I must have asked myself that question a million times, and I keep asking it without getting any real answers. How many unanswered texts will I tolerate? When is one email too many? Should I call or shouldn’t I? Is ‘no news’ really ‘good news?’ How long is too long? When do I stop soliciting advice and just fly on my intuition? Is it true I simply have to be patient? If that’s true then how long should I wait? Because when is enough actually enough?
To be a writer is to question your resolve over and over again. It goes along with questioning your ability, your stamina, your judgment, your self-esteem. You’re told you really can’t call yourself a writer until you start racking up the rejections, fill your inbox with humiliation, papering your wall with talent assessments from strangers. I once had an award-winning writer dress me down during a manuscript evaluation at a nationally renowned writers conference, literally screaming at me for wasting his time. “Who told you you could write!” he yelled at me, while I stared at him aghast and cowering, too flabbergasted to respond. At least my mind had the good sense to conjure up ASSHOLE! ASSHOLE! over and over again, but that didn’t stop me from fleeing to my room to collapse in teary self-doubt. Little did I know at the time that pre-published incident simply set the stage for more disappointment to come, more rejections, crappy sales, proposals that went nowhere, savage reader reviews. (A word of advice to newly published authors: stay away from Goodreads. The first glowing reader reviews will have you dancing on the ceiling. The first terrible ones will have you wanting to hang from it. Reviews are always subjective. If you want to read any, stick to the movies coming out this week.) Getting published doesn’t wash all the self-doubt away. It just ascends it to a professional level.
You wonder again and again why you do it. Why anyone would put themselves through such a wringer of scrutiny only to fall flat on their face 99% of the time. You wonder as you work through the dark of the night, or amid the first shards of light before waking the kids, as you slip in your flash drive to write at your desk during lunch, or as you tap that perfect passage into your phone on the train ride home. You wonder through the first chapters, through the call to adventure, the sagging middle, the dark moment, finding the elixir. Through that brief moment of absolute serendipity when you type THE END. As you hit SEND to sail your query through to an agent’s website, as you approach an editor at your first pitch session, or tweet only the most essential 140 characters into #MSWL. As you wade through the rejections, as you forget the last to go forward, as the law of averages and the law of even a blind chicken gets a piece of corn now and then, somehow you hear a click and there’s a request for more, then a proposal, then the whole manuscript, then–the unthinkable. Then all the planets line up and the sun finally comes out, and you find out that maybe, just maybe. Maybe you’ll get it right this time.
Then again, maybe you won’t. Maybe all the doom in the world will descend on you, you talentless guttersnipe, your presumptuous amateur, you hopeless fool. After all, who told you you could write?!
Then again, maybe you’re the only one in the world who doesn’t know you can. And then you do it anyway.
Book Expo America is back in New York City where it has been for as long as I’ve been going to it. Last year it was in Chicago, and not that Shy-town doesn’t have a great literary heritage but let’s face it, the book world does spin around NYC, and with so many editors, agents, publicists and anything book-related there, well, it’s pretty hard for all those industry reps to visit their booths on their lunch hour when it’s half a country away. Anyway, nothing like the lure of $90 parking, tunnel traffic, Javits crowding, and surly Uber drivers to make one skip a day of work. Still, there isn’t a more exciting place in the book biz for three whole days. It’s where its universe spins sweeties. Get your tix and more info here.
And get to a Writers’ Conference for pity’s sake. It doesn’t matter your level of writing proficiency. Like a health care professional–and for your own mental health–you need to get out there and update those skills. So take a look below for the conferences coming up around the country in May, and remember–the best networking is done in the hotel bar!
ASJA Writers Conference. May 5 – 6, 2017. Concurrent morning & afternoon panels rated from beginning to advances, some for all levels. Luncheon, keynote speaker, networking. 100+ authors, editors, literary agents, publicists.
13th annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. May 1 – May 7, 2017 at various locations in New York City. readings, performances, and panel discussions for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers. “The thirteenth annual PEN World Voices Festival will take on some of the vital issues of the Trump-era, with a special focus on today’s restive relationship between gender and power. Taking place in New York City, May 1-7, 2017, the weeklong festival will use the lens of literature and the arts to confront new challenges to free expression and human rights—issues that have been core to PEN America’s mission since its founding. At this historic moment of both unprecedented attacks on core freedoms and the emergence of new forms of resistance, the Festival will offer a platform for a global community of writers, artists and thinkers to connect with concerned citizens and the broader public to fight back against bigotry, hatred and isolationism.”
