It’s Saturday, my third day at World Fantasy 2019, and before I get too far into the day, I want to talk about yesterday. Yesterday was a really great day.
To Panel or Not To Panel
When I first started going to conventions, I’d take out my laptop and take judicious notes. I mapped out my schedule to maximize the efficiency of my day, going to panel after panel, filling my brain with the wisdom of the panelists. I did this several times a year for several years. For a while, I even posted my notes to this blog.
Over time, the efficacy of the panels began to wane. I started to hear more and more repeat information. I kept taking notes, but I was writing down the same thing I’d written before. The faces changed, the words changed slightly, but the content remained the same. Learning stopped happening, and I stopped enjoying panels. It felt like being a college student taking the same courses over and over and never advancing. A waste of both time and money.
I went to a panel early in the day yesterday about ways to make sure your manuscript isn’t dead-on-arrival when it reaches an agent or editor. I took out my laptop, prepared to take notes as usual. I listened attentively the entire hour, then left. Outside the panel, I ran into someone that arrived late.
“Oh, I can fill you in on what you missed,” I said. “Here it is in its entirety. In order to make sure your manuscript has the best chance of landing, do the following two things: 1) Do your research. 2) Be professional.”
The panelists didn’t say that in so many words, but everything they did say fell into those two categories.
That’s when I realized I wasn’t going to worry so much about panels at cons like this. If there are people on the panel I like listening to, I’ll go. If there’s nothing better for me to do, I’ll go. Otherwise, my time is better served hanging out with friends or writing. That’s what I did most of the rest of the day.
Writing! Getting to The Sweet Stuff
A week or so ago, I talked about how I felt stuck in my writing. The words were coming, but they were slow. I had to really work to get through a part of my manuscript, and frankly, I felt depressed that I was going to miss my goal of completing the first draft before November.
Yesterday, I wrote over 8000 words, and it felt great. The words were easy. The scenes were clear. I like what I wrote, and I’m finding greater depth in the story than what I originally envisioned. The themes I wanted to include are there, but there are others that are popping up I hadn’t consciously intended, and I love it.
Some of this is because I’m relaxed. I probably put too much pressure on myself before November to finish, which caused me to clench.
More importantly, I’ve reached scenes I’ve been looking forward to writing for months. These are fun, pivotal scenes, where everything is coming together. The tension is ratcheting up as we get closer and closer to the climax. This is the Sweet Stuff. I’m fulfilling for myself the promises I made when I set out to write this story. These aren’t necessarily the same promises the story makes to the reader, but there is overlap.
I understand the appeal of writers that are able to jump around in their manuscript. I’ve always written chronologically because so much of the interesting stuff happens during discovery. I can’t write a call from chapter 30 to chapter 15 if I haven’t written chapter 15 yet. Non-chronological writers work the callbacks in during revisions, sure, but I like to include them as I go.
It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know
So, if I’m not getting much from the panels at this convention, what am I doing here? I could just write at home, right?
The real value of cons is the networking. It’s meeting peers and business associates that are working in the same field. This isn’t just predatory or transactional. In fact, I advise against trapping an editor or agent into a conversation, because that’s the worst possible impression you can leave.
Conventions are full of people, so the main benefit of attending is meeting people. You can meet some people at panels, but the real opportunities happen at the parties (if they have any) or at the bar. BarCon is real. We would not have The Dresden Files if not for BarCon.
The problem for me is that, while I can maintain my end of a conversation once I’m involved, I have a hard time meeting people. I’m shy, introverted, nervous, anxious… I approach the noise and chaos of the crowds near the bar, and I feel the blood drain out of my face. I don’t know how to engage. Several times last night, I stood at the edges looking in, seeking a familiar face or an invitation. When I didn’t see an opportunity, when I felt tired from the efforts of trying to engage, I retreated to my room and worked on my novel.
You’re starting to see how I wrote 8000 words in one day, aren’t you?
Fortunately, my buddy Michael didn’t let me off the hook. He found me in my room, talked me into going back to the bar, and helped me find ways into conversation. And then I was fine. I met some cool people and I had a good time.
I’ve spent the morning near the bar at a tall table meant for people with laptops. Several people have approached, often delighted by my keyboard, and I’ve been able to engage in conversations. I have also managed to write several hundred words and this blog post.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again. Do, or do not. There is no try.
Whatever cliché or phrase you want to use to describe it, the trick is to not give up and to keep doing what you can do. I’m seeing incremental successes. And at this moment in time, I feel like I have what it takes to have a career in writing.
Speaking of… CHECK THIS OUT!!