Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When the post-conference energy is not there

It does happen.

I was reading over the enthusiastic posts regarding the Emerald City Conference, and I have to say I was nodding my head as I was reading them--yep, I was feeling an increased urge to write, and my mind was filled with the different ways I could write the story--stories, even--that I have in mind. I do love that conference, I truly do, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in writing and publishing.

However, there have been days when I've not felt that uptick in energy, and felt overwhelmed or discouraged instead. This is normal, this is okay, and in fact it does not mean the conference was a waste, and it does not mean you're some freak of writerly nature if you feel this way. And boy, does that make a writer feel somehow outcast, somehow alone. Why everyone else, and not me?

The truth is, there are many legitimate reasons why a writer might not feel that great during or after a conference. I don't think it's a lack of friendly people at all. I'm one of the shyest people in the world, but I've not felt that people weren't supportive of my efforts and my hopes when I've gone to a conference, even when I was a complete unknown newbie.

If you do feel let down after a conference, overwhelmed, etc., consider the following:
  1. You aren't physically well

  2. You don't know anyone at the conference, everyone talks in writer jargon that you aren't familiar with, and you think if you open your mouth, you'll sound really stupid, and everyone will scorn you and heap spite on your head. You think everyone else is so much more knowledgeable than you, and therefore it sucks to be you.

  3. You think your stuff can't possibly be publishable, because every editor/agent/industry professional says they want something other than what you write, therefore your manuscript sucks dead canaries.
 My answers:
  1. You aren't physically well. I want you to seriously consider this. There is nothing like a lot of people congregated in a small, intense, and very friendly environment (hugs galore!) to pass on one virus or another. There is such a thing known as "conference crud" that happens every single year to people who go to either a large local conference or the national one. Or maybe you're just tired from the trip. Whatever it is, trust me, physical ailments or simple lack of sleep will kill that conference energy sooner than a fly on a frying pan. Get some rest, get better, and then go over your conference notes again. If that doesn't help, go see a doctor. I've been through some difficult physical ailments, including surgery, and there is nothing like being physically drained to cause one's creative energy and enthusiasm to write to disappear entirely. No amount of conference goodness will fix that. Your health and well-being comes before anything else.

  2. You don't know anyone at the conference, everyone is smarter than you, you don't know the jargon, yadda, yadda. STOP THAT! This is your fear talking, not your creativity, not your true worth as a writer. There are many, many first-timers and brand new writers at every conference. Both the Romance Writers of America national conference and the Emerald City Conference have a special welcoming session for first-timers and newbies. And even if you miss out on that session, keep in mind that every one of us have been newbies at conferences, we know exactly how it feels, and can sympathize.

    As for jargon, don't be afraid to ask. Nobody is going to look down at you if you don't know what POV means, and if they do, then they're not worth knowing. If you ask, then there will be people who are more than happy to tell you, because it means you're willing to learn. There is nothing more delightful to the person steeped in writer-geekdom than a discussion of craft and technique. You ask about POV (point of view) at a lunch table or hotel café filled with writers getting their caffeine hit and you will get all sorts of friendly people jumping into the discussion of limited third versus first person, depth of POV, keeping to one POV per scene, and on and on. You will learn more about POV than you ever dreamed, and everyone will consider you "one of us" for just bringing it up and taking notes. Try it out the next time you're at a conference and don't know anyone at a table. Ask, "Why do some people think you should keep point of view to one per scene, and others don't?" You will get precisely the response I just mentioned. I'm serious.

  3. You think your stuff can't possibly be publishable. Okay, this is a problem that strikes both seasoned and newbie writers alike, regardless of whether one, five, ten, or no books have been published. The newbie--after a few editor/agent panels--thinks that the road to publication is steep, rocky, and fraught with traps for the unwary. The seasoned author thinks that nobody wants her, everyone hates her, and she should go eat some worms because the muse just isn't hip to that profitable vampire romance trend (or other). And vice versa.

    I am telling you that this way of thinking is poison, pure poison to creative output. If you are going down this road, back away, put it out of your mind, and avoid going to editor/agent panels or anything that talks about market trends unless I'm the one who is talking about it. :-D You cannot create with the market in mind. Well, some people can, but there are not many of them. You must write to your true sense of story, from the heart. Though some people have honed their craft to the point where they can still create a good story, trust me when I say the sensation is rather like building a house with toothpicks--painstaking, time-consuming, and with little joy, unless you're sort who likes building houses with toothpicks, and I mean people-sized, not miniature. Write first, complete the story, then think about selling it.

    I have said more than a few times at conferences and at workshops that we writers and readers (and the vast majority of genre writers start as readers) are the ones who make the trends. Not the publishers, although they'd love to have that kind of control. We are the ones who know what we want to read, and we are legion. As a result, when we can't find what we want to read, we often write it. This is where genre trends--and I will say all fiction trends--come from: from the readers who are also writers. It is a grass-roots movement, and though publishers may try to control that movement, their control is brief and the wisest editors and agents know this. Write what you love, and write from the heart. If you do this, you are the ones who create the trends, and will ride that wave to success.

    If it's because you think your craft and technique aren't up to snuff, welcome to the club. The nature of writing stories is that you are forever learning, forever finding new techniques to help perfect your art. Every person at a conference is at different levels in their writing expertise. If you are new to writing fiction, go to some craft and technique workshops. You may find to your surprise that you are sitting next to an established author who wants to revisit and think more deeply about that particular workshop's writing technique. You Are Not Alone.

And one more reason for conference non-energy:
  • You are an introvert and have gone to too many conferences, or over-scheduled yourself. Most writers I know are introverts, and by that I don't necessarily mean shy, I mean we (yes, I'm one) need quiet time to recharge our batteries. Unlike extroverts, we become drained when we're around a lot of people. We need time alone, time without any people around; time with quiet, soothing music; and maybe a massage by a masseuse who does not talk except to say "relax" in soft, hypnotic tones. I recommend not filling every hour of your schedule with workshops, seminars, meet-and-greets, and on and on. Make sure to take a mid-morning as well as a mid-afternoon quiet break in your hotel room when you're pretty sure nobody will be in there (if you have a roommate). Or find a friend who will let you be alone in the room for a while. If you must, go into the bathroom, pour a bath, shut the door, and relax in the bath for a good half hour. Do not underestimate the curative effects of quiet time in a quiet room if you are an introvert.
So, don't worry if you feel you didn't get what you wanted out of a conference. You probably did or would have, but the truth is, you needed to take care of yourself, and you didn't. To get the most out of a conference, you need to make sure you're up to it physically, emotionally, and creatively. Take care of yourself, and the conference muse will take care of you.