Friday, April 9, 2010

Confessions of a timid writer

Most writers I know crave alone time because when it gets down to it, we never have any…well physically maybe, but never mentally. Our heads are a sort of continuous cocktail party of very old friends and many new acquaintances that insist on dazzling us with their impressive back-stories.

Fellow writers totally know what I’m talking about. Non-writers have no idea and think I’m just a couple “ticks” away from being committed.

What really annoys me is when I’m reminded that real people like to go outside. Or that it’s not normal to sit in pajamas all day. Oh, the things I have to put up with. Don’t they know it’s a scientific fact that creative energy flows more freely in soft, pink, cotton pajamas? (Well, maybe not a proven fact yet, but I’m sure it could be.)

Years ago when I decided to make a true effort as a full time writer I felt very alone. It took a lot of courage to stand up and say:

“My name is Jane and I am an out of the closet writer.”

My husband and sister always knew and encouraged me. Yet I instantly felt overwhelmed by my complete lack of “top-secret-insider-knowledge” and incredibly brash for thinking I deserved to know.

Now, after years of reading and researching, I’m happy to say, I’ve found out the really important things aren’t actually “top-secret-insider-stuff”.

1) Believe in yourself. If you don’t think you can be a success, how will you convince respected agents and editors to?

2) Successful writers, editors, and agents like to help new writers who work hard, listen, and use their valuable advice.

3) The top writers, editors, and agents are passionate, caring and NEVER stop working hard.

4) Make sure your work is polished before submitting. It’s been said a million times before and once again here: you only get one shot at making a first impression.

With that said, it’s important to realize there aren’t many industries where you can jump in headfirst and find dozens of powerful people willing to dive in after you saying “Weeee!” But I found that’s exactly what happened when I threw my insecurities aside and signed up for an Editor’s Intensive at Writer’s Digest. I didn’t have anyone to go with so I put my big-girl pants on and went all by myself. Afterward, I took every bit of advice handed to me, used it and am still amazed at how valuable the weekend was.

Since I’m a writer of young adult books, I attended the SCBWI conference. On my own I may have thought about going, or dreamed about going, but it would have probably ended there. Yet with a prominent editor looking me in the eye at the WD editors intensive saying “You have to go”, I knew I couldn’t just think about it, I had to actually go. So, I put another pair of big-girl pants on and went to New York alone for five days. I’m 42 years old, I used to travel for work, and yet I was downright terrified of attending the SCBWI conference alone…crazy? More like too timid. The previously discussed “tick” was getting more defined in my mind.

Well, that weekend made it clear there was nothing to fear but much to celebrate. I walked away reminding myself to spend lots of time writing, (you have to start with lots of writing) and then spend lots of time rewriting. Ask all your questions at the right time aimed toward the right people, and really hear and follow the answers.

If you’ve never been one for writer’s groups, give it a try. Or if your experience was negative, try again, and don’t be afraid of on-line writers groups. Technology is not scary, in fact you HAVE to be technically active now, and once you start you’ll see how wonderful it is.

For on-line insight from some top-notch, well respected people in the industry, check out:

Please let me know how you’re doing or if you have any questions because I’m pretty sure that together, and with enough snacks, we can accomplish just about anything.

Join me at: if you want to hear more.


  1. Great post! I celebrate you Janie! Timid doesn't mean without courage :) and, I've figured that you aren't really that fond of me, you're just studying me for a characterization! LOL! Gwen

  2. A wonderful post - and excellent advice and encouragement for all writers. Thank you for mentioning our event, too. :)

  3. I have tears in my eyes after reading the first few paragraphs of this post. You've described me perfectly. I'm physically alone several times a week while my husband is at work and my kids are at school, but I'm never mentally alone. My characters are with me all the time, even in my dreams. I wish my husband and friends, none of whom are writers, understood my compulsion to write.

    I wrote a YA book, and I just turned 40. I'm attending my first writers' conference in two weeks, all by myself. I'm nervous, but I know I'm doing the right thing. Thanks for the encouragement.

  4. When I was 41, I attended my first writer's conference in NYC... and was terrified. Congratulations! I have so much more to say, but to be completely honest, I've been writing intensely for 6 weeks trying to meet a deadline of another dream: Sundance Screenwriter's Lab. I've never been more scared or exhilarated in my life. I'm tossing it all aside and going for the dream. You've reenergized me to break my novel back out when this is done! Fantastic advice.
    Btw, Writer's Digest and Jane Friedman changed my life too. :)

  5. Jaycee,

    you made my day! I figured I wasn't the only one who felt like this and there you are being fabulous and writing to me confirming it! Please let me know how the conference goes and check out my guest post from Jan. 2010 on Alice Pope's blog: It's some "how to's" for new conference goers.
    I can't wait to hear from you!

  6. Thanks Jane Friedman, in my mind you are Wonder Woman!

  7. Jeanne,

    Thank you, and I'm wishing you luck with the Sundance Screenwriter's Lab. How exciting that sounds!
    I really believe we all have to "go for it" because no matter the outcome, we always succeed because we tried. Otherwise we're left with too many "what if's"...

    Best of luck and I can't wait to hear how it goes. I'll be here to cheer you on with starting up on your book again too:)