Conference season will soon begin, and with it the inevitable polite questions at lunch, between workshops, during pitch sessions, and at the bar. Can you answer the following questions with ease?
~ 1. What do you write?
~ 2. What is your current project about?
~ 3. Why did you write this particular story?
~ 4. What published author’s work is like yours?
~ 5. Who is your ideal reader?
These seem like simple questions, but ask #2 to five different writers and you may very well encounter a stumbler, a mumbler, a blowhard, a blank stare, and one articulate response. Writers write, after all; we’re not necessarily good at giving speeches, even if the speech is a short description of a novel we’ve spent months planning, plotting, and writing.
An articulate response takes practice. So, practice. Imagine yourself during down time at a conference. Visualize the bar or the Saturday night party with a group of hale fellows. A colleague–a fellow writer, a visiting agent, an editor from the faculty–you met in one of the workshops orders a glass of wine. So do you. You exchange pleasantries (or snark) about the keynote’s dinner address.
And then, because your new colleague friend is polite and this is expected, he asks, “What do you write?”
“Oh, really? So do I!” New Colleague Friend says. “What’s your current project about?”
And so on. Write out the five questions and five answers. Answer honestly–forget what you think an agent or editor wants to hear, and write the truth. Think about New Colleague Friend as a friend. After answering all five, read your answers aloud. Do your responses fall trippingly off your tongue? Does this little Q&A sound like a conversation between two like-minded friends?
Or…does saying the lines you wrote make you feel like a robot? Are your answers to these simple questions hard to write out, or overly long, because you don’t have a clear idea of what your project is about, why you wrote it, and what published works are similar to it? Have you never given your ideal reader a thought because who cares about readers, you write to please yourself and only yourself? Are you a stumbler, a mumbler, a blank starer, or a blowhard?
If you answer yes to any of the above, stay out of the bar until you can articulate easy answers to these five easy questions. All it takes is practice. So, practice.
Addendum: In the coming weeks, I’ll be teaching two online workshops that address how to articulate what you are writing, why you are writing it, and who would enjoy reading it. The first, in March, is a one week course that will be fast and furious. It is sponsored by the Pittsburgh Chapter of Sisters in Crime, but is open to the public. The second, in April, is two weeks long, and more in depth, and open to members of Sisters in Crime Guppy Chapter.