Saturday, March 03, 2007

Misfits

When I turned pro and started meeting other people in the business, I had big problems fitting in. I didn't have the clothes, the personality, the schmooze gene, the gossip addiction or the desire to get sloshed at every con. I had no writer aura or professional vocabulary. I never learned the correct posture or position. I also seemed to offend every other person I met (but that happened with non-writers too, so no big surprise there.)

It bothered me to feel inept at my new profession, so I made a real effort to fit in. I did what the established pros told me to. I shopped and I dressed up. I circulated, booksigned, bookmarked/postcarded/flyered and critiqued grouped. In one year, I did three different con circuits. I volunteered. I raised money for charity. I was a good industry person, and totally miserable.

There are things involved with publishing, things you don't know about until you're a part of it, that just flabbergasted me. One non-writer member of my writer organization had this hobby of calling new members at home and informing them of the dirt on everyone else in the organization. Not casual gossip, either -- this was vicious, gleefully delivered, utterly hateful stuff, all delivered with the sort of relish that turns your stomach. No matter how I tried to change the subject, the yoyo wouldn't stop. At the end of my rope, I asked my colleagues what I could do, but everyone said I had to put up with it or I'd offend the yoyo, which would have dire career consequences (and, being a rookie, I believed this bullshit.) So I put up with this for better part of a year, and to this day I am so sorry I didn't just tell the yoyo to piss off and change my phone number.

I wasted two years of my life doing things I usually hated, among people with whom for the most part I had absolutely nothing in common except a profession, for the sake of my career. I think I made every mistake a new writer can make. I'm also pretty sure that I invented a few new ones. Under the circumstances, I think folks in publishing made a truly heroic effort in putting up with me that long.

What I did learn is that trying to fit in when you can never fit in doesn't work, and it makes you hate yourself. I almost quit writing -- my dream profession, that I've worked toward my entire life -- because I failed so miserably at playing author. It was only when I stopped and got away from the industry glam-lovers that I realized that writing, not publishing, was the only career I wanted. Writing is everything. Publishing just bankrolls me.

One more thought for the misfits out there reading this: if you don't fit in, don't sweat it. It's easier to make your own place in publishing than to force yourself into someone else's concept of how it should be. It can be lonely, yes, but that's part of the real job. In time, you may find that you attract more like-minded people by standing apart from the herd rather than hiding yourself among them.

35 comments:

  1. This is oh SO good to hear!
    Thank you. :-)

    Back to my bell tower...

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  2. My 'problem' is that I come from a small business background, which seems to be relatively rare amongst writers. I attend SF cons for the fun of it, but after 5 or 6 years I've not really got to know anyone - or vice versa.

    It doesn't bother me, I just accept that I have a different outlook on life and leave it at that.

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  3. This advice is true for pretty much any profession. It must be particularly so for writers: it has always seemed funny to me that writers, who almost by definition are introverts, should be expected to make public appearances and schmooze people. Odd, that.

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  4. I dropped by to say what Dean said.

    Took a few really hard knocks before I realised this.

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  5. I don't know if I ever got into the herd mentality sort of thing. I'm not enough of a people person to make myself be social when I don't feel like being social. I also lack the gene that makes me be polite when I don't really want to.


    The few writer type things I do are things I usually enjoy. I thank God I know how to say no, though.

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  6. Thank you.
    I always feel like an alien child, and by the time I've figured out " the rulz" they've gone and changed them anyway.

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  7. Anonymous9:16 AM

    What everybody else said. Thanks for this. :)
    Jess

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  8. Simon, you're not the only one. The husband and I have done a few small business ventures. Now we each have our own, and mine is writing, but it's amazing what I learned from running a brick and mortar as well as an online business. Valuable learning experience!

    PBW, thanks for the reminder that you don't have to go to cons, etc. in order to build a career. I sometimes worry that I'm hurting my career by staying home, but it's not really an option to do anything else at this point.

