This past weekend was the annual Surrey International Writer’s Conference. For those of you who have read this blog before, you’re probably aware that this event is tantamount to Mecca for me, and I never miss it.
The conference attracts some really cool people, both attendees and presenters. It also attracts some really…interesting people. For example: an individual in a manuscript critique class I attended, changed the mandate of the workshop from ‘let’s all talk about our work and help each other’, to ‘what ridiculous shit can I think up to piss all over the story you worked so hard on.’ Of course, me being me, I spent the rest of the workshop contradicting everything they said and telling people how awesome they were. You can probably draw your own conclusions about how much this individual wanted to talk to me after that.
Among the folks who attend every year, I have been fortunate enough to build some important friendships, and over the course of the weekend I was able to spend some time with those friends.
On Friday night, after I finished smashing a pumpkin during Michael Slade’s Shock Theatre, I retired to my room with three other guys (all of whom are much further along in their careers than me) and opened a bottle of good Scotch (well, that’s a lie – I had already opened it and drank some, because…well, because Scotch). We sat around for the better part of two hours, telling stories, discussing the publishing industry, and talking about our dads.
It was a strange coincidence that all of us had lost our dads, and I for one got a little emotional during the conversation. It wasn’t that I was sad about the death of my father – I mean, I still am, but I’ve had three and half years to grieve so the wound no longer has any real sting. I think, rather, I was relieved to know that I wasn’t alone in the fact that I still missed my dad, still talked to him in the silence of my mind, still reached for the phone to call him until I remembered that he wasn’t going to answer. These are things we had in common, and it made me feel a little less crazy.
When the Scotch was gone, we all decided to change venue. I said, as we were leaving, that I was glad for the opportunity to talk to other guys about their dads. One of my friends turned to me, clapped his hand on my shoulder and said, “One of the great universal topics among men is Fathers and Sons.”
I thought about that for the rest of the conference. I thought about my dad, and universal concepts. And, as I attended workshops and visited with my dearest friends, I looked around and wondered how many of the other writers I was talking to thought continually about giving up.
I don’t know about you, but I think about it all the time; especially when I get a rejection letter (my most recent favourite was “your writing is too colloquial for our current list”), or I don’t win a contest, or my publisher sends me a royalty cheque that is in the single digits.
This wasn’t even a bad writing year. I finished and polished a YA novel that I think might actually be pretty good, and I’m half way done the first draft to the third Quinn Sullivan novel. I have received a handful of reviews from people who dug my work and sent me emails to say how much they dug it. But despite those successes, I often feel like I am shouting into a void and don’t get back so much as an echo. I think, more often than I should, maybe I suck at this, and maybe this isn’t for me.
I was still thinking about that when I attended Liza Palmer’s workshop, entitled: “6 tips to stay away from the dark side.” I had attended Liza’s workshops at the conference before, and always felt them helpful. I was not disappointed.
For an hour and fifteen minutes, Liza highlighted every moment in her career (she pretty much rocks out, and you can learn more here: www.lizapalmer.com) where she felt like quitting, and what strategies to employ to combat the quit. She talked about fear, failure, jealousy, love and the craft of storytelling. While she talked I took copious amounts of notes and kept saying – very quietly, so the person sitting next to me did not think me insane – yeah, this is me, this is all me.
Another thing I said to myself is: I am not alone, in this.
One of the most poignant things Liza said during her workshop was this: Thank yourself for how far you’ve already come. Not, ‘be greatful’ or ‘give yourself credit’. Thank yourself, because no one did it but you, and you have to be thankful for all the miles you’ve already put under your bootheels.
Whether you are starting out, or a wiley veteran, writing your first story, or your fiftieth, you are going to feel like it is hard, and you suck, and no one gives a shit about what you write. That is normal, and you are not alone.
The thing is, to put the quit aside, because if you are writing, then there is a story inside of you. And no one else can tell it, but you.
As always, thanks for reading.