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Should You Quit Writing?

Another great piece from Chuck Wendig:

Because I don’t know you. I don’t know your heart. I only know my heart, or rather, I know the soot-black thatch of dead birds I call a heart. And I know that I have been writing since I was 18, which means I have been writing for 21 years, which means I have been writing for longer than the period where I wasn’t writing. (Further, let’s be clear that even during the first 18 years of my life I was writing — I wrote my first ‘book’ in like, fifth grade or something. It was horrible.)

Now, that may sound like, God, he’s been writing for that long, he’s really got it together. But I want you to realize that my goal from the age of 18 was to be a novelist, and I also want you to realize that my first novel was published in 2011, which means that I was a failed novelist for — *does some quick math* — 4,591 years.

Okay, that can’t be accurate.

*asks wife to do math for him*

There we go. I was a failed novelist for 17 years.

That is not a short amount of time.

That is a rather long time to dick up the thing I thought I was meant to do.

Some folks will say to me that they hate writing and yet they do it anyway, and hey, more power to them. I don’t see the allure. If writing as a total act is just a long stretch of misery on par with letting a drunken goat perform rectal surgery upon you with his mouth and horns, I’d say that’s a pretty good sign to quit. Not because you’re no good but because the act is no good for you. Life is too short to punish yourself that way.

And it’s worth reiterating here the difference between short-term happiness and long-term satisfaction. Every day of writing is not a jizzy giggle-fest for me. I don’t end every thousand words with a pantsless pirouette. It isn’t rainbows firing from my nipples in glorious prismatic beams. Some days are shitty. Some days I want to just hide under my desk and eat a bowl of chocolate ice cream and by chocolate ice cream I mean chocolate ice cream plus a whole bottle of whiskey. But the overall thing is satisfying to me. I am satisfied by the craft of writing and the art of storytelling. Satisfaction matters. Happiness is an unpredictable bullseye. Satisfaction is like the climate, but happiness is like the weather.

How To Avoid Going Insane At AWP 15

I wrote this piece last year, and, with the AWP conference once again nearly upon us, I thought I would repost. The post got a fair amount of attention, so people must have found it helpful (that’s what I’m going to tell myself).

The advice is exactly the same as before, only I’ve tracked down and axed a few references to Seattle and the year 2014. I think I got them all. But 2014 was a cruel, tough year, and it may, weed-like, have risen again.

How to Avoid Going Insane During the AWP Conference

I’ve been attending the AWP Conference for the past several years. It’s still a stressful experience, although nowhere as overwhelming as it once was. I’ve seen friends of mine walk through the bookfair for the first time, their eyes opaque, their jaw faintly trembling, and I realise this is how I must have looked back then, and probably, to a large extent, still look.

The stress involved in AWP comes, I think, from two sources. The first is that there are just so many people. Every writer wants to believe in his or her unique craft and vision. This attitude is harder to maintain, however, in a room of 14,000 other aspiring writers. During my first walk through the hundreds of booths of writing programs, small presses, literary magazines, and artist colonies, I remember thinking: either I’m mistaken, or all these other people are. Such a thought, of course, does not lead to a happy state of mind.

The second source of stress comes from the oddness of AWP itself. For a fiction writer, the world is divided into three groups: writers, readers, and agents / publishers. You want to impress a publisher and reach readers. But at AWP, it’s just other writers. There are very few (non-writing) readers and also relatively few agents and New York editors (agents do visit AWP, but that’s not the focus. There are lots of smaller conferences where meeting an agent is far easier). As a result, one can walk around feeling unsure what to do.

I’m supposed to network. How? To whom?

On the other hand, AWP is maybe the best place to learn about the world of literary magazines and small presses. You can talk to editors, leaf through their publications, get a chance of where to submit your work. I also love it for the chance to meet friends, buy books, learn about unusual publishing opportunities, listen to talks on the craft of fiction. I also love sitting on a table of my own, selling stuff to conference attendees. It brings out my demon salesman side.

For people new to the conference, I offer these five tips to have a fun, calm, and affirming AWP conference.

