The woman up front offered us newbies instructions for having a the best possible four days at the writers conference I was attending near Chicago. When she got to the rules for attendees, she laughed.
“Full frontal nudity is frowned upon,” she said. Other than that, there aren't many rules. Have fun!”
That should have been my first clue this convention would not be in my comfort zone.
The half dozen men in kilts should have been my second. Having spent the rest of my writing career attending Christian writers conferences in very edgy towns such as Wheaton, IL and Warm Beach, WA, I really didn't know how four days hanging with women who wore bustiers as business lunch attire was going to go down. But I had paid good money for this conference, and I was determined to get something out of it.
See, I signed up for the RT convention based on the marketing workshops they offered. GREAT info on getting your books out there and learning to network. I actually had no idea until arriving what RT stood for. (Romantic Times. And they cover ALL sorts of romance. You have no idea. You don't want to.) This is where doing a little homework may have been a productive thought. On the other hand, if knowing had scared me off, I would have missed some great learning opportunities.
What I took home from the RT conference, aside from valuable marketing info and conference freebies I would hide from children, was a better understanding of what it takes to do something great in your life. I believe that's a pretty good message to start a new year with.
We think we'll meet our goals by remaining in our safe places doing our safe things. But in the end, that only keeps us safe. (It doesn't even really do that.)
It will never take us to great.
Three things I learned from accidentally going to an R-rated writers conference:
To accomplish something great I will have to:
- Make a lot of mistakes. Edison is famous for saying he hadn't failed but had discovered 10,000 ways a light bulb would not work. Somewhere amid those “mistakes” one experiment happened along that did work. Perfectionists and the overly-cautious actually accomplish less because while they are waiting for the exactly right opportunity, everyone else is taking the “OK this will work for now” opportunity and running with it.
If I'm not willing to jump at something, even if it may not be ideal, I'll be waiting a long time for the ideal. Meanwhile, I could have just accepted there would be mistakes in the process and gone on. Not knowing what the conference was about was a mistake. Not getting all I could for it would have been a bigger one. As my favorite fictional teacher says, “Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy.” It's the only way to move forward.
- Invest in a lot that seems worthless. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to learn to do something proficiently. In those 10,000 hours, I'm betting a LOT of hours seem like a total waste of time. Stories that never sell. Ideas that don't bear fruit. Something you thought was finished that has to be done over. And over. And over.
It may have seemed like the money I invested to go to the conference could have been better spent. But even if I could not use the “plotting your erotica novel” workshop (and did NOT attend it, in case anyone is questioning that), the underlying investment in career planning and the people I connected with were far from worthless.
Just because something looks on the surface like it won't be fruitful, don't give up on it. Dig a bit deeper. You'll have to invest in things that look marginal in order to pull together all you need for greatness. Which kind of leads to #3.
- Pick the gold out of the pan. No opportunity is all gold. If you think it is, you'll find out otherwise as soon as the honeymoon is over. Greatness happens when we look at the opportunity we jumped at in #1, assess all the mistakes and investments, and say, “This I'll keep. This I'll toss.” We accept that it takes hard work to find the gold and no one is going to hand us a ready-made setting of pure 14K. Have the wisdom the figure out what's precious metal and hold onto it.
It wasn't safe. It definitely wasn't comfortable. I did meet some fun people though, and I made a friend in a great table mate. I grasped more about marketing a book than I ever had before. More than that, I learned about jumping into unexpected opportunity and learning to glean gold from it. Plus, I learned more about men in kilts than I ever really wanted to know.