If you’re a romance writer, then you know that a week from now several thousand romance writers will be descending on Anaheim, CA for the annual Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference. I’m going for my first time, and it’s also the first time I’ve flown since the airlines started charging for extra baggage.
Yesterday morning I looked up the dimensions of the bags I’m allowed and the weight restrictions and started planning on how I could trim what I normally pack for a trip. That same morning, I came across Jami Gold’s post, The Ultimate #RWA12 Conference Packing List and it got me thinking–packing for a trip is a lot like writing. I love metaphors, let’s see how far I can run with this.
Know the purpose for your draft/trip
Each novel is going to go through multiple revision passes. In the early draft phase, some things are not as important and so it doesn’t pay to get worked up over it. For instance, a first draft is just getting your story basics down. The next pass will be structural, making sure you have a solid plot. It would be costly time-wise, to polish any of your prose at this stage, or to ask/pay someone else to give you line edits, since any line, paragraph or scene could change dramatically or get cut.
How is this like packing? If it’s just a quick trip to a familiar place, the stakes aren’t high, and you’re driving, you can be pretty casual about packing. You won’t be penalized for throwing anything or everything into your car and sorting it out later. You have a rough idea of what you need and go with it. Since the stakes aren’t high, it won’t matter if you forget something.
Weighing each word/item
Once we get to that final polish before submission, however, the stakes are different. Now you need to scrutinize every word and scene to make sure it serves the purpose of your story. I’m at this stage with MUST LOVE BREECHES. I’m doing a mind-numbing Find for a long list of words and phrases that could either be cut, or that could be red flags for my prose. I’m only on Chapter 8, but I’ve already cut over 800 words I did not need! I have to do it in chunks, because it is so tedious, but I know the story will be better in the end. I’m at the pre-submission stage for this WIP.
How is this like packing? It’s like my preparation now for the RWA conference. The stakes are high, it’s a costly trip, and I’ll be flying where I need to be careful about what I pack or the airline will charge me. So, I’m going through absolutely every article I’m bringing to see if it can serve several purposes, to see if I actually need it, and in the case of toiletries, if it can be poured into a smaller container. A small tube of toothpaste still gets the job done, but will be more efficient (like that shorter sentence after you trimmed out those words you didn’t need). For a normal trip, I already have a pre-packed toiletries bag I just pull out and throw in stuff I use everyday but don’t have duplicated. It’s quick, it’s efficient and I’m on the road, no agonizing. But I can’t do this for this trip. I’ll be taking everything out of that bag and evaluating it. Just like in a rough draft, it’s okay to write clichés or insert extra ‘baggage’ we don’t need, but for a final draft? No way.
At some stage, you will need to do research for your novel, especially if the stakes are high. First drafts can have placeholders, but final drafts cannot. Some things you write will come from your acquired knowledge, but the true test is recognizing your own limitations and knowledge gaps and to take steps to amend them. You can also surprise yourself in what you find when you research that can make your story stronger.
How is this like packing? For my first writer’s conference, I was driving and I was going to a city I was familiar with, so some things I knew what to pack and plan for. But there were also gaps in my knowledge that I recognized and took the steps beforehand to research, mainly the agents I’d be pitching to. So I researched them, made dossiers, and packed them.
Not researching can also lead to missed opportunities. Case in point: I was perusing some posts on the conference and saw that Saturday night is a big dress-up deal, as in folks where ball gowns! If I hadn’t taken the time to familiarize myself with what was happening, I wouldn’t have known and wouldn’t have packed one. Fortunately for me and my limited budget, I’m a denizen of Mobile and Mardi Gras balls, so I can simply choose one from my closet and pack it. Now, I understand that one can attend in business casual, but they’re in the minority and I would’ve hated missing an opportunity to dress up like that. How often do you get to wear a ball gown?
Personality and brand is important
While there are guides to writing well, at some point you need to be skilled enough to let your unique voice shine through your writing and know when to break the rules. You will also bring your own sensibilities and mindset into your writing. You also are nurturing a brand–you.
How is this like packing? There are tons of advice out there about what to pack and what to wear for your trip, but ultimately you need to be true to yourself. You’ll pack things that show your personality, sometimes without you even realizing what it says about you. Are you someone who always packs a deck of cards, just in case?
Since my RWA trip is about furthering my writing career, and is not just a trip to the beach with family, you better believe I’ll be packing with this in mind. Yesterday at Target, I bought a little Yoda plushie that I can attach to my conference bag to help distinguish it from the 2000 other bags, but I chose it because it’s f&*)*ing Yoda! And see, that’s part of my brand as a geek girl romance writer. Unfortunately my geek clothes are all super casual, so completely inappropriate for this conference. My funds didn’t allow me to purchase funky, dressier stuff only nice, classic clothes on clearance, but it will give a professional appearance which is vital. If I ever get successful, I’ll be able to not only afford it monetarily but flaunt convention a tad.
It can cost you
Failure to understand the nature of the writing business can cost you. The title of this post uses the phrase ‘do it with purpose’ instead of ‘do it correctly’ for a reason, though. You need to go about writing with a clear purpose at every stage, but there is no “right” way to do it. However, if you fail to do it with purpose, it will cost you. Perhaps it’s not having patience enough to seek outside opinions and self-publishing your first novel. I just read a comment from someone who only had friends and family proof her work before she put it up. She got some pretty bad reviews, which she said stung at first. She admitted though that now that she’s going to critique groups, she’s realized her story could have been much better. The cost to her? Bad reviews and potential brand damage.
There are so many other ways it can cost you– submitting to agents/editors before the story is as polished as it can be, or not researching said agents/editors, will cost you the ability to pitch to them again for the same project, for example. Just like any stage of writing, this needs to be done with purpose as well.
How is this like packing? Used to be you could throw anything into a suitcase or more than one and check it. No longer. Money is tight for me, so it totally sucks that I have to pay $25 to check my bag, but I already know I won’t be able to take everything in a carry-on. However, I do not want to go over the 50lb limit, or check a second bag, so I’ll be going over everything to make sure I don’t incur any more costs. I’ll be packing with a firm purpose. Just like in writing, as I mentioned above, I’ll be scrutinizing every item to make sure it serves the purpose of this trip.
It can also cost you during your trip if the stakes are high. For instance, if I didn’t do any research or planning and just quickly packed for this trip willy-nilly, oh boy would it cost me professionally when I arrived. I would have been ill prepared and come across as unprofessional.
Because I’m a new writer my knowledge is pretty limited. Especially compared to the multi-published authors. There are a lot of things that are second nature to them that I have to consciously do, or strive for, or learn. I’ll make mistakes along the way. I already have, in fact. I’m learning.
How is this like packing? Veteran conference goers will have an easier time than I will packing for this trip. They know what to expect, what to bring. They’ve made mistakes in the past and learned from them, and get better and better each time they go.
How about you? Are you going to RWA? Did this metaphor make a lick of sense? Do you see other ways packing is like writing that I missed?