#mww13

All hail the interns. Photo courtesy of Cathy Day.

All hail the interns. Photo courtesy of Cathy Day.

It has taken me a week to figure out how to blog about the Midwest Writers Workshop. I just didn’t know where to start. Do I talk about my awesome fellow interns/ninjas/redshirts? Or a few of the really awesome people who put it together? Or the visiting literary agents and faculty, with a clear bias on the one I was assisting?

Real talk time: I still have no idea where to start or what to concentrate on.

Maybe there just isn’t a single bead of awesome for me to focus on. Because here’s the thing – there was just too much that was unbelievably beautiful. I met too many amazing people – faculty and guests alike – and was too immersed in too many freaking crazy opportunities.

I got to assist Victoria Marini, a kickass literary agent that made my potentially stressful job really fun. I met Roxane Gay, who I also interviewed before MWW and did a (fingerling) presentation on in my literary citizenship class. I convinced her to join OkCupid. She convinced me that I belong at the University of Alabama creative writing grad program. I got to hang out with a lot of really cool writers and agents. Yeah, the chairs were crazy uncomfortable for fat people but I took some advice from body positivity goddess Ragen Chastain and said, “Hey, maybe we should change that.”

And then I broke down and had a panic attack but even that led me to meeting a beautiful and amazing woman who worked me through it and then ranted with me about how much Moffat sucks.

tumblr_lm4t7e5qF91qer5yo
Also, I touched Brooks Sherman’s hair.

Like you don't want to touch it. This photo also courtesy of Cathy Day.

Like you don’t want to touch it. This photo also courtesy of Cathy Day.

There was a lot about #mww13 that was the coolest ever. I believe the faculty and agents who say that it’s one of the best writing conferences in the country. If you ever get a chance to register and come, DO IT.

In the meantime, there have been many blog posts about the conference, some of which are linked in this sentence. The super cool Cathy Day also made a Storify for each day of the conference, featuring tweets that exemplified each day. If you want even more, you can still check out the #mww13 hashtag on Twitter. A lot of people were way more informative and less gushy than I was in this post. Go check them out. If you were there, share your experiences!

Because here’s what I took away from #mww13: I am meant to be in this community. I’m working to be a writer and maybe that’s what I’ll be or maybe I’ll be an agent or editor or just an eternal conference attendee. I can’t tell the future. What I can tell you is that last weekend left me feeling the way Alpha always left me feeling – so exhausted and energized and at peace.

It felt like home.

tumblr_m9d142L8iN1ql5zuxo1_400

 

Yeah, That’s Not How You Do Literary Citizenship

getting real tired of your shit“I’m a professional writer of forty years! Can any of you stand up and say the same?”

The microphone hijacker is drunk. His shouts crash out of the speakers and drown the awkward silence.

A group of (really quite talented) writers in their twenties had gathered at the bar to read poetry and prose, to listen, appreciate, and celebrate each other. I came thinking, “Maybe I’ll read next time.”

The drunk does not approve. He repeats: “I’ve been a professional writer for forty years!” He reads clumsily from his partner’s book of poetry. He commands us to purchase it when it goes on sale next month on Amazon. To the relief of the crowd, he only reads one poem before retreating to his table.

I’ve been, for the most part, quite lucky in my meetings with other writers, so this man’s rude interruption last night came as a nasty surprise. I’ve had writers judge me for writing and enjoying genre fiction and young adult, but I’ve never personally come up against someone so bitter. It’s a part of the writing world that I’ve been vaguely aware existed, but have not encountered.

What causes an older, more experienced writer to shame someone for their youth and relative inexperience? These writers came wanting to build a sense of community, wanting to support each other and perhaps attract more to the fold, and they were shouted down by a bitter old man.

You could hypothesize that it has to do with age. The landscape of writing is changing. More people than ever before can be published writers. Is he resentful? Is that why he reminded us multiple times that he’s a “professional” writer, despite acting just the opposite? But my experience with older writers has always, on the whole, been incredibly positive. They’re often willing and eager to share their experience and help younger writers through the many stumbling blocks of the profession. Or, when they’re older but new to writing, I’ve been treated as a fellow student of the craft, someone else who’s still really learning.

Perhaps this comes back to luck. I hope not. I want writers like last night’s drunk to be a minority. I want the kind, encouraging writers like Cathy Day and Linda Taylor to outnumber him.

