At the RWA National Conference in New York City last week, I had the pleasure of experiencing many firsts, among them: going to the top of 30 Rock, attending the great women’s fiction chapter’s mini-con and being on the author panel, having my husband and son along for a conference and getting together with a few of the fabulous Magical Musings ladies (pictured L to R: me, Michelle, Amy and Liz). I knew about all of these in advance and had been looking forward to them for months.
But there was another first I hadn’t anticipated prior to being in the midst of the conference. I knew I’d be paying rapt attention to all the workshops and industry discussions about the changes that ebooks — especially the act of self-publishing them – have ushered in recently. Since I’d just released On Any Given Sundae (now temporarily on sale for only 99 cents ) in that format, this was of particular interest to me. There were numerous dialogues about rights and royalty rates, what it means for publishers…and agents…and booksellers…and authors. But, in spite of the fascinating whirlwind of change, I hadn’t expected one thing to remain exactly the same: The need to be reminded about why we write in the first place.
This was the first conference where I went to a talk on “the writer’s life” since I’ve been a published author. I’d attended TONS of them when I was aspiring and struggling to break in but, since I got my first contract in 2008, I’d been focusing my time on very practical programs, especially career track ones and some higher-level craft workshops. I’d forgotten — until I was listening to Jennifer Crusie lead a PAN session called “Everything I Know About Publishing I Learned from Wonder Woman” — that I still needed to be inspired and, sometimes, reassured that I’d chosen this journey for a good reason. It had been a while since I put aside the endless details surrounding the daily duties of a published author and, for an hour, thought only about why I’d been so driven to become a novelist — a storyteller — in the first place.
I’ve been a longtime member (since 2003) of Jenny’s “Cherry Writers,” and she’s always been a savvy author when it comes to career-related decisions. She understands tricky contract clauses and the business of writing, and she’s been the go-to person for many of us on the subject of scene structure and the expert building of conflict. But the biggest take-away message from her talk last week was one that seems, at first glance, rather obvious. However, I could tell from the deep sighs and hearty applause that a great many writers in the room (myself included) were in critical need of hearing it: You’re the only you. You’re the only one who can write your stories. Your voice, your tales are not a dime a dozen, and don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise. You have to make career choices based on your own uniqueness. You need to be responsible for steering your path and not let anybody — not your editor, your agent, your critique partner — dictate what you should write or tell you who you are. You decide who you are and you tell them. You choose what you can live with (narratively, contractually, etc.) and you only agree to that. Once you’ve agreed, you don’t get to whine about it. But, if you don’t agree, you learn to say NO and you move on.
I can’t express how valuable I found this session. Sometimes, amidst a churning sea of change, we can forget that we’re not at all powerless against whatever current is pulling at us or whatever the tide happens to wash up on the shore. There’s a reason we’re drawn to writing what we write – even if it seems as incongruous alongside modern tastes as a horse in the middle of Times Square… It is, I strongly believe, those very quirks and oddities that make our books memorable to our audience, and we need to embrace them.
Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!