Northern Colorado Writers Conference. May 5 – 6, 2017, Fort Collins CO. The 2017 Northern Colorado Writers Conference will bring back some local favorites such as Laura Pritchett, Trai Cartwright, and Kerrie Flanagan, as well as welcome several new-to-NCW presenters such as Bob Mayer, Jessica Strawser, and Whitney Davis, and several new agents.
Idaho Writers Guild Conference. May 5 – 6, 2017, Boise, Idaho. Meet with agents, editors, and authors. Panel discussions, workshops, and a keynote speaker. Your registration – $195 for IWG members, $225 for non-members.
Gold Rush Writers Conference. May 5 – 7, 2017, Mokelumne Hill, CA. “Writing professionals will guide you to a publishing bonanza through a series of panels, specialty talks, workshops and celebrity lectures. Go one-on-one with successful poets, novelists, biographers, memoirists and short story writers.” Writing workshops in Autobiography/Memoir, Children’s, Fiction, Marketing, Non-fiction, Poetry, Publishing, Romance, Travel, Young Adult.
The Massachusetts Poetry Festival. May 5 – May 7, 2017, Salem, Massachusetts. The Mass Poetry Festival offers nearly 100 poetry readings and workshops, a small press and literary fair, panels, poetry slams, and open-air readings. More than 150 poets will engage with thousands of New Englanders.
Grub Street Muse and the Marketplace Conference. May 5 – May 7, 2017. Boston, Massachusetts. The Muse and the Marketplace is a three-day literary conference designed to give aspiring writers a better understanding about the craft of writing fiction and non-fiction, to prepare them for the changing world of publishing and promotion, and to create opportunities for meaningful networking. On all three days, prominent and nationally-recognized established and emerging authors lead sessions on the craft of writing—the “muse” side of things—while editors, literary agents, publicists and other industry professionals lead sessions on the business side—the “marketplace.”
Hedgebrook VORTEXT Salon. May 5 – 7, 2017: Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island, about 35 miles northwest of Seattle. Workshops, panel discussions, lectures, open mics, and time to write in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for women writers.
Columbus State Community College Writers Conference. May 6, 2017, Columbus, Ohio. Workshops in Autobiography/Memoir, Business/Technical, Fiction, Journalism, Marketing, Non-fiction, Playwriting, Poetry, Publishing, Screenwriting. This one-day conference is free of charge.
DFW Writers Conference. May 6 – 7, 2017, Fort Worth TX. Featuring pitch sessions with literary agents, advanced classes, engaging panels, interactive workshops.
Writers Retreat Workshop. May 6 – 13, 2017, San Antonio, TX. Featuring Author and Instructor Lisa Cron (Wired for Story, Story Genuis), Thriller novelist Daniel Palmer (Delirious, Forgive Me, Mercy (with his late father Michael Palmer) ), Mystery and thriller author Reavis Wortham (Red River Mystery Series, and in 2017 Sonny Hawke series), Author and Instructor Les Edgerton (Bomb, Hooked (WD), The Bitch), Author, Instructor and Editor Carol Dougherty, Author, Instructor, Editor, and Program Director Jason Sitzes, and more agents, editors, and authors. Mokulē‘ia Writers Retreat. May 7 – 12, 2017 in Waialua, Hawaii at Camp Mokulē‘ia, Oahu. Offers workshops in fiction and nonfiction, readings, one-on-one consultations, publishing panels, yoga sessions. The retreat is led by North Shore native Constance Hale, the author of Sin and Syntax, the editor of more than two dozen books, and a journalist whose stories about Hawai‘i appear on CD liner notes, as well as in publications like The Los Angeles Times and Smithsonian magazine. Hale invites a mix of writers, editors, and agents from both the islands and the mainland to lead various workshops and appear on panels.
Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp. May 7- 13, 2017: West Bend WI. 6-day, residential workshop-retreat for writers in all genres working on a novel or creative nonfiction book. Workshops in Autobiography/Memoir, Fiction, Horror, Humor, Mystery, Non-fiction, Publishing, Romance, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Young Adult. Registration is limited to 30 people.