The readings continued despite him. Writers and those who had come to listen fought back against him. I imagine he was too drunk and angry to care about our words the time, but I hope he woke up this morning regretting his actions. I hope he thought over what he’d said and done and realized how toxic such behavior is to the writing community.

I have never done a reading in nearly so public a place as a bar. I’ve read in classrooms and at a bookstore surrounded by my fellow Alphans, who outnumbered the unknowns. Those were safe spaces. A bar has the potential for, well, people like that drunk. Even when he wasn’t interrupting us to give the worst possible publicity for his partner’s poetry, his table was rude and loud. Readers at a microphone surrounded by several speakers could hear that table over their own voices. That wouldn’t happen in the kind of secure environment I’m used to. That honestly scares me. I don’t know how I’d react in that situation, and I hate that I’m so intimidated.

The thing that really sucks is that I’m probably not the only one. What if one of the readers last night had that experience and is frightened off from doing it again? What if someone came, like me, thinking that they might join in and now, like me, are kind of freaked out by the idea, all because some drunk writer decided to take his frustrations out on us?

I am incredibly proud of anyone who puts themselves out there and does a reading like that, even moreso if you can survive an experience like that and do it again. We need more of those people spreading confidence and support, getting the bitter poison out of our collective systems. Maybe those of us who have a little less courage can take strength from them. I hope I can.

What about you? What’s the worst (or best!) experience you’ve ever had with a reading? Can you empathize with this dude more than I can? Have you seen more of this dark side? Hit up the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

On Age and Writing

 

This sloth has experience.

This sloth has experience.

The Writers’ Center of Indiana recently held The 2012 Gathering of Writers – unofficial hashtag #GatheringofWriters2012 if you want to check it out – a one-day conference for writers both new and established. Cathy Day invited Ball State students to go with her, and I was among them. The keynote speech was given by Allison Joseph, and you can check out that hashtag for some great quotes. There were three sessions with three classes per session that you could choose between – one on fiction, one on poetry, and the last on non-fiction. Fiction is my concentration, so I chose to attend those classes. Melissa Fraterrigo presented on writing effective beginnings. Ben Winters talked about plot and structure. Sarah Layden discussed setting. Finally, the conference finished with Laura Baich talking about how writers should use social media.

When I started writing this post, I was going to give you a giant summary of the day. I was going to go session by session and tell you what was said. If there’s interesting in posts based on the notes I took in the classes I attended, I can certainly do that. But I don’t want to spend this post summarizing. I’d like to talk about something else. I want to talk about age and writing, and I want to call myself out on my own bullshit.

Ball State was not the only school represented at the conference. There were other students. Most of those attending, however, were much older. There were well-established writers who know more about writing than I might ever know. Others were just starting out. The majority of them had very little presence in the world of social media, but others were considerably better at it than I am.

I’m going to admit that I have a habit of comparing myself to writers older than me. I often decide that I’m probably behind in writing, but surely I’m ahead in social media. I was born in the internet age, after all. Shouldn’t that give me an edge? They have the advantage of being older than me and having had more time to write and build connections, but I have an almost instinctual understanding of the internet. Shouldn’t that mean something? Shouldn’t that make me better in some way?

At the conference yesterday, I had moments in the classes where I thought, “I already learned this. We discussed this in class. I figured that out through practice and reading.” Meanwhile, writers twice my age diligently took notes. I sat there feeling like I was better than them because they were so much older than me but just now learnings things I’d already figured out. Put me in a situation with writers younger than me, and I can’t help feeling a little snide towards them because I have more experience and they’re “just kids”.

Problem is, that’s bullshit.

It’s not about age. It’s about dedication. It’s also about talent, but Theodora Goss has a better post about that than I could write.

I’m 22. I think I’m a pretty good writer, and I’m okay at social media. A 40-year-old writer could have been writing since before I was born, but be baffled by the idea of running a blog. A 50-year-old writer could have been writing for two months but have thousands more Twitter followers than I could ever hope to gain. Plus, there’s always going to be amazingly talented writers who couldn’t care less about expanding their social media network. There are teenage writers that write 2000 words a day and are busy building a following.

None of this makes one writer better or more worthy than another. We’re all learning. We’re all trying, and we’re all doing it at our own pace. So what if I learned about writing beginnings before someone else did? Give them some time to practice and they might kick my ass at beginnings. I have no right to sit around feeling superior because I learned something first. Starting now, I have to change my attitude.

What about you? Do you find yourself discriminating against writers younger or older than you? Did I miss something, or is there more bullshit to be called out? Head to the comments and chime in.