A month ago, I attended the Nebula Awards weekend in Austin, Texas. And just one week later, I was a guest speaker at the Oklahoma Writers Federation’s annual conference, which included their Awards Banquet.
My new black suit and periwinkle tank top with the sparkly decals got a workout. Two successive Saturday nights watching and listening as writers were honored and received their awards. It was a great watching Michael Chabon win a Nebula to pair with his Pulitzer, and Michael Moorcock receive his well-earned Damon Knight Grand Master award for a Lifetime Achievement. My biggest personal thrill was discovering that one of my former students was a Nebula finalist in the short story category!
Since was an outsider at the OWFI Awards Banquet, I had lots of time to sit there as their awards were handed out, and ruminate on writers in general, and the differences between the two events. It struck me as I sat there, listening to these writers, who had come from all over Oklahoma, Texas, and even from as far away as Kentucky or Arkansas, that all of the OWFI writers were having a wonderful time, enjoying their fellowship. And that these people really enjoyed their writing, and had FUN with it. It was really heartwarming to sit there and soak up the “vibe” from 400-plus writers. Their enthusiasm, fellowship, and commitment was tangible; it filled the room, pervading the entire conference.
A significant percentage of these writers were published, in one venue or another. Were most of them published by NY commercial houses? No. Some were, most weren’t. But that didn’t keep them from approaching their writing with zest, and working hard at their craft.
Contrast that with the Nebulas. There was fellowship there, longtime friends meeting and catching up, editors taking authors to dinner, writers sharing news about the current state of the markets, etc. But there’s a difference between writers who do it for a living, and writers who are writing just for the joy of it, without worrying too much about payment, or credentials, or recognition.
Where did I feel most at home? At the Nebulas, naturally. I knew many of the writers there, and enjoyed meeting some new friends. The SFWA meeting made me think about several of the “new business” items that were raised. It’s great catching up with how friends and colleagues are doing, and hearing the latest scuttlebutt.
In a way, though, I found myself envying the writers at the Oklahoma OWFI Conference. I envied their joy in the simple act of creating. I envied how much fun they all seemed to be having. The Oklahoma writers weren’t nearly as FOCUSED, weren’t nearly as driven as the SFWA members.
Not that either group was “right,” or “wrong” in their approach. Just different. But I came away from Oklahoma with a resolution to take more joy in just creating. I think it’s possible to lose sight of the joy of creation when writers become too obsessed with publication.
Both awards banquets gave me a chance to watch writers being rewarded for doing what they enjoyed…what they loved to do. I think the Oklahoma writers had more FUN with their writing. Let’s face it, getting published these days is increasingly fraught with anxiety and frustration. This is just the nature of the beast.
I know that anyone wanting to achieve first-time publication, or to add to a track record of publications, has to stay focused. Writers these days can’t afford to neglect the business side of things — the networking, the information gathering, the pursuit of every scrap of information that might help them in their search for publication in a world of shrinking professional markets.
BUT, dammit, let’s try not to lose the fun of it all. Writing is a kick. It can impart a real creative high. It can feel really GOOD to get that sentence or paragraph or chapter tweaked into the best, most polished shape it can be. That’s just as tangible a reward as a check. We shouldn’t get so focused and driven that we forget about the FUN.
I’m going to try to remember that, in the coming days, weeks, and months.
-Ann C. Crispin
Thank you, will do.
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I have been looking for 3 publishers on Absolutewrite, but I canot find them. They are interested in looking at my manuscript, but I never send things out until I check up on them first. Thanks. They are:
http://www.processmediainc.com; http://www.dilettantepress.com and http://www.feralhouse.com.
Thanks for the post, Ann. I’ve been so busy focusing on marketing and publication that I’ve forgotten the joy I originally felt when I first began creating Secret Speakers. Thanks
Just this past weekend some of the joy returned, though. I tried something risky at Book Expo America. Instead of playing the “say what people want to hear game” or “what I feel safe saying” game, I decided to tell people the truth about Secret Speakers being an underground YA fantasy novel targeted at abused teens and women.
I felt like a door opened up–the size of a garage–because I was being honest with myself and others about the writing.
It brought back the joy I originally felt when I began so many years ago. When little pieces of fear creep in that I might limit my audience by taking that risk, though, I need to remember that risks are worth taking. Especially if they’re for an important end.
Hey all–I am a well published writer, and I still love writing. I take great joy in the writing process, though less in the trying-to-get-published process. But I love all the in-between bits.
What I hate is the growth of the scams and scums who prey on new writers. Good on Ann and Victoria and the others who do such important work.
Thanks for this excellent post. I had been thinking about this for several months–how to get the joy back and keep it, while still doing the expected things as a working writer. I don’t ever want to feel like the poor anonymous poster feels above.
Speaking of awards, congratulations on making the Writers Digest 101 Best Sites for 2008.
Dear Ann, Although I was at neither awards ceremony, and remain an “unpublished book” author, I have the zest to educate others about how to stimulate their children’s minds in order to mitigate learning disabilities or abolish them altogether. Is this a profitable venue? Do I have a platform, an audience, a market? All writing books seem to stress I need to have them to sell books. However, the joy I have found in being able to neurologically re-program my son’s brain (he is missing his corpus callosum, the bridge that forms between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, into the about the fourth decade of life), yet he is able to walk, talk, eat, etc. I cannot imagine a time when I couldn’t find joy in telling others how I accomplished that. Thank you for your insight. Find joy in your work!
I still regret that anyone ever told me I should be a professional writer–and that I listened. There’s no fun in it at all now for me.
Hear, hear! It would be a shame if I ever lost the joy I have of just crafting a story or an individual scene. There are times even now, as an unpublished author who hasn’t even begun sending queries yet, that I get caught up in the worries of the future, trying to figure out how to make my novel more saleable. At those times, it’s very helpful just to step back, think about how I want to write the story, get it out, and then worry about the market and everything else. (Thank God for revisions.)
Don’t forget: anniversary tribute to Miss Snark on Pat Wood’s Blog starting May 20th.
Hi, Ann. I was at the OWFI con (I actually live less than an hour away from the venue) and you’re right! I had the time of my life mingling with people who just love writing. So many people, of all ages and experience, who have so much enthusiasm… Hard not to be enthusiastic right along with them. I’m still flying!
I’m glad you enjoyed yourself at our place. Hope you come back soon!
Good on ya, Ann. First & foremost, writing is supposed to feed the writer’s soul. That isn’t easy when you’re thinking of the market. Making a quality decision to let it be fun again–sounds to me like it holds nothing but positives.
Hi, Ann–You draw interesting contrasts. I think those of us still on the quest for first publication sometimes lose focus on what we really want to write. We start thinking, instead, of what we could write that would be “more saleable.” Some of my published friends sometimes look back on their unpublished days and lament the freedom they lost when they sold. Although they wouldn’t trade their hard-won status, they now have to meet certain expectations and can’t do whatever crazy thing they feel like trying–unless they want to put their careers at risk.
As time slips by, keeping that free mindset can become more difficult. The pleasure of finding an unexpected idea that works better than the planned development at a plot point or of finding that perfect turn of phrase, even if no one else appreciates it as much, is very precious, as you note. Trying crazy things is always risky, but sometimes it turns out to be lightning in a bottle. Harry Potter, anyone?