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  9. I always thought writing was a solitary existance anyway, lol.
    A group of writers sounds like an oxymoron.
    At any rate, I do have fun when I go to conferences once in a blue moon. Otherwise, connection is only made through blogs and e-mail.

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  10. BTW - just wanted to say glad you're back and that your dad is feeling better!

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  11. Bravo!

    Thanks for saying this, Lynn. =o)

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  12. Important to hear. I would offer one thought for fellow introverts. I'm as strong as they come on the introvert scale; however, in my current profession, I frequently must operate outside my preferred style. I can do this, and you can too. Recognize it isn't your preferred style and plan for being exhausted (in some way -- mentally, emotionally, or physically) afterward.

    As for me, I feel like a misfit everywhere I go -- always have (I wonder if there are people who don't?). I realize this may be largely attributable to my intense introversion preference style and do my best to fake it when I have to. Most other people don't seem to realize this, and I get by.

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  13. I wish I'd read something like this when I first started writing. Thanks.

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  14. Anonymous12:05 PM

    Thanks. I needed to hear that again.

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  15. Thanks for this! God Bless.

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  16. Now I can enjoy my hermitage guilt-free, and stop angsting over whether I should sign up for a writer's convention or join a group. I'm amazed that you had the experiences you write of, Lynn. I pictured you all confidence and composure, schmoozing and happy. It is a great relief to find out you had the same responses, results, and reactions to conventions as I did. I don't need to feel badly about it anymore.

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  17. The worst part of trying to fit in is when you're not sucking up to the bosses like your other authors in the company are. You get the cold shoulder from everyone. Honestly, you don't feel like writing anymore.

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  18. I'm socially dysfunctional with a mild phobia of crowds, so I'm better going to make it clear to an agent/publisher from the beginning, that I won't do cons and book signings. If they don't take me on for that - well, their loss. :)

    But I admit, I never intended to make a living out of my writing, so I not getting published would not kill me.

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  19. The first time I longed to find the Island of Misfit Writers was at a Florida writer’s event a few years ago. I was floating down the St. Johns on a party yacht, surrounded by 50+ aspiring writers, 4 book reviewers that wrote for local publications and the host of the Good Morning Jacksonville show. We were encouraged to bring our books, posters, bookmarks, press kits and anything else we could use to woo the media, as this was THE premiere event that would change our writing careers.

    A buffet lunch was served and I found a nice spot up on deck where I could sit in the sun, nibble my cheese, drink a glass of cheap wine and smoke, while I watched people fall all over themselves, trying to one-up each other and sing the praises of their work and all they knew about the industry. I knew right then this scene was not for me. I’m not the bragging type and if asked about my work, I’d just as soon hand them a sell sheet and walk away then sit and converse about it. But these people were so into it and I couldn’t help but wonder what was wrong with me.

    I just knew I’d never make it in this biz, for lack of the schmooze gene necessary to compete. Two hours later we docked and I dropped my ARC’s and press kits in the gift bags of each of the reviewers and left the yacht, swearing that never again would I put myself through something like that.

    I received two rave reviews that appeared in freebie flyer papers that most people don’t bother to read and a large lesson learned; about myself and type of writer I did not want to become. It wasn’t long after, that I stumbled upon your site and realized that much like the train with square wheels and the blue bird that swims in the fish bowl on the Island of Misfit Toys, there really is a place in this biz for writers that refuse to fall into the same category with all the others and truly believe that it’s all about the writing.

    Thank you for that!

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  20. Jason1:40 PM

    Thanks, Lynn. You're an inspiration.

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  21. Great minds. I was getting ready to write something very similar, since I've been feeling this 'sensation' a lot as of late. As always, thank you.

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  22. Great post. I'm only half-an-introvert, but the writers groups I've been part of in minor ways always end up rubbing me the wrong way. It's probably just my contrary nature.

    I really think to be a writer, you've got to stand alone -- and apart -- to a great extent.

