February 13, 2014

Taking Risks: You Have to Play the Game to Win

Cover slide of presentation: "Get the Most Out of a Writing Conference"

Last night, WANA International‘s online writing conference hosted Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA for a free workshop offered as part of the run up to next weekend’s WANACon (February 21 and 22, 2014). Gabriela presented at last fall’s WANACon, and her popular sessions earned her a return invitation with two new workshops at WANACon 3.0 next weekend.

Her extra presentation last night was “Get the Most Out of a Writing Conference,” and if you missed this free and open-to-the-public workshop, check out the recording. Her advice applies to all types of conferences: writing or non-writing, online or offline. And you get to experience it all for free. *smile*

As a bonus, you also get to see how cool the recordings of all the WANACon sessions are. Attendees receive recording links for every session so they don’t miss a thing. (The presentation slides are available for download by attendees as well. A link to Gabriela’s slides is currently on the WANACon page.)

(Note: The blank area in the bottom right of the recording is where a webcam would display, but Gabriela didn’t use a webcam for this presentation. Also, recordings work best with Firefox, Chrome, or Opera. The Safari browser is incompatible with playback.)

Step One: Decide to Take the Risk

One tip Gabriela shared really struck me. She pointed out that in the game of golf, the lower the score the better. So one might think a “perfect” score would be zero. Nothing lower than that, right?

But of course the only way to have a score of zero in golf is not to play. As soon as we take that first swing, our score will be more than zero.

That’s the case with many aspects of writing. If we never take risks, we’ll have a “perfect” score of never losing, but that also means we’ve never put ourselves out there.

If we find a critique partner, we will get feedback about areas we need to improve. If we enter writing contests, we will have points marked off for something a judge thinks we did wrong. If we query, we will get rejections. If we publish, we will get bad reviews.

The only way to avoid those “less than perfect” experiences is to never play the game. Never share our work. Never stretch ourselves. Never take risks.

Great. We avoid those negative experiences. But we also never get the good experiences. No positive feedback, contest finals, requests, or good reviews.

The only way to have the positive experiences—to win—is to play the game. If we have the goal of “winning” at writing in some way, whether that means improving our craft, reaching readers, or building a profitable career, we have to take risks.

Writing Itself Is a Risk

In fact, anytime we take a step forward with our writing, we’re taking a risk. When we reach the point of wanting to develop more layered characters, or including more emotion, or learning to add subplots, there’s a chance our work will be worse off for the attempt.

We might worry that our storytelling ability isn’t up to the task of evoking our complex ideas. Or that the story on paper won’t be as cool as it was in our heads. Or that we’re ruining the story with the revisions we know it needs.

Again, the only way to avoid the potential of failure is to not write at all. I don’t know about you, but my muse says that’s not an option. *smile*

What Risks Are You Taking?

So if we have to take risks to be a writer in the first place, the only question is: What risks are we willing to take?

Maybe we’ll tackle a story that intimidates us. Maybe we’ll query again, even though that last rejection hurt. Maybe we’ll pitch to an agent or an editor for the first time (to make this one easier, WANACon offers live pitch sessions that are fuzzy-slippers compatible). Maybe we’ll publish with an untested small publisher we want to believe in or we’ll decide to self-publish.

Maybe we’ll go to a writing conference, like oh, say, WANACon. *grin*

For myself, I took the step of querying my “dream agent” like I promised myself I would. Also, in addition to presenting at WANACon, I’ll be presenting at two in-person conferences this year. (Believe me, given the panic attacks I have before every in-person conference, this is a bigger risk than you might think.)

In April, I’ll be presenting at the Desert Dreams Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Then in July, I’ll be presenting again at the Romance Writers of America National Conference in San Antonio. I think all that deserves a “Jami is insane” tag on this post, but I can’t be the only one.

My point is that if we want to make progress of any kind, we have to take risks. So I ask you: What are you willing to risk for your writing? *smile*

P.S. If you’ve signed up for WANACon, don’t forget that you have until this Friday (February 14, 2014) to enter the WANACon giveaway for free admission. WANACon will be refunding registration fees to three lucky winners. (Note: You must be registered for WANACon to win.)

