Muse gets stomped

A writer’s day out

Scribes are eager and hopeful

Stomp! Muses flattened

…     …     …     …     …

Saturday, my friend Amy and I went to Writer’s Day, a writer’s conference hosted by NHWP. In fact, Amy is the one who inspired me with the title of this post. After a full day of gorging ourselves on information, we came away feeling…well, disappointed.

For example, my first workshop was elevator pitches. One-minute pitch about your novel. This was familiar ground, and I didn’t worry too much until the panel of judges announced that our one-minute pitch needs to include why I, the author, am qualified to write this book.

I knew my answer, but my problem was that it wasn’t part of my original one-minute pitch. As we went up and pitched in front of the three judges and the other 19 pitchers, most of us were revising our pitches on the fly.

When it was my turn, I got up in front of the room and read my pitch off my messy notes. One of the judges, a radio host for some station in Manchester, said that I did it in 58 seconds, the shortest one so far—BUT! “I was really interested in the story, but I wish you hadn’t read it off paper. I wish you had memorized it.”

I bristled. First of all, I wasn’t the first pitcher who hadn’t memorized the pitch, so why I was singled out, who knows. Secondly, nowhere in the workshop description did it ever say we were supposed to memorize this thing.

So, I kinda, sorta, talked back. “Well, it would have been nice if that had been noted in the description, that way when we signed up we would have known that was an expectation.” Then I pointed to him, because he’s one of those radio jocks who’s very commercial and I said, “Buddy, if you would have told me to memorize it, I’d have done it for you.”

Thankfully, he laughed. I’m not usually that outspoken. Incidentally, when the radio jock had gone on to say “you wouldn’t be going up to a literary agent and reading your pitch at a cocktail party” one of the other judges (a publisher from Boston) laughed and said, “You would be surprised. They pull out their notebooks on a plane, on the street, anywhere, if they happen to be in the presence of a publisher or an agent.”

Making us writers sound like desperate fools with no sense of decorum…sigh.

Another workshop I attended was Meet a Publisher. So, not really a workshop. More like a panel where they field questions. It was fine, for the most part, but you could tell they had a few things on their mind that they wanted to pass along. Such as “don’t complain if we send you on a tour,” or “don’t complain if you only get 5 minutes on a 6am news show,” or “don’t complain that you got bumped out of a slot,” or “don’t complain that you have to go on another tour,” etc. Apparently, authors are building themselves a reputation for being difficult, whiny, and diva-esque.

In between workshops, I overheard someone talking about the Meet a Lawyer workshop (set up just like Meet a Publisher). One small problem. The lawyer never showed up. So, his assistants stood in for him and immediately prefaced their information with, “well, we’re not 100% sure this is the right answer, but…”

The last workshop I attended was about how YA is now the face of writing and that we all must write YA if we ever want to get published. Adults aren’t reading adult books, they’re reading YA. Young kids aren’t reading children’s books, they’re reading YA. You want to write the next Hunger Games? Too late. The climate has already changed and by the time your big dystopia novel is written and sent off to a publisher no one will want to read the damn thing.

By the end of the day, I was feeling a little letdown because nothing really moved for me. Does that make sense? I felt like a lot of it was the same kind of information from several years over, regurgitated (except for the Hunger Games revelation, but last year they were saying that about Harry Potter…).  I also felt like the information was a drag, like the longer this whole process takes, the more impossible it’s going to be. I don’t know.

So, after the conference I needed a cold beer. I found a nearby bar, hunkered down, ordered an IPA and as I sipped it, a brand-new character edged into my brain. Then another one. Then a conflict puffed up between them, and suddenly I’m grabbing my ever-ready pen and pad of paper and I’m jotting down this entire story idea right at the bar.

I have no idea how much time passed when a waitress stopped by and said, “You writing a novel?”

Yes. Yes, I am. I just can’t help it.

71 thoughts on “Muse gets stomped

  1. Great post! Good on you for standing up to Mr. Jock DJ aka bully :) I agree. I get so sick of listening to the negatives about why it’s so hard to break in and what I should and shouldn’t be writing and how I should and shouldn’t be writing it!!!! Your post was spot on…can’t wait to here more about the “bar story” :)
    Susannah xo
    PS Lurve the new look blog!

