Over the years, I’ve listened to many speakers at
writing conferences suggest the following:
“Say hi to strangers!”
“Bring business cards!”
Whenever I heard this advice, I’d think, “Yeah
right.” I’d tell myself, “I’m never getting business cards." I’d repeat my
mantra, “I’m only here to learn about the craft of writing.”
Not surprisingly, I was that person who sat alone. I’d take a ton of notes and I never went to social events.
By doing this, I closed myself off to one of the best things about conferences.
Meeting people who love books.
So, at a recent SCBWI Writers’ Day I tried
something different. During the breaks, I talked. I talked about my writing but more than that, I talked about my life. I talked about the difficulty I
have balancing my kids and my work. I talked about my love of the Red Sox. I
talked about the books I’m reading.
And then the coolest thing happened. People talked
back. I had the pleasure of listening to others tell me about their work and their
For the most part, the things I feared (I won’t
know what to say, the conversation will feel forced, I have no idea how to
network) didn’t happen. Because every time I spoke with someone, I reminded
myself this person might be feeling a little nervous, too.
Did I network perfectly? No. Did I talk too fast?
Yes. Did I accidentally interrupt? Yes. Did I over-share and make one or two
people uncomfortable? Probably.
But you know what? I’m glad I put myself out there.
For me, writing is all about getting the words on the page, letting myself make
mistakes, and then going back in and making sense of it. Maybe networking is
kind of like the same thing.
The SCBWI Summer Conference in Los
Angeles is only a few weeks away. I’ve attended this conference every summer since 2009 and it never
ceases to inspire me. Here are a few quotes I’ve collected over the years.
"Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Let go of the outcome."
"Take care of your writer self." -Gennifer Choldenko
Maybe it’s because I have a three year old, but I’ve been
thinking a lot about pretend play. As a writer, it’s my job to pretend. Day
after day, sitting at my desk, I pretend my characters are real.
I also pretend my writer self does not exist.
Instead of a writer, I think of myself as an actress. I live
in the skin of my protagonist. I dress like her. I eat like her. I talk in her
voice. I keep a journal as if it were hers.
After that, I pick up a new profession. I’m a gardener and I
tend to my words with patience and care. I trim the story where my garden has
overgrown. I pull out weeds and I keep planting new things.
Then, with a first draft in hand, I turn into a surgeon. I
cut open the manuscript with precision and confidence. I use my tools. I ask
for help from other professionals. I remain calm. I finish the job.
Finally, when the writing day is done, I take a bow, dust
off my hands, hang up my white coat, and go back to calling myself a writer.
I should start by saying I’m a neat freak, so
when I receive an editorial letter from my super smart agent, my immediate
reaction is filled with anxiety. I don’t like when things are messy and I want
to hide all of this messiness in the bottom of a trashcan. Honestly, I picture
throwing my manuscript into my blue recycling bin and never looking at it
This, as it turns out, is my work as a writer. To
see that mistakes aren’t really mistakes, instead they are indicators of where
I can dig deeper.
However, as I begin to dig deeper, I feel vulnerable
and because I feel vulnerable, I have a tendency to rush through a rewrite. I
cut out entire scenes with one swipe of the delete key and I quickly write new
scenes just to fill the missing space. This technique does not work for me!
When I rush, I end up with a story that is hollow.
So how do I keep from rushing? The moment I get
an editorial letter, I remind myself I’m grateful for the feedback. Then I step
away from the computer. I let myself feel uncomfortable. And, I wait. I do not
go anywhere near my manuscript! During this waiting period, which usually takes
a few days, the notes begin to move from my head and into my heart.
Here are a few things I tell myself while I’m
I will listen.
I will trust my process.
I will not throw my manuscript in the trash.
I also have this sentence tacked above my desk. I
look at it everyday.