If you don’t follow my pointless ramblings on Twitter, there’s a chance you don’t know that I spent this past weekend at Muse 2011: a literary conference comprised of smart, motivated, interesting people, all of whom share a love of writing. Muse is run by Grub Street, Inc., a non-profit creative writing center based in Boston.
Now, you may wonder (as I did) where the organization got its name. According to Wikipedia, Grub Street used to be a street in London famous for its impoverished writers and low-end publishers and booksellers. In a nod toward irony, “Grub Street has since become a pejorative term for impoverished hack writers and writings of low literary value.”
The Top 10 Things I Learned at Muse 2011:
- Only hack writers of low literary value quote Wikipedia.
- Published authors are people, too. Granted, they are way cooler than most other people, but they are still just people. I spoke with, ate lunch with and discussed my own writing with human beings who have been paid money to put their words in print. Not one of them laughed, pointed or called me out as a fraud.
- Embrace rejection. To be rejected means you have the courage to put your words and ideas out into the universe in the first place.
- Both book editors and literary magazines actively want to discover new talent. In other words, these individuals do not exist on Earth for the sole purpose of taunting me and forcing me to remind myself to “embrace rejection” rather than “embrace Jack Daniels.”
- According to Edith Pearlman, every story should start with a journey or arrival and every ending should include a gesture or exchange.
- Use all of your senses when describing characters. Lisa Borders presented on the essentials of character and pointed out that visual descriptions are expected. Details that are often forgotten include what a character smells like… sounds like… tastes like, even.
- Pursuing a writing career while also working a full time job is hard. Believe it or not, I went to a seminar that explored this concept in detail (and did so very well!) I was looking for an easy answer, and found that there isn’t one. Finding time to write is hard and must be made into a priority if it is truly important.
- A character-driven story needs a plot and a plot-driven story needs compelling characters. In his session, Micah Nathan spoke about the need for both plot and character in writing an engaging story. No one wants to read a story about stock good or evil characters even if they lead exciting lives and no one wants to read a story about fascinating people who stand and emote for 60,000 words.
- I can come within 10 feet of my Ex-Agent (See: Breaking Up is Hard to Do) and neither of us will spontaneously combust. We actually shared a pleasant, professional smile over the lunch table and went back to ignoring each other for the rest of the weekend.
- Don’t sweat the labels. If you write because you can’t imagine not writing, you’re a writer.