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5 Alternative Ways of Getting to Writing Conferences

Writing conference season has already started, and the big conferences are coming up this spring and into the summer months. If you look around, you will probably find one near you if not in your home town. However, often some of the best conferences are just within driving distance, and place where it really is not practical to fly into.

If you are not going to fly, and you don’t want to drive by yourself, what are some alternate ways to get to a writer’s conference? Here are some real-life subbestions for you.

Take the Bus

The bus? No this is not a flashback to 1995 and that nightmare trip you took across the country. No, this is about the experience of the conference, and often taking a bus will give you more material for your stories.

While traveling by bus is not expensive, doing so may take some additional planning on your part. It takes longer to get somewhere on a bus, and you will need to account for that time on both ends of the trip. If you still work a day job, you will need to take the appropriate time off.

If you have ever watched movies like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, you will understand the value of bus travel as story fodder. You may meet interesting people, and learn some new things.

Also, don’t just stick to your traditional Greyhound bus. There are also tour destination buses, and these can be even more fun, and affordable. Headed to a conference in Vegas? Take one of the gamblers’ tours and hand out with some cool people on the way there and the way home.

Take the Train

Yes, Amtrak still exists, and depending on where you live, you can take the train to a writer’s conference. Much more relaxing than taking the bus, the train will also allow you time to meet interesting people and gather story ideas. However, seats are usually much roomier than those on buses, and you can use dining cars and other common areas as places to get some writing done during your travel.

Like buses, trains usually take more time than driving, but especially if you are going to a conference a long way away, you can save a great deal of money and add some relaxation time to your trip to a conference.

The way home can be a great time to reflect on the things you have learned at the conference and make notes about what you want to do with that information.

Make it a Group Activity

If you have a local writers’ group or critique group, why not take the whole gang? You can split not only transportation, but the cost of hotels, perhaps even meals, and if you are attending the right conference you might even get a discount on your attendance fees.

There are a number of ways you can all ride together, including renting a passenger van. These vans often have seating room for up to 12 passengers along with room for all of your gear. This makes the rental affordable, the gas cheap, and you get the bonus of riding and attending the conference with your friends and fellow writers.

This method does require some planning though. You will need to reserve the van ahead of time and be sure you collect the money or at least a deposit from all of the participants so you are sure that no one backs out of the deal or cancels on you, making it more expensive for everyone else.

Also, you will need to plan lodging accordingly. You will all need to stay the same place or at least close by, so you don’t have to also use the van to go collect everyone. You can, however, use the van as a shuttle to and from the conference and your hotel. This can be very handy as long as you all go and return at the same time each day.

Motorhome It

Does someone you know own a motorhome, or can you rent one of those? This can be a great way to get to the conference and to save on lodging. While gas will be more expensive in a motorhome if you have the right sleeping arrangements you can literally save hundreds over the conference hotel costs.

Many times. even if there is no campground nearby, you can camp in parking lots or near the hotel somewhere anyway. Many megastores like Walmart are quite open to this idea, and there are often a number of motorhomes in the parking area.

Of course, if you are going to stay with those you are traveling with in a small space for a few days, it is a good idea to screen them and make sure they are people you will get along with for that amount of time. Set some group rules and be considerate.


Another simple alternative is to carpool—simply split gas and travel costs with another person or two depending on the capacity of your vehicle, and ride together to the conference. This does have the advantage that you do not have to coordinate a larger group, and there is less chance that someone will cancel and you will get stuck with the whole cost of the trip solo.

Depending on the car you drive, this can be a money saver for sure. Also having another driver or just someone to talk to along the way can be a great help, keep you awake, and increase the speed with which you can get to where you are going.

No matter how you choose to get to a writers’ conference, go to at least one this year, more if you can. No matter what your level of experience, you will learn and grow for the experience. To save money and effort or even just to enhance your experience, choose an alternative way to travel and have some fun with it along the way.

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Your Life is Stuck in a Rut? Here is How to Get Out

You know you’re in a rut when things feel meaningless and you start wondering about your life. Maybe your job is unsatisfying or your relationship has stagnated, or perhaps you just have not reached your full potential. The good news is that admitting you’re in a rut is the first step toward making changes. Let’s look at six way you can get out of that rut!