Did you catch Gabriela’s presentation or watch the recording? Do you agree with her advice?  Did any of her tips resonate with you? How are you taking risks in the pursuit of making progress? Will you be at any of the same conferences I’ll be attending? (And let me know if you have any questions about WANACon.)

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Comments — What do you think?

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People tend to assume I’m a natural risk-taker. I do things like work as a freelancer, or move into a place of my own despite not quite having the means to pay for it lined up.

But I’m naturally quite risk-averse. I see the risks, I dislike them, but I decide to step out anyway. Why?

Because when I’ve let fear prevent me from doing something, I’ve always regretted it. But when I’ve taken a risk, I haven’t regretted it.

I can’t succeed if I don’t try, and even failure can be just a stepping stone to another point of success.

Rhenna Morgan

I’m going to RWA too! Yeah! Let’s be sure and meet up! And let me know what class you’re teaching too. 🙂


I thought the risk point was a great one too! Loved Gabriela’s presentation – definitely some good tips in there about preparation that I’ll be putting into practice. And hanging around and socialising with everyone was super fun… Very excited for WANACon – it’s especially nice to be turning up knowing people from having met and been in touch with them since the last conference! But for anyone who might not want to sign up because they won’t *know* anyone, I’d say I’ve never met a friendlier bunch of likeminded people – especially you, Jami, you must have been crazy busy with all the moderating and management but you made sure to take time to make me welcome 🙂

Risks I’m wrestling – I’m finalising my book so it can can go out in the world and get judged :p I’d rather it be out there (despite the law of probability saying that there will a high risk that there be some crazies who don’t like it and will tell me so) than have it hiding away and never being seen by anyone at all!

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Risk taking! Hmm, about taking risks, I think the biggest risk I’ve taken so far in my writing career is to self-publish my first ever book and ask MANY friends and family members if they wanted a free copy. (Big expense doing that. I’m not doing anything as grand scale as that again, or else I’ll go broke, lol.) A few of them ACTUALLY finished reading my book, and even gave me some very specific feedback, both positive and negative on it. The positive feedback made me feel very happy and encouraged, whilst the negative feedback was very helpful and often insightful. There were some things they pointed out that I didn’t even notice, or some things that bothered them but I didn’t realize could be a problem. And though my mom hasn’t finished reading my novel yet (she’s not very fast at reading in English, and doesn’t like to read books in general, so I’m grateful that she wants to read my novel anyway 😀 ), she gave me some along the way feedback on what she thought and felt at certain moments in the story, e.g. this was very realistically portrayed, you’ve got a plothole there, etc. (I hate and dread plotholes! :O) So this small “risk-taking” was very rewarding overall. 😀 But I have been thinking sometimes that maybe I should more actively look for beta readers, even outside of my friendship groups, to get some more feedback, especially as my friends would naturally have a positive…  — Read More »


it would be great if we could find beta-readers online who could each read the WHOLE novel and give “overall responses and feedback” for the novel, and the writer could ask the feedbacker to talk about some specific issues they’re most concerned with. Some people post places like Wattpad or FictionPress and build up a fan base that scrambles over itself to volunteer to beta read. On Wattpad, I’ve intentionally kept from soliciting comments most of the time, because my attitude is “If you want to comment about something, feel free to do so, even if you think a chapter sucks.” (I have one story where one reader joked about who was going to kill the narrator. I dislike her, too, but fortunately I was able to write her so not all readers shared my dislike.) But I’ve also gotten several, “Pls use me as a beta reader!” requests. This is a totally random question, but have you ever imagined what it would be like if your story got turned into a video game? I know I’m not whom you asked, but I have even dabbled at converting my own story myself, though never to the point that it got viable. One of my currently tabled WiPs is a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-type story game based in my world, which is the most likely to ever actually get finished, unless sales take off and I can afford something like an illustrated flash game. Choice of Games lets other writers use…  — Read More »

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Ooh, maybe I should check out Wattpad too, since I only really know about Fictionpress.

