This past weekend, I went to a writers conference for the first time since getting a literary agent.
I love learning about my craft. I love challenging myself. I’d love to get my MFA in Creative Writing, but I don’t have my Bachelors and that complicates the matter a little. So I stick to classes and conferences. Conferences tend to be expensive, mostly due to travel, and it’s been a long time since I made it to one. This one was practically in my backyard, since we recently moved almost to Memphis. Big cities offer things I only dreamed about for the last seven years.
One of the most exciting things for me was this: I expected to feel confident at the conference. No more being a tag-along kid sister to the real writers. I have a business card with an agent’s name next to mine. Editors in NYC publishing houses have read and complimented my work.
I am Writer; hear me roar.
It took all of about ten minutes for me to realize nothing has changed inside me. I still feel like a kid, like I will be in the way, like no one will take me seriously.
It’s not like they meet you at the door and ask for credentials. No one can look at me and tell I have an agent. And I’m certain many of the un-agented writers in that building were as good as, even better than, I am. It was a pretty level playing field, all things considered. On top of that, I am new in the area. A lot of people there knew one another. I had a few twitter contacts, but no one who was excited to see me.
Add my social anxiety, which has gotten worse in the last few years and I found it hard to make myself speak up in the sessions. I couldn’t bring myself to even approach the one person I knew from Twitter who told me to find her while I was there.
I’m learning that the fear of rejection, on paper or in person, never really goes away.
There is no outside-of-myself validation that is going to cure this. Having an agent didn’t do it, and I will hazard a guess that a book deal won’t either. A best-seller? I bet not. Ten best-sellers? I will still have social anxiety and a fear of rejection.
So here is what I did:
I showed up scared.
When given the chance to read something I wrote, I read it. When the floor was opened for questions, I asked them. I tracked down writers on social media and connected with them. I looked up their work, just how I’d love them to look up mine. When spoken to, I smiled and engaged.
Basically, I kicked fear in the face with my red Converse sneakers.
As I drove away, I had mixed feelings. I’d hoped to magically slide into the Memphis Literary scene, to find myself at the center of the in-group, to end the day by maybe having dinner with some of the locals I’d met or some of the leaders. I was never popular in school. I didn’t have what it took to fit in with party girls and cheerleaders (I was a cheerleader for one season, and I couldn’t even fit in when I was technically one of them). But writers? Those are my people.
Instead, I left as I came, alone. But I know some of those people now. The next time I see them, they will be familiar faces. Maybe I will be a familiar face as well. Making friends takes time. In an InstaTweetBook life, we like things to happen quickly, but that isn’t reality.
Reality means showing up scared, reading even if my hands shake, accepting that no one but me really cares if I have an agent or not, eating humble pie and learning from any teacher I can.
This doesn’t only apply to me as a writer. This applies to so many aspects of life.
There are no shortcuts.
Fear doesn’t magically vanish.
You show up. You do the work. You take the time.
Where is this a problem for you? In what area of your life do you feel like, by now, you should be old hat at things? Parenting is a common one. Our careers and our families… we think we should have it all figured out.
Give yourself a break.
Show up scared.