Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Preaching in the Dark - a DFWcon Epiphany

Ah, you guys. What can I say about DFWcon that I haven't already said?  It's the highlight of my year, the filling of my well, the thing that convinces me that yes, I can and should do all those other, scarier things.

But here is a thought that might be relevant to you, whether or not you went to the conference, whether or not you're even a writer.

See, I did a great class with Laura Maisano on Saturday, called Prose P90X.  It went swimmingly - we filled up the whole room, and got loads of compliments. We were a great team!

Look at all those shining faces!
But then I had to rush off to do a solo class, The Comma Sutra, in a different part of the building.  It was on the main stage of the theater - big lights, black curtains, the whole nine yards.  I was flattered they booked me there - obviously the Powers That Be expected that I could fill a significant chunk of the seats.

Here's the thing, though: because the class started exactly when extra pitch sessions went on sale, I didn't get nearly that kind of turnout.  When it came time to start, there were only maybe twenty people scattered through that huge, cavernous room.  More than that, the bright stage lights meant I couldn't see them, and the distance meant that unless they hollered right at me, I couldn't hear them either.  It felt like teaching a class at the bottom of an empty swimming pool at midnight.

Meanwhile, photographic evidence suggests that it LOOKED
like some kind of xenopornographic TED talk.
(Big thanks to Amber Draeger for the photos!)
That was a really hard thing.  My entire schtick relies on being able to see people's faces, to hear when they laugh and notice when they're confused or annoyed or distracted.  (This is one reason I'm comparatively crap at social media - my super-empathy powers don't work when there's an Internet between your face and mine.)  And let me tell you - it is SUPER awkward telling grammatically-instructive alien sex jokes when all you hear is silence.

But I kept at it, and kept soliciting questions, and started getting substantial answers, so I knew there were at least a few people who were out there and wanted to talk to me. By the time we finished, it had stopped being a sermon and become a true discussion, which is what I love best.

Well, imagine my surprise when I finished and stepped aside, and saw that the room had filled up.  People must have been trickling in during that hour, coming in ones and twos as they finished buying their extra pitch sessions and headed up to catch the class.  I don't know how many were there at the end, but I got over sixty names on my email sheets - and that's just the ones who cared enough to stand in line and sign up to get the PDF slides.

Image blurred to protect their identities.
And of course, the happy denouement: I got some great compliments on the class, and found wonderful mentions of it on Twitter. I even got this amazing email, which has been lighting up my life for three days straight now:
I'm sorry, but this morning I didn't know who you were.

Then you showed up on a panel and made some great comments.

Then I saw you at lunch and you were having SUCH a great time.

So when I checked my after-lunch class selections and saw your name, I altered my initial choice to take in P90X.

Wow... Great information, delivered fast and entertainingly.

So here I am in the balcony, listening to Comma Sutra. (Excellent!) But mostly I'm wondering: who the Hell are you and where did you come from? You're a freak of nature, and we need more.

Thanks for sharing yourself. You make it a better - and smarter - world.

And thanks for making my conference!

And maybe this doesn't make for a riveting anecdote, but like... that hour summed up my entire year to date.  I've spent so much time out and about over the past few months, striving like the dickens to be seen and get known. It's fun and I genuinely love doing it - being out in the real world with real people lights me up like nothing else! - but there are so many nights when I flop into a Motel 6 bed, utterly spent, and stare up into the darkness wondering what the hell I'm playing at. When you're promoting yourself, you're not really helping other people, and not really creating anything new, either - you're just trying to shine a spotlight on something you've already done, which people may or may not even notice, let alone care about. And most of the time, you can't tell if it's working.

And I know that's not just me, and not just book-promotion. Every facet of writing is like that sometimes. Shoot, LIFE is like that sometimes.  My mom said that about raising kids - you know, how you spend your whole entire day exhausting yourself, and at the end of it, you can't see that you've accomplished anything, because the house and the kids and your life look exactly like they did when you got up that morning.  My dad would say the same thing about his job, too: how he was so happy to mow the lawn on the weekend, because it was a measurable thing with a definable, visible, guaranteed result - not at all like the nebulous phone calls and vague paper-pushing that made up the rest of the week.

The red days are my out-of-town days - which are usually interspersed with oh-god-I'm-wasting-my-life nights.
So I guess what I'm saying, to myself as much as to you-all, is that at some point, we're all just preaching in the dark. It's a hard thing to do - to stick to your guns, to resist the urge to stop and check for approval, to trust that what you're doing is noticed and needed (or will be), even when nobody is there to tell you so.  It requires you to be truly self-sustaining, which is so, so much harder than it sounds.

But I hope you'll keep at it, whatever 'it' may be - and I believe that if you do it well enough, for long enough, you will eventually start getting those pingbacks, seeing the fruits of your labor.  Maybe you'll fill up the metaphorical room, and maybe you won't - but statistically speaking, there is almost-certainly somebody out there who's waiting to hear EXACTLY what you have to say... and you can't know that until and unless you have the courage to stay the course and say it.

All right - sermon over.  Go forth and preach, y'all - and if you have time, holler some encouragement to the people in your life who are doing likewise. Yours might be the only voice they can hear.


  1. Replies
    1. That's funny, Febe, cuz I was just thinking the same about you! (We missed you this year - I had to shin-kick Ben all by myself!)

  2. I've said it before...I'll say it again...I am so grateful to be able to orbit you and your world! You are a force of writing nature with a gravitational pull that is impossible to resist!

    Your two classes were the highlight of the conference! And Laura ROCKS also! :)

    1. DL, you know I never get tired of hearing that, but it is extra-special coming from you. You do AMAZING work for the writing community, from Write Club to the blog blitz to things I probably don't even know about - and if I can do ANYthing to make your work easier, funner, or more far-reaching, I expect to be cut in on the action. Thanks again for partnering with us this year - I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship...!

  3. Had a fabulous time & truly enjoyed meeting you! You were 50% more excited to be there than everyone else & everytime time I saw you, you were spreading that joy & excitement with a new group of writers that flocked to you like moths toward a flame.

    1. Weird, it just deleted my profile. I'm not really "unknown." I am a real person-- dammit Blogger! lol

    2. Ha! Don't worry, Lindsay - you're plenty real to me!

      And seriously, thank you so, so much for saying so. You know, I really feel like events like these help people discover their talents - like, when you have to live with yourself every hour of every day, it's hard to find anything special or wonderful about it. Then you get with a bunch of other people, and you notice what they like about you, and you're like "Huh! All right, I guess I'll be THAT person!" Then you do more of the stuff people like, and they like you even more, and it creates this amazing positive feedback loop.

      ...well, that's my theory so far, anyway. TL;DR: you are amazing, you make me feel amazing, and ANY time we can arrange to be in the same room together, I will be happy to return the favor!