I am attending the Santa Barbara Writers Conference TODAY. Excited. Nervous! I haven’t posted here in a while, party because I have spent the last few weeks preparing. I… wrote a 1-page synopsis of my novel. Wrote out a three-line pitch and went over and over and over it. Chose stories I’ve written to bring to the workshops (whether I have the courage to actually present my work and be critiqued by a bunch of total strangers, that’s another story). Spent much too long going through my wardrobe and assembling an outfit for each day…
I haven’t been doing much actual fiction writing. This worries me.
A couple months ago I went to see two dance performances: Alvin Ailey at the Arlington in Santa Barbara, and the Trey McIntyre Project at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Both were gorgeous. I especially liked the Trey McIntyre Project’s adaptation of Titus Andronicus, one of my favorite Shakespeare tragedies, in which Titus coerces his enemy to eat a pie made out of her sons. I saw my first Titus when studying abroad in London, as a groundling at the Globe, and I was so close I got to rest my elbows on the stage and actually saw one of the actors slip a capsule of fake blood between his lips! In this performance, the three dancers used flowing red fabric to symbolize the deaths, and the female dancer stuffed a stringy, play dough-like substance into her mouth.
When you’re a dancer, you put in a lot of time practicing. I danced in high school, on my high school dance troupe, and we practiced every day after school. Plus weekend rehearsals for performances. Other girls, more intense than I, took additional classes at outside dance studios. An easy estimate? 10-20 hours per week. A professional dancer? I don’t know, but I could easily guess 40-60 hours per week. (“Black Swan”? It’s not just a profession, it’s an obsession.)
So when I take a break from fiction writing to do synopsis writing, and pitch writing, and sometimes no writing, even though I’m working toward the very writerly goal of attending and making the most of a writers conference, I get worried. Worse, I log my hours when I do write fiction daily and realize I only write for 6-10 hours per week.
When I spoke to my mentor recently, he said it sounds like I’m getting things done. It seems like I’ve got a good groove. And it’s true—on a normal day, I wake up and write in the morning. Creative writing only. I don’t let anything else get in, for at least an hour. Then I go to work, and then come home and eat dinner and walk the dog. Evenings are for marketing, blogging, emails, research, etc.
Except when I’m doing something like preparing for a conference. Or building a website. (More on that to come—I’ve decided it’s time for me to have a real author website with a domain name and branding and so forth. Yesterday I had a photo shoot for my author photo!)
But, no matter how much I accomplish, there is this niggling feeling that I should be doing more. No matter how much I write, I always feel I should have put in more hours, another thousand words. Like a professional dancer, shouldn’t a professional writer work for 40-60 hours per week? How will I ever become the writer I want to be if I don’t put in that kind of time?
One beautiful day stands out in my mind, when I wrote for 5 hours straight and didn’t notice the time passing. Another day, where between writing, reading, and critiquing, I had a full 8-hour day of writerly life (this blog post). Why are these so few and far between? Could I, even if I had the time and the money, write for 8 hours a day? Or write for 4 and do the rest of the necessary stuff for 4?
And, regarding the conference, have I prepared enough? Am I going to make a fool of myself? Botch my editor/agent meetings and any other important encounters? Is it really time for me to attend a conference? Perhaps I need six more drafts of this novel.
I wonder if I will always feel like I should be doing/should have done more.
But I suppose a writer must strike a balance between what she wants and what she is capable of, just as she must strike a balance between writing and all the other aspects of life. Perhaps I’ll find some answers to my questions over the coming days, as I immerse myself in workshops, panels, and lectures, surrounded by writers.