Sunday, November 18, 2007

Proud to be a North Carolina Writer

I am just wrapping up a weekend at the North Carolina Writers' Network's Fall Conference, and my mind is crackling with the charge of ideas and new possibilities. This weekend was a major Mojo boost and I hope that my story might get you thinking about ways to inject more arts and creativity in your life.

This annual conference, which brings together about 300 writers from all across our state, provided a milestone to remind me how far I've come, as well as a refresher course about the many new avenues that allow writers to share their work with the world.

Rewind seven years to my first NCWN conference. In the fall of 2000 my family relocated from Los Altos, California to Cary, North Carolina for a "temporary" 6-month move. I was a stay-at-home Mom busy chasing a one-year old who had just learned to walk. I had settled into the daily rhythm of motherhood, but I could also feel the stirrings of "what's next?" I was starting to feel that I wouldn't try to go back to classroom teaching. As a fish out of water for this 6-month adventure, I was curious about North Carolina, open to new things, and at the same time I felt largely invisible.

I decided to turn my Bay Area exile into an opportunity. For six months I would focus what little free time I had on finishing the novel, High Water, that I had been working on in fits and starts for five years. I had had plenty of opportunity to finish it during the summer breaks from teaching high school, but while I had added to it over time, I had never found the drive to finish it. Motherhood kept me busy most of the day, but gave me plenty of opportunity to wonder, "If I did have free time, how would I spend it?"

I went online and found the North Carolina Writers' Network and signed up for their upcoming conference in Raleigh. It was immediately apparent that this North Carolina was a great place to be a writer. There was a supportive community--experienced authors turned out to generously share their art and expertise with the throng of aspiring writers who were hoping to one day finish their stories. This stood in stark contrast to the feeling I had about the Bay Area, where you had to find a way to stand out among not only famous writers, but the crazy culture of the internet startup bonanza, in the days before people came down to earth.

I was enchanted with North Carolina for many reasons, and the real possibility of reinventing myself as a writer was a big draw. Six weeks into our six-month experiment, I told my husband "I've found the house of destiny and I think we should move here." (That is such an embarrassingly cheesy thing to have to admit to saying, but it happens to be true, so there it is.) As and impulsive as this decision was, we jumped in.

We settled into our new home, and I kept going to NCWN conferences. Years later I can remember Dovey Coe author Frances O'Roark Dowell's advice that you have to be really committed to write. You have to give up television, drinking, all sorts of comfortable, mindless time-wasters. I don't always follow her advice but I remember it, and her wisdom helps me stay centered. Getting work done is all about keeping your butt in the seat--showing up with a rested, lucid and open mind that is ready to be inspired.

The Network helped me connect with writing teachers and an ongoing group. I kept writing and took Short Courses at Duke for inspiration. In 2002, when my daughter started attending toddler preschool, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:00 to 11:30 am, I wrote. I didn't shop, cook or heaven forbid clean that house during that time. I treasured those few precious hours when my mind could run wild, and I finished High Water. Then I wrote a screenplay for a family drama called Shadows of Fire (still unproduced--Lifetime TV, give me a call!), and finally, Mojo Mom. I pitched traditional agents when I started writing Mojo Mom. They came back with, "good idea, but it's a crowded marketplace, and you don't have a platform." In other words, I wasn't famous. What a chicken-and-egg problem for every new writer! I was never going to get well-known just by sitting and waiting, so I decided to take my career into my own hands and publish Mojo Mom independently.

The NC Writers' Network deserves a lot of credit on many levels. Early on in the process of writing Mojo Mom, a fall conference manuscript mart critique with O Magazine editor Dawn Raffel gave me wonderful encouragement and helped me solidify a great title that could extend to my whole author universe. This meeting gave me the shot of confidence I needed to keep going, no matter whether the New York publishing world was ready to embrace me yet.

The Writers' Network has been responsive to squeaky-wheel members like me. A while back I responded to a member survey by saying that I didn't feel quite included in their programs as a nonfiction writer. The Network has grown from literary origins, but what could they offer to those of us who were not solely literary writers or poets? The leaders responded by inviting me to teach a class at this year's fall conference, and that's just what I did.

We assembled a panel of four writers to teach "DIY Career-Building with Blogs, Podcasts and Self-Publishing." The room filled to capacity with creative people who find themselves at every imaginable stage in the writing process. This was a real full-circle moment for me. It encouraged me to think about how much I had accomplished over the past seven years. I don't really think that I believed that I would finish an entire book until I had actually done it. And here I was teaching at the conference that had originally solidified my commitment to take my writing seriously.

The great news about technological advances over the past few years is that if you want to write, you can find a way to publish, whether it's a blog, podcast, or book. Self-publishing has come a long way from the disrespected margins of "vanity presses," as many independently published books stand proudly alongside traditionally published works. Even I can't keep up with the new possibilities that continue to evolve with Facebook, My Space, YouTube, different forms of podcasting, and print on demand technology. Don't let the vast array of choices overwhelm you. Pick one avenue and give it a try.

Here's my bottom line for budding writers: your excuses for not publishing are vanishing in the digital age. If you are passionate, keep writing and find an avenue to reach your audience. When you share your work, you are not only developing your craft, but you will be sowing seeds that will open possibilities that you can't even imagine yet. I am not a big fan of the book The Secret, because it oversimplified the so-called Law of Attraction to the point of wishful thinking, but there is merit in the core idea that if you have a passion, and put it out there in the universe, you'll make amazing connections. The blogosphere provides a perfect mechanism to actively court this kind of serendipity.

So I want to thank everyone at the North Carolina Writers' Network, because you'll never know how many writers you've inspired. This weekend in I learned a lot from my fellow faculty on the DIY Career-Building panel: science fiction writer, podcasting expert, and Creative Commons enthusiast Mur Lafferty; biodiesel activist and blogger Lyle Estill, and lawyer/travel blogger Joseph Anderson. Each of them had original ideas to share with the class, and their experiences illustrated the wonderfully unpredictable nature of online outreach. Both Lyle and Joseph had their blogs turned into books, and Mur is embracing Creative Commons sharing to solve every author's challenge: how to rise from obscurity and reach out to fans who will love your work. She is podcasting her new novel in serialized installments, which is an exciting idea.

We have so many multitalented people here in North Carolina. Bay Area, go ahead, it's okay to be jealous.

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Blogger The Mad Clicker said...

Thank you so much for this post. It was so inspire. I am actually struggling with my desire to write. You have encouraged me beyond repair...

5:31 PM  
Blogger Edgy Mama said...

Hi there,
Thanks for the presentation. I had requested, after last year's con, a panel on blogging. And voila!

My only frustration was that there's so much more to cover, discuss, debate than you four could possibly do in an hour and a half with an audience at different levels of on-line knowledge.

I had hoped to chat with you afterwards, but didn't get the chance. Maybe next year!

Anyway, here's what I wrote about the con for Mountain X:

Thanks again!

11:47 AM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Thanks for your comments. Mad Clicker: keep at it! You can complete any writing project if you commit to a regular writing schedule.

Edgy Mama, it was nice to meet you, and I hear you on the limitations of an hour and a half with a group that had varying levels of experience. Ninety minutes seems like a lot of time but it flew by. Maybe next time we can do a more "advanced" session, something like "I have a blog, what's next?" But I felt that for a first effort this panel went pretty well.

12:02 PM  

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