1. Explore Your Job Options

A dead-end job is one where you feel unhappy regardless of salary or any other circumstances in the workplace. If your job no longer challenges you, or you feel miserable at work, it’s time to start looking at other options.

Think about the dreams you have not pursued due to lack of time or courage. Now is the time to set aside all excuses and explore other employment opportunities. Go after that dream job you have always wanted, or consider opening your own business by doing something you never realized you could do.

2. Assess Your Relationships

Relationships are integral to life. Sometimes love and friendship empower us to be our authentic selves. Other times, a fizzled-out romance or a stale friendship holds us back from being our true self.

When you don’t enjoy a relationship, trying to maintain it will be difficult and can rob you of much needed time for yourself. If a relationship cannot be refurbished by talking things out, then it might be time to move on. Always make it a point to discard toxic relationships and surround yourself with positive and supportive people.

3. Shake Up Your Routine

If you are unsatisfied with your daily life, it might be time to step out of your comfort zone. Why not try something wild like zip-gliding through the redwoods? Or, if that’s too radical for you, start with small changes to your routine. There are some fun ways to do this.

Try exploring your local state park for new walking trails, or visiting that out-of-the way museum you often pass on your way to the market. How about hunting for a restaurant you have never eaten at, or ordering a new meal at an old favorite café? Even decluttering your office might do the trick. Small changes to your routine can lift your spirit in big ways.

4. Educate Yourself

Have you always wanted to learn to speak Italian, or to expand your knowledge about trains? What about learning to cook, or studying up on geography? No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to grow your education.

For the rest of your life, make time every day to nourish your spirit with knowledge. The internet has some great resources where you can educate yourself for free or with little to no money. Try taking a class at the local junior college or through adult education. Committing yourself to learning one new thing each day will enrich your life and boost your self-confidence.

5. Explore Your Horizons

How often do you get out into the world and meet new people and explore other cultures? No matter where you travel, or for how long, the experience can be life-enriching. Even if you live on a budget, you can travel without emptying your wallet.

Start your travelogue by taking a road trip in your own county or state to places you have never been. Or, if you want to travel abroad, consider doing so with others to save on expenses. The more you get out into the world, the broader your horizons become!

6. Be Brave and Relentless

All the things mentioned above are easier said than done. To be brave is to face your fears and challenge yourself, and relentless courage is what moves you toward your most authentic self. For any trait to grow, it must be nourished by stepping out of your comfort zone. The only way to find out if you can do something is to try, and trying takes bravery and relentlessness.


Trying to pull yourself out of a rut can be scary, and it’s never easy, but the process can be life-changing. Now is the time to explore new job opportunities, reevaluate your relationships, shake up your routine, educate yourself, explore new places, and be brave and relentless. Follow these tips and make life changes today!

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Degrees That Work for Freelancers

Many freelance writers have the mentality of lifelong learners. In fact, it is almost a job requirement. However, that does not always mean college. When it does, it is often difficult to decide exactly what degree to pursue.

Fortunately, there are many degrees out there that actually benefit freelancers more than just putting some new letters beside your name. Whether a degree will actually work for you — and by “work for you” I mean offer you a reasonable return on your investment — you need to answer a few simple questions. You need to look at your education from a business perspective.

How Am I Going to Pay for It?

Let’s face it: College is expensive, and you need to have some good ideas about how you are going to cover those costs. There are a number of ways for freelancers to pay tuition, and each has their advantages and disadvantages.

  • Grants and Scholarships

This is obviously the least expensive way to attend college: you don’t have to pay back grants or scholarships. However, for many of these, you have to attend full time. This might not be a good option for you if you have a thriving freelance business. Not only do you have to factor in the time you spend attending classes, but homework and other related tasks as well.

Even if you can attend classes part-time, grants and scholarships do not always cover all of your costs like books and specific software you need for classes.

  • Loans

College for freelancers is often different than for more traditional students. You may be trying to expand your knowledge base or be more qualified so you can get better clients, but you are probably not bucking for a raise or looking for a new career.

So going into debt for school is risky. It may or may not pay off in the long run, and this is something you need to evaluate for yourself. Of course, it is always best as a freelancer to keep debt to a minimum, especially if you already have student loans. The good news is, you may be able to defer loans while you are in school and consolidate them when you are done.

