“So L. told me you do creative writing?” my coworker said/asked. I looked up from my lunch in the workplace kitchen, slightly startled. This coworker had always scared me a little. But I’m always happy to nerd out a little about creative writing.
“Yeah, I want to be an author of long-form fantasy novels. And maybe some historical fiction.”
She nodded, “That’s awesome,” and suddenly I found myself answering a lot of questions. What was my writing schedule? What podcasts did I listen to? Who were my workshoppers? What was my plan for getting an agent? What was my timeline for finishing my novel? What conferences had I been to?
“Actually, I’m going to a conference next weekend,” I said, and described it. She waved a hand dismissively.
“Too many academics there. You want to network at WorldCon or something like that instead,” she said. “That’s where L. and I met Professor T. and A. B. – you know who that is, right?” I could only shake my head as she barreled onward, completely overwhelming me with instructions as to how to make writing my career. By the time she was done, I felt utterly hopeless. How on earth was I going to educate myself on all these aspects of the publishing world? And how had I ever thought I could be a writer when I was so ignorant? I needed to catch up!
Then last weekend I went to that conference I told my coworker about. My coworker probably wouldn’t have thought much of it. I didn’t get any business cards, and I didn’t pitch a book idea to any agents or editors. I had lunch and sat through panels with friends I had made the year before. I chose seminars based on where I am in the writing process (very, very early stages). I asked questions about things that interested me. I nerded out about Anne Boleyn with a historical fiction writer. Perhaps it didn’t do anything to greatly benefit my fledgling career, but the conference definitely benefited me.
Since announcing my intention to stay in our Small College Town and work on my writing while the Engineer finishes his degree, I’ve received a lot of advice about how to network (a terrifyingly vague term that still makes me cringe) and “start a career” despite my remote location. But that’s never been what writing is about for me. Yes, I’d love to write a bestselling novel, because it would mean other people wanted to read the same kinds of stories I’m interested in writing. Taking time to write every day is more about seeing what I can do than about building any type of career. I want a network of fellow writers and readers more than I want to memorize a roster of Who’s Who in Writing.
I do understand and appreciate the intentions of the people who ask me about my networking plans. In many industries, connections are vital, and the earlier you make them, the better. I realize it must seem like I’m approaching things a bit sideways. This isn’t how convention says progress is made. But I’m starting to value progress in my own head over progress on a society-based timeline. At that conference, for example, one panelist said that his own shift in perspective came when he started calling himself a writer, even though he still had another full time job. “Writer” was who he was, not just what he did. That makes sense to me. That is a step that feels concrete and real to me, even if my coworker might give me a pitying smile and say that until I can put it on my resume, I’m not really a writer.
I know that I am. And that knowledge will give me the energy to keep working so the world can know it too.
So today I bought my ticket for NerdCon: Stories in October. I’m going to meet up with the Commodore and talk about stories – written, filmed, recorded, sung, pantomimed, or any other kind of story – for a weekend. And I’m extremely excited. Maybe I’ll meet a future employer. Maybe I’ll just have a really good time. But I’m okay with either outcome as long as I can come home and write about it.