Monday, September 2, 2013

Forgetting What Matters Most

Last month, I took bravery in stride (and some of our hard-earned money) and went to a writer's conference all the way on the other side of the world, in Los Angeles.
I made the boys come along because frankly, I don't do well on planes and I needed a handler. The registration was back in April and I think I spent a total of 30-40 hours researching everything.  What to do in LA that was cheap, where were we staying, how long to get to the hotel (where the conference was), could we visit people we sort of knew, rent a car etc. And then another 30 hours researching the faculty that was teaching, including all the publishers and agents that would be represented.  I made my notes and I was ready. 
I won't bore you with the details: yes, LA is very warm. It's foggy until 11 and then it's sunny and 24C until 8pm and then it's foggy again.  Everyone is crazy friendly and we saw many 'vagrants' that lived on the beach.  It's very sunny and pretty but also very dirty. A lot of garbage. And the food is out of this world.
Now. I'm a friendly person. I am very good at starting conversations. And then I sag.  I begin to panic because I don't know what to talk about beyond, 'how are you' and then I usually run away to the bathroom.  I like bathrooms. You can hide in there.  So I made myself a promise that I would talk to everyone I came in contact with.
Have you ever been to a conference? I've been to a small conference in Guelph, which was wonderful because I met my publisher there. But this one was... well, as the first speaker put it, 'There are 1248 introverts here'.   Which made me laugh because you could see all 1248 of us shifting in our chairs, looking for some breathing room.

Did I make friends? I think so.  I know that I met one super-snooty lady who basically gave me the third degree over my published books asking me silly questions like, 'Well, what was his internal struggle?' and 'What was his external struggle?' and I'm staring at her because 1)I can't believe the gall of this woman asking me so many snooty questions and 2) hello? I just told her it was middle-grade fiction and it was silly. Why would he have an internal struggle?  Yeesh.  Oh, and I scared off another lady in the 'drinks line'.  Not that I'm a drinker but it was a free ticket for a drink and dance, so yeah, I was going to get my drink. And I was being very friendly, asking her questions about what she does and after five minutes she abruptly turned and walked away.  That made me laugh.
Did I learn anything? Of course! I learned plot development, character development, how to create 'worlds'.  Good classes and not so great classes.

But did I LEARN anything?
Oh yes.
So, it wasn't a 'Christian-focused' Conference like the Word Guild has (you must go, it is fabulous).  And maybe it's just me, but when you're in a room with other writers/illustrators (1248 of them) there's a scent of desperation almost. Does that make sense?  You could see how you were quickly discounted in other people's eyes as soon as you mentioned you were a writer (and not an agent/publisher). And the problem is that when you're in a crowd of 'desperate' people, it rubs off on you. So I was always seeking out who the agent was and how I could talk to them.  And funny enough, I actually didn't end up talking to any because as soon as there was a free moment after the agent's seminar, they were swarmed by 40 writers. Oof.
Now. On Monday, there was the 'Intensive' courses. Seeing as how I had flown over 3,000 kilometers to be there, I was going to the Intensive.  Unfortunately, the morning session threw me because I misunderstood the title of it, thinking it was something else.  And I couldn't switch out of it. So I said, well, I'm here, so let's see what I can get out of it.
The time came, within the intensive, to share the first few lines of our manuscript. There were 20 other people in there and it took awhile to get to me.  And after each person spoke, the instructor would offer criticism.  Well, I was one of the last ones because I sat at the back.  So, with my very trembling voice (which never happens), I read my first few lines.  And then it was quiet. And what felt like 30 minutes later (obviously it wasn't), the instructor cleared her throat and said, 'Hm.  Well, the thing to remember about teenagers, is that they're funny. And you also shouldn't put the words, 'scrunched' and 'scraped' on the same page.' 
You can imagine just how red my face was.  I was suddenly back in high school, giving the wrong answer and the teacher just pointed it out. Thankfully, no one laughed. However, it took A LOT not to cry. And at that moment, it all came crashing down.
I was a crappy writer, my story was awful, I had no future, the published books were a fluke, I was garbage, what am I even doing here...
And I turned the page in my notebook, and I wrote very firmly: "I belong to God".

