In February I am going to a writer’s conference. We will be covering some great ground, mainly how to get published and there are supposed to be agents there and what not. I am a mixture of nervous, cynical and excited. Writers can be a vicious bunch.
The first time I went to a writer’s workshop I was sixteen. It was a Christian Writer’s Workshop put on by the Christian bookstore where I worked. It had all the makings of a good workshop, with best selling authors Terri Blackstock and Angela Elwell Hunt in attendance. But, alas, it was a sad affair, with only about half a dozen writers gathered in the backroom of a café. I spent most of the workshop trying to figure out how to eat the croissant sandwich my entrance fee paid for, without everyone staring at me. Then, when someone asked how much a novelist might make, Blackstock and Hunt glanced at each other uncomfortably.
“Uh…we’re not rich,” they laughed and stammered over each other. “Nothing close, sorry.”
There it was. In one moment, my entire childhood dreams were crushed. So, I figured, what the hell, my entire life’s over anyway. I’m eating my damn croissant!
Over the next decade and some odd change, I have met many a lot of writers at various events. Writing groups, workshops, staff meetings…I have found that among writers, there seem to be a few reigning stereotypes.
The Cool Nerd
For those of us who went to high school last century, things in the Nerd world have changed. Nerds are no longer socially incompatible losers with taped up glasses. Nerds, in fact, take pride in their nerdiness and have developed their own brand of cool. And, largely due to anti-bullying propaganda and the popularity of technology and the specialized knowledge it requires, nerds are given a proper place and respect in the world. The cousin of the hipster, the cool nerd isn’t quite hip, but can be quite popular, well-liked and funny. But they love to read, think and enjoyed school. The cool nerd, frequently male, is usually the life of the writer’s conference. He wears khaki shorts, a t-shirt, and usually something weird like socks with sandals.
The Nerd Nerd
Frequently attracted to witchcraft, fantasy, and the like, the nerd nerd is a staple in the writers world. For whatever reason, they never quite developed proper social skills, and found solace in the literature and film around these worlds. They may have a sketchbook of faeries, (yes, spelled the proper magick way), elves, and mystical lands. They spent so much of their lives in these fantasy worlds, that they can very easily imagine their own. This is what they are writing. And, if you let them tell you, you will spend the rest of the day listening to a rundown of their own made-up creatures and their intricate adventures in their own made-up land.
While their imaginations may run wild…as far as writing skill…well, that’s a different point. The skill is in the imagination, not in the artisan use of the English language. Many times, they have spent so much time dreaming up all of this stuff, when it comes to the actual manuscript, it’s but a fraction of what they described to you. Either that, or they will give you a dense manuscript describing detailed adventure stories full of rivaling kingdoms with epic blood baths. *SNORE*
The Upwardly Mobile Student Writer
She’s cool. She’s artsy. She’s fashionable. And she’s in college (or a very mature high school student). She’s got the world ahead of her and she knows it. She’s an English major, and a decent writer. She mainly writes poetry centering around her love life, and wants to write chick lit about dating, boys, and the misadventures of her friends. She loves Jane Austen and swears by Emily Dickinson, Pride and Prejudice and flavored tea.
She drives the Cool Nerd in the writer’s group batty, and he spends about half of the writer’s group trying to get a date with her. She won’t go out with him per se, but after a session break, they will come back with matching coffee cups. No one hates her more than the Nerd Nerd who thinks she’s a snobby airhead and will probably tell her in not so many words. This will create an incredibly awkward moment, compounding by the Nerd Nerd’s lack of social graces.
The Empowered Divorcee
The empowered divorcee just got a reprieve from the depths of hell itself. She’s out to take her life back, and then some. She’s got a lot of irons in the fire. She may be starting a business, or may have just moved across the country to start over, and is actively ready to make friends. She’s found that writing is an excellent outlet for everything she’s processing. And she’s also writing that novel she always want to write. Any in class writing exercises she does will be self-help type personal narratives regarding her journey to personal freedom. However, her empowerment can rub others the wrong way, and in personal conversations can come on too strong as defensiveness. She can also be super sensitive to perceived slights, particularly from male members of the group. She will find someone in the group who reminds her of her ex-husband.
