Publishing · Writing

A Writers Conference aka Freak Fest

I attended a writers’ conference last weekend with some hesitation. I’d been to one before, and I remember it being painful. Truly—I was wincing for days afterward. That said, I realize their value, which was why I agreed to sign up for this past weekend’s event. The importance is not necessarily in the workshops, but in the agent pitches and networking. For now, I’d like to point out some of my general observations. And if you’re easily offended, well, I’d stop reading now.

1. Beware the Freaks.
The very first morning, I left my hotel room and headed to the conference hall. I’d done normal things that morning: shower, brush my teeth, put on makeup. I wasn’t wearing a lacy bustier or fish nets, and yet as soon as I walked into the conference hall, I realized I should have worn a fake wedding ring. I texted Jake (who was still snoozing in our hotel room), and he offered to come down with a big stick. It was not because I looked like a supermodel; it was because I was a woman under the age of 40. And the dudes who hit on me? FREAKS. These were men who have possibly never kissed a girl, let alone “dated.” These were men who possibly still live in their mothers’ basements—men who would turn around in their seats and stare at me in the middle of workshops until I wanted to scream, “What the hell is the matter with you?! Go lick your Princess Leia doll!”

2. Writers CAN talk.
The stereotypical writer is the quiet introvert who spends hours of every day curled over a computer in a dark room, sipping warm whiskey and generally being lonely. But the stereotype is changing. As I discovered in my own Ignite Phoenix Presentation, it is possible (and necessary) for writers to speak in public—and a number of them are quite good at it. I was impressed this weekend. There was the funny, fast-talking, bestselling-author from Cincinnati, who told me to never give away the ending. There was the neurosurgeon/author who reminded me there’s very little difference between writers and schizophrenics. And there was the ex-green beret, who’s written ROMANCE; he said the only person holding me back is … me. Each of these speakers? Writers first. Yet, they knew how to talk, and they weren’t quaking in their boots, fingers tapping on imaginary keyboards. Writers can speak, so if you’re a writer, better get over that dark, brooding Edgar Allen Poe complex.

3. I’m certifiable.
I’m a certifiable nutcase. If you’re nodding, stop it. You don’t even know what I’m talking about. I’m a certifiable nutcase because … I’m a writer. Hunter S. Thompson once said, “If you’re going to be crazy, you have to get paid for it or else you’re going to be locked up.” Thank God I’m a professional writer, or I’d probably be looking for a nice pair of white shoes to match my straight jacket. Several of the presenters this weekend made this point. Writers are mad. Much like actors and musicians (of which I’ve been both in the past), we’ve chosen impossible careers that promise little to no success. And we love every minute of it. Maybe that’s why we go to these writers’ conferences—to know we’re not alone.

For years, I’ve wondered why I win so few writing contests. The wondering has eventually upset me. Jake has seen it, and he’s wonderful at saying, “Screw them. They just don’t get it.” To this, I nod and smile, but I never really believed him until this past weekend. During the application process for this writers’ conference, there was an option to write a scholarship essay. Well, I wrote an essay, and I didn’t hold back. I wrote as me—brash, cruel, and honest. They prepared to announce the winner the first morning at breakfast. Before doing so, the announcer said, “We’d like to thank our judge,” and he pointed to an eighty-seven-year-old woman who could barely raise her hand to wave. I realized, immediately and with no hesitation, that I had lost the scholarship essay contest. Now, I do think it’s stupid to have a single judge for any writing contest, because writing is too subjective. I also think no woman in her eighties will ever want to read any of my books. Okay, my grandma will, but other than that, most eighty-year-old women will think I’m a violent psychopath. BUT the initial anger at yet another failed writing contest entry led to something else: enlightenment. I realized my writing is not for mass consumption. My books are not, and never will be, “beach reads.” Most of my work is just “weird,” or as my author friend calls it, “creepy.” And for perhaps the first time in my life, I realized I’m okay with losing writing contests. I now understand what Jake means when he says, “They just don’t get it,” and how pleasant to be reminded that I’m writing what I like to write—not what other people expect me to write. Jake’s mom once said, “But you’re so sweet! Why don’t you write something sweet?” I guess I can now admit I don’t have the faintest idea how.

So okay, I’m taking a long writers’ conference vacation. The experience generally stresses me out, and no matter how pleasant some people seem, I do get tired of talking to strangers. I did pitch my current project to an agent I greatly admire, and yes, she wants to see it when it’s finished. I did have several small epiphanies about my current project, and I have decided to consider the creative writing grad program at ASU. Good things did happen. But in conclusion, I’m glad to be home … curled over my computer … required to speak to no one.

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