  • Client Payment

If a client wants you to be more qualified on paper for a particular assignment, they may be willing to pay for part of your schooling in order to get you the right certification or degree, especially if you already have a degree or are part way there and just need a few credits.

Often, this is simply about asking. If a client likes your work enough, often they will go to great lengths to keep you on their team. Keep in mind that writing is not a commodity — it is a skill businesses need, and they will often pay a high price to keep you engaged.

  • Self-Sponsorship

You can pay for classes yourself. This might be a good option if you are making good money as a freelancer, have an LLC, and can use the tax deduction. The biggest downfall of this method is cost: classes can run in the thousands of dollars, especially once you purchase books.

The advantage is that you control the pace of the schooling you take, control the costs, and don’t go into debt. However, if you get to the point where you cannot pay for classes any more for whatever reason, you may have to reset and look at one of the options above.

What Degree Do I Choose?

No matter what degree you choose to pursue, you will learn something. However, it is good for your degree choice to be focused on one of two things: either a skill or specialty where you write and need more credentials or on the business or skills side of writing.

If you need guidance, consult a degree guidebook directory that will let you know the types of degrees that are available, especially at the graduate level. Often these link to even more information about the degree, so you can determine if it is right for you or not.

Degrees in business, marketing, and accounting always work well for freelancers at the undergraduate level, and a degree in communication is also valuable (and you will probably learn some things).

At the graduate level, business and writing degrees are not all created equal. For instance, I am pursuing a Masters in Writing and Rhetoric instead of an MFA in Creative Writing because I like the rhetoric side of the degree, and it does open up opportunities for me to go higher in my education, whereas an MFA in Creative Writing is a dead-end degree, at least education-wise.

Graduate degrees in other specialties can work in your favor if you write in areas like healthcare, technology, or other niches where degrees are often equated with knowledge and status.

Should I Attend Online or in Person?

It used to be that online schooling was primarily offered by for-profit universities, degrees were often worthless in a short period of time, and credits did not transfer well, if at all.

However, online classes are much more respectable now, are offered by major universities, and include interactive and innovative learning sometimes superior to that of a traditional classroom.

For many freelancers, this is a better option. A flexible schedule is important to help you stay focused on client work while attending school, and the learning styles are often more appealing than on-site classes.

For some classes, though, in person lessons are superior. It depends on your field of study, and often a mix of both online and traditional classes is best.

As far as cost, most of the time the tuition is similar, the books cost about the same, but a certain amount of money and time are saved by not having to commute to campus.

When considering going back to school as a freelancer, there are a number of factors you should take into consideration. These are only a few, but by evaluating the cost and the return on your investment, determining how to pay for school, choosing a degree, and determining whether to go online or in person, you will have a good start on how to continue your education.

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Oculus Rift Pilot Program for California Libraries Set to Inspire

Today, Oculus Rift, the company that pioneered VR, will be launching a pilot program that includes providing 100 units to libraries in California. These units include Oculus headsets, hand controls, and the computers needed to run the software. The program includes several software titles as well, designed to aid in education.


The program is a pilot that started as a smaller pilot by John MacLeod of VAR Libraries, who started a program on his own in a few libraries in California before ever interacting with Oculus. Once Oculus saw the interest in the program, they decided to partner with VAR Libraries and Califa to expand the program into 100 California libraries.

Oculus had made approximately 500 Rift donations to-date, including the ones to the California library systems, and:

  • 260 Rifts and PCs to the TechStart Program (Facebook’s computer science initiative), installed in Arkansas
  • 100 Rifts to the Oculus VR for Good and NextGen programs
  • A small number of donations to several universities, giving them the opportunity for them to explore

As educational research projects are green-lit, Oculus support will include hardware donations, along with financial grants.

This project has three primary goals, which will help inform future Oculus Education projects. “The primary goal of the library project is to support equitable access to technology. Regardless of your gender, race, religion, or socioeconomic status, you are welcomed at the library and have free access to all the resources it provides.” The program aims to get as many people as possible to give VR a try.

Many industries are starting to transform through AR/VR technologies, and as that increases, career opportunities will evolve. If everyone is going to have a shot at participating in those new VR-based roles and economies, it’s important that as many people as possible are exposed to VR and thereby inspired to participate in the industry.

