The spectrum of sessions at the Writer’s Digest Conference 2014

Nick, Aurora, and an apatosaurus.

Nick, Aurora, and an apatosaurus.

Quick sidenote before I leap into things…my last three blog entries have been about the Writer’s Digest Conference 2014, and a few people have asked me why I’ve eschewed photos of the conference in favor of pictures of me and my wife traipsing around Manhattan.  Short answer: the conference took place in a nice hotel, but if you’ve ever been in more than one nice hotel, you know that they’re all more-or-less the same.  Whereas, in today’s post, I’m standing in front of a dinosaur skeleton.  Another blogger might make a different decision, but I prefer to err on the side of badass.

So, a word about the sessions of the Writer’s Digest Conference 2014.  I’ve been to precious few writers’ conferences, but I’ve been to plenty of other kinds, and the sessions predictably ran the gambit from awful to insightful.  The worst were the ones that were obvious soapboxes for self-marketing (says the pot to the kettle).  The best managed to couple useful information with a good time.  Curiously, in my case, they fell back-to-back.

The session on blogging rattled my faith in Western Civilization.  I figured, hey, I’m a relatively inexperienced blogger, I’ll bet there will be a ton of stuff I can pick up.  But the speaker wasn’t talking about promoting your writing career through a blog; she was talking about turning blogs into books.  What’s worse, she didn’t have the Dream.  Allow me a brief deviation as I explain that…

You might not believe this, because so much of my blog is about pragmatic stuff, but I started with the Dream.  As a teenager, there were a handful of novels that inspired me and made me want to write.  And later, in college, I added several plays to that list.  For good or ill, my head was full of stories, and I possessed a modicum of talent, so I took classes to develop the skills and honed those skills by writing a lot of crap, and all of it was driven by the Dream.  And, yes, as a professional writer, I want to get paid.  But when push comes to shove, if someone told me I would never get paid for another word I ever wrote, would I still write?  You bet your ass I would.  Because the book contract isn’t the Dream; it’s a means of paying the mortgage.  The work is the Dream.

This person at the seminar said things like “If you blog, you are a publisher,” and “If you want to be an expert at something, blog about it,” and “Nothing makes me more fulfilled than having my blog read.”  This woman had no interest in becoming the next Virginia Woolf, she wanted to be the next Snooki, pursuing fame for the sake of fame without concern for the art, and the most damnable crime of all is that her whole session was based on the assumption that all writers feel the same way.  I felt like a Byzantine, staring at the Ottomans massing on the far side of the Bosporus, and wondering to myself, “Where did we go wrong?”

Fortunately, the next session was led by an author named Barry Lyga, and he was all that and a tray of muffins.  He was anticipating his next book hitting the shelves next year—he’d written twelve, I think—and he emphasized that, while he’d never written a “home run,” he’d always “bunted onto base.”  His advice regarding blogging and facebooking and tweeting (what people in the industry call “building your platform”) is that “[It’s] necessary nonsense, but still nonsense.  Trim it as much as you can.  Concentrate on the work.”  And some more of his words that stuck with me: “People get so obsessed with getting published, they forget to write a book.”

But, I suppose not every session speaks to everybody, and that’s intentional.  I would not be surprised to learn that someone walked out of the blogging seminar feeling energized and inspired, I just don’t want to read their book.

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