We all have dreams. Big dreams and little dreams of a life where what we wish to achieve actually happens for real. You might call this setting goals. I don’t. Dreams to me are what come from the gut, the essence of who we are inside. We have a yearning, almost an insatiable desire to satisfy such dreams.
I recently traveled to California to attend the San Francisco Writers Conference where dreams were on tap. Every conversation opened with the phrase – “So what are you writing a book about?” The answer would either be a laugh, a serious statement or a practice of a pitch carefully crafted after attending one of the many sessions on this topic.
Yet underneath the words of each person, I sensed the heart of a writer, felt the energy of storytellers and saw the longing of expression in the eyes. These people were on a mission to calm the voice inside needing to be expressed.
For most it seems this voice can stay tamed and corralled into personal journals. Yet for many the words want to be birthed onto a page.
One of my most enjoyable experiences at the conference was meeting new people and getting to know their story. While I wanted to know about their book, more so I wanted to know why they wrote. Here are a couple of examples of people who stood out. (Of course I changed the names to protect their identity.)
Joe Non-Fiction Writer
I met Joe several times. We seemed to cross paths in almost every session I attended. We were both on the nonfiction path trying to navigate our way through pitch feedback, agent selection and editor advice.
Joe initially strikes you as a quiet, soft spoken man of little words. Yet when you let him open up about his topic, out comes the passion, still tempered by his reticent demeanor. Joe had a full manuscript in his hand. He showed it to me and others like it was a work of art, a baby.
I frequently noticed Joe coming out of conversations flat and dejected. I felt for him. He was in unfamiliar territory. Like a child at his first day of school, Joe went from session to session hoping for a bit of support.
Then I thought I would chat with Joe. I sincerely wanted to know about his book. His heavy and weighted tome, was complicated, intellectual and thorough. It matched the expertise he had from his profession. I will not say what his day job is, but lets just say he is up there in the top five of most needed and respected professions (we would not be here if he didn’t do his work). The ethics and integrity of his labor of love would far exceed many of us any day. If not, he would no longer be practicing.
What stood out to me was that this extremely professional qualified person could be reduced to a meek almost childlike timid man fearful and lacking in resilience. My sensitive heart went out to him.
So just before leaving I pulled him aside. We chatted a little about the experience. He was not smiling. I then shared with him some of my positive observations from seeing him at different times. My last comment was “Don’t give up. This is your contribution and it has a right to be shared. The ‘how’ may be up in the air right now, but you are a man who stands for something worth speaking about. So don’t give up.” His face brightened, he even smiled. Then he responded “Thank You. I really needed to hear that. It means a lot to me as I was really losing faith.”
Now I am not saying that I got him to have faith again. Not at all. What I am saying is that taking the time to encourage rather than discourage restored his own sense of faith. Within him is a dream. Within him is a belief that what he is doing is worth telling. The story will come out. Whether it is a traditionally published book is another question.
Bob Fiction Writer
I met Bob once. Bob and I were both having a much needed quiet ‘introvert’ break over a coffee at Grace Cathedral (this was the closest place for me to get my Peet’s coffee fix).
We were enjoying our coffee when we accidentally started a conversation (this happens with introverts). Somehow we figured that we each were attendees. Bob was in his early 60’s, sprouting a good head of gray hair, and slow in his step. He spoke with consideration and economy, not a word without meaning. It was in the sharing of these words that I learned of his interests, hobbies and passion for writing. He had a manuscript, actually to him THE manuscript. His manuscript was long, very long. He was grappling with the feedback from agents and other experts – this one book should be two books.
Yet despite this dilemma he had accomplished something many of us could only dream of – his manuscript was finished. He is now on to the next phase, the more taxing one of editing, editing, editing and more editing. Well this challenge ahead also depends on how he chooses to publish. As I learned at the conference there is a spectrum for publishing – self to trade. The pros and cons of each are self evident to a writer. For Bob he really needs to decide where he wants to be on the spectrum. From there he may have to compromise – or as I see it collaborate with experienced professionals.
I asked him a question about the length of books he likes to read. No surprise here, he likes long books. So he writes the way he likes to read. Whether his writing is commercial is of course for the experts to determine. Whether his pride can handle someone else working with him to change and refine his work is up to him. Ultimately though he has a mission plus a passion. He wants to tell a story and wants people to read it. It is up to him which route he travels. If his writing is not commercial he still has options. That is the beauty of publishing. So I left him with this thought in his mind. He is an unpublished writer who already has accomplished a great deal. His story is recorded. It is a new journey to discover how this story will get to others.
It is in this context I share my other observations. You may or may not be a writer. However I bet that you have a dream just like each of the people who attended this conference.
Dreams take hard work to become reality
The dream is the idea. It is the initiation of the process for creating in the real and material world. To translate this unformed state into form requires effort. The effort can be consistent or regular, there just has to be effort. For example, in the Olympics the common theme in winning athlete interviews is how much dedication and hard work they put in. Many of these athletes also had the dream to be what they are today – a medalist in the Olympics. Only a few truly dedicate themselves to the level required to be at the top. Either way effort will correlate to the outcome. When applied to a dream it makes the journey worthwhile, meaningful and, dare I say, fun.
Writers are dreamers writing their way to being authors.
Wisdom comes from experience
Gray hair does not mean expert. Experience does. Listening to the ‘experts’ I got a consistent sense that each person leveraged from a life of experience whether in publishing or elsewhere. Some were new to the game, yet still had lots of experience. From this first hand knowledge came tips, techniques and stories. Whether the information related to the audience was not an issue with the expert, but really up to the audience member taking in the shared learning.
Writing is a wisdom journey.
