Today’s guest post is continuing my theme of writer’s conferences but I decided to host a few other writers’ opinions. Rebecca Paddock attended the 2018 DFW Con and wanted to share her experience. Enjoy!
JK Rowling is Wrong (and so are a lot of other people)
By Rebecca Paddock
JK Rowling is wrong. That’s my takeaway from DFWcon 2018. Not on everything, she’s undoubtedly right about a great many things. Maybe even most. But she’s definitely wrong about one of them. During an interview, she described writers as “observers.” I disagree. Writers are engagers. Or maybe questioners.
Other people are wrong too. That’s part two of my takeaway. Prior to the conference, I heard (and, via Facebook, saw) a whole lot of noise about writers being introverts. No way. No how. Not at DFWcon. At least, not from what I experienced.
You want to experience introverts at a conference? Go to one of the International Council of Systems Engineering events and use your ears. They’re half the volume for twice the people.
One step into the venue and the overall lack of introverts was apparent. Before I even made it to the credentials table, I’d been greeted (with smiles, no less!) by every person I passed. Anything from a simple “Hey, there” to a hearty “Howdy!” People were talking everywhere. If these folks were introverts, they were really loud, really animated introverts. People stood in small groups, twos and threes. Maybe a group of four, here and there. If these were introverts, they were introverts with a lot of very deeply established cliques.
Only people moved from one place to another. Which isn’t very cliquish at all. It’s not very introverted either.
No one had their face buried in a cell phone, laptop, or any other form of electronic distraction. No one was standing alone. No one had that wide-eyed get-me-out-of-here look. No one.
Might as well have been a cocktail party.
I would have done some more research on the phenomena, tested a theory or two, but I was waylaid by the person next to me.
“This is my first conference. I’m so excited,” she said, practically bubbling over. “What do you write?”
That was the common refrain: what do you write. Kind of like being in college and folks beginning every conversation with: “what’s your major?”
What do you write? And, the thing is, these folks really meant it. They really wanted to know. It wasn’t a polite lob into a conversation they’d rather not be having. It wasn’t an excuse to fill an uncomfortable void. It wasn’t trying to eek through a stressful situation before finding solace in some alone time. Each word was filled with interest.
“Satire. I write political satire,” I’d respond.
Then the questions came in earnest.
Which is not usually the case. If I tell the average Joe that I write political satire, they usually get that deer-in-the-headlights terrified look, take two steps back, and do their best to change the subject post haste – preferably before limbs are lost. Not these folks. They’re writers. Writers dig in.
Is there much of a market for that?
How do you handle the biting humor?
Is there a specific format (or set of rules) for satire?
What’s the expected word count for that genre?
Questions. Lots and lots of questions. Even when the person wrote Romance. Or Thrillers. Or Suspense. Or even Westerns. No matter their genre, people were interested. Even better, they were fascinating in their own right.
No one word answers to be found. Everyone was happy to share, explain, and provide insight into their perspective. I ran into a couple folks who write Science Fiction. Asking questions about how they develop their backdrop netted me some great tips for worldbuilding. Asking questions of Romance writers got me a neat little trick on establishing the closeness of an emotional connection without ever having to talk about it directly. And one of the Suspense guys was a hoot. He gave me some interesting insight into how he weaves comedy into suspense. Which means I could use the same technique to weave suspense into comedy.
That’s just the attendees. The classes were much the same. People breaking things down. Not spending an hour talking about why something was important. They spent five minutes on the why, maybe another five on the what, and the remaining time was spent on the how. Giving specific techniques for actually making a manuscript come to life. Practical. Expedient. And, even better, something for everyone. Even experienced/published authors came away with useful techniques to tackle their tantalizing terrors.
The instructors didn’t go away and hide either. They talked to anyone who came up and asked a question. Or they tracked you down and ask a question themselves. (I heard you write political satire…) They attended classes. They participated, offered advice, listened, asked questions … you know, do stuff that non-introverted people do. Only … drum roll please … they’re writers.
There were even translation classes. Where knowledgeable agents and authors got together to translate rejection speak into actionable bullet points. Not something the average introvert would sign up to do especially since there was no way to prepare. The best part was, the non-observers did more than translate, they gave tips on how to approach the modifications. A couple of which helped solve an issue or two in my current manuscript.
And so, in spite of all the hype prior to the conference, I found that writers aren’t different. Writers are like any other group of passionate people. They engage. They might not engage by stepping up to a mic, kicking a soccer ball, or screaming at a ref, but they engage nonetheless. They ask questions. They pursue information. They search for cause/effect. And they consider.
Writers are always considering. Is there a better way? Can I be more succinct? How do I make this passage come alive? What’s the best way to increase the tempo, change the cadence, or create a flow? What would happen if…
Writers aren’t introverts. And they aren’t observers.
Sorry, Ms. Rowling. You’re wrong. You didn’t observe, you engaged. You tested. You pursued knowledge, built a world, played with the tension in relationships, explored cause/effect, questioned humanity, and discovered unplumbed decency in someone thought to be irredeemable. You, Ms. Rowling, are an engager. A questioner. Maybe even an explorer.
And so are the people who attend DFWcon.