2008— I attend my first Surrey International Writers Conference. An eye-opening experience that seared my brain with this truth— I knew nothing about writing, not even after completing three novel-length manuscripts; I understood zilch about writing a novel, a story, or a well-crafted sentence. By the end of those four days, I was mortified that I’d sent my far-from-ready manuscript out for consideration.
The closing keynote speaker for the 2008 conference was agent Donald Maass. The title for his talk: Storyteller vs. Attention Seeker. Yes, I stole the title— always steal from the best. His words were exactly what I needed to hear.
When I committed to this writing life in 2002, I set out to write about a woman whose life I wanted to live. A life where everything works out for the best. I wrote it; it was boring; the rewrites began. I didn’t really believe the story— I refused to call it a novel in those early days— would get published; although, I did dream. Then the editor I was working with said it was ready. So, I sent it out, and the Attention Seeking goal set in and the emotional rollercoaster followed, which is why I cried all the way through my first Blue Pencil session at Surrey.
I didn’t know I was an Attention Seeker. I wanted desperately to be a storyteller and believed storytelling was my focus as a writer. So, while Donald Maass spoke about Attention Seekers, I shook my head and rolled my eyes because that wasn’t me. But a flutter in my gut said, “You sure about that?”
Then Maass spoke about what it means to be a true Storyteller. I can’t recall the specifics, but I remember my eyes rimmed up and a lump clogged my throat— I had a long way to go before I could earn the title of Storyteller.
I’ve spent the last twelve years writing towards my Storyteller goal. The journey often leaves me feeling like Sisyphus. But thanks to the lessons I’ve learned while revising my manuscript, which is next week’s topic, I’m happy to report my Attention Seeker has taken a hike on someone else’s hill.
How do I know? Since completing the first round of revisions, I’ve turned away from two writing opportunities.
The first— the Emerging Writer Award, sponsored by Key West Literary Seminar. A dear friend sent me an email that simply said, “If you are interested, I don’t see why you couldn’t apply for this, specifically the Marianne Russo Award.”— I have the best friends.
The application requires sharing the first 25 pages of my WIP. Exciting, right? Especially, since I’m ever so pleased by how my story has transformed. All I need to do is submit those pages along with a 350-word cover letter that explains my background, motivations as a writer and previous accomplishments, and a 250-word pitch, and a letter of recommendation by September 15th.
The Key West opportunity feels as if it was made for me. I could be the poster child for Emerging Writers— 18 years and counting. I mean, come on, this feels like destiny. And if the deadline were October 15th rather than September, I’d go for it. But I didn’t get around to reading the application requirements until September 7th, and I’m not comfortable putting the people who could write a recommendation for me under that kind of time crunch.
But the real reason behind my decision to skip this opportunity comes back to my current revision process. As I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, I’m spent. The last thing I want to do right now is spend time recrafting the pitch— which may sound like something a writer can dash-off, but it isn’t— for the story I’m taking a break from in order to get to the finish line of Round Two in the revision process.
The second opportunity came through social media. A writer I follow posted this: Writer Unboxed— a community of writers “dedicated to publishing empowering, positive, and provocative ideas about the craft and business of fiction.”— is currently looking for contributors to join their team in 2021. The application requires a statement of why you feel you’d be a great fit for the team, a bio and a sample article (published or not.)
I confess, this one left me star-glazed. As a regular contributor to one of the best websites for writers, I would gain a sense of belonging, perhaps followers, and a nice plug for my bio come submission time. I’ve been reading posts from Writer Unboxed since this insane journey began. Early on, I longed to become a contributor. So, I was all geared up to throw my pen into the blogosphere. But the thought of being rejected by the writers I know at Writer Unboxed, burned like a hot poker, and I said forget it. Of course, I recognized my response was nothing more than those pesky Whores of Negativity, and so I immediately said, “That’s enough of that. I’m going to apply, damn it.”
Then, chose not to.
What? Are you crazy? This opportunity landed in your lap. It’s a sign. You have nothing to lose and oodles to gain. Go for it. Or have you fallen into Salinger mode?
Hmm. Salinger— the ultimate Storyteller. Yes, I think I am going into Salinger mode. Because the core reason for not applying to be a contributor is this— I don’t want to write with the door open. I’m not ready to write with the door open. Writing for a large community of readers will jeopardize my progress; I know this because as a former actress, I know how easily external gratification can pull me off center. It drags me away from the place where I’m vulnerable and true and into a state of chewing the scenery.
I’ve come too far over the last eighteen years to throw it all away for a byline. In order for the lessons from Round One of the Revision process to root, what’s needed is anonymity. And that realization is VICTORY.