The Suburban Housewife
“The Husband,” spent his life in the [________] industry, and she’s spent hers being mommy. Now that the kids are out of the house, or at least driving, she can take her life back and be the writer she wanted to be back in her twenties. Or at least find something to do with her time. She writes a lot about her husband and her teenagers. If she’s got grandkids, she writes about those too. She dresses in Coldwater Creek and her wrists clang with sterling silver bangles.
If she has been in this stage for four or more years, she has self-published a novel and sells it online and from the trunk of her car. She occasionally does book signings at the local bookstores, and they have a few autographed copies still on the shelf. She is the success story of the group, and everyone listens to her because she has been “through it.” If she is over fifty, she is one of the writer’s group leaders, or has organized the conference.
Usually a professional male, the moonlighter is sophisticated and mature. He may be the primary breadwinner of a family, or he may be single. But, he is educated, smart and successful. His life is about his career, but he’s quite a good writer. Or at least he has a good idea for a book. The moonlighter knows about managing and investing time. So, he writes quite consistently on the side. He may have some sort of rule for himself—thirty minutes or five pages per day. He has a book that has been gaining momentum, maybe some sort of spy, adventure novel, or perhaps a non-fiction book related to his career, hobby, or an experience. He’s about halfway done, and so now he’s been evaluating publishing options. Maybe in ten years, he thinks, his side writing can make him some money and he can retire early.
He has arrived at the writer’s conference or group to listen to various points of view and learn more about the publishing industry. He’s fairly open to hearing what other people are doing and takes lots of notes. He has Googled quite a bit before he came and has already prepared pages of useless notes that he will refer to and drive everyone crazy with highly-specific or off-topic questions.
Closely related to the Suburban Housewife, the retiree can be either male or female. They are a decorated former professional with volumes of fascinating life experience to share. Military deployment, time spent with celebrities, trips abroad… So, they take to writing to share it. This could be a way to cope with their own mortality, or perhaps close out a volume of life, to begin a new one. Retirees are frequently writing memoirs, or biographies. But, sometimes, they write about their families…grandkids, grown children finding their way in the world…etc.
The Mommy Blogger
She’s buried in diapers, bottles and play-doh. She bargained with her husband to go to the writer’s conference, and it is the first time in a month she has heard her own first name. She excited to have grown-up conversation and is a little bit worried that she may have forgotten how to do it. Blogging has given her an outlet to keep her identity, however, and it has, surprisingly, gotten a lot of traffic. Her husband thought it was just her little project, until he learned about the monetization of blogging. Now, he’s on board. He wants her to go this conference to find out how to make money blogging. Even if she could make enough money to pay the cable bill or something, it would release some pressure off him. She’s feeling a little empowered about the prospect of having her blog as a business. And maybe, she could be like Erma Bombeck or that lady that wrote Cheaper by the Dozen, or something. She will only attend half the sessions, as she will need to be home for dinner.
So, February’s workshop should be an interesting affair, as I try to explain to this motley collection of humans what I have been doing for the last six months.
“So, I work for this…arts company, and we travel the world dancing and I live in this church. Well, not because I’m homeless or anything. Well, I am broke, but I have enough money and stuff. Well, sort of, I could use more. But we live there because we pray for a living, but not in a Robert Tilton scummy evangelist kind of way…although I did go to Oral Roberts school, but I’m not a crazy charismatic, well, not exactly, well, actually I sort of am. But, it’s only because we met this pastor who taught us about exorcism and how he killed the head of the Satanic church with his prayers and this lady who had demons attached to fetishes in her wrist and almost got pulled through the floorboard of a car by demons who were trying to take her to hell. So, yeah. That’s why. I’m not a weirdo or anything….So, uh, did they bring out the croissants yet?”