Monday, May 14, 2012

That wasn't at all what I expected.

On Saturday, May 12, 2012, I attended the SCBWI Illinois Spring Thaw Event. This was my first writer's conference and I did so only because I was encouraged by my editor. Let's face it, she demanded I go. 
I did not want to go. In fact as soon as I arrived I texted her saying that I may hate her for insisting I go. She politely responded that I should grow a pair, grab a muffin, and find a seat. She knew it would be a good experience for me and would help with my current situation of writers-block mixed with writers-discouragement. I am told that every writer spends time with these two personalities and if given their own due, they become cliche seventies bar scene characters and they hook up, producing a love child that ends up poisoning creativity. 

I decided to stay. I know I can write but let's face it, there are trained chimps that can write and they are getting better press than I am. As a writer I have searched, I suppose as all writers do, for validation that my work is worthwhile. Since I am not published nor represented by an agent, I do not feel validated. And yet, writing is the one thing I do that I throw my entire self into and leave feeling purely sublime. It is caffeine and heroin and a mother's hug and a full body massage rolled into one. Odd how I feel like I need validation after that description.

Still, with external validation nowhere to be found and the goal of being a published author remaining just out of reach, I am flirting with massive discouragement. If I can't be published, well then for God's sake, someone tell me that already so I can move on!

Inside the beautiful Thornhill Education Center at the Morton Arboretum, throngs of writer types mingled as I moved slowly through the crowd to the registration table, all the while waiting for someone to extend a finger in my direction while screaming, "FRAUD!"  That never happened. In fact, everyone was really nice to me.

Registration done, I made my way to a side table, determined not to cause a commotion or distraction for the other 'good' writers. As it turns out I ended up sitting directly adjacent to Esther Hershenhorn, a famous writer. I seriously began to wonder if there was any security in this place at all as they were allowing a no talent schmuck like me to have such unfettered access to Ms. Hershenhorn. She was within arms reach!  What was wrong with these people? Didn't they know I have only 350 followers on Twitter? How was I going to dismiss my want to be a writer when people were being nice to me and I was getting first class access to those recognized for their writing?

The opening exercise was touching, to say the least. In the middle of our tables were branches with seed paper book silhouettes hanging on them. Each of us were instructed to take one and write the name of our current work in progress on it as a way to make it something real.

The keynote speakers were Steve Mooser and Lin Oliver who back in 1971 founded SCBWI. Literally hundreds of children's book titles were created by them. If anyone could tell me I didn't deserve to be a writer, these two should be able to do it with one arm out the window. I waited but never did I hear anything close to that. Instead I heard great encouragement and enthusiasm. They shared stories of their journey and provided wonderful advice and instruction for seasoned and novice writers alike, especially those who were felling down on themselves.

When the day was done, I felt like a portion of me would never be the same again. I came there hoping to be turned away with the rabble and by the end I felt like there was no way I could ever leave. Steve, Lin, thank you both so much for founding SCBWI and causing to bring about a wonderful community of supportive creative people. I am glad to be a member and promise I will not forget all of the lessons learned, especially the one about treating myself like a professional.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Somebody call a cop because I got robbed!

Well, not really, but sometimes it is easier to blame others for your misfortune and relive the less pleasurable aspects of life rather than take what you can and move on. Lets examine a particular flaw in human nature and how it smacks us like a ball peen hammer to the forehead, polluting our lives like lead in the bloodstream. The particular flaw I am referring to is not being able to just move the freak on already and live a better life using the lesson learned.

Pretend you are a zebra in the wild. As you and your striped buddies stand around the watering hole taking your morning sips, you happen to see a lion lurking in the bushes a few yards away. Since you are an animal in the wild, your tendency is to only care about number one, so you keep this sighting to yourself. Besides, to your left between you and the big cat is Gerald, the zebra who is a little higher on the lady zebra pecking order than you. Hoping this will work in your favor, you do everything you can to drink your fill of water, not alert Gerald to the impending danger, and plan your exit from the lion once he attacks. So you stand and drink, trying not to laugh as you picture the eviscerated Gerald featured on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, when the unthinkable happens and the lion charges at you. Zebra senses kick in, you turn and run while pooping just a little, and beat feet to safety. Sure you wonder why Gerald didn't get taken down, but in the end you are glad to have your life and will be a little more careful next time you take a sip.

Pretend now you are a passenger on a commercial jet that has just departed. As your tons of aluminum, fuel, and human souls travel upward at 150 miles an hour into the sky, your pilot manages to steer the aircraft directly into a flock of geese, sucking several into the plane's engines, severely damaging thousands of precision moving parts. Thinking more of when you will be able to turn your laptop on rather than what that loud series of thuds were, you pay little attention to the sudden change in the pitch of the aircraft and the way the buildings seem to be getting bigger. Then on to your ears fall the terse words, "prepare for water landing," but you ignore them as a mistake since everyone knows airplanes do this thing called 'landing' since it happens on land not water. Just then you hear someone who was paying attention start to scream and you notice other passengers in the so called 'crash position' which usually means a crash is about to follow. Then you feel a distinct change in the smoothness of the flight and your laptop goes skidding off of your lap as more people begin screaming. Eventually the pandemonium of takeoff becomes bobbing and everyone is yelling to 'go here' and do that.' Some people listen to the 'here-that' instruction but not you. You are that person I read about who is holding up the plane's emergency evacuation because you are trying to get your carry on luggage out of the overhead bins so you can take it out to the wing to wait for the rescue boats to arrive. You have not learned the zebra lesson of moving past crisis, figuring out what is important, and moving the freak on already.

This is our human nature, to dwell too much in the recently departed moment, trying to somehow fix it in the past while ignoring the present that leads to our future. And for many this is the greatest threat to writing.

For the past three years I have become serious about my writing with extra effort expended in the last year. I am feeling confident about my work and know that with every word on paper I am honing my craft and yet still, I feel a lack of accomplishment which causes me to stare over my shoulder instead of looking straight ahead. About a month ago I was cut from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. After making it through the first pitch cut, I thought I would be cut at the excerpt review. Then I made it into the excerpt round and confidence got the best of me. When I got cut at the semi finals I was devastated. I spent about a week with my head up my ass, swearing I was going to give up writing forever. I chose the inconsiderate airline passenger route and paid for it dearly. I ignored how lucky I was to make it from 5,000 entrants to a pool of 250 quarter finalists. Instead I decided to ignore this validation of my sparking talent and declare it a death sentence. What I realize now, only as the constipation subsides from inserting my head into my ass, is that now is the time for me to think more like a zebra.

And now that I have, I am feeling better for it. Zebra thinking is the way to go. I have started a hand-edit of my novel and now have a greater appreciation for what I created. I know it is a worthwhile manuscript and deserves as many revisions as are required to bring it to the bookstore, and when it does hit the shelves, do not be surprised to see a dedication to a zebra inside the front cover.