Beneath every persona is a person just like you
As in any industry there are a variety of personalities taking center stage. The SFWC was no different. From some people’s perspective those with the extroverted personas jumped out and challenged people. I heard the subsequent grumblings in the hallways as evidence. Perhaps ‘expert’ honesty dashed the hopes and dreams of another would be idealist author. Speakers and panelists at writing conferences work in the industry for a living. It is not a passing hobby, shelved dream or back of the list idea. Publishing experts need to be ‘on’ at all times in a place like a writers conference. What may be a dream to some is a vocation to others.
Writers live their vocation.
Reality creeps through if you notice
I also got a glimpse on occasion of the reality of the expert’s world. There was the person, massaging his head, clearly trying to push away a nagging headache. Yet he persevered through the delivery of his session. Another few shared genuine emotions in response to the stories and experiences offered by participants. A couple may have enjoyed the social hour more than necessary. There was the shy one, brilliant and insightful one to one and in small group, who recoiled at the thought of speaking in front of a group. There were many who called it like it is and tried to slice through the aura and rosiness of people’s perceptions. Then there was my favorite speaker, sharing her humorous and heart rendering keynote, who demonstrated that values and soul survive above misfortune no matter how bad it gets.
Writing professionals are real people too.
Respect trumps popularity any day
Sessions packed out based on popularity of speaker, panel members, topic and genre. One might be tempted to think that if every writer was not on social media their days were numbered. Alternatively getting to place your posterior in a chair five feet away from your favorite agent may be as close as you come to getting their attention. The descriptions of sessions do a great job of enticing and sorting out attendees. Yet when the words came out of a speaker’s mouth you could tell when a speaker or panelist really meant business. I quickly noticed the common sense, almost battle weary wisdom, projected from those who truly cared. They were not trying to win a beauty contest. The tone, body language and approach signaled to us all ‘heed what I say, I’ve been there’.
Giving back to the profession shows some heart.
The journey to ‘successful published author’, however you define this term, is not overnight. Stories abound of the attempts by would be authors to land the deal, get the agent, find the publisher of their dreams. Behind this search is the commitment to regular writing, daily ‘work’, re-crafting and reworking words into a refined piece of art. The time frame whether self-publishing or trade publishing is long, not short. You don’t just say today I will write a book and ‘voilà’ you are published tomorrow. (Unless you are blogging.) So the one trait that I think stands all who wish to pursue their dreams seriously is PATIENCE. Develop, foster, nurture, respect and learn patience.
Successful quality writers are patient.
Perseverance, dedication, passion and focus are essential ingredients
A companion to patience is effort and commitment. The real author, agent, editor truly loves this work enough to dedicate hours, days, months and years to perfecting their craft. Writers want to write wherever and whenever they can. Agents take their role as defender of the author to heart. Editors keenly seek the next great work that will bring them joy and reward for the search. The road is long. There are no short cuts. Truly. If there are then these are the exception. Yet even with such ‘apparent’ overnight success stories there were many years prior of building the foundation from which to launch. Overall I noticed that truly successful people in the publishing industry stay because they not only want to but have to in order to satisfy their own passion.
Many ingredients create writing success.
Know why you do what you do
A writers conference of ‘wanna be’ authors is a great place to discover uncertainty. All eager and ready to dazzle an agent or editor with a pitch, many attendees soon realized that without clarity their message got lost (my hand up on this one!). The experienced sounding boards at the conference needed only minutes, perhaps seconds to get whether you were on or off track. If you were on track you savored the moment. If not, well then back to the notepad, computer, journal again. If you have not got clarity about your own mission, purpose, existence etc then how can anything you produce be right?
Learn from your peers
A conference of experts can lend itself to being a guru fest. People attending may look to the speakers and other presenters as the only answer to their needs. However looking outward may not be just to whose on stage. Another direction is next to you. The consideration of others is more than networking, it’s about partnering. Getting the most from peer learning though required active engagement. Initial strangers became writing groups, manuscript reviewers, pitch audiences. Every conversation became an opportunity to practice and get one step closer to authentic expression of your book idea.
Writers who work with other writers progress.
The ultimate lesson learned - Trust your self
When we go into events seeking information, knowledge and advice from experts we risk forgetting to listen to our self. As the eager attendee goes from session to session one’s processing mode is switched to intake, absorb, immerse. Without the benefit of time or real breaks we may forget to reflect, process and integrate with our world-view.
Conferences are great places to stimulate your ideas and thoughts, yet can also shut down your own.
What was my experience?
I was not immune. Despite all my effort to listen to my inner voice I found it in battle with the words of others. From the outset I felt as if I was on the back foot trying to prove why my idea would fly. Alternatively it seemed then that I needed to impress the ‘right’ person to get somewhere. The pressure built up further as I got more into the experience of testing my book ideas (yes of course there are many) on people.
I describe my experience as a rollercoaster. One minute on a high as a speaker inspired me with a few real life stories of success. The next minute taken to frustration when the wording of my idea didn’t fit the expert’s world view.
Yet through all the intensity of information overload and constructive feedback a shift occurred. I shed a few layers of doubt. Not doubt about being an author. No, I shed doubt about being me.
The act of constantly speaking about your passion and dream forces you to clarify what you are on about. Each person you meet, each expert you consult, each speaker you listen to gives you a gift. The gift they give is the chance to refine your expression, be clearer and ground your self further in your own truth. This process is needed since a dream can be nebulous, unformed and forever changing when kept within.
So in closing this blog post I send a huge thank you to each person I encountered on my conference journey. Every conversation, minute of feedback, spot of wisdom worked me until I got to an evolved place as a writer. I have a dream that is now becoming reality, at least in my world.
Let's go there...