    You can't create a novel by consensus, you can't have a writing career by group-think, and you're absolutely right -- sometimes this kind of gathering hurts the love of writing itself.

    On the other hand, friendships I have with writers I admire and respect are the greatest and most valued friendships in my life outside of my family.

    To me, the best things about the conventions are staying in the hotel rooms, watching cool in-room movies, ordering room service, and seeing one or two close friends who also want to hide.

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  23. Yeah, this hit home to me when I was trying to write something that would "sell" instead of what I wanted to write. Luckily, I only wasted three months, and even at that I learned a good bit. Now it's fun again.

    Scott Nicholson

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  24. Anonymous7:44 PM

    Good God. This smoozing nightmare must be something intrinsic to the networks of genre fiction. I've been publishing mainstream novels for nearly ten years and my experience has been nothing, absolutely nothing, like this. Maybe it's because there's no such event as a Mainstream Writers' Convention or no such group as the Mainstream Writers of America. Utter madness. I feel for you, PBW.

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  25. "To me, the best things about the conventions are staying in the hotel rooms, watching cool in-room movies, ordering room service, and seeing one or two close friends who also want to hide."

    Got it in one. I've discovered that either I book a room at the con hotel (but don't tell anyone, because I don't want people intruding on my space) OR I don't book a room and only attend for two of the 4 or 5 days.

    I'm involved with Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, so I end up in the dealer room for one whole day. Then I just have to find somewhere to hang out for the other one.

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  26. I've always felt a bit like a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. I love your attitude about the whole thing! Thanks for the affirmation.

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  27. Sound advice, PBW. I'm not much of a follower either, and it's hurt me in some ways. But I think in the end it'll help me.

    I went to one convention, and was so sickened by the butt-kissing and back biting that I haven't been to another. I think it'll be a while before I go to one again.

    In the end it is the work that matters.

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  28. At pro cons, I mostly just sit and watch the networkers and wish I could go home. I have met some lovely people, though, many of them incredibly well known writers, editors, and agents, as well as some wonderful aspiring writers. I wonder sometimes if the booze flows so freely so that the shy introverts can come out of their shells. Seems everyone gets more talkative as the evening progresses, except me. I get quieter, more overwhelmed, but I don't drink.

    The year my first book was released, I did eight conventions, two pro, six fan. Never, ever again. I didn't know that you'd almost quit because of the public appearance monster. Thanks for sharing that.

    {{hugg}}

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  29. Timely, and insightful. Thank you.

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  30. Because I've always worked in advertising or public relations, I developed the schmooze/networking ability early, plus I have a genuine fascination for meeting new people.

    I enjoy conferences and conventions for the opportunity to get together with friends from other parts of the country. I've never enjoyed the samplings of mean gossip, back-biting, or envy incidents occasionally encountered.

    Love the gatherings or loathe them, PBW you always hit on the most important point -- The Writing is Everything.

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  31. It is a very lonely business unless you can find a couple of writing buddies who are zero drama, down to earth, and on the same level as you when it comes to writing. I count myself very blessed to have found a few like-minded souls.

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  32. I'm late as usual to this party, but I love this post. I'm as misfitty as misfitty gets and it was a wonderful call to rediscover my love, writing.

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  33. 1. Giveaways. Cause I'm lazy. :) But contests are fun too. I like the giveaways where you actually do something in order to get the prize, sort of like a contest. I love all the contests/giveaways on here.

    2. Query/synopsis critiques?

    3. An ebook sounds good, but I like the blog idea too. so 1 and 2.

    4. I like to study different methods, like knowing if writers work in the morning/afternoon sipping water/soda/boiling oil while wearing a robe/fuzzy bunny slippers/jeans... etc. Well, okay, just the important details about methods. I didn't see that in the other comments, but I think it is interesting. I like trying new things out and seeing if it will work for me.

    5. Yes to all. And updates are great. Publishers can be so slow to updating website info on what's coming out soon sometimes.

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