At the writer’s conference last weekend, I expected to be out of my league. Out of my comfort zone. Out of place. My sister encouraged, “Just go and be a sponge.” Somehow, it worked, imagining myself as a soft, sporous sponge soaking up whatever I could glean from the years of experience of writers around me. It felt less threatening that way, yet still required peeling back the curtain of shy self-consciousness that covers me when I’m around other writers. Being at a writer’s conference, if you’re going to get anything from it, demands a minimal level of vulnerability.
I stepped through the doors at the conference, crossing an invisible border between my worlds. Everyone seemed to speak a foreign language, know the lingo and the slang, navigate the streets with some sense of direction. Jump into the water, however, and see that they, too, are swimming upstream with everyone else. Maybe they can’t navigate the landscape without a map, but they at least know how to read the map. I hadn’t even picked a map up to study.
I’ve been writing from my early childhood, crafting simple, imaginative stories, and yet, this world of becoming not just a writer but an author is entirely different. One of the seminar speakers, a published author, compared becoming a writer to becoming a brain surgeon. Very different crafts, but each must train diligently for years to learn their craft.
If anything, I learned that the road to publishing has many side streets. Numerous roads can lead to publication. But the one thing that separates writers from authors is that authors have the courage to submit their work. Subject it to editing, review, critique, killing, recreating, rejection. And I heard over and over again, all who submit will face rejection. The more submissions, the more rejections. But publication cannot happen, obviously, without that step.
Before that step, however, comes heaps of research and preparation. One word that was tossed around often was “platform.” Writers need a platform because potential publishers and agents and editors want to see that they’re standing on something other than pure skills. They want to see marketing plans, vision, networking, previous publications, a solid following of readers. I thought of my blog, with its ten followers, and then, I have a lot of work to do. That’s not exactly what you could call a solid following. But it’s just as true that every writer starts out somewhere, usually somewhere small and insignificant.
Echoes from a prophet reverberate in my head, “Do not despise these small beginnings” (from the Bible, Zechariah 4:10). Small beginnings. Another facet of learning how to see the great and valuable in the small and insignificant.