As I am diving into research about how to be a successful writer, over and over again I am hearing the importance of networking with other authors and sharing your work.
This means, joining a writer’s group, attending conferences and events with fellow writers. Here’s how that makes me feel:
In an effort to get myself out there, I recently attended a workshop at a local independent bookstore with Betty Webb, a mystery writer with several successful books under her belt.
Her workshop was about uncovering the realities of the publishing industry including do’s and don’ts. I was eagerly listening along, scribbling notes as fast as I could on the back of the handout she gave us when she said, “Okay. I am going to do something really mean to all of you in a few minutes.”
I felt the anxiety start to creep in. My mind took off in a flurry of self-doubt.
Oh no! I don’t know any of these people here and they are going to judge my amateur writing and now I feel ridiculous because I didn’t bring a notebook and all I have is a tiny corner of this handout left to write on. Betty wasn’t waiting for me to figure my life out.
“You walk into a room and it is completely empty – no furniture, nothing on the walls, there’s no dog or kids or spouse. Write what happens next. You have ten minutes. Go.”
This was so NOT an ideal scenario for me. And yet – when she said go, I felt a rush of energy.
I immediately saw a scene, a character, a scenario and went with it. This is what I came up with:
Orlando enters the room and stares at the hardwood floor of his 80-year-old home. The floor, scraped and splintered from years of family gatherings and rearranged furniture has turned dark gray. The scent of smoke still lingers in the air. Everything his father had left him was destroyed in the fire.
He pulls his phone out of his pocket and glances at the screen. Nothing. No missed calls, no texts. Clara hasn’t spoken to him since that night. Orlando didn’t blame her. He ruined everything.
He walked through the broken house, stepping on ash and kicking up debris. He made his way to the kitchen, or what used to be the centerpiece of his home. He saw the remnants of his daughter’s high chair where her bare feet would dangle and kick when they all sat down to breakfast together. He put his hand over his mouth, drawing in a jagged breath of air and cried.
Now I realize that a measly 156 words in 10 minutes is not that great but it was the first time I had attempted any fiction in years. I stared at the words on the page. It lacked real emotion and description, there were problems with tense and stale verbs and overused pronouns. My internal critique of those 156 words continued until Betty said, “Okay – who wants to share?”
I felt this burning sensation in my stomach, up into my chest. I did NOT want to share this piece of crap with a room full of strangers.
A few brave souls offered their excerpts up for slaughter. Betty was blunt but fair in her critiques and I agreed with her. My curiosity got the better of me. I raised my hand to read my piece out loud.
I took a deep breath and read through my story, my voice shaking until I found a rhythm. I was staring down at my writing the whole time, unable to sense the room or see if anyone was paying attention but when I read the part about the highchair I heard an audible gasp from the audience.
When I finished reading, the room was silent. I felt like I was going to puke.
Betty cocked her head and put her finger to her lip and said in her sing-song voice: “That’s quite nice. I like it. Very good.”
I waited for the inevitable “but” and it never came. That was it and she moved on.
So here’s what I have learned.
You have to challenge yourself to get outside of your comfort zone because if you’re uncomfortable, it means that you’re growing. As an introvert, it can be exhausting to put yourself out there.
But what I realized is that while my anxiety level was through the roof in that moment of sharing my work, I left that workshop charged with energy. I bounded through the front door of my house and bombarded my boyfriend with all of my newfound knowledge, talking a mile a minute.
So, I encourage you to take a chance.
Share your work with others.
They might say it’s nice.
They might like it.
They might even say it’s very good.
And if they don’t – rewrite it until they do.
And in the spirit of connecting with others, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter with questions, comments or funny gifs.