With the exception of certain universal life experiences, no other process has been quite as humbling as learning how to write well.
Knowledge is proud that it knows so much; wisdom is humble that it knows no more. William Cowper
Image courtesy of Jaypeg on Flickr
Criticism can be brutal, confusing, and sometimes even helpful, but I believe only a humble writer can learn something from it. You have to be open to the process, and that means you need to set your ego aside.
Then there’s the whole rejection thing, and how you’ll probably accumulate dozens or more rejections for every acceptance you get.
Success is not a good teacher, failure makes you humble. Shahrukh Khan
I’ve wrestled before with the idea of the arrogant writer, and still believe that writers are guided by the hope that our words have meaning rather than the expectation that they do simply because they’ve been recorded.
I’ve never had a humble opinion. If you’ve got an opinion, why be humble about it? Joan Baez
After all, our first amendment right to write is a privilege not every one in this world enjoys. To have the time to indulge in writing is another privilege not everyone has.
I know that writing has humbled me. Not only in what I do and do not know, but also in the knowledge that the odds are so very great. Each and every time someone further along in their career takes a moment to reach out to me, I am humbled.
Am I alone in feeling this way? What is it about writing that has made you humble?
Over Labor Day weekend, I attended my first Worldcon in San Antonio, Texas. I decided to go for a lot of reasons, but I think the most important one was to slowly increase my visibility in the field by networking with my writing colleagues.
I had no idea what to expect, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned so you’ll be better prepared if you plan to attend an event like this in the future.
This could be my own issue, but I’ve never been a fan of nametags. Whether it was the first day of school, my work as a waitress back in the day, or attending work conferences, my initial impulse was always to whip off the tag as soon as possible.
Do not do this. The whole point of conventions is to meet like-minded people, right? But unless you already know someone’s a writer, it can be tough to spot one out in the wild. At a convention, if you see a nametag, you can be reasonably sure they’re a serious SFF fan or writer or both, whether you are crossing the street between the hotel and the conference space, hunkering down in the hotel lobby for the free internet, or getting a drink or a bite to eat in the hotel lounge. So this is one of the few times where it’s okay to let your freak flag fly.
The nametag also makes introductions easier and seeing a printed name (as opposed to just hearing it) can reinforce retention.
You will be meeting a lot of people. And just as you will have difficulty keeping everyone straight, the people you meet will also have trouble putting the name to the face. If they don’t remember you, don’t take it personally. Be gracious, and if the opportunity presents itself, remind them that you met them the night before at a party or last year at another event or that you share a TOC together… whatever it is that will help jog their memory and put you into context.
You want them to remember your face, your name, and something pleasant about you—not how you gave them a hard time for not remembering who you are from a 15-second introduction. That just makes them feel guilty, and they will then avoid you to avoid experiencing that negative emotion again.
I’m not talking business casual. Personal hygiene is important to handle (especially in Texas in August). As Mary Robinette Kowal said in a panel on schmoozing, you want to be the best possible version of yourself—whatever that means to you.
For me, that meant wearing clothes that had a consistent feel, styling my hair in a similar way, and wearing the same necklace and bracelet combo across the days at the convention so that people would recognize me, even if they didn’t know my name. Think of it as professional branding.
As this was my first con, I didn’t realize there were special “ribbons” you could affix to your nametag. These little pieces of fabric were issued to people who had pub’d in certain magazines or talked to certain con personnel or supported a particular author or whatever. I later found out there was even a ribbon for attending your first Worldcon. Many people (though not everyone) had them. I even saw one kid walking around the convention hall with so many ribbons they dragged along after him.
As with the nametags, the ribbons provide quick visual reinforcement in identifying people in your “tribe” and often served as a source of small talk. Now, I’m not saying I was ignored because I didn’t have any ribbons—I wasn’t. But it did reinforce my newbie status because I had no idea how they worked.
The exception of course were the bright green ribbons identifying the panelists and invited guests to the convention. Which leads me to….
At the con, I was pretty insignificant compared to the writers further along in their careers and the editors and agents that were there. And the ribbons often reinforced this.
Unlike other cons, there were no pitch appointments offered. The only way to get an agent or editor’s attention was to either get introduced by someone they respected or small talk your way into their hearts.
Both are hard to do and are extremely dependent on luck, your social abilities, and the kindness of your colleagues.
People can sense desperation. If someone powerful has a bad opinion of you, it could haunt you the rest of your career. So don’t be that person who stalks the important people all over the con or the person who turns into a squeeing mess the second you get to talk to your writing hero, dream agent, or whathaveyou.
Instead, be sure to act courteously, and if at all possible be interesting. You may not get an opportunity to talk about you or your work, and that’s okay. Take the long view. You want to leave people with a favorable impression no matter what because who knows what could happen the next time you meet them.
Stay tuned for Part Two next week!
I’ve been swamped recently; hence, the blog silence last week. Part of it is I’m gearing up for another spate of travel. Part of it is juggling all the writing projects I have in the air, including getting to The End on my latest WIP.
How do you define “The End” ?
-When you first figure out the end of your story?
-When you finish that first draft?
-Or when you’ve polished until you can’t polish anymore?
For me, it’s the third option. I’ve sent this novel out to trusted readers once already. And I’m on the very last chapter in terms of implementing the changes that were raised in that round of criticism. As I gear up to send it out to another batch of readers, I’m feeling optimistic and impatient and a little nervous all that the same time.
And I realized I’ve felt different each time I’ve come to the end of a novel-length project (short stories are different in my experience).
My reactions have varied, from insecurity and nervousness (What if it’s not good enough?) to impatience (I just want to finish this story already) to relief and pride in a job well done. And in some cases, disappointment that the book didn’t measure up to what was in my head and I don’t know how to fix that.
But with this story, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. I’ve felt that way before of course, and to some extent, I think you need to feel that way about all your work at this stage to stay motivated, to keep pushing yourself, and to see things through the publishing process.
So, I’m very happy with what I’ve accomplished with the story. But that doesn’t mean I’m ready to call it a day. My work is just beginning. I just hope I have the stomach for it.
Improvements in writing ability are often hard to detect. So much of what is “good” is contextual—dictated by a particular project, the audience you’re writing for, or even market trends.
What aspect of your writing life is invisible?