By Jessica Hunter
People ask me what my story is about and all of a sudden I'm at a complete loss of words. It's like when someone asks: What's your favorite song? And all of a sudden your brain goes dead, and you can't even think of the last song you heard let alone which one is your favorite. Song? What's a song?
This is exactly what happened to me when I attended the Liars Club
this past Sunday, and it taught me a valuable lesson. But first let me go back to the beginning. To the moment I entered the den.
"We're going to sit in the front," SJWG Membership Director Glenn Walker
said as we walked into the room. Little did I know, he meant the front front. As in the bright blue table that faces everyone
else. The place where the professionals sit. (i.e the people who actually know what they're talking about.)
"You are a professional. If you act like a professional, then you are a professional," he told me when I expressed my concern. As I contemplated my choice, I asked myself, what is it that makes an author a professional? Is it the fact that you’ve published your stories, or is it your passion, your drive, the hours you spend doing the one thing that eventually gets you published - writing. If it’s the latter then yes, I am a professional.
Feeling slightly more confident, yet anxious, I took a seat at the table. Fellow SJWG member Bruce Capoferri
offered me some reassurance. "I look in the mirror every morning and say Bruce, you are a professional salesman. Act like it." It reminded me of something Glenn mentioned earlier. "If it's not there, build it."
I needed to build the confidence that I belonged here, or at least fake it ‘til I make it, right? Honestly, I don't know why I was so afraid. It's not like everyone was going to chuck their books and pens at me. However, the room was filing with faces that I would probably see again. And I really wanted to make a good impression— in other words, not say anything stupid.
"What could you possibly say that would be stupid?" Glenn said. He was like the life coach I’ve always wanted.
The meeting started and with it my nerves hit overdrive. Sweaty palms, pounding chest, my thoughts tumbling over one another - we're introducing ourselves if you couldn't tell. But then something wonderful happened. I realized that everyone was just as nervous as I was.
"I panicked," said Dawn Byrne
, fellow SJWG member.
"I feel like I'm having a heart attack," said one woman.
“Fake it 'til you make it!” someone shouted.
And then Keith Strunk
put the icing on it all. "I’m not afraid to look dumb. Obviously."
I couldn't believe it. All of these established writers were feeling exactly what I was feeling. We were all in the same boat.
Now that the ice was broken, the group started talking about networking— get to know people not their pages, don’t pimp your writing, establish a network before you have something to sell. I was getting so many great notes. Just as I’m jotting down something Keith is saying, I realize that he’s speaking to me. Like he literally just asked me a question. It was then that I realized I wasn’t just a silent observer taking notes. These people had accepted me into their group. I was one of them, I was feeling on top of the world, and then the networking happened.
The first part was great. I spoke to Jon McGoran
about our shared habit of writing ideas while driving. I spoke to someone else about yoga and language. I was on such a high. And then I was asked the one thing I didn't want to be asked. "So what's your story about?"
My entire brain shut down. I began babbling and hacking at my story. What is this nonsense you're saying?
I thought. The guy was being so nice and patient as he listened to my rambling, but I could tell he was thoroughly confused. He had no idea what my book was about, and it sounded like I didn't know either. In fact I had somehow given him the wrong idea entirely. Just explain the themes
, I thought, but even that came out a mess. He was asking all of the right questions geared to help me, all of the questions an agent would ask, and I had the answers, but none of them came out of my mouth. For some reason, my mouth had an agenda of its own, which was: gargle, gargle, gargle, Reapers, gargle, gargle, I'm not going to say anything you're telling me to say brain.
Just stop talking!
I was screaming in my head. At this point he had started taking notes, "I'm just trying to get a picture," he said, but that added to the anxiety because now I was like, Why is he taking notes?
He’s probably going to give them to me and say, "Get it together Jess!" Nope, he took them with him. When the conversation was finished, I rose from the table feeling paranoid, lost, and dazed beyond control.
How did this happen?
How is it possible that I can fully understand my idea, yet butcher it when I try to explain it out loud? I don't know if you've ever felt this way, but it's like, you know the story - you know the plot, the themes, the characters, the twists, the symbolism you've placed throughout, yet still you don’t know how to summarize all of this in a concise way that will do the story justice. Ironically this is exactly how I feel about myself as a human being.
With that said, I left the meeting feeling completely and entirely discouraged. Maybe my story isn't as good as I think it is.
But how could that be? I was just drooling over it before I left my house this morning. I'm an avid reader. I know a good story when I read one, but perhaps I am under a delusion spell. I must be blind to what I've actually written. I was now questioning everything, even my skills as a writer. My breaths were constricting, my thoughts were tumbling, it was hitting me like an avalanche. I'm having a panic attack
, I thought as I sat in the backseat of Glenn's car.
When we returned to Jersey, I thanked Glenn, climbed into my car, and just sat there for who knows how long. My story totally sucks. And I've forgotten how to breathe. Maybe I should just start over?
I thought, but that quickly crashed and burned. I had already fallen in love with my characters and promised them I would tell their story. I can't give up just because a seed of doubt was planted. Right?
So what did I do? I did what I always do when I'm stressed out - I went shopping.
As I'm strolling through the mall with a shirt that I don't need and feeling nonetheless better, a super model, of all people, helped me climb out of this mess. Well, it was actually just a poster in a jewelry story but same thing. Under the woman’s face was a hashtag that read: Don't crack under the pressure.
The words reached out and grabbed me. They shook me by the shoulders and said "Stop freaking out! Stop doubting yourself!” It may have just been an ad for diamonds, but it reminded me that despite the anxiety I was feeling, I still believed in my story. And then I realized, I wasn’t freaking out about the opinions and advice I received. I was freaking out because I was afraid of failing. But when it comes to writing, what is failing really? You can’t fail if you’ve learned something. Sure, your book may not be picked up by a publisher, but then you'll self publish, and people will still be able to read your story. I was once told, “If you write a good story, people will freaking read it!” And in the end that's all that matters.
So don't lose hope when you start second-guessing yourself like I did, and definitely don't stop writing. Whatever you do, do not stop writing! (Seriously I'm going to want to read it once you're published) You simply take what caused the doubt in the first place, and learn from it because it is what makes us better writers. And perhaps the lesson you learn won't be about your story, but about you, yourself as a person. That’s what this ride has been for me. I walked into the Liars Club thinking I was going to learn about writing, and I left learning more about myself.
I couldn't have asked for a better experience. Sure it scared the crap out of me, and made me question everything - but that's a good thing! If everyone tells you you're wonderful all the time, then it's probably time to get some new friends. Because real friends tell you when you're doing something wrong and headed in a bad direction. They tell you the things you don't want, but need, to hear. And this is exactly how I feel about everyone I spoke to at the club. To them, I may have just been the babbling girl in the green skirt, but to me they are all my new friends.
There were two things said at the Liars Club that I will forever carry in my pocket (said by Keith and Jon respectively):
"Don't apologize for who you are" and "I'm a f*cking writer!"
About today's guest-blogger:
Jessica Hunter is a book junkie, an aspiring author, a Whovian and a Gryffindor. She dabbles in web development and yoga, but writing has always been her passion. On most days she can be found 30,000 feet in the air, but you’ll also catch her with the South Jersey Writers' Group, at her blog or on her Instagram.