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  • Writer's pictureSofia Sawyer

RWA Nationals Recap from a First-Timer

As an introvert, the thought of going to a conference in a major city was a bit overwhelming. And with this being the first time I stepped out into the real world as an author, the pressure was on. After taking the plunge and embracing my identity on social media last fall, this next step was both scary and exciting. I’d spent the week leading into RWA psyching myself up, preparing to sit among so many successful authors. I thought I’d be way out of my league, but I was wrong.

I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve met a famous person unless you count seeing Paul Wahlberg at his mom’s Hingham, MA restaurant or strolling by Flava Flav on a street in Vegas. So I didn’t know what to expect when I finally met some of the authors I know and love. Would they be glamorous and have an entourage? Would they be hard to connect to? Would they see me as an annoying fan? Would they have dedicated readers flocking to them? Turned out, not only are all of these authors completely down-to-earth and relatable, but they seem to genuinely care about talking to their fans. It calmed down my fangirl jitters and only made me want to support them that much more.

But it's not just about the big-timers, it's also about the other people in the crowd. I've met so many wonderful authors at different stages in their careers. Some were just getting started, others were several books in, some chose traditional, others indie, and there was a healthy mix of hybrid. Some treat writing as a full-time or part-time job, while others squeeze writing in between work and family obligations. Point being, there is no one way to be an author. If you love writing, you’ll find a way to write.

That passion and commitment inspired me. Being the only person in my network of friends who writes, I’ve felt like I’m on an island, so being surrounded by other writers this week really opened my eyes. It can be so easy to compare yourself to established authors who have been at it for years or to measure yourself against perfect social media posts. Everyone seems to have it together. They make it seem effortless. But in speaking to these people and hearing their process, I found there is no right or wrong way, and no template for success. You just have to keep writing, test things out, and be brave enough to put yourself out there. Now I didn’t just go to the conference to mingle with other writers (even though that was super nice), I went there to attend sessions and learn. And learn I did. Although I knew writing was complicated and hard work, I learned so many other aspects to it. In a sense, writing is a business. There are so many non-writing things people need to consider to make it work on top of ensuring their writing craft is on point. Going through these sessions were eye-opening when I realized what else I needed to do for my writing career. Thankfully, these sessions helped me devise a plan to work towards. More importantly, I now know I don't need to do it all at once. I can take it little by little, and that's perfectly ok.

Another interesting tidbit I heard was there’s no right or wrong way to write a story (within reason). Of course, there are ways to improve your writing, such as removing adverbs to craft stronger prose, keeping the right level of tension in your story, and knowing how to create the right hooks to engage your readers. But I also learned that part of being successful in writing is sometimes just luck. The market changes, readers want new things, and you can’t always predict the shifts. Also, some of the writing advice you hear (such as nixing prologues or limiting backstory in the early chapters) are often shared by writers or editors and are things readers might not notice or care about. The point is, listen to the writing advice but don’t get too hung up on it. Focus on telling a good story that readers will love rather than the technicalities of “perfect” writing.

That realization brought me a huge sense of relief. I’ve been attending webinars, buying books on writing, reading blogs, and doing workshops. I’ve used what I've learned and implemented it into my writing process. I've taken everything so literally as if doing these specific things mean I’m doing “writing right” and maybe people will want to read my books. But thinking like that is restricting. It’s draining. And it was pushing me to burn out which was affecting my creativity. To be told that none of this advice should be taken 100% to heart was freeing.

That point was driven home when speakers talked about some of the most popular books in history. Blockbuster books. When they broke down those books, there were a ton of glaring “issues” these successful authors made in terms of breaking away from the specific writing rules. Again, readers don’t care if you have your beats perfectly in place, or if you used a POV that isn’t common for your genre, or if you used adverbs more often than the recommended one every 300 words. All readers care about is being entertained. They want to care about the story, care about your characters, and get lost in the world you create.

Although I learned so much here, it only showed me that I have a whole lot more to learn. There’s no one-size-fits-all plan to become a successful author. There’s no specific writing formula that guarantees a bestseller. There are no exact milestones you need to hit within a precise amount of time. It’s all up to me. Success will look different for everyone, which means I can make my writing career whatever I want. My goals don't need to be making a bestseller list right away, it could be to learn how to publish and market a book. I don’t need to have whimsical marketing copy and photos that make instant super fans, it could be that I understand how to create a solid hook for my blurb and pitch. I don’t need to write the desired POV for my genre, it’s about finding the POV that feels best to me so I can tap into my voice and build stronger characters (and maybe that POV will change with each book). It’s not about plotting my book within an inch its life so I don’t need to do major revisions after the first draft, but about getting the basics down and letting my story develop into what it needs to be. Everything can be fixed later.

Writing is art, and it takes time. It takes trial and error. It takes doing it without fear and diving in without restrictions. And it takes knowing your writing style, process, and career will always be evolving. By embracing that rather than being paralyzed by fear or trying to follow in someone else’s footsteps, you’ll find what works for you sooner.

Start today.


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