    • Hey Fandina! So great to see you back here! Haha, yeah, Mr. Jock DJ really hit a nerve. And I think it’s funny that he, of all the 3 judges, cared that I hadn’t memorized it. If I were to go on his radio show, no one is going to “see” me, so how is anyone going to know if I memorized my pitch or not? I’d understand a bit more if Oprah had been the one to chastise me…then again, I wouldn’t talk back to Oprah. :)

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • LOL. My husband laughed when I told him why I was so disappointed when Oprah finished her show “Now, I’ll never get to be interviewed by her or have her say, this months book club book is by the fantabulous Australian author, Susannah Friiiiiiiiiiiissssssss!” LOL I still say, if Oprah sasses you, sass right back ;)

      • You are a riot. I thought the same thing about her book club. I always dreamed of sitting on her couch!

        Oh well, I’ll just dream about another talk show host–Ellen Degeneres would be totally cool. Are you able to get her program where you are?

  2. Well done for standing up for yourself, you’re not a mind reader! and it takes guts to read out your pitch like that, I wonder if they could do it. Shame it didn’t live up to your expectations but yay for getting a story idea there. Exciting!

    • Hi Victoria,
      For a while after I thought “ooh boy, now I’ve done it” but then again I would have been mad at myself for not stating a fact. Most writers will do exactly as they’re told at things like this–I mean, we’re pitching to people in the industry! That doesn’t happen for most of us very often, so we would want to make the best impression we can. So, I get really irritated when we’re called out on something that actually isn’t our fault to begin with.

      Yes, getting a story idea was the highlight of the day. Thanks for commenting!

  3. You definitely have more guts than I do! Any sort of public speaking has me turning to jelly! Glad you stood up for yourself though! Boy they sure make writers sound like a whiny lot.

    Oooo good luck on the new novel!!

    • Hey Laura,

      I’m TERRIBLE at public speaking. I shake, my voice is all quivery, I feel like I’m going to pass out. I have done this a handful of times, and it has yet to get easier. The fact I stood up for myself was probably a culmination of nerves, anxiety, and irritation, and feeling fed up at just another glimpse at how ridiculously difficult this journey can be. When people make it tougher than need be, I get quite mad.

      Yay, I am excited to see what I can do with this new story! Thanks for commenting!

  4. It’s always tough going to things like this. I haven’t been to any writer’s conferences, but I’ve been to them in other venues. Expectations are always high and often fall short, unfortunately. But it sounds like it prompted a writing idea ~ which is always a good thing! :)

    • Hey there! You’re right, these kinds of things can go either way. The best part of the day is the fact that no matter how stressful and frustrating the day became, it didn’t ultimately stop me from doing what I love to do best! And I am grateful for my iron-clad muse. :)

  5. Aha! I knew YA had taken over! I am always right.

    Sorry . . . ego moment there. This isn’t about me. I just woke up this morning and realized that the only thing I can do is write a book I enjoy, and write the book I want to write. I need to wake up feeling excited about whatever project I am working on and not worry about elevator pitches and future book tours. In theatre, I am always more about process than product (although in my opinion a good process creates a good product). I think that is the attitude I need to take about writing too. It sounds like one that would suit you as well.

    • Hi Lisa,

      Yes, I fully agree. A good process leads to a good product. And part of my process has been to learn more, go to conferences/workshops, network–because I believed that I can improve that way.

      I take heart in the realization that even after a long day of feeling shut down, that I still wanted to write. I still came up with a new story idea.

      Conferences can be good in some ways, but not in other ways. And I think why I was able to come out through a disappointing day is because I have known all along what kind of a writer I want to be, and what kind of stories I enjoy writing. (The process that you talk about.) Give me the bad news, and it’ll sober me up, but only for a short while before my muse kicks in and I’m back to writing.

      Thanks for commenting (and I’m glad I proved you right! :) )

    • Hey Christy,

      Haha. Maybe I am coming out of my shell and gaining some confidence with this whole thing after all!

      Thanks for commenting.

