Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Looking Back and Laughing at My Idiocy....

Today I'll share an experience from years ago that I can now laugh at


Not then

Travel with me back to 2003

I'm at a fantastic and exciting SCBWI conference - the big one in LA with lots of fantastic authors and agents and editors.

It was my first year of writing seriously

Actually, it had only been about 4 months and I had 37 pages of my very first novel completed -- which I believed to be brilliant and wonderful and sure to be snatched up by some lucky publishing house in a frantic auction....but, I'm digressing here....

At this conference, I had signed up for a manuscript critique and was assigned to a fantastic up and coming agent.

This was the gist of our conversation:

Agent: So, Tess, tell me about your novel

Me: *blabbers on about novel*

Agent: Is it completed?

Me: Not quite, it's about half way there.

Agent: (looking at pages), so the book is only going to be 74 pages long?

Me: ummm, no. I guess not.

Agent: No, I guess not. Alright, these pages have a very familiar feel to them.

Me: (blushing with pride) thank you!

Agent: (pulls wierd look on face) Umm, you're welcome.

Critique session ends and I walk around like a peacock feeling so proud of myself. Sure, I made a bit of a foolish remark when I said the book was half many pages should a novel be anyway? But, still, he said my work had a familiar feel. Like it was timeless and wonderful and brilliant.


Agent: "As agents, we are looking for something fresh and original. We don't want anything familiar or played."

Me: *sitting in back of room* oh crud. By familiar, he means played.


No wonder he had that weird look on his face when I beamed and said, "thank you"

sometimes my idiocy amazes even me

I hope I've learned a little over these past six years. I think I have, thanks to my fantastic writerly friends (like you) who have shared critique, information, insight and encouragement.

Here is my point:
It is a road, my friends -- a long, winding road
and if we can't laugh at ourselves along the way
it will be a boring road as well
Question for you: how good are you at learning to laugh at your own mistakes (making the broad assumption you would even have any mistakes...which may or may not be the case)? And, did you know familiar means stale???


L.T. Elliot said...

Dude, I just came back from a conference so my experience is a ltitle too raw. Give me...three days and I'll tell you about how humiliating I can make my own life.

PJ Hoover said...

OK, your story gave me a nice, nice chuckle. This is priceless. Thank you so much for sharing it!
I often laugh at my early writing attempts. I had my characters going shopping for gym shoes and t-shirts and brushing their hair. And I wonder how I cut my first version from 120K to 65K?

Lisa and Laura said...

Love it! And we are constantly making fun of ourselves. Life is too short to take yourself all that seriously. We are always looking back at our manuscripts and poking holes in the plot, making fun of our characters, etc. etc. It's healthy! And it leads to some great revisions.

Tess said...

L.T - No rush, friend. I swear, for the first six weeks I kept thinking, "Maybe he has two meanings for means stale and the other means timeless". Honestly, I tried to convince myself of that. I really tried.

PJ - now it's you making me chuckle. I think I had a hair brushing scene in that early work as well. too funny!

L&L - Yes! It is healthy. That's spot on.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Great post and brave of you, too! Every time I start writing something new I have to stop myself from calling up friends and saying, 'Listen to this.' I get so excited in the first flush of writing. Then I look back in a day or so and go, 'Um, well there's potential, with some work.'
Considering how long an architect designs a building or a composer works on a new score, I don't know why I should think the first words I pour out are ready for public consumption. But you know what? I enjoy the learning, growing process--critique groups, conferences, articles, all of it. It's great to have other writers with whom to share highs and lows.
And,the laughter (after the cringing).

Jody Hedlund said...

Great story,Tess! I definitely thought I was God's gift to the writing world when I first started writing! It only took a couple of rejections to land me back on earth!

Wendy said...

As you can probably guess, I LOVE to laugh at myself. I am my own best material! :D I also cling to the knowledge that I have much to learn now and in 40 years, I will still have MUCH to learn.
~ Wendy

Tess said...

Tricia - what a great comparison to consider how other artists are so right. And, I don't consider it brave because I truly find it hilarious :D

Jody - it's those humbling experiences that - in the end - teach us about humanity and make us better writers (I hope!)

Wendy - yes! I agree...much to learn at every step of the path (in life as well as writing :D)

Life with Kaishon said...

This made me smile! Look how well you are writing now though! I have to laugh at myself! It would bbe crazy not to : ). I clicked over here because I saw your comment at Zook book nook and I adored your little picture. So sweet!

lotusgirl said...

Aw, Tess! The thing is that you learned and your writing now is delightful. See, you even have an agent. So, you've come a long way! Writing can be a bumpy road. I'm not sure how well I laugh at myself yet. I'm trying.

Davin Malasarn said...

I'm still too scared to go to a conference. But I'm getting closer and closer to it. I laugh at my old writing these days. What's sad is that sometimes I look at it and think it was better than what I write now. I think with experience, I've started to overthink things.

Your story was great, Tess. It shows how far you come, and I think you have a really healthy view of your growth and experiences. You're doing so wonderfully now. I hope you're proud of your accomplishments!