Second, the hope is that this program will help Oculus to understand the benefits and challenges of deploying a program like this at scale. For states and other organizations to scale large programs in the future, it’s important they understand what works well and what doesn’t.

And third, Oculus plans to encourage the layering of more educational content and experiences to add to the educational benefits. Collaborations with Facebook’s TechStart and inspirED programs, experiences developed through educational research investments, as well as the educational content available through the Oculus Store will be just the start.

“We’re early in our understanding of how VR works with education,” Cindy Ball, Program Manager for Oculus Education says. “The driver for VR has been so far, and will continue to be gaming. We want to focus on understanding how VR can also have a unique and positive impact on learning.”

This means that in addition to libraries, Oculus will be partnering with 30 research groups and non-profits soon to test how VR really works. Essentially the researchers will take an existing science curriculum and that perhaps uses simulations and gaming, and “transform those programs using VR,” says Ball. “We would then compare the student outcomes in the programs with and without VR. These results will show us whether VR is a good at enhancing that area of learning or it wasn’t. We are approaching this with an open mind, understanding VR may not be the solution in every area.”

Research groups are focusing on several areas from STEM education to the arts and storytelling. “Our definition of learning is broad. Using VR for drug intervention and situational training is something we are very interested in.”

Califa, the California Library Association, is very active nationally. It is hoped that as they feel the positive effects for their patrons, they will evangelize the importance of VR in libraries in other states.

Washington State has already shown interest, and Oculus has already had discussions with Cindy Aden, the state librarian, about putting pilot programs into four to five libraries throughout the state hopefully by the end of 2017. Expansion in Washington would be demand driven and involve well-educated decision making based on the success of the California program along with the pilot program in Washington.

“Oculus and Facebook both care about encouraging and attracting passionate technology talent,” Cindy Ball said. “Hopefully, this initiative inspires more people to consider taking part in our industry, helps them understand the many different skills and opportunities involved in creating VR experiences, and lets them envision being a part of that ecosystem.”

As the program is scaled nationwide, it is hoped that libraries and other organizations will prioritize funding for VR programs as they see it’s value in the library.  “I think we are doing very well,” says Ball. “But if I had magical powers, I would accelerate and expand the educational programming across libraries. The end-goal is for more people to be inspired, educated and empowered. We’ll get there—I just want to get there faster!”

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Informal vs. Formal Literacy and Education

robotic_electricThis weekend at THATCamp BSU, the first keynote, William Nericco, a professor from San Diego State University, opened with Robotic, Erotic, Electric, a talk based on the name of his 220 Literature course. He doesn’t teach “traditionally,” but rather incorporates science fiction, graphic novels, and film into the curriculum right next to classic literature, including Shakespeare, one of my personal favorites. The syllabus is certainly a robust one, filled with significant assignments and a demanding workload.

This got me thinking about my own education as an author. It started formally, inside a Christian school with a very traditional curriculum. “Literature” was strictly defined, and much of what I wanted to read outside the classroom was not only outside that definition, but not “approved.”

But my world expanded, starting at the library. Asimov, Heinlein, Piers Anthony, Ben Bova, and dozens of others inspired my imagination. Although I loved, and still love Shakespeare, these rogue stories were just as compelling. To me, these were equally important works of literature, and there are few today who would not classify much of it as at least “classic” fiction.

Even then, and more since, new ways of telling stories were evolving. Comic books went from mainstream to overlooked, back to mainstream and even the big screen. With the introduction of cable television and the VCR, movies we could watch at home became more common. Role Playing Games went from just board games to digital formats, starting with forums on CompuServe, and birthing at least the concepts for many games we have today.

The resurgence of comic books has brought with it the graphic novel, not really new, but a genre reengaged, gathering even more attention. Fan fiction, once a despised genre of imitation, has now not only allowed thousands to tell the stories from their own perspective, but has birthed works of its own, including the much maligned but popular Fifty Shades of Gray, birthed from the often despised Twilight series.

The point is, now more than ever, there are more ways to tell stories and share them with others. Increasingly there are avenues to learn story structure and observe literature without the need to be stuffy and overly formal. A blend of learning, similar to the path I chose for myself, can and is being taught in the classroom.

The direct benefit is something all authors want: relevance. Kids are reading more than ever, and writing more too. They are just doing it in different ways. As writers, we are given great responsibility and opportunity. We have a new and growing audience. It is up to us to capture their imaginations, through formal and informal literature.