  6. Sounds like such a cool day!

    It really makes me laugh how whenever something’s successful unimaginative commentators immediately start saying that’s the next big thing! Yes I love YA, but I also read other books and some YA feels completely childish to me (for example I’m reading Cassandra Clare at the moment, which might be good for teens, but as an adult I feel as if I’m reading a kids book). So after Dan Brown should we all be writing religious-based thrillers with two-dimensional characters; clumsy love sub-plots; and poor narratives, but exciting plots to cover up the inadequacies in our writing styles? I think not!

    You have every right to be confident in your abilities and I’m sure the more of this kind of thing you do, the easier it will get!

    • Hi Sally,

      Don’t I know it! And you’re right, didn’t they say this about Twilight and how vampires are the next best thing? I wonder what they’ll say next year? I laughed to myself when they talked about it, but still, I’d love to get some helpful, substantial information that isn’t copied and pasted from some article last month…!

      Thanks for your comment.

  7. Sorry it was such a downer but I’m glad I could inspire a blog title – haha! I just wrote my post out on my blog…though I was feeling a little more upbeat than you, I think :) Sorry it was a drag – there was a lot of regurgitation. But I’m glad your muse is back and you’re writing away! Let’s do it again sometime. Another city, another town, another conference. So good to see you!

    • Hey Amy,

      I loved your post–just went over there and read it. It was all worthwhile if I’m still wanting to write, that’s the most important thing.

      Yes, I will be open to going to a conference again! But we must get together before that, okay? Good to see you, too.

  8. For starters, I love the haiku you wrote from the experience! And something that gives you an idea for a new novel is never a total waste.

    I haven’t been to a writer’s conference or workshop yet, but I will get similar feelings after reading some issues of writers’ magazines. Some agent or editor will say “This is what you have to do to get published in today’s market,” and it’s not what I do. Or I jus tread conflicting advice from other agents and editors in another place. And I wonder if I have any chance of getting my work out there and connecting with an audience.

    One problem I see is that by the time agents/editors say “this is what’s hot,” we have no realistic chance to ride that wave if we write something else. Unless I can write a high-quality novel in 3 months and get it accepted by an agent within two weeks, and get a publishing deal within a couple of months with no revisions necessary, I’m going to miss that wave. And how realistic is that scenario? (I know—not at all.)

    For what it’s worth, I honestly believe that people still enjoy good stories of all genres. If we write well and honestly and tell a good tale, people will enjoy the book. And they will recommend it their friends and family. Getting it out there is the hardest part. But at least we do have more options today than in the past.

    I’m sure some new writers come across as ego-maniacs and boorish to agents and editors. But really, when they tell us how polite and prepared WE must be, doesn’t it behoove them to practice what they preach? I know most do. But the ones who whine about writers aren’t doing themselves, their colleagues, or the profession any favors.

    And, finally, kudos to you for standing up for yourself to the radio jock! You probably made a good impression on the other panelists, whether they’d say that publicly or not. :

    • Hey Jackie,

      Absolutely. There is no chance whatsoever riding those waves. So, bottom line is to write what’s in your heart. I have never been a trendy writer anyway, much less a trendy reader. It is an unnerving thought when you wonder if you will ever connect to an audience if you aren’t writing a “hot” topic. But, in some ways, that’s why I’m grateful for social media, because I’d like to think I’m building my audience ahead of time.

      I was getting a little offended with the cracks made by the publishers, and I understand there is a population of writers who are making a bad name for all of us. But as you say, they need to set an example, and by confusing us or giving us conflicting info doesn’t help matters.

      Ah, thank you. Radio jock probably won’t be asking me to visit anytime soon. But it was important to note to them that we’ll do the prep work if they’d give us that chance. We wouldn’t have come to the conference otherwise.

      Thanks for a great comment.

  9. Love the post, particularly that last line. That’s so me. I can’t help it either. As far as everyone writing YA, they actually made their own implicit argument against that. By the time you figure out how to write YA if it’s not your normal genre and then get it written, even that will have changed and everyone will be reading something else. Like life, the one constant is change.

    I agree with Lisa. I can’t write a book just because the industry *thinks* that’s what it wants (and it changes its mind more often than the weather does here). I have to write the stories that excite me, the ones that speak to me. While I sometimes read YA, I don’t do it because it’s YA, and I definitely read other stuff. Mostly other stuff in fact. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to anticipate the market, but I’ve given up. So far as I can tell, even the acquisitions editors, whose job that is, aren’t that good at it, given all the stories about insanely popular books that had been rejected by a whole slew of editors. I’m not going to play that game anymore, and it makes me happier as a writer to do things my way instead. :)

    Good luck with the new idea. I’m looking forward to hearing more about it as you work with it. I love it when the characters just introduce themselves like that.