Choose Your Own Adventure stories! OMG I LOVE THOSE!!!! 😀 I’ve seen some sites where you can make those too. They’re tremendously fun. Maybe I should make one for a story one day. Speaking of, I would like to make a personality quiz one day, asking “Which character in my story are you?” Lol! And have pretty pictures for each of the character results. 😀 That would be so fun as well!!!

I’m with you on wanting to see all the lovely artwork. 🙂

Rinelle Grey

Sometimes, I find that looking at the worst case scenario can help me calm my fears. I decided to self-publish, but I was really nervous, so I looked at the worst that could happen. Someone could give me a bad review. Lots of people could give me bad reviews. Everyone who read the book could hate it. That’s upsetting and stressful, but it’s not the end of the world.

And the reality was, the chances of that happening were pretty low. Yes, I’ve had some bad reviews, but they’re far outweighed by the good ones.

And the fact that all of it has to come second hand, through text on the computer screen, makes it easier for me! I don’t think I could get up in front of people though, you’re very brave to be doing that!

Joe Kovacs

First of all, Jami and everyone else, I loved the commentary on this post. I used to love video games–in particular Doom and Doom II, before I realized they would interfere with my writing (per Serena’s comment) and I still love Choose Your Own Adventure books…I no longer read them, but I can still distinctly remember the covers of many. LOL!

As for risk-taking, I agree. This is a fundamental rule of life–without taking risks, you never have a chance at wild success. When it comes to writing, in particular, though, I think most people think the stakes may be even higher. We all have voices: we speak with friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances and other audiences. But what does it mean to speak “with yourself”, as it were, in a way that produces a piece of writing? What is it inside a person that makes them produce one kind of story or another? I once heard artists referred to as functional schizophrenics, or something similar.

Perhaps some people feel they need to take risks to succeed in some commercial or artistic enterprise. I think for writers who “dare” to admit they write in some public forum, the risk can be much more fundamental: revealing to people who have always known us that we have a “voice” that has otherwise remained silent all this time. And what will those closest to us think as a result when they see the stories we produce? 🙂

Taurean Watkins

I’m not yet ready to talk about some of what this article got me thinking about, but I’m going to talk about video games, unlike Jami and Serena, I still play video games, and despite the time suck, I can’t do without them. Have I taken breaks from them? Yes. But can I NEVER play them again because they are time sucks? No. I played them as a kid, but I wasn’t into the shooters and sports games (i.e. Madden or NBA whatever) I love RPGs, I love character platformers, and especially games that had some kind of story. This was before I ever wrote my own stories. When I started writing 9 years ago, I gave up video games for a few years to devote to craft and learning the business, but went back to them during a particularly maddening breakdown (First in 2010 and again in 2012) that prevented me from reading or writing anything, but especially in my genre because envy and inferiority complexes got in the way, and I still have to fight that, but it’s better now than it was. For reasons I can’t fully express here without sounding nuts, Pokemon (Both the games and the anime) saved my childhood, and even my teen years from unrelenting darkness, because through that world, kids had adventures, traveled the world, and despite any tough spots, it had the freedom I didn’t have growing up and even now as an adult, where not having a car and countless…  — Read More »

Taurean Watkins

Oh, and to your credit, I don’t play MMORPGs, but not just I can’t afford the monthly fees, but because I play RPGs for the story and progressing on my own, and I wouldn’t have friends who have the time or interest to play with me. Another reason I haven’t played video games much is because it often feels like the best games now are all about the multiplayer and when you’re an introvert and have few friends, it leaves you out. Even though online-enabled games allow for nationwide or worldwide multiplayer, unless you know the people you’re playing with, it’s not a particularly friendly envirotment. When I do play some games via random matchup, I mute the sound so I don’t have to hear various four letter words I’d rather not have burned into my scalp, intellectually speaking, mind you! We also might see games a bit differently. To me, a time suck is something you HATE to do, speaking solely in terms of video games, I mean. Of course, things you love can be time sucks, too, when they keep you from other things that are important, but need to be done. But I’d rather play a game I love over something I couldn’t stand, even if it was with a friend. Can you imagine what’s it’s like being the only guy under 30 who hasn’t played GTA? (Assuming it’s not banned at your house) But it’s not my game, nor is Call of Duty or Halo, but…  — Read More »


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