The WorldCon 2006 Report: Thursday, August 24

10:00 am
The Look of “Star Trek”
Rick Sternbach, long time Senior Illustrator and Technical Consultant for most all versions of Star Trek from the first film on, presents a slide show of his artwork for Star Trek.
Rick Sternbach has worked “Star Trek” since “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. Some of the ships he designed include the Cardassians, Voyager, the Delta Flyer, the Eon, the Equinox, several of the Hirogen and Voth vessels, and Jupiter station. He also helped design several of the phaser weapons.
It was interesting to see how the various designs evolved the effort taken to give a consistent look at all Starfleet vessels, even when design future versions of ships like the Eon and the future Klingon Bird of Prey from “All Good Things…”. The level of detail on which they designed the ships was astonishing. All those little shapes and designs actually are added with specific purposes in mind, such as escape pod hatches, sensor arrays, or power conduit covers.
One of the frequent constraints on the designs is that the interior sets are being designed and constructed at the same time, so some parts of the design cannot be changed since they need to match the configurations of the physical sets.
Sternbach showed early pen and marker drawings of the some of the ships, but has since moved almost exclusively to using rough CGI-generated models for his designs.

11:30 am
Revise, Revise, Revise!
Often the difference between an amateur writer and a professional is that the pro knows how to rewrite and the amateur thinks he got it right the first time.
Panelists: Louise Marley, Peter S. Beagle, James Patrick Kelly, Kay Kenyon, Jacqueline Litchenberg
What a difference a computer makes! Pretty much gone are the days when a second (or third or fourth) draft meant a complete re-typing of an entire manuscript. These authors shared not only their techniques for editing and revising their work, but also some good writing advice in general.
The opening quip was that the majority of the attendees in the almost-full room were only there to see Peter S. Beagle. (I wasn’t, as I had not paid that close of attention to the panelists for the session. But it was certainly a very pleasant surprise, as Beagle is one of my favorite authors. In addition, he has a terrific speaking and reading voice. I had an old recording of Hour 25 from1987 of him and Harlan Ellison taking turns reading the first few chapters from The Folk of the Air. It’s an amazing impromptu performance.)
The methods for revision were as varied as the styles of the writers themselves. Some still used the traditional print-it-out-and-mark-it-up technique. One of the techniques that I find myself using is to re-read the last few paragraphs or start of the chapter that you’re currently working on and do a light re-work on that as a warm-up to starting the new writing for the day.
Another interesting approach, which I think is as much a general writing technique as it is an editing one, is to write the story in layers, which each consecutive pass adding (or modifying a level of detail. For example, the first layer is plot development and dialogue, the next might be character development, and another adds scenery description. It was suggested that word processing programs make this technique possible in a way that typewriters would have made far too tedious.
One specific point that stuck in my mind that one of the panelists suggested was that each story should have at least two revision passes: one for the story, and the other for style. This strikes me as a reasonable approach, as it does force the writer into at least two revision passes when they might otherwise have settled for one.

2:30 pm
Getting Started Writing SF – Part I
Going from amateur to professional is a big step. How do you get started? Should you write every day, whether the muse strikes or not? What mistakes shouldn’t you make? Writers who have recently broken in will give you their advice today.
Panelists: Hilari Bell, Brenda Cooper, Jean-Noel Bassior, Michael S. Brotherton, K. A. Bedford
I have to admit that I recognize none of the names of the writers in this session, but that didn’t mean that they might not have valuable information to share. (I do have a vague recollection of the Brenda Cooper’s name, probably from seeing it in Locus, but I could not tell you off the top of my memory anything that she might have written.)
One thing that the panelists started with—and I appreciated it even if I already grasped it—was that this was not a writing workshop-type session. It was about the practical aspects of getting your work noticed and published in the science fiction (and fantasy) field.
I didn’t learn a lot new from this session that I didn’t already know from past experience, but it nice reinforcement to hear that the rules hadn’t changed that much in recent years. One item that was made very clear was that, in terms of book-length works, your query letter was perhaps your most powerful tool in terms of getting your work noticed. It was particularly interesting to hear that many writers will “leave out” too much in their query letters rather than reveal too much about their book. The advice was that your query letter should not be a press release for your book, but instead give the agent or editor a mental vision of your book strong enough that they want to see it.
It was also interesting to hear nearly all (or it might have been all) of these writers recommend that beginning writers read books on writing. Writing workshops were also recommended, provided that you felt they were constructive and productive.
(Part II of this session is scheduled for Friday morning at 10:00 am.)

4:00 pm
Writing While Holding Down a Day Job

Even some of the most prominent writers don’t make enough from their writing to give up their day jobs. What compromises do you have to make to make it work?
Panelists: Sheila Finch, Deborah J. Ross, Tobias J. Bucknell, Sharon Shinn, Jay Lake
I attended a very similar panel at WorldCon 2002, so I mostly attended this as a refresher course and also to see what these writers offered as advice and insight into this real-life balancing act. I actually had heard of (and read!) several of these writers, so the relevance quotient was significantly elevated for me.
One of the more astonishing things that came out of this panel was that Bucknell’s claim that he could produce 2,000 words an hour when on a roll. I’m a fairly fast typist, but I cannot even imagine being able to produce work that fast. I’m sure I could at times when the muse is being particularly insistent, but I don’t know that my keyboard could keep up!
One of the issues discussed in this session was kind of job was ideal for someone who wanted to write. It was generally agreed that a job that did not involve writing and reading other people’s writing (such as an English teacher) was probably best. Why some of these writers had day jobs at all also offered interesting insight, the most common being the need for affordable medical insurance, particularly for those writers with school-age children.
An issue that seemed to be discussed in more depth at this session than in the others (and in 2002) was time management. While one of the common threads was how to squeeze writing time into an already-crammed schedule, there was also discussion involving dealing with the other writing-related tasks such as talking to editors and other writers, and other people who wanted pieces of your time that you had set aside for writing. It’s a delicate balance between serving your muse and becoming a hermit, and a good, successful writer needs to find a way to do both.
The common technique suggested was to make an appointment with yourself for when you are going to write and treat that appointment as you would any other in your life/schedule. A corollary to this was to make a contract with yourself in terms of your productivity or output, such as pages per day or completed pieces of work in a year. Also, determine what time of day you might you are most productive and try to write during that time, if possible.

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