    • Hey Julie,

      You said it, and I am with you. I am not a trendy writer, and if I tried it wouldn’t be very good. I would much rather write something that I care about–not because it might be the next big whatever. I think that’s why I’ve stuck it out this long, so I just have to roll with it.

      I was never into YA either, but as my 9 year old daughter reads at a 6th grade level (12-13 year old) she is getting closer and closer to YA. I feel it’s important to know what she’s reading, so I have been dipping into YA to see what might be good for her to read.

      Some YA is worthwhile, some not. But that’s the case with all genres. I stll would rather fall into a book that is well-written with a captivating storyline and that makes me think, whatever that genre might be. That is also the kind of book I intend to write.

      Thanks for a great comment.

    • Hi Darla,

      Haha. At first, I debated along these lines, ‘oh boy, this is a popular Mexican bar where drinking is the primary activitiy–I’m going to look so stupid with my pen and notepad’

      Then I said the heck with it, I gotta jot this story idea down and that’s that.

      thanks for stopping by!

  10. “I have no idea how much time passed when a waitress stopped by and said, “You writing a novel?”

    Yes. Yes, I am. I just can’t help it.”

    This this this! I think this is what separates writers from people who want to be writers. Real writers are compelled to write, even if they’re feeling squashed.

    • Hey Annie,

      Your words give me such a warm fuzzy, thanks. I love being known as a writer. I definitely felt a sense of pride when she noticed what I was doing.

      Thanks for a wonderful comment!

  11. Great Post, Kate! Except now I’m scared for my writer’s conference in a couple weeks. I hope it isn’t a downer like yours. I guess it would be worth it if I can get a whole new story idea like you did though.

    • Hi Char,

      Oh gosh, don’t be scared! I have had wonderful conference experiences before, so don’t take this as the norm. I think getting off on the wrong foot at the pitch workshop soured my mood for the day.

      But you’re right, a story idea is extremely valuable so I’ll take that over a great conference any day of the week.

      I can’t wait to hear how your conference goes. Good luck with it!

  12. Only one IPA, Kathryn? I love IPA on draught. And thank God for IPA after all that rigmarole and frustration. Very glad you got the beginning of something special after, and out of, all that. I’d say you more than deserved it :-)

    • Hi Kathryn,

      Haha, actually I had 3 IPAs–shh, it’s our little secret ;) Harpoon IPA to be exact, which is my favorite beer EVER.

      I would suffer through another sad conference if it meant that it inspired me with a story idea. Of course, it could have been the beer that inspired me…!

      Thanks for commenting.

  13. It’s one thing when you pitch to an agent at a formal pitching event (like PitchSlam)–then it’s good to be familiar with your pitch and only glance down occasionally. BUT when you are at a workshop learning how to pitch and absorbing information and trying to work it into your pitch you have to read off the paper. Yeesh! I’m glad you spoke up. :)

    I love conferences for the opportunities to meet other writers and possibly interact with agents and editors, but the thing about the “future of publishing” panels is that no one knows. It’s kinda pointless. Better to have a query workshop or synopsis workshop. Those are solid skills that can be taught.

    • Hi Kourtney,

      It’s funny, but I was thinking about you when I was writing this post, because you and I have both been to the Writer’s Digest conference and endured the Pitch Slam there.

      That’s one thing I told the panel of judges–because I was afraid that it looked like I couldn’t memorize a couple of hundred words. I told them about the slam but that we’d been told beforehand to memorize it to ensure a tighter connection with the agent. They seemed to appreciate my honesty, no one gave me an argument about it, so who knows. But I feel like I was there to get feedback on the content and whether my presentation made sense, and he had to focus on the fact I didn’t memorize it. Ah well.

