Monday, April 23, 2012

My First Writer's Conference

This past weekend I attended my first ever writer's conference here in town, The Missouri Writer's Guild Conference Write Time, Write Place, Write Now. Going in I expected it to be completely overwhelming, but I was not prepared for the amount of emotion I was surrounded by. The conference ended up being terrifying, exciting, and inspirational all at the same time.

Friday night started with agents reading through the slushpile. I watched in awe and horror as five agents listened to the first page or two of people's work and decided within just a few short paragraphs what work they might consider wanting to see more of. They explained why piece after piece they would probably reject and sometimes this occurred after a few short sentences. Prologues are bad, too much dialogue early on is bad, not opening with the right scene is bad... bad, bad, bad. As I watched each of the five agents take turns gong showing the first pages and essentially squashing dreams, I started to realize how subjective writing really is. When you query an agent, editor, or publishing house the chance of them saying yes is slim. It's essentially one part doing your homework - query the right agents who want what you have to offer, writing a good synopsis/query letter, and putting your best work forward - and nine parts luck. I say nine parts luck because ideally what you are looking for is the one agent/editor/publishing house that loves your work as much as you do, and takes that love of your manuscript and gets it published. Finding that passion can be hard because even though your work may be flawless and technically correct in every manner, you still need someone to connect with your work on a deep level. This experience really jump started my thinking.

By the time Saturday seminars rolled around, I was losing the zest and excitement for writing. It was somewhere between learning how to write synopsis of varying lengths and hearing how to look for red flags on the first page that things suddenly got hugely real for me. Getting published is not only hard work (which I knew prior to this conference), its downright insanity. With the deck stacked so far against you, the odds of succeeding are like finding a twelve of hearts in a deck of cards. I began to wonder if I was nuts for thinking I could do this. Was this really what I wanted? I'd shelled out quite a bit of money to attend this conference. I've spent countless hours writing, editing and seeking out critiques. I joined the local writer's guild. All testaments to how serious I am about writing. So I'm doing all the right things and learning a lot but it is enough? Does it even matter when the odds seem impossible? What the hell was I thinking?

As the crazy began to overwhelm my thoughts and I felt a hollow shell forming where writing used to sit inside me, something amazing and unexpected happened during my last session of the day. As I sat listening to Christie Craig discuss how to add humor to your writing, my mind wandered to how I needed to head home and let my dog out. I was about five minutes from walking out early when the most amazing thing happened. Looking back it was one of those defining, prospective setting moments.

Christie pulled out a manilla envelope stuffed full of crinkled paper. Slowly she pulled a few from the envelope and said I want to end with this. "Rejection hurts." She dropped the letters into a suitcase on the floor and pulled out a few more from the envelope. "Its a part of writing. People don't believe me when I say that I've received over ten thousand rejections." She continued pulling out letters and letting them fall into the suitcase. She talked on while dumping more and more letters into the suitcase. "But you have to know its not a reflection of who you are as a person. And you have to decide whether or not your are going to let these rejections define you." She picked up a half sheet of paper off the floor and said "and this one, it really pissed me off because they couldn't even reject me on a whole sheet of paper." And then continued to fill the suitcase. When she emptied the envelope she reached underneath the pile of rejection letters and pulled out a second envelop and continued on filling it. "So when do you decide to quit? After one hundred rejections? two hundred? a thousand?" The suitcase was nearly over flowing with rejection letters at this point. "Because if a girl like me, with a tenth grade education can write books and get published and make the NY times best seller list you can too. You are in control of you dreams. So go out there and make your work the best it can be and keep pursuing your goals. Never give up."

In that moment I remembered why I was doing this. Writing came unexpectedly into my life but its something I love to do. I want to be published one day and that dream is enough. The shear fact that I want this and I'm going to do what it takes to get it is more than enough.

On Sunday more as I sat through Christie's master class on POV, I learned two things. One I finally understand POV, its taken a year and a half of struggling but she explained it in a way that made perfect sense. And two, as I watched her fill the suitcase a second time and recite her speech again, there was no doubt in my mind. I am going to find my twelve of hearts even if it means getting creative, because I want to be a writer!

7 comments:

  1. Jamie, I love this post and I'm passing it on. Yes, skill has a lot to do with it and, yes, traditional publishing is basically a crapshoot, but those who want it badly enough will not stop at rejections but continue learning all they can about what they love to do and be persistent. And that's a good thing! Best wishes.

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    1. Thanks so much Linda! I've definitely found its a learn as you go type of thing and just when you think you understand things they change, new things come along, or you learn something you didn't know.

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  2. Great blog - how awesome of Christie to show all those rejections and to remind writers to never give up!

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    1. Thanks Lynn! Yes it was a great reminder!

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  3. This is a wonderful post. I felt exactly as you, wondering if it was all worth it, and then, I saw a call out in a newspaper for seeking gardening stories. I decided to send a story about a flower that grew in winter, sent from heaven, as my friend promised. I just knew it would be rejected as I was not a gardener and I kept reminding myself that I wasn't a real writer either. Guess what? They accepted it. Best advice I can give you is believe in yourself. I blog at http://lindaoconnell.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks Linda! Writing definitely can be a roller coaster. And I've finally started putting myself out there submitting small things and entering contest even if its outside my comfort zone. Hopefully if I throw enough stuff up on the wall something will stick eventually ;) Thanks for the advice. You have a great blog! I am now a follower :)

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  4. I was at the MWG conference too, and saw Christie Craig's rising-above-rejection demonstration. Imagine if she had allowed the first, or thirtieth, or hundredth rejection to defeat her! Then her YA series would not be on the NYT Bestseller list today. Very inspiringp; a real testament to perseverence!

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