Lakefly Writers Conference. May 12 – 13, 2017: Premier Waterfront Hotel & Convention Center in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Workshops, talks, and a bookfair for poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers. Keynote speaker is Nickolas Butler. Many speakers and presenters.
Seaside Writers Conference. May 14 – 20, 2017: Seaside Assembly Hall in Seaside, Florida. “The Seaside Writers Conference is an annual gathering of creative writers from all over the nation, and features award-winning writers in poetry and fiction and screenwriting who will offer a full week of intensive writing workshops, one day seminars, school outreach programs, and social events.” Many authors, agents, editors.
Writing By Writers Methow Valley Workshop: May 17 – 21, 2017, Winthrop, WA. Faculty: faculty includes Ron Carlson, Ross Gay, Pam Houston and Lidia Yuknavitch. Tuition: $1,650 (before November 1) $1,750 (after November 1) includes one four-day workshop, admittance to all panels and readings, and all meals (dinner on Wednesday; three meals Thursday through Saturday; breakfast and lunch on Sunday) and lodging for four nights. Alumni of the first Methow Valley Workshop in May 2016 will receive a $100 discount.
Pennwriters Conference, May 19 – 21, 2017, Pittsburgh, PA. Friday evening keynote Jonathan Maberry; Saturday afternoon keynote Chuck Sambuchino; and 20+ authors, literary agents & editors, writing industry pros. Costs: $375 for 3-day registration. One-day registration available $185.
Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference. May 26 – 27, 2017: Wyndham University Center in Pittsburgh. Master classes, craft discussions, publishing talks, pitch sessions, and readings for creative nonfiction writers. In just three days you can meet one-on-one with a literary agent or publishing consultant, get concrete advice from professional writers, hear what different kinds of editors are looking for, and hone your skills in an inspiring small-group session. You’ll also meet and mingle with writers from across the country who share your excitement about the writing process.
In three weeks I’ll be finished with classes, and then I’ll have about two months off before a summer course I’m teaching starts. In the interim, I’ll be diligently attacking my work-in-progress, becoming the full-time writer I lust to be all year. Now, there’s a couple ways I can approach this. I could stay home and work from my own office, or I can pack up my laptop and head to the library or one of the many local coffee bistros. But leaving home would require assembling myself enough to face that public, and isn’t the whole allure of working from home the fact you can do it in your pajamas? (Though I rarely do it in full make-up, ribboned pigtails, and clingy Union Suit as Miss Bibliophile above. Then again, she must make a habit of not straying very far from that beanbag, as it appears she has an extra apple for nourishment and that bowl it’s sitting in looks suspiciously like what they slide under your bed-ridden self in a nursing home.) Not that working in your pjs doesn’t have its charms.
It’s nice to be able to shuffle from bed to desk, sipping your morning coffee (or tea in my case) while you contemplate your next plot point en déshabillé. There’s a certain freedom in shutting out the outside world so you can fully enter your own, focusing only on the story thus allowing its characters and setting become all the more real. If you approach it with enough preparation, making large-pot food such as soup, chili, and stew, buying enough food you can eat with one hand such as fruit, string cheese, and anything in a bag, and making sure your sig other and family members are well-warned that this book-writing gig is definitely a thing and you mean BUSINESS, then you may be able to pull it off. But you and they, must be fully vested and on board, because you don’t want them giving you the stink eye when you amble into the kitchen at three PM wearing sleep shorts and a t-shirt sans Maidenform, still flushed from that just-finished ass-kicking scene. Or if it’s way past dinner and you suddenly realize that Pop-Tart you just ate was your lunch, and the reason the cat is kneading her claws into your leg is not because she loves you, but because you last fed her twelve hours ago. And that’s only because your bedtime has lately been coming with the sunrise, perfecting the art of sleeping upright and fuck-all to “so-called” circadian rhythms. Truth is, it’s a bitch to admit you’re only the axis to your virtual world, and people can get a bit tetchy if you spend two weeks in your pjs and only leave your office to forage. So what’s the flip side?
Wake up at 6 AM, shower, dress, eat, and be at your desk by seven. Treat it like the job it is, with stretch and coffee breaks, a regular lunch, a walk in the afternoon or early morning to clear your head enough to reflect and reorganize, and with a quitting time reasonable enough to get a good night’s sleep. I’ve done it both ways, as both have their own unique advantages. At times I’ve needed the liberty to work free-form, and at other times I’ve needed the structure to focus. The thing is you have to do what works for you, and if your way isn’t, then perhaps you have to explore an opposite method to know why.
