger seat, and sang “Tequila” all the way.

Greg HallYeah — you can take the scop out of Context, but you can’t take Context out of the scop.

Until next time . . . scop on!

The Context 27 logo.
Gregory Hall interviews Maurice Broaddus on The Funky Werepig Show.
The only credentials a man needs.
The 21st-Century Scop at the Stygian Publications party.
A one-of-a-kind autographed portrait of The Funky Werepig.

Time Management for Writers

July 3rd, 2013

WPF SymbolPhaseFinalColorWriting is all about anticipation. A writer spends months writing a book that might see publication in a year, might garner good reviews sometime after that, and eventually – over the course of a decade – might contribute to a body of work that will define a career. It is, as fantasy author Jim C. Hines has said, “a marathon, and very much about long-term persistence.”Time Management2poke

And therein lies the central dilemma for writers in the 21st century, for in an age of social media, why spend months writing a book that might get noticed in a year when you can take a  few seconds to write Facebook posts that generate likes, pokes, shares, and comments within minutes?

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to ponder this question in a presentation for Seton Hill’s In Your Write Mind workshops, part of a retreat that runs concurrently with the University’s summer residency in Writing Popular Fiction.

During our time together, the attendees and I considered how easy it is to waste time while writing. Such wasn’t the case in the days of typewriters and postmen who only rang twice. Back then, a writer could close the door, roll a sheet of blank paper into the platen, and work without interruption. Today it’s a different story, one that the people at StayFocusd – a time-management app for writers – sum up this way:

StayFocusd_300x300You sit down at the computer, and you swear you’ll be productive.  Next thing you know, it’s twelve hours later. You’ve checked your email, updated your Facebook status, browsed the trending topics on Twitter, read your RSS feeds, looked up your favorite band on Wikipedia, vanity googled yourself, cyber-stalked your ex, looked at all your high-school crushes’ Facebook photos, watered your plants on Farmville, and lost a week’s pay playing online poker.

What you haven’t done is WORK.

Sound familiar?

Of course, you might not need an app to channel your writing behavior. It’s all about being honest about how you are spending your writing time.

Along the way, we discussed the importance of minimizing interruptions, taking short breaks, and setting firm quitting times. I usually allow time at the end of a session for a Q&A discussion, but the presentation’s 50-minute window left little room for that. Instead, I encouraged the attendees to submit questions and comments for consideration on this blog, and so – at the risk of creating one more digital diversion in your writing day – here are a few of the questions and comments I received.

Do you have any advice for English teachers who write? How can you find time for your own work when your life seems to revolve around assessing the work of others?

I think that the same time-management guidelines that make for a productive writing session can also aid those of us who juggle full-time teaching with professional writing. Give yourself two-to-three hours at the end of the day to read and grade papers at your desk. Set a firm quitting time, and leave when you hit it. Don’t take work home. If you aren’t able to finish the day’s work, go in early the next day and wrap it up then. By doing this, you should be able to reserve a solid 90 minutes for writing in your home office. And let’s not forget that teachers generally have as many as 180 non-teaching days during the course of the year, which is time that can be devoted to full-time writing. Teaching and writing are both demanding professions, but with a little planning they can work together quite well.

I recommend treating yourself if you hit your writing goal for the day. Allow yourself to do or eat something you enjoy. Reward yourself for getting the writing done first.

Excellent advice. In this way, potential distractions become incentives for getting the job done first.

I recommend using the program Write or Die.

Thanks for the suggestions. Here’s a link for those who are interested: Write or Die.

As an aside, I must admit that I have always had a problem with the phrase “write or die,” which implies that writing is somehow unpleasant. I think “write and live” makes for a much better dictum. Don’t you?

I’ve gotten really good at writing X-number of words and completing goals. Editing, however, is another matter. I can’t figure a way to quantify editing in a way that’s as satisfying.

Ah, yes. Editing! That’s a topic that I addressed at length in my Sunday presentation for the WPF program. We’ll cover it in my next blog post. Provided, of course, I can find the time.

Until then, keep focused, keep writing . . . and (if time permits) rock on!