Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Making Connections

As I mentioned in my first post about Spring Fling, I really enjoyed the keynote address Lauren Dane gave during the kickoff event. She focused a lot on the connections she's made as a writer, and how important it is for us all to do that.

It's hard, sometimes, for us writers to come out of our little caves and be sociable. A lot of us are introverted and would rather spend time in our own heads than anywhere else. Even the extroverts among us can get caught up in those imaginary worlds at times and forget to interact with reality. But, as Ms. Dane pointed out, sometimes we have to do the unthinkable: put on pants with zippers and get out there and make some connections.

She wasn't talking about connections in the typical semi-icky business sense of the word, like formal networking and getting an unfair advantage because someone is calling in favors and pulling strings for someone else or that kind of thing. Kevin Spacey's character Francis Underwood on House of Cards has connections, sure, and I don't think I'd want him anywhere near my career.

Or anywhere near me at all actually. I'm. . . well. . . let's just say I'm not that interested in trains and leave it at that. (Spoilers, you know.)

Anyway, no, Ms. Dane was talking about the more human kinds of connections, about just meeting people and forming relationships with them. Making friends, sharing stories and laughing together. Forming partnerships and working alongside others. Going to things like conferences and mingling with other writers so we can see how much we have in common and how much we can learn from each other.

Do those sorts of connections eventually turn into the other kind, the useful-in-business, networky kind? They certainly can. You hear stories all the time about how this person was talking to that person at a conference, and then ended up coming to lunch with the editor, who ended up buying their first book or whatever. But those things work best when they happen organically, when you start by talking to that other person and forming that first connection without the end game in mind.

I remember a few years back, when I was starting to seriously consider maybe someday writing for more than just my own amusement, and I was also gearing up for another round of NaNoWriMo. I'd just moved to a new city and I was located between a couple of different regions, so I was sifting through their forums and such, trying to decide which one to join.

(If you're not familiar with NaNoWriMo, don't worry. The jargon and such isn't really the point of the story.)

While I was digging around, I noticed that one of the Municipal Liaisons (basically the NaNoWriMo version of a camp counselor) for the region to the west of my new town had a publishing credit in her signature line. Her first novel was being released next month.

Oh my God! I have to join that region!

I had it all planned out in seconds. I would join that region and be hyper-involved and make such a fantastic impression on this ML that we'd have to become friends. Or at least sort of work-friends. And then, of course, she would read my novel and love it (because how could she not?) and recommend me to her agent and I'd sign with them and sell my novel and live happily ever after. This was it. This was how I was going to break into publishing.

Funny thing about plans like that...

You may have noticed that I'm still sitting here many moons later having not broken into publishing.

I did become friends with that ML and several other people that year, some of whom would become my closest friends in the world. And I'd have to say that my career now, lack of publishing credits aside, is light-years ahead of where it was back then, when all I had to my name was an ill-informed dream and half of a really bad rough draft of book one in the Epic Fantasy Trilogy of Doom.

But none of that mattered in terms of my big break into publishing. It turns out that publishing doesn't really work the way it does on television and my knowing one published author wasn't going to be my winning lottery ticket to fabulous wealth and success. I know a couple of them now, in fact, and, strangely enough, not one of them has been able to wave a magic wand and make all my dreams come true over lunch.

So where does that leave me in terms of making connections. Should I just throw the whole thing over? These people cannot help me professionally, so what is the point of getting to know them at all?

God, I hope I never become a person who would seriously think something like that.

I'm an introvert. I have to choose my social interactions very carefully because they take a lot out of me and energy is a finite resource in my life. But that doesn't mean I would be better off with no social interactions at all.

I'm still human. We're wired deep down in the back of our brains to form communities and build relationships. And to do that, we seek out from the vast and varied sea of humanity surrounding us those rare other human beings in whom we see ourselves.

Which is a fantastically overwritten way of saying we like people we have stuff in common with.

I'm a writer. I spend all my time surrounded by an army of invisible people, characters whose lives I build and shape and ruin all in one afternoon. Even when I'm not actively sitting at my computer and working, that part of my mind is always running, turning things over and trying to find new ways to fit all the pieces together so I can break them all apart again tomorrow.

And that's not something that a lot of other people can really understand. I can explain it to them, yes. I'd like to think I'm articulate enough for that. (If I'm not, I'm probably in the wrong business altogether.) But if they've never experienced it for themselves, they'll never truly get it, or get me.

So I need to find those others out there like me, the other writers who see things the way I see them and think the way I think. I need to be able to talk to them and laugh with them and point to them whenever the monster in the back of my mind rears up and tries to tell me that I'm all alone in this universe.

I'm not alone. There are others. Look, here, at just these few I've managed to find and image all the rest who I haven't met yet.

And as Ms. Dane said in her speech, I cannot let a fear of pants with zippers (Is there a proper word for such a phobia? We're writers; we should make one up if there's not.) stop me from making those connections. Because those are the connections I need. The rest will take care of itself.

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