What do you think?
*Don’t get me wrong, in my humble opinion, pajamas work for me. On the other hand…
Spring, thy name is hyacinth! Why, you can’t even pass a supermarket, convenience store, discount joint or firehouse without noticing the noble flower, potted in spring-colored foil and perfuming the air with its scent. What you see pictured here is bloomed bulbs of Easters gone by, tucked between two trees in my yard. It’s the stink that keeps on giving.
And then, there’s this other little delight that I discovered between the slates up to my front door. Where the hyacinths were once force-bloomed and purchased from a grower, these little violets are nature’s own, carpeting my yard in a profusion of purple wherever there’s grass. But these teeny guys decided they wanted to push up between the walking slates, and who am I to say. They’re the real homies, after all.
Potholes in New Jersey is a better harbinger of spring than robins, than croci, than those marshmallow peeps poppin’ up at the corner grocery. Those pervasive little asphalt assassins never fail to creep up on you around every bend and over every hillock, disguised like shimmering little macadam birdbaths until you hit one and bam! there goes the hub cap, spinning away like a frisbee.
On my way home tonight I counted no less than thirty-seven of the replicating little suckers. And that didn’t include the ever-widening fissures that form due to the expansion from the left-side/right-side paving, the winter erosion of the softer shoulder, the gully driveways develop as it cracks away from the road and of course, the always wonderful frost heaves. And that was just on my side of the road. Which, oddly enough, quickly becomes your side when you swerve into my lane to avoid them.
But if all this isn’t bad enough, the cure isn’t much better. How many of you have driven smack into a fresh pancake of cold patch, that municipal quick-fix of asphalt the town boys tamp down with shovels and their own boots, to shut up the one irate taxpayer that doesn’t quit calling until it’s fixed. Ahh…the lovely ping-ping-ping of loose tar as it plies itself to the undercarriage of your car. You’ll be scrubbing that off until nigh on August. Soon those road patch patties will be as ubiquitous as dandelions, and just as hard to get rid of. Because if you’re betting on highway dollars on high to get them gone, you can just forget it. The bank is broke, and staying that way for a while.
For the meantime, take your comfort where you can get it. After the winter we’ve had here in Jersey, just seeing the road means it’s only a matter of time until we’re burning our bare feet crossing it. And that, my dears, could only mean a day at the beach.
Today I ventured from home and hearth up to Greenwood Lake, NY. It’s a beautiful seven-mile long lake that straddles the border of New York and New Jersey, and the view you see here is what I saw out the window of the restaurant we lunched at. The hills go right down to the lake and are now covered in snow, as is much of the town from the two feet that were dumped on it last week. But I couldn’t help thinking how gorgeous those hills would be decorated in fall colors or in the full thrall of summer. There’s a swimming beach across the lake as well, which I’d dive right into, given the chance. And I’d sure like to catch the sun setting (or rising) over those hills, trailing light and shimmer across the water. And let’s not forget the hot summer nights spent over a beer at that bar, listening to music, trading stories with the locals. Ah, sounds like the life…
So why am I ruminating on this? Because life is thrusting changes upon me, and I’m trying to find that sweet spot that’ll alleviate some of the scratches I’m sure to come away with. Part of that is looking forward to environs and opportunities new and hopefully pleasant, as well as something that’ll guide me towards the inspiration that writers are always looking for. Right now I’m working on a project that may either come to everything or absolutely nothing, and it’ll require a lot of work and research and faith in my abilities. Am I up to it? In my heart of hearts I believe so, but rare the writer that doesn’t occasionally think they’re just faking it, that they’re pretenders, that at any minute they’ll be exposed for the fraud they are. Is that really me? Do I really believe it? Or am I just looking for some adulatory stroking, a reaffirmation of just how fabulous I already know I am?
Does it matter? Because would either reason leave me less deserving? I don’t think so. By nature, writers are a prickly lot, part artist, part introvert, part exhibitionist, intensely clamoring for attention then wary when it’s received. Am I really that good, or are you just being nice?Tell me the truth–do you REALLY like it?
Again, does it matter? Because we both know you’re going to do it anyway. Writing’s a lot like cooking–the process is long and messy, and sometimes–a LOT of times–you get burned. But if you do it right the results can be delicious. Which of course, just make you do it again and again.