I still haven’t processed all the thoughts and feels from attending Eckerd College’s Writers In Paradise conference, but the one thing that stuck out to me the most, and keep turning over in my head is the foreign concept of following my intuition–the good ol’ trusting of your gut. When we think of writing, especially when attending a class or conference or anything focused on the craft, we think more of the rules (or suggestions, if being generous). Things I heard all throughout last week: Ground your reader. Show don’t tell. Start at a point of risk. What’s the hook? Are you starting before the real story starts? Is there too much backstory? Do we understand the character’s motivation?
But even with all this, writing is a subjective endeavor. So too is reading.
Part of the conference was an event they called Writer Idol, similar to (I imagine; I’ve never seen it) American Idol. People attending were asked to submit a page–I was told one page of anything; most everyone else was told to submit a one-page beginning. Someone read each piece and three judges (John Searles, Ann Hood and Andre Dubus III the first round, David Yoo, Laura Lippmann and Les Standiford the second) listened, raising their hands when they lost interest in the piece for whatever reason. Two hands up, the reader had to stop reading. The point was to emulate what a busy editor would do, stressing that your opening must be perfect if you want that editor to keep reading. That was the point, as I said, as they told us, but what I really took away from the experience was just how subjective it really all is, because there were times my hand would have gone up, but the judges were often more generous. Or less generous, as with my submission. They didn’t like it. (Les said something like, “Maybe it’s just because I can’t hear, but I have no idea what’s going on.” Laura said, “It’s too self-aware.”) But the thing about what I submitted–it had already been published somewhere, so someone thought it had some merit.
No one can give you the right answer. There is no right answer, only what’s right for you. There’s this quote, the internets say either Thomas Jefferson or Andrew Jackson said it (maybe they both did): “One (wo)man with courage makes a majority” (parenthesis mine) and I keep coming back to that in regards to all I’m writing about here. Trust your gut, go with your instinct and stand tall and brave, supporting that which in your heart you believe to be right. That’s really all you can do, but like most advice, easier said than done.