I’ve just returned from a wonderful writer’s retreat in Newberg, Oregon. It’s always great to mentor other writers and to recharge my own batteries by hanging with writers and old friends. But I’m tired. Really tired.
Writing Tip for Today: What can writers do in the aftermath of a retreat or conference?
First, you will probably need a few days to recover, both from travel and from the sorts of intense experiences that writer’s conferences usually provide. You’ve trooped from workshop to workshop, maybe dashing out in the middle to pitch to an agent or editor. You’ve talked your fool head off about the writing life that you love. And you’ve done due diligence in seeking out connections with those you either admire as writers or those you believe can help your career—also known as networking. All these activities are wonderful but afterward, perhaps like me, you are weary, physically, and maybe mentally. If you tend to be introverted, the contact and constant engagement of a conference might drain you further. Those extroverts might have a slight advantage here, but even someone who draws energy from networking can feel rather spent as the “high” wears off. Take time to recover your normal routine, and if you are set on changing it, do it slowly. Say you’ve decided to start writing more—don’t try to be Stephen King (he says he writes thousands of words in a sitting) out of the gate. Push yourself, but take into account the need for recovery from jet lag, hours on a freeway, general sessions that start way too early and those fast-paced speed-dating type of appointments with agents.
Writers often return from conferences on a high. The agent said sure, send the manuscript. The famous writer said something you can’t wait to try. You managed to hook up with a great critique group. Positive experiences at a writers conference can be almost worse than negative ones if you don’t acknowledge gravity. Let your feet touch the ground even if the agent is sure she can sell your book. I once had a student call me from a conference, breathless after a New York editor wanted to see her full manuscript. She was so sure she’d conquered that mountain, I could practically see her floating on the ceiling. Only weeks later, the manuscript was rejected as “too quiet” and my student was crushed. Remember, agents/editors are people first. They don’t want to disappoint anyone, so they might say, “Send it” even if they’re sure they can’t use it. Or they certainly don’t want to miss the next J.K. Rowling by refusing to read someone’s work. No doubt you’ve heard about writers slipping pitches under the toilet stall or cornering agents in the elevator. By and large, these hacks are only going to elicit two responses: A polite oh go ahead, send it to me; or an irritated response because the writer pitched before Agent had a sip of coffee in the morning. Gravity will prevail, so guard your heart when positive developments happen. I hope they turn out great, but in my experience, it’s unusual at best.
Caution aside, positive things can and do come out of conferences. These days, conferences and retreats seem to emphasize the networking over writing craft, so keep in mind that if your craft is solid and your ideas are fresh, the networking may take care of itself. The next conference you attend, see if you can temper those tugs to pitch, pitch, pitch and instead focus more on learning the writing craft. There are no shortcuts—all of us must put our BIC (Buns in Chair) and write, write, write. Revise, revise, revise. Fail, fail, fail. If you can weather the disappointments, honing your writing skills is the best single way to improve your chances at all the rest of it. It’s not glamorous. Just necessary. Go write!