Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Got back from New York City on Monday. I'd been out there ostensibly for the national SCBWI conference. I was also there because I love New York, as I may have mentioned now and then. This post is a wrap-up of sorts. It's also a summary of advice.

A week or so before heading east, I got this gem from local author and friend Kurtis Scaletta. He recommended I work on my brand, and--in direct opposition, I think it was, to the adorable and pure John Green--focus on becoming YA's "bad boy." I believe Kurtis felt I was already halfway there, what with my tendency to wear knit hats indoors and occasionally create characters who smoke and curse. With this advice in mind, I went to this year's SCBWI conference without registering.


Don't freak out. I didn't crash or anything. I didn't attend seminars. Okay, so I watched Sara Zarr's keynote on Sunday morning. Send me a pro-rated bill. Jeez.

But the weekend, and other advice. That was my next point. Friday night I had drinks--several drinks, I suppose--with ENIV and his assistant. I saw some old friends and new. Here's a photo. But my next gem of advice didn't present itself till the next day.

I was sitting in the lobby of the conference hotel, working on a WIP if you can believe that (have I mentioned how productive I've not been lately?), when I spied a certain amazing lady and blurber coming at me. I nearly tripped on my headphones and destroyed my laptop trying to get quickly to my feet. It was time for my second valuable advice: Stop reading the reviews. Sure, I'd heard it before, but probably never to my face, and from three respectabiggles* at once. As soon as our little meeting was over, I applied the advice:

It was Ms. Zarr who, this time from the front of a crowded room the next morning, gave the most filling advice of all: there is no endgame. She wasn't talking about Beckett, either. That was exactly what I needed to hear, and it's what I couldn't have put my finger on before her talk. If you asked me last week why I read reviews, and why I follow awards, and why I so look forward to getting cover concept emails and foreign rights sales and ARCs and finals et cetera, I would not have been able to give an honest and accurate answer. But Zarr hit it: I am always looking for that endgame, that event that will make me feel satisfied, even happy. But here's the irony: the only part of writing that has ever made me feel fully and truly satisfied is the work itself! Why didn't I know that?

One other well of advice came from two unlikely places this weekend: my mother and Stephen King. They're not friends, but my mom happened to get her hands on a copy of On Writing, and she held it for me, and I read it. Wait. I devoured it. I am a wildly slow reader generally, and I've never read any fiction by King outside of The Stand my junior year of high school, but I couldn't stop. Much of it wasn't new to me, but what was (or what I hadn't ever given much thought to before) felt like a revelation. No small part of that was similar to what Zarr told us: the happiness comes from the work, not from the reward. That's why I got into this to begin with! That's why, when I was fifteen, I wrote stories about dwarfs and wizards. It's why when I was seventeen I wrote abstract short fiction about nothing. It's why when I was twenty-one I wrote a short story called "Looking Down on Havoc," and it's why I eventually turned that story into The Absolute Value of -1.

I write because I love to write. The sooner I come back around to that, the better.

*A shout-out to my favorite Marsh-wiggle.