There comes a point in every writing conference when you feel like your brain is mush. You’ve had dozens of conversations with other writers, sat in on multiple workshops, taken notes, asked questions, had a few drinks. You’re there to be a sponge: to soak up as much information as possible to help your writing, both craft and business. Usually for me, this happens late Saturday afternoon, the end of the second of three days. I know Sunday will be a shorter schedule, but seriously, can my brain handle any more information?
Last week at Writer’s Digest Conference I was in a different place than I had been in previous years. The first year I knew nothing. After that, I was progressing on my journey. Maybe not as fast as I’d like, but I could see a definite progression. This year that feeling was gone.
About the time of last year’s conference, crises began to pop up in my personal life. Life happens, right? And I can normally handle a lot as long as one part of my life is thriving. Health issues of family members surged to the front of the line. My latest book seemed invisible to the world. Then I broke my writing hand: one dislocated finger, four broken bones, emergency surgery to insert five pins that would remain in my hand for over a month, 29 sessions of physical therapy. Then the bills rolled in. My writing activity almost completely stopped.
By now it was spring, and though my hand was mostly healed and others’ health issues were improving, I was starting to realize how much ground I’d lost on my next book. Despite spending most of May doing research and interviewing women for it, I was slipping farther and farther behind my schedule. I pushed back the publication date from December, 2017 to March, 2018.
Most of the sessions I attended at WDC were marketing-related. Some were reviews of best practices. Others introduced new strategies. But I sat in the lounge on Saturday morning after the first session and all I could think of was “I’m doomed.” (Actually, that’s not the word, but this one’s a little more family-friendly.)
It hadn’t taken me long on Friday to realize how much ground I’d lost. I already knew my sales were down – way down – since the previous summer. But now I recognized how I’d contributed to that. Like I said earlier, life happens. There are times when personal issues take precedence and that’s all right. But I had not recovered from dealing with them. I hadn’t put the systems back into place that had helped me before. I hadn’t reached out to schedule events or write freelance articles or promote my public speaking. I had zero consistency in anything I was doing. And though I’ve stopped beating myself up about losing ground when my hand was broken, this was different. For a brief moment, I considered leaving the conference. I mean, why waste any more time?
Luckily, my friends were there to rescue me. A spirited lunch on Saturday with two of my closest friends and a new one pulled me back from the edge of despair. Admitting my feelings at dinner that night brought me the encouragement I needed to keep going.
By the time the conference ended on Sunday I felt marginally better. I had dinner that night with a friend who wasn’t at the conference. As it turned out, we both needed it. Those two hours got me out of myself.
I spent the next morning in lower Manhattan, taking pictures and picking up materials to update my presentation on “The Lost Stories of 9/11: Beyond Families and Firefighters”. Cucumber sandwiches and chai scones with clotted cream at my favorite tea parlor in the West Village didn’t hurt.
Now a couple days later, I know what I need to do and have a clearer understanding of how to do it. The despair is gone. I knew that for sure on Monday night. I got two emails that evening: one postponing a presentation and other wondering if another presentation should be cancelled.
Had I received those emails on Saturday I would’ve felt they were further confirmation that I was a failure, that my business was a failure. Instead I crafted responses: one to narrow possible dates and clarify the content of the presentation; the other to point out that it was much too early to consider cancellation and there were things we could do to encourage registrations. I took control by presenting my position clearly and offering options. I can do that now.
So it’s back to work today. I wouldn’t say I feel great, but my brain is less mushy. I feel more focused and determined than I did last week. My detour to Wall Street on Monday morning to take this picture felt silly at the time. But now I look at Fearless Girl and think,
“Oh, hell, yes.”