Tess said...

Life with Kashion - welcome! I clicked over to your blog and got a serious belly laugh. Yes, we play with fire here too :D

lotusgirl - thanks, friend. Yes, I have learned some and still have much to learn. When we look at writing as a journey instead of a destination, it makes for a great adventure.

Davin - you must go to a conference, you must! you will be inspired, educated and meet all sorts of wonderful writerly people. you are the type of person I hope to meet when I go to those conferences! And, I'm excited for where I am but try not to stumble on the rock called pride - it will land me right on my butt , lol.

TereLiz said...

Um, I just sent out another five queries with a typo in the first page of my mss. Just another mistake (I hope) I learned from.

Jill Kemerer said...

Oh Tess, I'm shaking my head because we could be sisters. I'm constantly embarrassing myself. I mean--all the time. There aren't enough hours in the day...

Thanks for the smile!

Amy Allgeyer Cook said...

I embarrass myself ALL THE TIME! I shouldn't be allowed out by myself. I'm short a blog today, so I'll post my most recent (non-writing related) gaff there.

Liana Brooks said...

Oh gosh... that was almsot me.

I finished my first novel in HS. Typed it up after college, and started hunting agents in the area so I could go down to their office and show them my beautiful manuscript.


Lucky me, I ran into some good advice on the internet before I found myself black-listed and blogged about from here to Kingdom Come.

It's been several years, and several novels, since then and I still cringe thinking about how close I was to jumping off a cliff without realizing it. But I did learn, I think.

I'm doing my editing, and my homework. And one day I'll try that query idea again.

Danyelle said...

You know, learning about everyone's mistakes and laughing with each other, really helps what could otherwise be a painful process. My worst moment was realizing I hadn't changed the date (much earlier) on my query before I sent it. >.<

I'm nerdy online, and worse in person, so it's probably best if I steer clear of face to face agent stuff--at least until I've signed with one. ;-)

Jeannie Campbell said...

okay....i laughed. sorry. but if we can't/couldn't laugh at our own ignorance, we would be in a sad state. great story...thanks for sharing your enlightenment. :)

Tess said...

Jeannie - laugh away! that is my point in all of this.

like Danyelle said - it helps and it's all good and I know about word counts no problem :D

TereLiz- typo-schmypo. They'll still love your work.

Jill - writerly sisters....I like that.

Amy - loved your post on your blog. it's fun to be entertainment for others, right??

Liana - at least it was ALMOST you....for me, it actually

Sarah said...

I agree, Tess. Conferences are wonderful! My first conference was hard- but only because I was so overwhelmed and unreasonably nervous. I was certain someone would look at me ... look again ... and then announce to everyone that I wasn't a REAL writer.

As far as embarrassing stories...

The first time I first buckled down and started writing was an elating, amazing experience. I'd fix myself a cup of cocoa and start writing at 11 or so at night. I'd be so engrossed that I'd write till 2, and be thinking about it till 4, then get up for work at 6:30.

The ability to write so late and long was a sign of blossoming genius. I was sure of it. (Though I never would have said so.)

Then the friend who gave me the cocoa mix e-mailed a note warning me that she'd put coffee in the cocoa. She knew how caffeine affected me so watch out. Yeah, my genius was caffeine.

Still helps sometimes. : )

I think this newbie euphoria's a good thing, Tess. The problem comes when our 'genius' and pride in the 'timeless familiarity' of our work continues past the first six months of writing.

Tess said...

Sarah - caffeine, eh? Excellent idea! Really, that is a very cute should journal it so it is not lost. And, yes, I am much humbler now. Much.

Joyce Wolfley said...

I have yet to go to a conference...but I'm pretty sure I would've done the same thing. I look back at what I thought was brilliant in my first draft and cringe. I'm sure in six years I'll be mortified at what I'm writing now. You're right - it is a path we are on....and we determine its end.

superpaige said...

Mistakes? What mistakes. Oh, and by the way--nice pants.

Tess said...

Joyce - I think it is the journey of writing...rather than the destination that is where we should find the most joy and laughter :D

Paige - pants? I'm wearing a skirt...whatever are you talking about, friend?

Suzanne said...


The journey is a laugh riot isn't it? At least we have to think about it that way... right? To avoid either giving it all up, or figuiring out what pipe in the basement would be strong enough to hold our weight.... ;)MUCH better to laugh!
Thanks so much for sharing!

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I've learned that I'm DAMN good at taking criticism and feedback. My betas now know to be brutally honest with me because I won't cry or yell at them. Instead, I thank them and offer to include them in my acknowledgements because their feddback made my story so much better. :)
And yeah, I kinda knew familiar meant stale. But its okay. I know how hard the adrenaline pumps while at conference. Your brain isn't working at full capacity because its on overload. :)

Tess said...

Suzanne - now that's funny!

KarenAmanda - good for you, that is such an important quality. I'm pretty good at taking critique as well and see it as a blessing. What's funny is that I laughed at myself way back in '03 and hope I continue to do the same today :D My brain seldom works at capacity and is often on overload - lol.