This Saturday, I went to the Orange County Christian Writer’s Fellowship Conference. I’d been nearly coming out of my skin for weeks, excited at the prospect of my first-ever real writer’s conference. I told you about submitting the first 20 pages of my manuscript into their contest back in February, and although I’ve managed to contain myself somewhat, I’ve been alternately excited, terrified and like a little kid on Christmas Eve for months. There would be experts! Editors! Agents! Helpful talks! Sweet people! Gobs of inspiration! I couldn’t wait.
Luckily, I wasn’t the only crazy one, since Sam registered with just as much gusto, gamely sent her writing in to be reviewed and contested and met me at her front door in a barely post-dawn sunshine, giggling like no one should before 7 a.m. on a Saturday. Her husband sleepily smiled at our fervor, reminding me of my own husband’s excited grin – the smile of a man who’s not sure why we’re so jazzed at the idea of taking notes all day, but who loves us enough to humor our wild whims. After the obligatory stop at Starbucks, we were off, Venti lattes in hand and jabbering away like two kids on the first day of school. Who would we meet? What should we say? AAAAAAAHHHHHHSOEXCITED. (That could have been the Ventis talking).
We arrived and found our monthly writer’s critique group, a lovable bunch of journalers, poets, writers and bloggers from all walks of life and every generation. After hugs and exclamations we settled in, and one of the veteran conference attendees told us what to be prepared for and how to pick out our consultations – 15 minutes of fame with the agent, editor, or writer of your choice.
I picked an agent and one of the women at our table – a passionate, empathic prophet – said she got a “witness” when I said the agent’s name. I grew up in a church that swung wildly between being slain in the spirit and contending that logic conquers all, so I could only assume this was a good sign. We sat through the first session and ate our mass-produced pastries in silence until one of our number returned from a consultation with tears in her eyes and a potential book deal.
Decorum was long gone and the excitement only bubbled at a more fevered pitch.
The morning wore on and I headed to my consultation. I had started to feel a bit nervous – writers are not always the most joyous bunch – eyeing each other critically from our sensible shoes and making snap judgments from the long practice of being more frequently watchers of people than lovers of them, and I’d started to feel both judged and judge-y myself. Iwalkedinandsatdownallinarush, spilling out my words with eager enthusiasm. I have a dream and story to tell, see, and I blog and I write and I’ve yearned for this chance and now I’m laying my soul bare, like me, won’t you?
There are a host of totally legitimate reasons why she wouldn’t take a chance on an unknown author with a harebrained idea, but what I heard was, “Nice try, but you’re not enough.”
I left the consult with a host of solid pep-talks in my head. I’m pummeling my dreams into submission, dammit. One agent doesn’t speak for the whole industry. I write because I must, and that is enough. I walked around the beautiful campus at Mariners Church, soaking up the springtime warmth and allowing hot tears to well up behind my sunglasses, in a moment of freedom. After a brief indulgence, however, I pulled myself together and went back in for another session, finding Sam again as my rock. “How’s it go?” she asked. Well, bummer.
She didn’t have any way of knowing that such a supportive question would send her into a solid hour of therapy for her needy friend, but I am sorry to say that it did. We both pitched ourselves to the sweet editor who taught our class and we both got very kindly shot down. The editor said something to me, however, that particularly stung. “Just write your blog as yourself. If you’re authentic, readers will flock to you.”
It almost got nasty, y’all. WHAT DO YOU THINK I’VE BEEN DOING FOR THREE YEARS?!
I shook her hand and said thank you and walked outside with Sam, only to surprise my kind friend with “Maybe I’m done. I’m not enough, my blog is not good enough, and I personally have been rejected as not fun enough to read/hang out with/support. I think I’m not supposed to tell this story, and I think maybe I’m done trying.”
I wouldn’t have blamed Sam if she’d said, “Well, NOW that’s certainly the case, way to go, Sunshine. I’m going to go talk to someone who hasn’t jumped off the Crazy Bridge.”
But she didn’t, sweet friend that she is. She stayed with me as we ate our lukewarm pasta with hundreds of other hopeful writers, and helped me stay afloat in multiple conversations when I would abruptly drop out in order to Not Cry. She and Todd, one of the guys from our critique group, both nodded knowingly as I told my story and encouraged me not to give up, honestly being so kind that it almost made me cry again, because here I am being so lame and needy and everyone is SO FREAKING NICE, how did I deserve this?
I finally rallied enough to help her hone her own consultation pitch, and continued to tell myself to quit being ridiculous already. (Berating myself usually works well. Sarcasm intended.) After lunch, they announced the Memoir Contest winners. As the judge preambled, Sam squeezed my arm and the other sweet people at the table grinned knowingly at me. I shook my head as they did so, snorting a little bit to myself in my self-deprecating wisdom. “It’s not me,” I thought, “because I’ve already been told multiple times (by the experts) that I suck.”
The people at my table are in a frenzy of winks and smiles and shoulder rubs. I don’t know why they’re being so nice, it’s obviously NOT ME.
Sam squealed, Todd said, ” I knew it!” and I burst into tears.
I walked up in a daze and collected my prize money, shaking the judge’s hand clammily. I shakily stumbled my way back to our table, hid my face in my hands and tried not to sob uncontrollably. Someone was saying something on the microphone and I have no idea what it was. The unbelievably kind woman who won second place came over and gave me a tissue, and the lady seated behind me handed me her napkin. Our table was in an uproar, giving me winks and smiles and being SO GENEROUS with their congratulations.
Then Simon Tolkien (J.R.R.’s grandson) got up and spoke, and it finished off the surreal sense of the day. The judge of the memoir contest wants to help me polish my book and publish it. The editor who had (in a nice way, but still) shot me down earlier shook my hand and said congratulations. My friends did not begrudge me my victory but wholeheartedly rejoiced with me. Sam’s hugs sent me soaring.
I’m so blessed, you guys. Even though I, once again, foolishly allowed self-doubt and crippling despair to grab my soul, I got an umpteenth chance to persevere and do it right. It seems silly to let another person’s opinion crush or validate my dream, but it just reminded me of how fragile the creative process is, and how jealously I have to guard my hope.
I’m not done. I have tons of work to do, loads of edits, hours of continued doubt and dreams and sweat.
But I WON. And for today, that’s more than enough.