Saturday, September 27, 2003


Two weeks ago, I spent the weekend with 300 other writers and a handful of agents and editors. The agents and editors were the most sane and human of the bunch, which surprised me after all those evil publishing world stories and terrible rejection letters I've heard about. I was warned that writers loved to talk about themselves and their books, but I didn't expect to be clocking how long it took before someone did the "In my book..." question to a panel (in case you're wondering: thirty minutes into the conference, which means it was the first question to the first panel; ten minutes later, another writer used the same ploy to the same panel). What really shocked me was that the question always had this arrogant tone to it. Maybe that's just the way my ears heard it, but "In my book..." came out in true John Cleese fashion. By the end of the first day, the "In my book..." business was so pervasive that I was trying to tell myself I wasn't really a writer, that I had been forced into this weekend as part of some cruel punishment. OK, so it wasn't that bad, but it got close.

For example, I was chatting with someone about editor feedback in rejection letters and in general. The other writer was talking about how he couldn't think of "whoring" his book by changing everything the editor asked for. After all, The Book was Perfect because the Writer had Written it. I made some sort of comment to the effect that, if he wasn't willing to change it, he could forget the idea of publishing The Book. That's when he said that he would just have to write a different book then. I'm not sure if my jaw dropped or not. I know it wanted to. I hadn't expected to bump into The Artiste with that person. But the stereotype was there, lurking, waiting for the best moment to laugh "Bwahaha!" and spew some arrogant statement.

And then there were the writers, in all their wisdom, that had to tell me what was wrong with my book and how to fix it. These comments would usually blindside me. The rare times I did talk about my book, it was in this style:
Writer: "Aren't contest judges odd?"
Me:"Yes, you should see the differences in my comments. 'Eugene was compelling.' 'Eugene was a blank.'" Etc
Arrogantly Helpful Unpublished Artiste: (butting in) "I thought Eugene was a problem. You should sit down with me and go over *insert piece of writing craft here*. It'll fix all your problems."

I learned so much that weekend. And when Teresa pointed out problems in Human Dignity, I listened. I saw the problems, and I started thinking of ways to fix them. True, I could've defended the things she pointed out, but what's the point. A big shot editor is telling me the things that are preventing her from publishing my book. I want my book published. I will fix said things, especially because I see exactly how they're holding my story back. HD is all about theme. It would take a lot of ruthless tweaking by anybody to get rid of that. Even AHUA. Which is why I grit my teeth and even made plans of working with AHUA to go over *insert piece of writing craft*. Hey, if I learn something, great. Chances are even AHUA's arrogant comments can trigger something to make my writing better. Even if it's just an example of what not to do.

I dunno, maybe my attitude that My Writing Is Not Perfect comes from the fact that I never even considered myself a writer until a year ago. I grew up with the expectation that I would be a research scientist at a university. When writing came along, it was a shock. And I knew I had a lot to learn because I had never spent any time training for a career as a writer. That and I've always loved to learn. So if someone can show me a new way or a new idea or a new thought, I'm there, eager and willing. It's just not in my nature to say "Where does that Big Shot Editor get off?" after a good crit by BSE - even if it is only a way to soothe my ego. The way I soothe my ego in that case is to say "BSE pointed out things I already knew were a problem, some things I can see being a problem, and I've already got a few ideas on how to fix things." That's my way of licking my wounds.

I think that's going to be the one problem with getting more involved in writing. I'll start seeing bigger and bigger egos. I just hope mine doesn't swell with them.

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