I Am a Writer: What Write to Publish 2016 Taught Me About Myself

When I tell people that I’m a writer … well, to be honest, I don’t really make a habit of telling people that. Because replying with “writer” to the variety of “Uhm, so what do you do?” questions tends to open the gates to a flood of potentially awkward remarks. I’m talking about anything between, “Aww, that’s cute.” and, “You do realize it’s a tough business?” and, “No, really, what do you do?” (Don’t even get me started on what people say when comic books enter this conversation.) Those questions can be perfectly well intended, but they can also create a vicious circle of self-doubt and failure.

Then along came Write to Publish 2016.

Write to Publish is Ooligan Press‘s very own annual fundraiser where aspiring writers, editors, and publishers can meet their professionally established counterparts and get a glimpse of what it’s like to work with writers or as one in the real world of book publishing. January 30 of this year was Ooligan Press’s eighth time hosting this event at Portland State University and my first time to help set it up. While I was buzzing around all day, along with my fellow Ooligans, to keep the show going, I also learned a few things about the professional writing world. Among all of it, two pieces of advice stood out to me.

Editors are people. That this came as something of a shock to me probably says more about my own fear of criticism than about any editor out there. Nothing can be scarier than someone picking apart something that you have spilled blood and guts over to put together. Having had the chance to meet several of them in person at Write to Publish, I can tell you to rest assured, though; your editor is not some faceless, vindictive entity with a red pen ready to strike down your dreams. On the contrary, they know they are working on your creative child and that the editing process can be an emotional journey. So listen to freelance editors like Cheri Lasota when they present you with their edits and tell you to “just step away from it for a moment and don’t stab anyone.”

Keep trying. Yes, I know you’ve heard that one before. But when you hear it from O. Henry Award winner Arthur Bradford, those words just stick with you. In his keynote speech at Write to Publish, Bradford told the story of how, after being rejected from several institutions, he decided to apply to the Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University—with the same piece that was rejected previously—and was accepted. Bradford went on to clarify that it doesn’t mean that you should ignore criticism altogether, but you should also keep in mind that rejections often have more to do with the people who dish them out than with you. So remember stories like Bradford’s, don’t give up, and “don’t take those rejections too seriously.”

Ten hours of high energy work and fun later, I’ve found that I received more than just the anticipated peek behind the scenes of the professional writing world. From now on when I tell people that I’m a writer—apart from actually telling them that I am a writer—I will do it with immeasurably more confidence.

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