Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Can I Please Just Write the Book?

One of the things I loved about this Southampton conference is that it was a writing conference where we actually talked about writing. Yes, you heard me right. None of that "how to write a query letter" stuff or talks on "how to get published." We just talked about good, old-fashioned, sitting your backside in the chair and writing the book.

If I sound a bit snarky, that's because I'm so unbelievably sick and tired of being told all the how-to-get-published stuff when I haven't even finished my second draft.

Everyone seems to know how to get published, or at least have advice to offer. Sometimes we're lucky enough to speak to people who actually know what they're talking about. Thing is, these people usually have the good sense to know that advice is useless if you haven't written the book so they usually steer the conversation to more practical topics like how to reshape your third act. These people also know the scary truth: that if you get a hundred published writers in a room and ask them how they did it, you'll wind up with 100 totally different stories. There no one way to get published; every book is different, and so is every publishing experience.

Then there are the people who haven't got a clue. (My favorite are the complete strangers you meet at dinner parties. They ask you "what do you do?" and you say "I'm a writer" and they proceed to advise you how you should market your book even though the last book they read was "See Spot Run.") Sure, their intentions might be fine but often these conversations do more harm than good. After all, talking about doing something is a million times more interesting than actually doing it, which is why I think we have so many people who insist on giving advice on how to publish books but so few who actually get around to putting pen to page.

In an effort to re-focus my writing, I have devised a set of rules for myself.
  1. I will work on my book every day.
  2. I will not TALK about writing my book. I'll write it. Every time I feel the urge to talk or complain about writing, I will pull out a notebook and write a chapter.
  3. I will NOT workshop my book. It's been workshopped to death and for me workshopping is a convenient way to avoid actually WORKING on it.
  4. I will NOT talk about publishing or attend any how-to-get-published talks until I have a polished manuscript.
If you catch me breaking these rules, call me on it. Seriously. Smack me upside the head if you have to, but help me stay on track.

But not right now. Right now I'm going to go write that book.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Greetings from Southampton

I am not a morning person, but there's something about books that has always seemed to motivate me enough to get up before sunrise. As I kid, I would sneak into the living room and read, then sneak back into bed before my parents came to wake me for school. And there's something about sitting down to work while the morning hours are still in the single digits that makes me feel especially productive. Today is no exception.

This morning I am writing from the Stony Brook campus in Southampton, where I have been attending the Southampton Children's Literature Conference. Some highlights:

*Norton Juster of Phantom Tollbooth fame spoke, then signed books. He wins the prize for writing the funniest inscription of any signed book I own.

*Daily Workshops with Tor Seidler, where I discovered that the novel I had set aside is, indeed, not hopeless.

*Marketing Talk by Emma Walton Hamilton, who wins the prize for talking about the publishing process and not scaring me half to death!

*Research Talk by Catherine Creedon, wherein I learned that Wikipedia is not the scourge of research resources, but a perfectly good research tool, if used properly.

and, of course...

*Julie Andrews, reading from the new anthology of poetry, which she compiled together with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton. She talked about her father and how he memorized poems so that when he walked alone he would never be lonely. I was reminded of my seventh grade English teacher who insisted we memorize several passages from Shakespeare so that if we were ever stranded on a deserted isle, we could recite them and not be bored. Somehow, I have a feeling if I were stranded on a desert island, being bored would be the least of my problems. I like Julie Andrews' reasoning better and I the idea of keeping poems as good friends.

Speaking of friends, that was perhaps the best part of this conference. In just five days, I met many talented writers and fellow conference attendees who I am honored now to call my friends. As the conference comes to a close, I look forward to continuing these friendships and someday seeing all our names in print.