1. Tell yourself that everyone feels as nervous as you. The human mind has a tendency, when under stress, to protect itself with an abrasive, tough, spiked shell: the ego. (“In Hell,” says Blake, “all is self-righeousness”.) The thicker that shell becomes, the less happy you actually are, and the less fun to be around. At AWP, as everyone is protecting their self-esteem with as strong an ego as they can muster, interacting with people can become stressful. When a particular person seems dismissive, or distant, or snooty, it’s worth reminding yourself that fear, fatigue, and self-doubt are probably at the cause of that behaviour.

2. Have something to offer people. If you want to talk to writers you admire, come prepared with something that benefits them. Tell a writer you’re preparing a review of their latest novel and you have a quick question, or that you’re creating a new magazine for which their work would be perfect.

I think that’s much more appealing, if done politely, than simply walking up and talking about yourself, complaining about your difficulties getting published.

3. Get on a bookfair table. I find it very soothing to sell something other than myself. If you aren’t already scheduled to work on a literary magazine or writing program’s table, you could simply email them ahead of the conference and offer to sit on the table for an hour or two, helping out.

4. Arrive to panels early, and leave early, too. Last year, most panels were outrageously overcrowded. People sat on the floor, leaned against walls, listened from outside the door. By Friday, it was clear that you needed to arrive half an hour early to be sure of a seat: in other words, it’s impossible to attend two panels in a row. Perhaps this year it will be less of a crush, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

I would also recommend leaving as soon as the presenters open the panel up to questions. Many writers are excellent public speakers and lecturers, and I’ve learned a lot from panels at AWP. But very few writers seem good at thinking on their feet and answering questions in a way that really explains something new (Charles Baxter is an exception, but he may be proving the rule). Save yourself the 15 minutes at the end of the hour, and use the time to chill out, re-read the bookfair map, check facebook etc.

5. In the bookfair, when talking to literary magazines, ask the editors, “In the last issue, what’s the piece you’re most proud of?” One of my old frustrations with the AWP bookfair was that many lit mag editors seemed really bad at explaining the kind of work they’re after. You ask, “What kind of fiction do you like?” and they gaze at you, blankly grinning, and reply, “Good fiction.” Or you ask about the magazine’s aesthetic, and they say, “We like everything. Just submit.”

I’ve since discovered that editors love talking about their own processes and challenges, and so I ask the above question all the time. It gets interesting conversations going.

A few more suggestions:

1. read Roxane Gay’s piece on this same subject.

2. Say hello to me. I’m friendly! I’ll be sitting for part of each day on Burlesque Press’s booth, number 515.

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Where You’ll Find Me at AWP

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This year, the AWP conference is in Minneapolis. I’ve never been to Minneapolis before, and I know little about it other than the rave reviews it receives from Economics bloggers: the city is apparently a very middle-class sort of place, where actual good jobs exist in good numbers.

So I’m excited to visit and explore.

If you live in the area, or are going to the conference, feel free to say hello. Anything nice you say, anything at all, will mean a very large amount to me. Suggestions for good restaurants will also be appreciated and (with any luck) put to use.

On Thursday, April 9, I will be the least amazing part of this amazing panel:

R174.  A Thread through the Labyrinth: Learning and Teaching Plot .  (,  ,  ,  ) Too much plot? None at all? Writers well-trained in other aspects of writing fiction are often confused and daunted by plot, lost in its maze of possibilities. Panelists will share their experiences learning how stronger plot invention enhances character, structure, and meaning in novels and short stories, and will suggest approaches to teaching how to perceive, discuss, and evaluate plotting. They will offer charts, maps, and other techniques for devising and envisioning a plot’s twists and turns.

Lynne, Joy, and Lauren are all very successful writers and teachers, and it should be a great session.

I’m going to be talking about the endings of stories, and what it takes to write a good one, using James Joyce’s “The Dead” as a model. This is the first time I’ve ever presented at AWP and it feels like a kind of big deal.

So I thought I would start small, by unpacking perhaps the most famous ending of all modern literature. No pressure.

On Friday evening, I’ll be in the noodle and sake house, moto-i, for the “Five-Fingered Discount” reading, with Dzanc, The Normal School, Bluestem, Sonora Review, and Burlesque Press. Best of all, I think I’ll just be hanging out that evening and listening. This year, all I had to do was design the flier (as seen above).

For the rest of the conference, I’ll be wandering the book fair, or helping out at the Burlesque Press booth, 515. Come over to 515 and chat. I’ll probably try to sell you a copy of Siren Song, but you’re strong. You won’t give in.

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