Writers’ Conference Saga: Pre-Coda

My abortive meeting with my assigned editor took place on the penultimate afternoon of the conference. The next morning we were to finish up in a group summary meeting with Our Leader.

For some reason I can’t recall, I was eager to meet with him one more time. I made my way to the conference site before daylight in order to be at the front of the line. Along with a woman with whom I had been friendly, I managed to get a slot at the table as we ate breakfast in a crowded coffee shop. What in the world did I want from him at that point? To salvage something from the ruins of my experience (“Is it time travel? Reincarnation? Oh, wait, he must be already dead!”)? To pitch my other book? Who knows.

I do remember that he rewrote my friend’s pitch, ad hoc, in one breath, and that, were I a fan of such topics, I would have found his version immeasurably better. She still had her meeting ahead of her. So she faced the day armed with his words.

I remember as well talking about my other book, my “Sarah” book. He began excitedly weaving a resolution to the deep personal crisis Sarah faces, one that in my formulation would carry her through three books, each with its own sub-crisis and plot. I said, “That sounds like something to consider for the third book.”

“Oh, no,” he responded. “That’s the first book!”

I have already written the first book. I said, “I write my own books, thanks.”

I don’t recall that he took offense at this. Perhaps he secretly did.

Our final meeting consisted of congratulations for all those (most) who had been invited to submit manuscripts to major New York houses. This fortunate group included my friend, who was now supposed to write the book she had been given. I think he generously pretended that I had been given permission to send along my Sarah book. Then he said something I didn’t expect.

“I worry,” he said, “that you’ll all send in your stuff before it’s ready. Don’t do that. Make sure it’s ready.”

My perhaps ungenerous translation: “My business is running these workshops. I have to be able to say that publications come out of them. Most of you have no manuscripts, just ideas. Most of you have never produced anything like a book-length manuscript. You don’t actually know what you’re getting into. Please, some of you, take the time to write something that won’t waste these editors’ time.”

I find myself thinking about several things, remembering this comment. We were apparently selected to attend, to have the chance to meet with REAL EDITORS, on the basis of a one-page synopsis and a bio. Such application materials gave us the chance to make a preliminary pitch and gave the conference planners a chance to verify that we could actually construct reasonable English prose. But I wonder: is that enough? Are you really ready to write a book if you can sell an idea?

I have learned enough about my writing process to know, that for me, the answer is an emphatic NO. For me, there is nothing so demoralizing as knowing that the book isn’t working but that I must deliver. Write a draft. Share the draft with a conscientious critique group. Yes, it takes more time, with no more guarantees of eventual attention from an agent or publisher than if I had simply mailed off the first chapter and a treatment. But it makes the process rewarding. I can write a book that has a chance of working. Not being a genius, and not having a formula, for me, that is feat enough.


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Filed under Learning to write, Myths and Truths for writers, Writers' conferences

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