About a Writing Conference and Some Soul Searching

First off, when I see the word “soul searching” from someone, I immediately expect to hear that they had some dramatic revelation that will result in a big change. This isn’t to that extreme. In fact, the soul searching hasn’t ended, of course I doubt it ever really will, and this post is mostly for me to process some of my thoughts.

I went to a writing conference this weekend, SCBWI Midsouth to be exact, the SCBWI standing for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Children’s is defined as everything from picture books to YA and as I believe most of you know, I want to write YA. (OK, so I DO write YA. Just because I’m not published (yet), it doesn’t change this fact.) This was my second time at the conference and it was good to return. Last year I felt extremely green (not to just the conference, but even to the process of publishing) and this year I felt I knew a little more, plus knew a few people, and felt more comfortable with getting to know new people, people who are writers.

In some ways, part of what I heard/experienced at the conference could be seen as depressing. One agent (Rosemary Stimola) shared that her agency gets 50,000 unsolicited queries a day. What the what?! I didn’t even know there were that many people trying that hard to get a book published. And that’s ONE agent. (Though she’s a pretty big deal since she’s Suzanne Collins’ agent!)

But I had two sessions at this conference about how to write a query letter, and you know what, now I feel 100% more comfortable and confident about querying (when the time is right, not before) than I did before the conference. I participated in a critique group where I shared five pages of my writing with four other aspiring authors and received both encouraging comments and constructive feedback. And it came at a good time.

Because lately I’ve wondered if I want this badly enough. Maybe I’ll just hire an editor and self-publish my stuff. It won’t get a ton of exposure but my story will have been written and be out there without going through the turmoil of the publishing process. These are the sort of thoughts I’ve had lately. (Note: there are many reasons to self-publish, and I haven’t even decided to not ever self-publish, but this is just not really the healthiest reason to not at least try to get traditionally published.)

And my priorities have shifted in a way I have not pleased with. In the early days of this blog, I would have said that my priorities as a blogger, a reader, and a writer were pretty balanced and even. But over time, the priorities shifted to blogger first, reader second, and writer third. I wasn’t too happy with that. I switched it around last November when for one month I became a writer first, blogger second, and neglected reading just for NaNoWriMo. And then lately I’ve noticed I’ve become a reader first, a blogger second, and a writer third. I’ve actually been excited to see my love for reading grow and I think it’s great that I care about it more than blogging. But writing still playing third fiddle to those two is not good.

So I asked myself: what increased my love for reading?

I think it was the fact that I was reading more, and mostly picking better books.

And I can’t help but think, if I spent the same amount of time on my writing as I do my reading, my love for it might increase and come back to me. I just have to sit down and do it and get over my hang-ups.

It’s a lot of work. YA author Ruta Sepetys was at the conference and one of the things she said during the Q&A panel she was on is that she does research for TWO YEARS for ONE novel. Of course, she writes historical fiction, but just the same, that is a lot of time and devotion to one book. And to think, I tell myself it will take too much time to research something in-depth and/or to plot out a half-baked idea, and I just want words to come out of me. Like anyone can just do that.

Middle grade author Gennifer Choldenko was the keynote speaker and she said something in her presentation about how she believes that any block that she gets when she’s trying to write is a result of not enough knowledge coming in. That was a light switch moment for me. The reason why I struggle and feel a lack of inspiration so many times is because I don’t have the knowledge I need to move forward. Well, that and fear, but that’s another post for another time. Any book of any genre is going to take some sort of research, and I try to do the minimal amount and get lazy with it.

That’s the other thing I have to realize, every time I sit down as a “writer,” I may not always get to write fresh, new, exciting words. I might be researching (real researching, not scouring “inspiration pictures” on Pinterest). I might be editing and revising. Those are worthwhile ways to spend my time because they are necessary.

I need to find focus. 

That was my other concern before this conference. Was my NaNo project actually worth pursuing? Or did I need to try something else out? Reading those first five pages of Earthbound to those four other girls was so helpful. They were enthusiastic about what would happen next and they loved my main character! It was awesome that they were already hooked. They told me ways I could improve things, like cutting out my first line, changing some dialogue, etc. It made me see potential in my story again, because they, with their fresh eyes, saw it.

It also reaffirmed things that I was told in my fiction writing class in college that I still have a hard time accepting… I write good characters. I am actually good at description (which is crazy because it is not natural for me; I have to fight myself to put it in even). I need to work at dialogue (even though I think I am awesome at it because it jumps into my mind more easily than anything else).

And while I’ve been worrying about what I can and can’t write in terms of genre, maybe I should just write a good character-driven story and then work out the other details as the needs for those arise. Whether it’s fantasy or sci-fi or contemporary or historical I can work on those things, again, by gaining knowledge.

All this to say, I’m ready to make writing a bigger priority again. I want it to be writer and reader first (I have finally become a believer that reading is extremely vital to a writer and worth doing a lot of; I was wrong all those years when I thought I could write and not read) and a blogger second.

