Writers of the Future
I’ve tried to write this blog post I don’t know how many times in the weeks since the workshop, but it’s been really hard to organize my thoughts. I think this is because the Writers of the Future experience covered an extremely broad spectrum of experience.
Originally, I wanted to write a linear, captains-log-like narrative that covered my experiences. But then this blog post would need to be five episodes long, and anyone who reads my blog knows I’m not great at that kind of follow-through. Also, there is already a linear description of this year’s workshop over at the Writers of the Future website, for those who want a blow-by-blow of the week.
So, instead, I’m going to try and break down my experience into two major categories: the Objective, and the Abstract.
These are the things I could put on a balance sheet and say, for absolute certain (as much as anything can be absolutely certain), that I obtained in the course of this workshop.
First, I was paid for my work twice. After signing the contract, I was given the $500 prize money as a third place winner. Then I was given another check of around $330 on publication day (paying me the contemporary pro rate of 6 cents a word). I was also given the physical award (a hefty, pointy thing I’ve lovingly come to refer to as “murder spire”), twelve copies of the anthology, a press kit, a framed print of the illustration (signed by my lovely illustrator, Yingying Jiang), and a piece of luggage with which to carry it all back down to Kentucky (and back out to cons and signings and such).
Speaking of travel, I was given free plane tickets to Los Angeles where I was picked up by the lovely Mitch and taken to the Lowe’s Hotel, where I stayed for the week with my fantastic roomie, Elise. I also got workshop time with Orson Scott Card, Tim Powers, and David Farland. Later, the workshop morphed into a series of knowledge blasts aimed straight at my head as luminary after luminary gave us as much of their writing knowledge as they could in their time slots. At the end of everything, I was driven back to the airport with a little stipend in hand to pay for the extra luggage.
For the award night, we were given access to professional hair and makeup artists. The event itself featured some yummy food and an interesting opening performance. I also managed to snag a part of the place setting (courtesy of some spy moves by the man in charge of tuxedo fittings, Adjorn).
My library was expanded with a workbook, a hardback book, and a bunch of paperbacks from various guest speakers. They (Author Services folk) also fed us a bunch of times (not every time, but there was also free espresso, so I can’t complain :P).
Overall, I returned home with more stuff than I left with.
The first thing I think about, in all honesty, is not the workshop or the fancy award or even the awards night (though these were all fantastic things). The most important thing I got from the Writers of the Future was the strange family I found with the other winners. I thought my days of slumber parties and easy friendships–of late-night rambles and off-grid explorations–were behind me. I didn’t expect to feel as close to the other winners as I did, and I didn’t expect to feel the lack as hard as I did when I got home. But there it is.
We still talk vie e-mail and Facebook, but nothing will beat the summer-camp feel of the workshop. As the week wound down, we talked about the ways we would get together in the future and wouldn’t it be great to crash next year’s gala? I’m not sure those hazy (mildly alcohol-inspired) dreams will hold up against the harsh light of reality–but a girl can dream, no?
If friends were all I got out of the workshop, that would be enough, but there’s more. I also got a crash course in professionalism from a series of great authors who have been proper pros for a while. I’ve been navigating the world as an amateur without any great examples to emulate, so I can’t overstate the value of being told even general rules of etiquette and how to navigate the professional sphere. I also got some experience talking about my work in interviews and at signings. It was fantastic practice for later, when I’ll be talking about my own work and won’t be able to misdirect my interviewer to the other fantastic writers in my volume. I feel far more confident in my ability to navigate conventions, interviews, networking opportunities, and my own quest for publication.
Lastly, but not leastly, I also got the abstract joy of validation. It can be difficult to feel like I’m “allowed” in certain spaces. Growing up, I often felt ostracized as the new girl (we moved a lot) and I felt like I had to “prove” myself over and over again. At some point, I stopped trying, and the reflection in the mirror of my social experience (we all learn about ourselves through others) told me I was insignificant. I self-rejected for a long time, and a big part of that was feeling like I needed some external validation to matter, to call myself a “real” writer, and to unironically put in the necessary effort to succeed.
For an entire week, over the course of countless conversations, and in every workshop session I was practically force-fed validation. I was called out for self-deprecating, even! I didn’t realize how often I put myself (and even my work) down until I found myself, after being asked to “sell” my story, saying “I mean, it’s OK.” I have to believe in my work to get it out there, and I have to believe in myself to believe in my work, so Writers of the Future definitely helped with that,
I can’t say for certain what affect winning the Writers of the Future will have on my career–so much of the work has to be done by me–but the affect on my psyche has been largely positive. The results will have to be measured over time, but for now I look at the award on the shelf over my writing space and I’m reminded that it really happened, that it wasn’t just an intense daydream experienced in a haze of overwhelming disassociation–it was real.
My name is on that award.