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. 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 shit 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 they 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 really stings. I think, 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 Father’s and Son’s.”
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 they dug it. But despite those successes, I often feel like I am shouting into a void and don’t get 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.
Love this. You know, one of my favourite quotes about writing has always been one by the 19th century French novelist Gustave Flaubert, who said: “Talent is nothing but long patience.” There’s so much truth in that, Tyner. I’ve seen a lot of people in this business who are way more talented than I am drop by the wayside, because they didn’t “put the quit aside”, as you say. They gave up. And while there are many paths to success, the one thing they all have in common is that they won’t take you anywhere if you stop walking. Hang in there! We’re walking along with you.
You are definitely not alone, Tyner. I often ask myself: “why am I doing this?” I had crawled into one of those holes just before the conference, but ramped up again after attending some amazing talks. I agree with you about the manuscript critique class. Lots of “ouch” all round. As writers, we put ourselves out there and have no control over what comes back.
As Stephen King says:
“Your stuff starts out being just for you–but then it goes out…it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it… If you’re really lucky, more will want to do the former than the latter.”
He also says this, and I like it more:
“…if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects.”
What would Quinn Sullivan say?
I, for one, hope you keep writing and publishing. I am a fan of Quinn and can’t wait to read book three.
Great post. Thanks for sharing. I think about quitting and my dead Dad all the time. Glad to know I’m not alone.
and how proud you dad would be.
My dad was my greatest cheerleader. He literally carried my YA novel in his walker and sold copies to residents and staff in his nursing home. Last week he’d have turned 103 (He made it to 100.75), so it was a melancholy week. He would have been over the moon about the short story collection that will be published next summer.
Grief hits at unexpected moments. “Oh, Dad will be thrilled to hear about this!” Oh right. He already knows.,l
Keep putting those words on the paper!