I would not trade this blogging experience for anything. And I’m not giving this up. So no, I’m not going anywhere, but I might be a little more quiet. I know I said months ago that I didn’t want to have to apologize or explain if I posted less than normal and that I wouldn’t feel pressured to churn out a certain quantity but it’s still hard for me to do. Blogging is fast-paced and I am afraid of missing one day of the action.

So if I’m more silent, know that I’m not leaving you. Not by a long shot. I’m just writing. That’s what I need to be doing, because I believe it’s what I’m supposed to do.

And it’s going to take me time to write. I have met people who have worked on a story for years and still aren’t ready to send queries. Does that mean their writing stinks and their stories aren’t worthwhile? No. I don’t believe that at all. Different stories by different people take different amounts of time. I can’t compare myself to a 23 year old who has an entire trilogy out because that’s not me. AND THAT’S OK.  I already posted about that though. Maybe one day it will stick in my brain.

I haven’t figured out how I am going to schedule my writing time yet, but I know that it’s important and I need to do it. I’m very grateful that I got to spend a day with writers to remind me just how important this is to me.

If you’ve read this far, thanks. If you read this blog at all, thanks. You guys are so encouraging and I truly appreciate it.

25 Responses to About a Writing Conference and Some Soul Searching

  1. I hate it, WP deleted my comment, and it was so nice and long too. >.< And I've kind of lost my motivation to write, but I'm just sitting here, and imagine me cheering you on as loudly as I can. I will be the proudest to say that I knew you long before you got published. Writing is one of the hardest things to do, and I hope you figure everything out and you're happy. But I guess you did learn a lot from the conference!

    And also, I want to read your novel? *begging face* I really want to! I can critique, just not not harshly. I don't know why, but when I critique, I just use all the shortest sentences haha.

    • Boo on WP! But thank you for your kind words, Shannelle, I really appreciate them!
      I’ve had a couple blogger friends mention interest in reading early drafts of what I write, and I love the idea of y’all being involved, but at the same time I am extremely guarded about my work in its early stages. And there is also the concern of possible copyright infringement. Even though I don’t feel like anyone I know from blogging would steal from me, I feel I can’t be naive and assume they wouldn’t. So we’ll have to see at what point I might feel comfortable letting some blogging friends read what I have.

  2. This was a great post to read! It reinforced my belief that I don’t have what it takes to write a whole novel (years?? :D), but I am glad to see that you are stronger in your conviction to accomplish such a major thing as writing a book and releasing it. I am cheering you on as well! And definitely don’t worry about missing out on blogging, the book is more important right now, and I’m sure you’ll have lots to blog about with your experiences pursuing writing more fully. And I really look forward to knowing more about your journey!

    • Thanks, Charlene! It doesn’t take everyone years to write, though even if doesn’t, the process of publishing does generally take a couple of years! Yikes! You do have to want it pretty badly!

  3. Thanks for sharing this pretty personal post with us, Amy. I’m glad that the writing conference was such a helpful experience for you. And now that I know what your story is called, I REALLY want to read it. I love your idea of just writing a really great character-driven and let the genre details sort themselves out along the way! It sounds like you are making great progress, and learning some important things about what you want, and how you work. I’m excited for you and I’m looking forward to watching your progress! <3

  4. It is amazing how one book can take so long to become what it should be. It took me four years on the book I’m querying now. So far all of the partials and fulls that I’ve heard back on have been ‘no’s’ so I’m going through and cleaning and dusting up some stuff that I already thought was fine. Aaahh. It can make you crazy. =) Okay, got off track there: If you keep reading and writing, I believe you will one day have a book you can sign off on as being amazing!

  5. This post! You are speaking to my soul now. 🙂 I’m just nodding my head as I go along. I hope you find all the focus you need to do what you were meant to do! I’m trying to find it myself, and it just isn’t easy.

    Also, you are brave — I don’t think I could make it to a conference. I’m not shy by any sort of the imagination, but that’s a whole other level of putting yourself out there. Kudos to you, and I can’t wait to see when your book is on the shelves! It is just a matter of time!

    • Thanks so much for the kind words! I really owe a lot to my friend/former co-worker who told me about the conference last year, which resulted in me going then and again this year. I’ve gotten pretty good at talking to the fellow aspiring authors, because we all feel the same, but haven’t gotten up the guts to talk to the agents and authors yet like some people do! Writing is so much harder than people realize though. It takes so much effort and you have to put yourself out there.

  6. It is crazy isn’t how difficult it is to get published! I think that is one of the things that always intimidated me about writing. I think you are right if you are going to do it, it takes time..and you should focus on your dream. I wish you the best of luck in your writing endeavors 🙂

    • It is crazy! It’s good that it’s selective, of course, but sometimes I’m surprised by what can get published and what can’t! And thanks so much, Alisa!