And that was it. 

It's a little crazy how easily we forget what truly matters.  So at that moment, amidst all the competition and desperation, I took a moment and wrote out what I was grateful for.
-grateful that I was in LA
-grateful that I did meet some lovely people
-grateful that I was learning
-grateful that I got to shake one of my favourite author's hand (was also shattered by meeting another favourite author and then finding out they were actually kind of awful - but that's not the point)
-that I had achieved my goals: to be encouraged and to be encouraging. I made a point of buying stationary and writing 'thank you' notes to the people I did meet.

Folks.  You already know this, but I'm telling it to you again.  You belong to God.  And that is what matters. Not the contract, not the rejection, not the snippy women who make snide remarks, not the snooty people you eat dinner with, not even the great friends you make.  You belong to God. 

Oh, how we would all be in better places if that was constantly in the front of our minds...

Jenn Kelly is an author/writer/typist/unicorn-lover who is attempting to be brilliant.  She loves unicorns.  So much in fact that her husband won her this gargantuan one at Six Flags, in LA doing a toss the ring onto a bottle game that no one ever wins. Obviously he won.  And then he wrapped the sucker in 7 garbage bags so we could check it on the plane. It now sits in her front room chair, scaring visitors when they come by.


  1. Hi Jean!
    A great post. Loved reading about your trip and conference experience. :)
    I had a similar experience at a writers conf, meeting some of my fav authors. One I really like was snooty and didn't really want to talk to me, while another was wonderful, took the time to sit down and get to know me, was real and open (something to aspire to myself).

    Great reminder: I belong to God.

    Thank you!

    All the best as we write for His glory,

  2. Hi Jenn, thanks for sharing the good and the bad from your trip. I'm on my way to the ACFW conference next week. I think I'll be taking your lead and reminding myself, I belong to God. Great wisdom.

    Dotti :)

  3. Jean, I'm so sorry about the snooty and the awful people you met. But they belong to God, too. They just may not know it yet.

    You will find less of that if your next conference is Christian focused.

    BTW, bravo for undertaking writing for the teenage reader. That genre scares me to death. Now I'm going to have to seek out one of your books and read it.

    When there was such silence after you finished reading, you can take that as a compliment. And the fact that the instructor tossed out one generality (teenagers are funny) and had to nitpick "scrunched" and "scraped" means that your writing was ultra good. Not inferior.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Jenn, great post! Thanks for sharing your LA conferences experiences. You were very brave to read your writing in front of a potentially hostile audience. Thanks also for the wonderful reminder that we belong to God.

  5. Ok, y'all are the MOST encouraging group! Thank you for your kind words! This is exactly why I come up here. (Pretty sure that line is from a movie but I'm drawing a blank at the moment)

  6. I kind of like the alliteration in 'scraped' and 'scrunched.
    Just read the "Writer's Unboxed" blog and today's topic was "don't take someone else's advice about writing too seriously." Words to live by!

  7. Thanks Jenn for sharing you experience, the bad, the good and the best - that each of belongs to God.

  8. Hi Jenn,
    Oh, that scent of desperation, we know all about that. I loved your write-up. It's good to see ourselves in stark relief sometimes. The lack of interest when people learn we're fellow writers and not agents. I've never been to one of the really big events, so thanks for the smiles.

  9. Jenn, I laughed but also suffered along with you as I read your blog. Thanks so much once again for such honest, real, insightful writing. The way you can draw us as readers in even with your blogs shows me you are an excellent author and is no doubt why your lovely books have been published. And I agree with Judith's comment above that the silence after you read from your manuscript could well have been a compliment. Perhaps those other authors were thinking, 'Oh my goodness, I could NEVER write in such a real and entertaining way!' And yes, it's all about knowing who we are, apart from our writing--and especially that we belong to God. I'm off interstate tomorrow to speak on that very theme! God bless.