It was back-to-back conferences this last month: Bindercon and AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) 2016. Conferences are full of things that create anxiety – stale air, masses of unknown people, “experts” and the fear of missing out on the mythical connection or panel that could change the trajectory of your writing life.
I am clearly not green when it comes to the world of writing. My first job was at St. Martin’s Press in the beautiful Flatiron building in New York City. I worked at a literary agency with a brownstone full of (to my 25 year old self) a bunch of deeply unhappy people. I’ve worked at the Hearst Corporation, and walked the hallowed halls filled with, to my surprise, real art. I have a MFA from a great program that allowed me bridge fiction, poetry and playwriting. I’ve published, but it never feels like enough…like I need a permanent indelible sign, a ceremony with royalty, a skywriter?
Still, when I saw on the AWP program a panel called, “In Case You Don’t Think You Belong Here: Imposter Syndrome and AWP,” I had to recognize that pretty much EVERYONE feels this way.
Even at one of the panels with one of my idols on it, Susan Orlean, it became clear that even those with stellar credentials have had to face a lot of fear, ugly drafts, and wrong paths to deliver the work.
- Be unaccessible, go into “input” mode.
- Know your triggers. What tends to distract you from your work?
- There is no such thing as wasted time. This reminded me of the “Composting” chapter in Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.
- Orlean tries neurolinguistic practices: Demystify the process of writing by considering that you are making “widgets” – pieces of writing that will end up being a greater whole, try break your writing goals into do-able parts.
- Mind games: Many authors, (it was noted in particular Virginia Woolf) write 1,000 words before starting their day, but Orlean mentioned that if she revises she gets “revision” credits against her 1,000 words.
- Orlean goes through a process of interacting with her research material and notes 4 times before writing.
- Writing nonfiction, Orlean stated that while she is not the authority on the subject she is writing about, she is the authority as the storyteller. (When you think about it, very few people are born with an unimpeachable born authority on a topic….everyone starts somewhere).
- Writing is the last part of the process. You can write after you know enough about the material that it flows effortlessly. I think this is an important point for professional writers but if you are not writing for publication – think about looking at photos, reading diaries, and perhaps studying the time period your story comes from to refresh your memory and add detail.
Enjoy this wisdom without the stuffy hallways and convention center food! And as always, I’d love to hear from you.
P.S. When I wandered around the AWP bookfair I found two publications that still carried my work. It was really fun to find my name on the back of a volume. The pride never goes away!