Same Kind Of Different
Updated: Jun 8, 2019
I went to my first writer’s conference, ever, the week before last.
Probably should have started with a structured writer’s group. Something a little more than NANOWRIMO but less than “Okay, what’s your pitch?”
I guess it’s true that if you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your bullshit.
Here’s what I learned:
Thank God I’ve had a career in rejection, because there’s certainly plenty of that to go around. That’s not really news, I knew that. But there’s nothing more harrowing than sitting in the beautiful living room of a beach house with Hallie Ephron, Lyssa Keusch and Paula Munier while they talk shop and realize that that you wear their shoes in a completely different industry but all the criticisms are the same: Meetings and conferences and a constant barrage of emails; scary industry changes and scandalous abuses of power; pinnacles and pitfalls and everything in between.
I think I may have inadvertently had an advantage.
I had no idea how ‘intimate’ this conference really was going to be. I knew that part of the deal was face time with industry professionals, but I had no idea what that would look or feel like.
My ‘writing career’ is in utero, for lack of a better description, whereas the eleven other ladies I bonded with that week were all for the most part carrying around newborn infants. Pages and pages- and I learned not to refer to my work that way- in pages. That’s an amateur move. We have words. Not pages. When you query an editor, agent or publisher… they want to know how many words your manuscript is. Fun fact: 90,000 words is ideal. These new accomplished colleagues had words… lots of them. Beginnings and middles and ends; things that mostly only exist inside my head at the moment.
One of the most fulfilling things about that week was hearing the stories these other writers want to tell and knowing that, no matter what anyone tells them, their words are beautiful because they exist. They had the courage to bring them into the world.
So how long is my manuscript?
I came to the conference with about 3,000 words, an outline, and a lot of questions.
It’s okay, though, because it’s kind of like deciding what color eyes and what tone of voice you want to build your baby with before it comes into the world, as opposed to showing your newborn to an industry professional and having to bear the weird twisty expression on people’s faces when they think something’s ugly but are trying to be polite. Then, based on professional suggestions of how to make your baby pretty, you have to tear it apart limb by limb and sew it all back together.
I can see why writers get the reputation of being the least bit egocentric and unable to handle criticism. Everyone wants the world to acknowledge their baby as brilliant and beautiful and oh-so-flawless. But we also want to sell that baby, which makes us into creative baby pimps. So we’re really not much better than our critics, are we?
If I’ve learned anything in the last twenty years, it’s that it’s wise to understand that you’re not smart enough to reinvent the wheel, and that success comes first by doing what works. Once you have a toehold on success, you can start dressing it up and dying it’s hair and making it all your own. If you work hard enough, have enough grit and the right relationships, you get to be one of those people that redefines success in your industry. But no one gets to start there.
When you have a story to tell, that’s a hard pill to swallow. The message was clear. Choose your genre, choose the kind of writer you want to be. Then look at what works. What people are buying, what they can’t get enough of, what’s saturated the market and become annoying. Avoid sparkly vampires and wizard schools. Write a killer opening scene with a hook, but don’t start with a dream or in a car. Or with “It was a dark and stormy night…” Obviously. Make your heroines irresistible and your antagonists full-on douche bags. Take a risk or two with your story, but don’t take too many risks or it’ll never sell. Appeal to women, because women buy books. (duh.) Read everything you can get your hands on by your favorite authors in your chosen genre.
Then, write the same thing. But different.