TOO MANY WORDS, TOO MANY WORDS
Okay, so the Writers Conference turned out to be a bit of a bust. The Friday comics part was all right, with some very eager people attending; despite that, and though we were told that we actually did better than the first year they included screenwriting, it all seemed a bit lackluster. I know many of us were also a bit perplexed by some of the people brought on as "experts."
I went back today, though, to attend some workshops, and was simply appalled by the whole thing. It's exactly the sort of thing I hate about the writing community and publications like Writer's Digest. I am sure the people involved are sincere in their efforts, but it's the kind of event and the sort of instruction I see no value in.
Take the first workshop I attended, which was intended to inform people of what to expect of the process once they have had their book accepted for publication. Over the course of the 90 minutes, a total of 21 other people attended, some coming and going, and of those, only one of them was even possibly either my age or younger. Everyone was older than I was--and I'm no spring chicken at 32. And besides myself, only 3 other attendees were men. I found this very fascinating.
The workshop was conducted by a literary agent who himself was somewhere in middle-age--so, if nothing else, a voice with experience. However, the information he imparted was pretty basic, and often without nuance. For instance, he cracked what I thought was a joke about how whenever he calls an editor, he ends up getting the assistant or associate editor because the main editor is never at his or her desk. This may have been a joke, as I said, but he delivered it flatly and if he was kidding, it went over his audience's head. (One of them did, after all, ask him if the author had to pay for the reviews he or she receives in magazines, so I wasn't sitting with the largest letters of the marquee, if you catch my drift.) Yet, I started to wonder if it actually was a joke, because he explained the other things the editor might be doing instead of taking phone calls (meetings, lunch, etc.). I wanted to raise my hand and ask, "You know that you're just not important enough to talk to directly, right?"
There was also a general ageism underlying much of what he said. He seemed to have a problem with all the young editors in the business, since in general people with long-term careers in publishing move on to something else after a time. He felt these readers would not have the life experience to recognize quality work, and it felt a little like a dinosaur talking about how lizards don't understand what it's like being a large reptile, they simply can't understand what the view is like from several stories high--or, to put it cruelly, to be going extinct.
Of course, given the median age of the audience, they were right there with him. Certain attendees seemed to have a self-satisfied sense of entitlement, like college students hanging out at high school and thinking they know it all, they've been there before. It's funny, because it's the sort of stubborn belief in one's own smartness that older folks often accuse of the young--but then, we're always best at pointing out our own faults in others, yes?
And don't even get me started about when the subject of metrosexuals came up...
Even though I was thoroughly annoyed by the end of the workshop, I had intended to attend the one immediately following it, so I figured I may as well give it a shot. It was a long train ride out there, so I might as well make the most of it. The membership fee, which is several hundred dollars, was comped to me for being involved the day before, so having no financial investment was making it hard to stick it out. Still, the room actually filled up beyond the number of chairs available, and the group was a little more diverse. The women still outnumbered the men by about a 2-1 ratio, and now that I think of it, everyone may have been white. I was still probably at the bottom age range, though one guy that was definitely younger than me did wander in, only to leave again before it got started.
This second workshop was intended to be a "in the trenches" look at troubleshooting a novel to prepare it for publication. It was being run by someone from one of those companies that charges people to "edit" their manuscripts. The handout that was prepared for this topic began by informing us that a plot has three key elements: situation, complication, and resolution. That was enough for me. I was more than happy to give up my seat. (They also had a checklist of things your novel should have, the type of approach I am way too skeptical about. Have these people not see Adaptation, or did they not understand it?)
I have to ask, who are these people and where do they come from? What draws them to this kind of conference? (One of the women I talked to yesterday came to Pennsylvania for this!) In the first workshop, half the room claimed to have publishing credits; however, when it became apparent that most of them had merely taken advantage of online outsourcing, the agent informed them that actual publishers don't rate a pay-on-demand service with no rejection process as a legitimate credit. You could hear the hearts shattering. Do I dare ask what it's like to be so far along in life only to discover that you really aren't?
I was planning to attend a full-morning seminar tomorrow where you work with the first fifty pages of your novel and go over some rewriting exercises, but I am really wondering if I should even bother. I thought it might be fun and even enlightening, but now all I can think is I really don't want to have to catch the train early enough to be there by 8:45 in the morning if it's just going to piss me off.
Oh, well, at least I finished Life of Pi, which itself examines the idea of storytelling and what makes a story vs. reality--teaching me more through example than the whole weekend ever could. (Though, since I am being so contrary, I didn't like Martel's notes for book clubs in the back. It felt like he wasn't giving myself, or his story, enough credit to click. Plus, I take issue with artist's explaining their work, when it's really up to the reaction of their audience--as dumb as we may be. And no, Martel did not pay me for this review.)
Current Soundtrack: Come to the Sunshine: Soft Pop Nuggets from the WEA Vaults; Tindersticks, Don't Even Go There EP