Friday, February 24, 2012

Tales from the San Francisco Writers Conference

This last weekend I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference, and I have been digesting the deluge of learning ever since.  I took copious notes while there, and while trying to categorize the things I really wanted to remember, I created another 7 pages of notes.  It was a very different experience from any other writing conference that I've been to.  I knew going in that this conference was specifically about the business of writing (as opposed to the art or craft of writing, which have been the emphasis of the other conferences I've attended).  The business of writing includes all those skills I need to develop that are very outside my comfort zone, involving things like (I'm sweating as I type this): self-promotion.  Having been so immersed in the world of my novel and revision thereof, showing up at the conference felt exactly like what I imagine Fido feels when he realizes the lovely car ride he has been SO enjoying turned out to lead him to the vet's office.  Which was why I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of fine craft presentations and encouraging keynote speakers to balance out all the out-of-comfort-zone (if not out-of-body) material I knew I needed to learn.

It was so refreshing to be in a room of 500+ attendees and be able to go up to any one of them and ask: "What is your book about?"  Because every single one of them had a book they had written.  Some of them had more than one.  And I learned a lot by listening not as much to what their story was about (although there were some REALLY intriguing plot lines and real life experiences shared), but by HOW they talked about their books.  Copious notes pared down to seven pages of notes and one of my biggest take-aways was that I need to stop apologizing for my writing.  It was beyond infectious to listen to someone speak with great enthusiasm about their story.  There was evident pride and joy in the telling.  I want to have that.  In this year of emerging and becoming, I am adding this to the list of things to do: learn how to talk about my writing with the confidence and enthusiasm that I witnessed at this conference.

Here's another big take-away, one I was really surprised by: genre writers (mystery, romance, etc.) and the memoirists were just plain more fun than most of us writing literary fiction.  There was a degree of depression evident in everyone who talked about literary fiction.  If there is one thing I would like to change about this slice of the literary world, it is to embrace the use of humor, hope, good-spiritedness and light.  Tall order, but there you have it.  Maybe I will create a new genre: HappyLitFic, or JoyLitFic.

Two quotes to end with, from each of the inspiring keynote speakers:

"Remember the things that matter to you," from Lisa See (author of Shanghai Girls).  Which is to say, sometimes it isn't the publications that matter the most, sometimes it's the doors they open that lead to the things which are most meaningful for us individually.  For her, it was being able to be a judge in the Miss Chinatown contest, and all that represented for her.

and from Lolly Winston, author of Good Grief: "Do me a favor: don't take rejection personally."  She told a hilarious story of receiving handwritten ink on her New Yorker submission rejection letter, and how much that meant to her.  The magic of this accomplishment was lost on her engineer husband.  That made me think how incredibly important it is to have a community (virtually or otherwise) of people who understand just how fantastic that kind of rejection is for a writer.

I'm still recovering and extrapolating and poring over my pages of notes.  Which is to say, it was a very successful conference indeed.      

1 comment:

  1. Hi Christin,

    This is a great post! I hear/feel you--learning not to be apologetic about my writing and finding a community. Wasn't it great finding out that agents and editors love writing as much as writers? I also loved the speed dating for agents; I've been rejected hundreds of times (I weighed my rejection letters and it's almost a pound!) but having it done in person was so much better. I could feel that my story just wasn't right for them. It's given me new appreciation for those rejection letters that say just that. Keep up the good work.
    eileen

    ReplyDelete