The Hills and Valleys of the Writing Life—Translations from 2007 RWA conferenceWhat I learned from New York Times bestselling authors at conference this year:
1. Being a writer is calling. There really is no choice involved. You can either write the stories down that are rolling around in your head or go quietly insane.
To this I would say, “Embrace the madness with your whole heart. Write bravely. Don’t second-guess your stories during the first draft.
2. Success in your writing life is a game of musical chairs. Sometimes you get a seat; Sometimes you don’t. Celebrate your time in the chair. Be happy for your friends when it’s their turn. Even New York Times bestsellers have to stand on the sidelines from time to time. It’s in integral part of the publishing side of a writer’s life.
The emotional rollercoaster is perhaps one of the toughest parts of writing. If you can come to terms with this aspect of the writing life, the ups and downs will be slightly less frightening. Fear of falling is normal. You are not alone. The only thing you can control is the quality of your writing. The rest is up to Lady Luck, who, BTW, has a very short attention span.
3. Professional jealousy is a dangerous thing. Let it go. Spread good karma. Smile and move on. Don’t let other folks’ bad baggage slow you down. You’ve worked hard to get where you are.
4. Your writing friends are your lifeboat in this business. When you feel like you’re drowning, reach out. No one understands a writer’s pain like another writer.
5. Writing is scary no matter how many books you’ve written. Each time you sit down to begin a new story, it’s like writing your first book. You have to jump in and start paddling like mad in hopes you catch the right current. The more quickly you let go of the fear, the sooner the story will reveal itself to you. Have faith. A certain amount of flailing about is expected.
6. Experience reassures you that uncertainty is normal and gives you confidence to repeat the process. As your success increases, so does your need for bravery.
This is perhaps the most disconcerting of all the realities of publishing. Writing doesn’t get easier? Yikes! I’m not sure I wanted to hear this little gem. I suppose it’s a some comfort to know that I’m in auspicious company of NYT bestsellers. I’m thinking we could save ourselves some frustration if we write only the stories that come from our honest core. My personal experience is that sometimes you are going to be “handed” a story that is tough to tell. It’s going to come out one way or the other. Might as well not fight it. Embrace it and do the best you can. It is often the stories you are reluctant to tell that are your best work because they touch a deeper part of you.
All in all, what was reaffirmed for me at the 2007 conference is that writing is a brave act and a necessary one. Writers go into the dark places and get the stories that need to be told, to paraphrase Fred Busch. Stories are a reflection of our humanity. They are both our escape in times of trouble and our wake up call when we need them.