Emotional Turbulence: My First Writers Conference
By J. L. Thurston
I sat at Kitty O’Shea’s in a funk. For weeks I had been riding a lifeboat in a raging sea of panic, joy, anticipation, and self-doubt as I prepared to attend a writer’s conference. To non-writers that may seem kind of weak. But the first conference is like stepping onto a stage for the very first time only instead of your looks and performance being judged, it’s your mind.
I had been at the conference for four hours. I had befriended writers in such a way that four hours with them made it feel we were destined to be best friends our whole lives. I moved around the conference rooms like Indiana Jones in an undiscovered temple. My senses were overloaded with the knowledge that for over two decades I had been alone in my writing and now I was surrounded with people just like me. More than that, I was meeting agents, editors, and publishers. It was the one of the best days of my life.
So, why was I feeling funked on my lunch break? Well, I had just met an agent. One-on-one. She was attentive as she listened to me pitch my novel to her. I had rehearsed and revised that pitch for three months. My novel was ready, I was ready, I just needed to convince her to take me on. She was kind when she refused me. She gave me great advice. I asked questions and she informed me of things you can’t learn on writing blogs. I walked away feeling glad I had met her, and also more disappointed than I’d ever felt in my life.
My new writer friends had full manuscripts requests. Their dreams were starting to come true. It seemed out of all the talented people I’d just met, I was the one without a chance.
During the next lecture, I was unable to concentrate, unable to think of anything but how to move forward. It seemed moving forward would only be possible if I wasn’t sitting in a chair. So, I walked. I let my feet carry me out of the Congress Plaza Hotel, down the street, until I smelled good food and realized I could really use a bite.
Resisting the urge to order a strong drink, I pretended to read a book while I ate a sandwich and sipped coffee. The mental pep-talk began. I still had one more person to meet that day and I could not remain in this funk while I spoke with her.
She wasn’t an agent. She was a publisher. I wasn’t going to pitch her because that’s really not what she was for. I wanted to ask her questions, to see what she thought of my novel. Where am I going wrong?
Back at the Plaza Hotel, it was my turn to speak to the publisher. In a large room full of agents, she was sitting in a small round table next to large windows. She was around my mother’s age, sitting placidly near large windows in a blue silk scarf. She looked relaxed, which clashed against the surrounding literary agents who had been thwarting off pitches all day from eager writers such as myself.
I shook her hand and took a seat. I wasn’t pitching, so we just started to talk. I laid down the basic points of my novel and asked her what she thought. Right away she was excited that my main character was a librarian at the Newberry. I knew she had been one, as well, and hoped to pick her brain about it. We discussed the Newberry, but quickly began sharing favorite movies, books, and television shows. We had much in common.
Volunteers arrived to announce that it was time to move one. More writers had to come and do their thing. Both the publisher and I exchanged surprised glances. Had it already been ten minutes? I could tell we both felt disappointment. Our easy conversation had been cut too abruptly.
I was preparing to thank her for the tips and for the chat when she reached her hand into her bag and took out a business card.
“I’d like you to submit your first three chapters to me and a brief synopsis,” she said.
I took the card. “Really? Oh, absolutely! Thank you!”
I was being shooed away, so off I went. Spirits unexpectedly raised, I finished the conference with the card securely close at hand. It was my key to a better future, a chance, a possibility unlike anything I’d been offered yet.
Moments ago, I submitted my first three chapters and a synopsis of my thriller novel. This is the furthest I’ve ever gotten in my writing career. Seriously. I still have my inbox open as though expecting a response tonight. I’m just not ready to close it all down and move on to more writing and editing.
I’m pondering this feeling I’m filled with. It’s calmer than I was expecting. I’m not jittery, but I am excited. I suppose that this an aged excitement, one that I had been waiting to feel for far too long, following too many rejection letters. My writing is ready. I just need a chance to prove it. To have someone believe in me.
I’m now in the middle of getting that chance.
This feeling. It’s spectacular.