      Yes, to try to predict the future of what’s hot, what’s not is pointless and only makes us frazzled writers want to throw something across the room. I wish there were more query/synopsis workshops out there, but they are non-existent in my local area.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • Kathryn, I went to an amazing workshop with CJ Redwine at Killer Nashville on query writing and that query got me dozens of requests. She has online workshops so you can do them anywhere. If you want to check them out: http://queryworkshop.blogspot.com/p/query-workshop.html

        I’m not an actress I can’t memorize lines in minutes. If the point is to be formulating the pitch during the session, it’s really unfair to expect anyone to memorize something they wrote 10 minutes earlier. :)

        At PitchSlam I finalized my pitch a week ahead and practiced it over and over until I knew it cold. But I still needed to glance down. Though one agent maintained insane eye contact and I just had to go from memory.

      • Awesome, Kourtney. Thanks. So I went on her site and noticed she wasn’t advertising a wkshp. So, I emailed her to let her know you sent me to her. She emailed back and said she might offer another one in May or June if she can get enough people interested. I guess she stopped offering them once she signed her book contract.

        Anyway, she has a poll on her site to record interest. So, fingers crossed she’ll be able to do one next month. And I guess, spread the word!

  14. I’m sorry Coach KJ that your experience was a bust, but it was very helpful to me and the narrative voice in which you shared your ordeal, was so entertaining.
    I especially enjoyed the elevator-pitch workshop. It was a very educational and enlightening read. Of course there was a bit of an attack on the ego, but you handled it very well. It sort of reminded me of the military. They were always throwing curve balls during boot camp (an attempt to simulate real life circumstances). Think about this, how often have you made your offender laugh during a rebuttal. I wonder if that guy will always remember you. I think the Jock was just stating his desires, because your pitch would have been close to perfect if you were not reading it. He probably could have worded his thoughts differently.
    When you give a presentation, you never really know what your audience is really looking for, not 100% percent of the time anyway. You followed instructions, you handled all of their obstacles, and you left an impression on the judges. Yep, you pulled a Coach KJ. The big question is, was your product good enough and did they like you. I have come to understand, that the liking part weighs heavier than we realize.

    • Hey, Brian,

      You always crack me up. Coach KJ? So, maybe that’s what I’ll have my little creative writing students call me instead of Ms. J. Sounds so much more forceful!

      Yes, I suppose Jock DJ will remember me–in one way or another. That’s okay. And you’re right, the time will come when I have to really lay it on the line with my book and see how it stacks up.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  15. Yeah, I’ve noticed an increase in YA readers, but I don’t think I will follow that persons advice. Fortunately for me, I’m already writing YA. If I wasn’t already writing in that sector, I wouldn’t start, and since I started I’m not gonna stop…..just……yet. Unfortunately for me, my craft is soooooooo young, I mean really young, like- young young. Similac young. Baby formula young. I’m in a fetal position right now.

  16. I’m glad you were able to tell that DJ guy what’s what. Honestly, some folk just seem so far up on their high horse, they don’t realise what they’re saying.

    And coming away with a sudden idea makes the whole day worth while. I’m glad you had a new flash of inspriation; maybe we’ll get to hear about it?

  17. Hi Ileandra,

    Well, I have to say I regretted my words after the fact, lol. Writing this post helped me realize that part of building a better relationship between writers and publishers is to say something in person, so that they know where things went astray. They may have never realized that being more forthcoming with their expectations would be helpful. Perhaps next year, they’ll remember my little quibble and change things around?

    I’m glad the day turned out on a positive note, too. Conferences are worthwhile for the most part, and it is important not to let ourselves get caught up in the aspects that aren’t so great.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  18. That was brave! It takes bravery to match certain comments with a smart response spontaneously in public. And I love the last part too! It’s good to grab inspiration and pen it down wherever it shows up! Smiles. “I just can’t help it”

    • Thank you for your cheering section :) I guess it was brave, although at the time I was too miffed to think of that! And I usually don’t do well getting my point across in confrontational situations like that, but because it was such an obvious oversight on their part I found it easy to string my words together.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

  19. I like the one about why you think you are qualified to write a novel. Why you are qualified to be published is one thing, but you only need an idea to set you on fire to be qualified to write.

    You hang in there. Persistence pays. A great number of talented people fall by the wayside out of lack of trying.

