#Passion2Profession: Before You Go To RWA

Next week is the annual RWA conference, and with that comes a whole slew of questions and problems that writers have to face. That’s why this week’s #Passion2Profession post is dedicated to helping you KEEP the passion while pursuing the profession.

Let’s start with the whole idea of professional organizations. Indie writers tend to be just what the name implies–independent. Because of that, I know a lot of Indies who don’t belong to RWA and similar organizations. They don’t see the need, they don’t feel it speaks to them, and oftentimes they don’t want to spend the money. Here’s my view, for what it’s worth:

Part of being a professional is learning about the profession. No matter how “Indie” you are, you’re not a lone wolf, and this isn’t the Wild West. When the first superstar Indies hit the lists seven or eight years ago, they were alone by necessity. No one had ever done what they’d done, there was no roadmap, were no mentors, and in fact, most formal professional organizations like RWA shunned them. They weren’t considered “real” writers.

But we know those days are long gone. And so is the need to separate yourself from formal organizations that are dedicated to professional writers. Once again, what works for the biggest names doesn’t necessarily work for Midlist writers. There are several very well known Indie authors who don’t belong to RWA (or other professional writing associations), and don’t think it has anything of value to give them–with the possible exception of a RITA if that happens to land in their laps. But guess what? You. Are not them.

For the Midlist writer, making connections, learning about the industry as a whole, and just soaking up the atmosphere of a few hundred (or even thousand) professional writers for a few days is important. It’s where you hear what others are doing that works and doesn’t, it’s where you can talk about possible joint projects like co-authoring, and it’s where you reaffirm for yourself, that while you might not have made a list this year or earned more than the teen who mows your lawn, you ARE actually a professional writer. You write, you publish, you have readers, you get royalty checks. These things matter. Other people who do them matter. You need to be with those people in real life sometimes.

I don’t think it’s as important which writers’ group you join — RWA is one, but a lot of bigger cities have other fiction writer groups, pick the one(s) that fit you–but I do strongly urge you to join one, go to some regular meetings, sign up for the annual conference, contribute in some way by running a committee, or writing for the newsletter. You don’t have to be a big joiner, and you don’t have to commit lots of time, but do it. And if you can’t find something locally, choose something online or at a distance, but make sure to attend something in person once a year. I belong to the Chicago North RWA chapter even though I live in Colorado. I attend their Spring Fling conference every other year, and am working to get to their Lady Jane Salon in the alternating years. I also volunteer for the national RWA, and attend the annual conference most years. This last year I became a member of Novelists Inc, a national fiction writers organization, and I’ll be attending their annual conference in October. And you all need to know–I’m not a joiner, but I’ve never once regretted belonging to these groups, nor going to an event.

Now, for those of you attending RWA next week. First of all, kudos. If you haven’t been before, it’s a once in a lifetime kind of thing. Secondly, hang on, brace up, and prepare yourself for the other side of being around a lot of writers: Envy.

Call it what you will, and cover it as best you can, beat yourself up over it, cart around a bunch of guilt, tell yourself it’s not “Christian,” but realize that we ALL feel it. All of us. It’s not whether you feel it, but what you do with those feelings.

When you’re faced with an entire conference full of writers, those feelings of envy and inadequacy can reach an all time high. There you are, walking among the celebrities of your field, the alphabet queens with their followings and titles and earnings that are truly mind boggling. And it can make you jealous, envious, sad, frustrated, and about a hundred other things that can’t even be described. Not all of them are negative, it can also inspire you, make you fangirl, give you hope, and help you feel like you belong. But whatever you feel in those moments, please know that you are not alone. None of it is unusual, none of it is “wrong” or “bad.” People who don’t feel envy aren’t “better” humans than you. They’re just different (or lying, which is what my petty heart likes to think).

So here’s the thing you have to find: Perspective. And here’s the mantra you need to repeat: I’m doing what only a tiny fraction of people in this world will ever do. I’m truly living my dream. And dreams are never exactly what we picture, because you can’t predict what something will be like until you experience it. You can’t know all the intricacies of being a professional writer until you’ve been one. And even then, you can’t know what that life is like for the person next to you or the one on the stage. You only know your life as a professional writer, and if it means you’re able to write books, get paid royalties, belong to a professional organization, and attend conferences, then it’s pretty fucking great.

If this is your first RWA (or other professional conference), don’t worry about being the tiniest fish in the sea, soak it all in, pay attention, meet famous writers, get the lay of the land, take a breath and realize this is preparation for the next time around. If this is your second or third or fourth conference, promise yourself you’re going to up your game, network more, find more opportunities, learn deeper. No matter what the cynics say, there is always something to be gained by being with your people. Find that something for you, and let it remind you how incredibly fortunate you are to be turning your Passion into a Profession.



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