I recently attended a Con and as a result learned some things. Most of it had to do with writing and even more of it had to do with toughening up this writer skin of mine.
I participated in two different writing workshops: a day long adventure and then a one-hour critique session. I took Ken Scholes‘ Muse Management workshop, which focused on finding stories anywhere and everywhere. It reminded me of a blog post I read months ago (god, how I wish I could find it again) about an illustrator who said the best thing he learned to do in his career was to draw quickly and draw well. He didn’t have to draw the perfect picture the first time through, but he could sketch out different versions of the same idea for a requesting client. Then, on the spot, these clients would decide what they liked the best, and bam! He had a commission.
I found that ideal to be the underlying theme of Muse Management. Writers should learn to write quickly and write well. There are so many available markets out there with deadlines that fly by so fast, it’s a considerable boon if you can sit down, spit out those pages, edit it, and send it off. If they don’t want it? Fine! Try the next one. During the workshop, we had a group opportunity to create a story based on two nouns and a verb. We came up with this amazing tale that I’m totally going to use for the next Writers of the Future contest. I wouldn’t be surprised if two more stories with a surprisingly similar theme popped up—we were all eager to write our own version. Secondly, I made some great connections and learned quite a bit about the business side of things that I don’t think I would’ve figured out until way later if I hadn’t suggested lunch with some gals who write for Harlequin. So yeah, romance sells. Write it, pitch it, and boom, you win the writing game of life.
For the one-hour critique session, I submitted a story I thought was pretty good. I got slaughtered. I submitted a one-page of my novel to be critiqued in front of a panel of editors. I was told it was murky. I had an existential crisis. My friend told me to stop being a little bitch. I pouted and told her she didn’t understand the struggles of my writer’s life. We got mimosas and went to a panel on ancient burial grounds. All was well with the world.
And I made a friend. He was in both of my writing workshops and genuinely seemed interested in talking about books and creating a writers group, which has been something I’ve craved for a long time. I tried to rally a writing group the previous year which fell into the dumps, but this one actually has potential.
Something even more amazing happened though at a panel about the Evolution of Writing. J.A. Pitts was answering a question about traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. He explained that there’s a reason for all the agent and editor gatekeepers. That as an unpublished writer, you had to complete your apprenticeship before you could move on. Sometimes the apprenticeship takes years. Sometimes you have a shitty teacher. Whatever the reasons, you have to pass the apprenticeship before you can earn keys to the gate. Master your craft. Earn it like a blacksmith would learn his trade. I had this enlightenment-lightbulb moment because it’s hard not to get bogged down in the advice that you have to have luck on your side, or that some people might just hit the right trend at the right time, or you have to use these specific prose otherwise your book won’t be published. Yet, if I look at it from a trade perspective, it means you have to dedicate enough time to get good at it and hopefully the keys will open the right gates.
It was also mentioned over and over again that writers need to learn the rules of the trade before you break them. That had me thinking about what tools I actually did have. I have a writing degree, but I feel like I learned how to be a good reader and a good critiquer more so than a good writer. I’m going to revisit some old terms, brush up on my three-act structure, and check out standard storytelling before I write my next story. Maybe my tools are rusty. Maybe I’m jumping ahead in my apprenticeship.
And, to top it all off, I feel like I need to issue an apology to my fellow writers. I’ve been critiquing books for over a year now, and realized that some of my reviews can be brutal. You, dear writers, published a book and completed a dream. I read books which might resonate with me or might not at this particular point in my life. They may or may not be a good fit for me because I’m a different person with my own experiences, but that by no means means that you wrote a bad book or that your imagination is invalid. I had a conversation at a steampunk drag show about this very topic where the idea of art criticism could be so enraging because anyone and everyone can have an opinion due to the fact that a big part of art is based on the emotions it evokes. I certainly get the feels when I read certain section so my book, and maybe editors will consider it murky, but that in no way makes my writing invalid.
So, how do you consolidate all this knowledge to sell the book? I’ve come to learn it’s a witchcraft brew with equal parts luck, determination, and fortitude.
Oh yeah, and I took the header picture in a field somewhere in Montana. It’s cool, right?