Wednesday, September 3, 2014

ISWG: Nonnewbie No Man’s Land

I remember the first few times I attended a writing conference. The flush of excitement when an agent or editor requested pages, the insider publishing knowledge, the feeling that I was really doing this—pursuing a lifelong dream. I was really a writer.

But my experience at writing events in the last few years has been a mixed bag. I love meeting other writers and sharing our journeys on this crazy writing road. I love the camaraderie, the fun, the buzz of talking about writing all day. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I learn something new.

But I can’t say that I learn a lot, and that’s frustrating. It’s one reason I rarely go to expensive conferences nowadays. I don’t want to fork over a lot of money to be disappointed.

You see, I’m no longer a newbie, just learning about the process of publication or how to develop my voice or create conflict. I’ve been doing this for awhile. (12 years, in fact) But at the same time, I’m not published yet (except in magazines), so I’m not an expert either. I know I have much to learn.

But when it comes to classes and conferences, I’m in a sort of no man’s land. Not a beginner. Not an expert. Somewhere in between.

And every time I come against this—go to one of these events and realize I know almost as much as the presenter, it’s frustrating. I know so much, but I’m not there yet.

I try to be patient. I am greatly encouraged by the fact that it took Gail Carson Levine, one of my all-time favorite kidlit writers, ten years to be published. When I heard her speak at my first writing conference, she joked that it took her about the same time to become an author as it would have to become a doctor.

I know I’m getting closer, my writing is improving, and if anything, the whole process has taught me the value of patience. And that all I can control is how well I learn this craft. And learning the craft—the very act of writing—brings me an incredible amount of joy.

But it’s hard to figure out where I fit in the writing world: not an expert, but no longer a beginner.
Do any of you feel like you’re in the no-man’s land? How do you cope?

If you're wondering what Insecure Writer's Group is:

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time. 
Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG
The awesome co-hosts for the September 3 posting of the IWSG will be Laura at My Baffling Brain, mark Koopmans, Shah Wharton, and Sheena-Kay Graham. 
And it's our three year anniversary of posting!


  1. Aloha Jenni,

    Ha! Was just thinking the same... I used to LOVE conferences... now after several years... I'm like... hmmm what did I learn.. and am I really missing them?

    (Not sure yet what the "correct" answer is... maybe I have to go back to just one more... :)

  2. I don't go to conferences for the same reason. I'm feeling right now that reading craft books might help me improve my writing more because they can delve into the topic in more depth.

  3. An interesting dilemma. Maybe you could try to get on staff at a conference and teach some of the newbies? You don't need to be published to teach "how to get the most out of a conference" or something about finding a critique group, for example. You could experience the conference from a different perspective.

    Just a thought...


  4. This is a very interesting post, Jenni. I totally understand your dilemma. There aren't any writing conferences where I live. I have to drive a few states away to get to one, so I've yet to make one. I've attended plenty online. No, that isn't the same. But it's what I have. I think finding effective craft and techniques books to refer back to now and again has helped me - instead of spending a ton of money on live conferences. It's a hard decision.

  5. Your time will come. Just learn what you can (cheaply) and keep improving.

  6. I hear you. I'm in no way an expert, but I've grown beyond some of the basics.

    I attended one of the Novel Breakout Conferences put on by lit agent Donald Maass and Free Expressions, and it was just what I needed - the focus was all about the craft. It was a week long and on the expensive side, but I learned so much that for me, it was worth it.

    Madeline @ The Shellshank Redemption

  7. I can totally see how this could happen. And if you're like me, you don't really want to pay good money just to make connections. Though those are always nice. =) Keep keepin' on, Jenni, it will happen for you one day!

  8. I am in the exact same spot. It's so frustrating. The conferences are still enjoyable, but it's hard to justify spending the money.

  9. I've been in that boat at teaching conferences for a while now. It seems like education training folk don't know what to do with people who are experienced. That hasn't happened to me at a writing conference yet, but I've been serious about my writing for far less time and only been to a few writing conferences. Maybe it's an opening to create a different sort of conference for us to come attend with you!

  10. I wrote for 20 years (VERY off and on) before getting published, so I know how you feel! I remember around year 6 or 7, going to conferences and feeling that frustration. It does seem as though timing is such a huge part, you don't necessarily get published as soon as you know what you're doing. I think it's better to do things this way than to get published before you're ready. At least once you do get published, you'll know what to expect. (Well, sort of! They don't really prepare you for the 'after' of all of this very well, I've learned.)

  11. Oh I totally hear you. Conferences can be amazing, but they can also be EXPENSIVE, so unless the workshops are offering something I very much need or want to learn, I don't always go. I wish I could, just for the networking and camaraderie! But the cost is too much.

    It's hard to be a beginner, but sometimes harder to NOT be. Patience is probably one of the most important virtues a writer can have, and one of the hardest, I work on it ALL THE TIME. I am not so patient! But stories like Gail's do help. Hang in there.

  12. OMG, yes, yes, yes! So glad to hear someone else voicing this feeling. I posted about it Wednesday in my IWSG post. I left a workshop because it was disorganized and frankly, just didn't speak to my level of development as a writer. I noticed the same feeling when I attended my last writer's conference. This is a frustrating though wonderful place to be. Frustrating because where do we go to learn more? Wonderful because we've arrived--somewhere we weren't before. I guess for now let's enjoy the journey and share new resources for those who aren't newbies but still want to learn and network.

  13. I can see how that would be frustrating! Obviously, I'm not at that point yet since I'm getting ready to attend my first writing conference, but I've never taken the time to think about what it would be like to be on the opposite extreme. Just keep writing Jenni! As a good friend once shared with me: All it takes is to get the right book in the right hands at the right time. Your time will come. I know it! :)