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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

After the Writer’s Conference #AWP2015: The Beast Beneath the Good Stuff

shark 0ba08b8420946f633e3dac05de3dfa24In my last post, I observed that being at a writer’s conference “…in the presence of other people who are passionate about writing and committed to their craft is exciting, energizing, inspiring and thought-provoking.

It is also fraught with opportunities for your Saboteur to crash the party.” (For the most complete info about the Saboteur, see Chapter 8 of Around the Writer’s Block; for a shorter explanation, read this.)

The Beast

Beneath the surface of all the pulsating writerly energy and inspiration you’ll find at a conference, something dark slithers. Some writers felt just a tingle of the hair on the back of their necks. Others felt the beast brush against them and lost their balance momentarily. Some may have felt totally consumed.

The bigger the conference, the bigger the beast. All that concentrated hope and aspirations: to write something great, to be great, to be recognized, to be published, to be a best-seller, to write a classic, to be selected, to be the Chosen One, to stand out, to earn the applause.

And the flipside of hope and aspiration: the worry that it hasn’t happened to you, that it won’t happen for you, that it didn’t happen fast enough or big enough, that you won’t ever be selected to join the club that really matters. Not to mention the jealousy of those it has happened for.

Only those who are very secure in their sense of who they are can avoid the comparing themselves to others. Everyone else’s credentials seem so impressive – because, of course, bios include, highlight and sometimes even exaggerate only the very best parts of a writer’s accomplishments.

You can walk through registration of any writer’s conference feeling pretty good about your skills, your degree, your publishing credits, your awards, testimonials and blurbs. But of course, there will be someone who got a degree from a better program.

Someone else has published more than you have. Another writer published with a bigger press and got better publicity. Another earned a bigger advance. Another sold more copies; yet another won a more prestigious award.

As if it’s not bad enough that we compare ourselves to other individual writers, we compare ourselves to all other writers. No one can measure up to the hypothetical, composite writer who has done and earned all the very best of everything.

So you can walk out of any writer’s conference at the end of a long day, physically exhausted, mentally overstuffed and emotionally battered, feeling something between vaguely dissatisfied to absolutely awful about your writing life.

It depends on whether the beast breathed on your neck, knocked you off your feet or swallowed you whole.

The Mill for that Grist

sabotuer“How was the conference?”

“It was great,” I say with feverish brightness. “Really great!” I pause. I’d really like to stop there. But the beast had knocked me off my feet and awakened my Saboteur.

“But I owe my agent another book. I should be working on my next nonfiction book,” says the Saboteur in my head and through my lips.

“Didn’t you make a conscious choice to work on your novel?” asks the Best Spouse a writer can have. “Do you want to give up teaching or coaching?”

“No,” I say, momentarily in contact with reason and reality.

“Can you coach, teach and work on two books at once?” Best Spouse asks with annoying acuity.

“No-oo.” My rational mind tries to hold onto to the word. But the Saboteur bats logic aside and pushes the special of day—dissatisfaction with a side order of unrealistic expectations. “I should be done with the revision by now. It’s taking too long. I’ll never finish at this rate.”

I realize I’m echoing one of my coaching clients. “Oh, that’s what A. said last week.”

“What did you say to her?”

“Oh.” The Saboteur really wishes Best Spouse hadn’t asked that.

“I told her that every writer’s process is different and that every book is different. Trust the process. All that matters is showing up and doing the best you can with the time and tools you have. That we have to let ourselves enjoy the work or the readers won’t enjoy it either.”

Best Spouse is quiet, probably to let what I just said sink into my own head.

“Are you imperfect?” Best Spouse asks, echoing conversations we’ve had about Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection. “Is your novel imperfect?”

“Yes, yes,” the Saboteur says dismissively, truly annoyed and resisting the urge of reason to complete Brown’s key phrase.

“And?” Best Spouse prompts.

“I’m imperfect,” the Saboteur tries so hard to end the sentence there, but having the Best Spouse a writer can have calls to me to remember. “I’m imperfect and I am enough. My novel is enough.”

I really do have the Best Spouse a writer can have. I am blessed and the Saboteur is dismissed.

dont compare yourself 841758b8b2be58602c02bff27f82a0caI hope you are also blessed with a Best Spouse, Best Friend, Best Ally a writer can have. Even if you haven’t met her or him yet, trust the process – she or he is on the way to you. Keep showing up and be the best you you can be.

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4 Comments on “After the Writer’s Conference #AWP2015: The Beast Beneath the Good Stuff”

  1. Carla Lomax April 23, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    Whenever that terrorizing little monster starts to take hold, I remember my yoga practice. Come back to the breath. Be present in this moment. I ask, “What can I do at this moment, right now, here today?” And then I try to accept only what I am able to do right now. It reminds me not to rehash events that have long passed or agonize about future events over which I have no control or knowledge.


    • rosannebane April 24, 2015 at 9:58 am #

      Thanks Carla! Using yoga to combat the Saboteur is an excellent strategy. If you’d ever like to write a guest post about how your yoga practice supports your writing practice, I’d love to share it here.



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