  7. This was lovely to read. It can be incredibly difficult balancing the three “loves” of your life while still maintaining a healthy life outside of words. It’s okay that your priorities have shifted over time because it’s completely normal! You’re a fantastic blogger and the way you write your posts only reaffirms my belief in you as an author. We won’t mind at all if you’re a little quiet! It’s all in the process of writing a book and we understand. It’s time to focus on that passion again and make something of it, so you don’t look back one day and wish you had something differently or done more. As a wanna-be author myself (who has the entire plot of my story written down but haven’t actually written the story yet), if you ever need someone to bounce ideas off or to read a chapter or two here and there, just let me know! I’m only a tweet/email away! 🙂

  8. I think it’s awesome that you had such a positive experience at the writing conference. I do think publishing can be quite hard just because it can take so much time and dedication – whether traditional or self-published. Writing the book is hard enough (and for some people too hard) but the fact that it doesn’t just end there is crazy. I will randomly get little moments of inspiration or desires to start writing, but I always quickly shut those thoughts down because I just know I don’t have it in me to put forth all the energy it requires. It intimidates me and I don’t think I have the right heart for it. (Like, some people write because they love to write and can’t think of life without it. I feel like I’d be writing just because I want to have a book, which is the wrong reason.)

    Anyways, enough about me!

    I am so glad to hear though that you’re not going anywhere with the blogging! I can definitely respect your decision to put reading and writing first, and wish you all the luck in the world, but am glad you’ll still be around to talk books when you can 🙂

    • Even if I do stop blogging one day, I will always be available in other ways to talk books with you, Asti! 🙂 And I definitely write because I feel like I have to… any writer who does it for the notoriety is definitely not doing it right… and there are much easier professions to get into for those reasons! Thanks so much for your kind words! 🙂

      • Writing for notoriety is definitely the wrong reason to write! It’s like writing for money. Neither one are guaranteed (or even likely) when writing a book! I don’t think that’s necessarily my issue though, as I am too pessimistic to think either would ever happen, haha. For me it’s more of the fact that I admire the power of books so much, their ability to make people feel or to help them escape, that I wish I had the ability to do it. I wish I could give people a story to take them away. But I never feel creative enough to come up with ideas and I don’t try outside of blogging, so there’s no hope for me. That’s why I want to go into publishing. I can give people those things, but without having to write a book. I can just help a book that someone else’s written get out there. 🙂

        • I understand! Sometimes I think about chucking writing and maybe trying out something in publishing, but after the conference I felt I definitely need to keep writing and that I would never like being an agent or editor, since the conference also helped me realize just how hard their job actually is! I know you have probably said before, but do you know what specifically within publishing you are most interested in doing?

          • I want to do digital marketing. I like that it includes a bit of design and social media, as those are my favorite areas lately. I have no desire to do editorial, and what little experience I’ve had doing it was dreadful. And none of the other departments really interest me. (Well, publicity would be okay, I guess, but it’s not a major area for me.) They are all hard though in their way, just as being an author is hard! I think if you have the drive and passion to be an author, you should definitely stick with it! I don’t have that drive, so the publishing industry is the next best thing for me 🙂

          • Digital marketing sounds like it would be fun! I minored in marketing and sometimes I wish I had gotten more into it. Can’t wait to see what you end up doing! With all those work placements I’m sure you’ll be able to get a job in the industry!

  9. First, best of luck with your writing! It’s really great that the critique session helped you a lot. I think having someone looking at your writing and critiquing it with you is helpful, especially because they’ve got fresh eyes for the story.

    The reason why I struggle and feel a lack of inspiration so many times is because I don’t have the knowledge I need to move forward.

    Something that I think a lot of us need to keep in mind! This works for me too, even if I don’t really write. Okay fine, I write reports and things like that, but I struggle when I feel like I don’t have a lot of research to back up my thoughts. So I go and research, read read read, and then I feel much more confident and get back to my draft. 🙂

    Best wishes, Amy! 😀

    • Thanks, Ana! Fresh eyes are super helpful! And research is definitely important when you write reports! Teachers appreciate it too when they tell that you KNOW what you’re talking about because you have facts to back it up!

  10. So, I”m doing delayed commenting now that I’ve caught up from how busy the past few months were 🙂

    A’m curious, as a late commenter, how this is going. Are you writing more the way you wanted to? Did you write for a while and then start reading or blogging more?

    For me, the hard thing is that writing takes a certain amount of effort. And also a certain amount of creative energy. Reading requires so much less energy and effort that it’s easy for me to slip into a habit where I read a lot more than I write. And the laws of thermodynamics totally apply to people: objects at rest tend to stay at rest. But if I start to build writing momentum I can usually keep it going for a while 🙂

    • I’m doing a smidge better with my writing, but not as much as I think I had hoped. It is very easy to get distracted with other things, and you’re right that reading and other activities take us less energy, so after a long day at work sometimes I just don’t want to think about how to revise my story or what should happen next in it.

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