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Learning from Reading

IASFFeb1988I don’t have a degree. Not a bachelors or a masters. No PhD. In fact, I don’t even have an associate degree. Yet I have held a number of job positions that “required” a college degree. I work as an editor, and I often teach. Many times those in the audience hold higher degrees than I do.

I’m an autodidact. One who is largely self-taught. This is not a sigh of my genius or a consequence of an extremely high IQ. I don’t claim, and am pretty sure I do not have either of those things. The most valuable thing I gained from being educated in a private school was the ability to research, and learn on my own. It all started with one small thing.

I loved to read. Not just one thing, everything I could get my hands on. I learned about places I had never been, subjects I had never heard of, and people I had never met. For a boy who grew up in Southeastern Idaho, poor, and without the advantage of world travel, the results were astounding.

Science fiction led me to do a research report my freshman year on anti-matter, something I thought a thing of fiction before I visited the local library. Astronomy caught my eye for a brief semester of college (it was really a girl, but then I digress).

Ribsy (Beverly Cleary) and Black Beauty led me to a love of animals. The Hardy Boys series made me a child detective, forever wanting to find and solve mysteries. Later, reading Asimov, Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke caused me to question many of the things resting at the core of my beliefs.

I could go on, and bore you for hours about the authors I read, the influence their stories had on me, the interest they sparked that caused me to dig deeper, want to learn more. The short story “Put Your Hands Together” by O. Niemand in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (February 1988) changed my view of church in a few short pages. Every now and then, I read it again to remind myself of a lesson I should have learned the first time I heard it.

The point is, reading shaped my life. It sparked learning, and ignited a passion inside me for what I do today. I still read, a lot. I write almost as much. I learn new things every day.

Reading gave me something school just couldn’t. I studied, and received my education outside traditional means. I took the path less traveled, and that has made all the difference.

Read. Encourage your kids to read. I promise, it will change your life.

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Intentional Writing

Many of you have heard me speak at writer’s groups about a thing I am calling intentional writing. None of the concepts are new, I’m just pulling them together to try to define something without offending anyone. Because there clearly are at least two classes of writers, and the difference is difficult to define without using generalizations. So for the sake of argument, I will define it as unintentional or not-yet-intentional writers, and intentional writers. So what is an intentional writer?

Intentional Writers Write Every Day. Not only do intentional writers write daily, but they write with specific goals in mind, whether word count, reworking a scene, or editing a portion of a competed work. The idea is not just to write for the sake of getting words down every day, but to write with purpose.

Should be writing


Intentional Writers are Held Accountable. What is accountability? It is having someone or a group that not only asks about what you are writing daily, but holds you to goals you have stated or set. Not just asking “How is the work going?” but more specifically asking “Did you make ‘x’ word count today?” If you do not meet goals, accountability partners reserve the right to hold you to your word. The more public you make your goals, the more likely you are to stick to them.

Intentional Writers Welcome Meaningful Critique. There are hundreds of writers groups around the country and the world, virtual and in person, which pretend to offer critique. Too often, they only offer meaningless validation that your work is ‘good.’ An intentional writer understands that harsh critique now saves poor reviews later. If I don’t tell you about your plot issues, the next person to do so will be a reader, or worse a reviewer. Readers (customers) expect you to put your best forward. Once they have paid for your work, their complaints become bad advertising for your book and the rest of your work. An honest, meaningful critique partner makes a true difference in your end productedits reaction2

Finally, Intentional Writers seek to improve their craft through both Education and Experience. There are literally hundreds of books on writing, and while some are better than others, it never hurts to look at someone else’s viewpoint. There are classes, whether community, college, or on-line that talk about specific parts of the writing craft. Writer’s conferences are often a good place to get bite-sized instruction. Wherever they can, intentional writers seek and value education.

And the experience comes from all of the above. When you write daily and hare held accountable to goals, when you welcome meaningful critique and allow yourself to be taught, you gain experience. Remember too that you practice your craft for a game, and the game is publishing. Don’t just write every day and keep filing away those stories and novels. Putting them out there and letting them be read is the game. It’s why we write.

From today forward, resolve to join the community of intentional writers. Your writing will be better for it.

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