Next month (Feb. 15-17) I’ll be heading east for the fiftieth annual Boskone sci-fi convention. The venerable event, organized by the New England Science Fiction Association, is happily heavy on the literature side of things. You won’t see a lot of cosplayers, but you might be able to find a first printing of Snow Crash, grab a beer with Michael Flynn or ask Neil Clarke (of Clarkesworld) why he keeps rejecting your stories. (Or is that just me?)
The panels are always engaging and the special guests (Vernor Vinge, John Scalzi, Charles Stross, Jerry Pournelle, etc.) are top-notch. With fifty years of history under its belt, there’s no end to the connections and oddities that will turn up. At Boskone 49, I met an astronaut just down from the ISS, learned about plans for the Mars Colony, and sat in on a panel with one of the founding members of the Society for Creative Anachronisms!
The event also offers an art show, dozens of book vendors, and an ever-growing gaming program. You can find out more here and here and here. It’s a great event for fans, because you can rub elbows with the creators of your favorite things. It’s a fantastic event for writers because there are tons of pros there from which you can beg, borrow and steal advice. Last year, I hit up a panel called “My Top Ten Tips for the Prospective Author.” At the table in the front of the room were Scalzi, his editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden, agent Joshua Bilmes, Baen editor Toni Weisskopf, and David G. Hartwell.
The conversation evolved into war stories, but I eked out a few tidbits of wisdom. Added to a few more I collected, here’s my “Top Seven Tips for Writers Offered by People Smarter Than Me.” (“Seven Tips” was previously published on this blog on Feb. 22, 12)
1. “Get used to sucking,” said John Scalzi, meaning writers should resign themselves to a long period of learning and not be overly concerned if they’re not great right out of the box.
2. “Treat it like a job,” said Toni Weisskopff, meaning you make time for it, put time into it, and work at it every day.
3. “Divest yourself of your writing-time attachments,” said Patrick Nielsen Hayden, meaning writers shouldn’t get hung up on rituals or sacred spaces. Just write when and where you have the space. Otherwise, you have a big excuse not to write.
4. “If you find yourself beginning with a character waking up, it's probably a bad sign,” said Elaine Isaak, author of the “Singer’s Crown” trilogy. In other words, start with SOMETHING happening.
5. “Write to entertain somebody else,” said someone on the panel. In other words, don’t assume what amuses you will give someone else a grin. Scalzi said he writes for his mother in-law.
6. “Know your audience, and know that your editor or agent is your first audience,” said someone on the panel. So, do your research before you submit. Make sure the agent you are submitting to likes to represent people who write the stuff you do.
7. “Up the stakes. Don’t go too easy on your characters,” said someone on the panel. (I think it was Bilmes, but I can’t read my handwriting.) Readers like characters who suffer through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and you, writer, are outrageous fortune. Start slinging.