    Tim

    • Hi Tim,

      Haha, I know! The same thing is ‘required’ in queries to literary agents: a brief sentence explaining why you are writing this novel, what experiences you have that would qualify you as THE person to write it, etc. It only makes me wonder how authors who write about vampires and werewolves cite their credentials. ;)

      Thanks, I will hang in there. The longer I work at this the more important it becomes to me.

      Thank you for stopping by!

  20. Mmm…I miss IPAs. I really enjoyed this post, especially the last two lines. You’ve got the heart (and super skills) of a writer =)

  21. Explaining why I was qualified to write my own work would have caught me off guard. Sounds like you still managed to leave a good impression though. Humour’s always a good last resort :)
    This post made me feel as if I should try to go to a workshop sometime. Kind of wish I was back in England now *sigh*

    • hey Fredrik, Yes, well, in queries I know we’re supposed to write something about our authority on the subject, but I didn’t know that included elevator pitches! England–do you mean there are no conference/workshops where you live now?

      • There are a few where I live in Sweden, but I always find them quite boring and unproductive. So far I’ve never gained anything (I feel) from attending them (other than maybe meet a few interesting people). Thus the time is better spent writing :)
        In England, on the other hand, the workshops I attended always raised interesting writing issues and the writers there possessed a more distinct writing style marking their work with an invisible signature – something I feel is necessary for any good writer.

    • Well, then the obvious solution seems to be that once you get your novel published is to organize some productive writing workshops in Sweden! I’d even come to see you in action :)

  22. I’ve never attended a writer’s workshop, as I don’t want to be derailed by publishers and agents telling me what the next “big thing” is in publishing. I just write the books I want to write. It’s worked pretty well for me so far!

    • Hi Simon, this is the first time I ran into something like that. So, I was really surprised. You have the right idea–write the books you want to write!

  23. Great post … I’m not a fan or writers’ conferences much anymore, for just that reason. Too much negativity and no fun. I hate that question – what qualifies you to write this novel. It’s a dumb question, and if I were a publisher, it wouldn’t make any difference to me who wrote the book if it was a book I loved.

  24. Kathryn, you rock for turning your frustrations into inspiration. Felt almost like “I’ll show them!”

    It’s too bad you were turned off and de-mused by the conference. There are TONS of fabulous editors and agents who attend conferences and inspire others. You should be inspired after a conference, not deflated. I hope this experience doesn’t put you or others off of conferences all together because they can be extremely valuable.

    I agree with Lisa Wields Words and others. Write what moves you, what inspires you. Write an intriguing story with compelling characters. No body can really predict anything.

    • Hi Danika,

      Luckily, I have had positive experiences at writers’ conferences in the past. I think that helped me get through a sour day. I actually love conferences, especially meeting fellow writers and hearing how people are managing their careers at various stages. And I almost always get a nugget of great advice.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  25. Ab-so-freakin-awesome (is that a word? no? well too bad!).

    I’ve gotten that feeling just READING about the state of the industry (which is why I sorta made a plea for information on good resources on my site, and I hope you stop by and mention that this particular one wasn’t that great for you). It rocks that you got a good idea from/after/about/around it. Just an idea, but why not take this post and churn it a bit to make a short story out of it? I love it as-is, but I’m now picturing an anthology of short stories about the writing business…

    • Hey Shannon,

      Yes, I can mention it–although I have gone to this particular conference in the past and I usually get a lot out of it.

      A short story about this post? Hmm. Interesting idea. Maybe I’ll try it. Although my skills in short-story writing leave a lot to be desired. But for you, Shannon, I’ll think about it. :)

  26. Regarding “qualifications” for writing a novel. I personally think they should be:

    1.) I have a knack for written story telling
    2.) I read a lot (in this genre)
    3.) I have a good story

    Really, being qualified to write a novel is mostly about 1 & 3. Reading a lot just helps. Frankly, one could ask, “Who is this JK Rowling and what makes HER think she’s qualified to write about wizards??” and it would sound stupid.

    • When we think about it, the question is plain dumb. As I commented to a few people before you–how would you answer that if you wrote a book about vampires? I mean, sure, there are some writers who might have a PhD in Vampire Slaying, but I think the real question needs to be “why is this book important to you?”

  27. Pingback: Writer…Uninterrupted, Part 4 | 4amWriter

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