I apologize for the long post. I had a great time at the AML conference (what little time I was able to spend there!) and here are my thoughts on Dave Wolverton’s speech.
AML (Association for Mormon Letters) is this association for Mormon literary people (they have a blog here), and I don’t know a whole lot about it, except that a few of my English teachers were members of it. They have a short story contest each year, and I submitted The Clearest Vision this year (and lost, unfortunately). I somehow signed up for their email list, so I got this email from them a few weeks ago announcing the AML Writers’ Convention at SLCC today–with Dave Wolverton as the keynote speaker! I was pretty stoked! Dave Wolverton is a big name in Sci Fi / Fantasy (and he’s Mormon, too, just like Orson Scott Card and Tracy Hickman).
I went up with my friend Steve this morning and we had a really good time! Dave Wolverton’s speech was really good and thought provoking! He told a lot of personal stories, and some of them were really spiritual. Also, when you see him speak, you realize that he’s just a regular guy, which is actually pretty cool.
He started out by speaking about how writers tend to be some of the most timid and self-conscious people around. He told several stories to show how he was like this when he first started writing. He was petrified that people would actually read the stuff he wrote, but then he had such a strong desire to write that he bought an $80 typewriter as a kid and hid it from his parents for a year while he churned out stories!
And it’s really true–writers are some of the most self-conscious, timid people around. Sometimes I think that there’s something wrong with me, because I actually like to share my stories with people, rather than keep them private! I really get a sense of this self-consciousness when I give criticism in the writing group–when the writer of the story gives me this look like a scared, cornered animal as I get ready to lay on the criticism, I get really worried that I’m going to do more harm that good. But timidity really is the rule among aspiring writers.
Dave compared this fear with the fear of public speaking. He said that the two are very similar, and that getting over the fear has almost nothing to do with writing itself. Like how you get over your fear of public speaking by practicing it, you can alleviate self consciousness as you share your writing with others. He said that creative writing classes are really good for this, and I also got the impression that writing groups (like ours!) can really help out a lot as well! Yay for the Quark writing group! He also said that success is really helpful for getting over this self-consciousness. Over time, as your writing is well received by many people, you “grow a thick skin” to criticism.
He spoke a lot about his mission, and how that really helped him to get over both his fear of public speaking and his fear of sharing his writing with others. I can definitely understand what he was talking about. Before my mission, back when I first attempted to write a novel, I was so self conscious of my writing that I’d read what I’d written and just cry–I really didn’t want anyone to see it at all. Now…well, it’s different. MUCH different. I WANT to share my writing with others. I really don’t get upset with criticism, and sometimes I have a hard time being sensitive towards other people who do.
He then said some really interesting things about writing about what you believe in. He told a story about how he was almost killed while working in a prison because he let a few black prisoners work with him in the kitchen. He said it was a real turning point to him when he realized that he believed in equal rights so much that he was willing to stand up to these Aryan Brotherhood thugs and risk his life to let them know that he wasn’t going to back down on the issue. He encouraged everyone to write with that kind of a belief in something. It’s not that you approach a story dogmatically, or say “this is the lesson I want my readers to learn,” it’s that you write about a subject that you really believe in strongly. If you’re doing this, then it will be impossible not to write something meaningful.
He then spent some time talking about how it can be really difficult finding a way to share the strong beliefs that come from your spirituality as a Latter-day Saint with a non-Mormon audience. You can’t be explicit about it, because a lot of people really don’t want to hear it. But you can’t just cut it out, either, because it’s what you really believe. So how do you reconcile that? He suggested writing on ethical issues or putting forward ethical characters, or finding small ways to express those strong beliefs, but he really wasn’t conclusive on it at all. I think that ultimately that’s something that all of us are going to have to find out on our own–what works for us individually.
He then ended with some of the most interesting thoughts in the whole speech. He went back to the fear and timidity that so many writers have, and suggested that the best way to overcome that is to displace your fear with hope. He said that nothing destroys your writing like fear–that as long as you’re afraid, it will be difficult to write. Successful writers are boundlessly hopeful–look for a hidden reservoir of hope. Think to yourself–what if you got published? What if you found success and things worked out? We need to get to the point where we really don’t care about the fear, we’re so hopeful.
That really struck me! It got me thinking about the writing group–how can I help my fellow budding and aspiring writers really have hope that they can succeed? How can I give criticism in such a way that they really feel they can make their writing better–and find success because of it? Honestly, I feel something of a sense of duty as the writing vp to help out the other guys in the club as much as I can. I really want us all to have the hope that we can get published and succeed someday! We really need to have this sense of hope in the writing group.
And this brings me to my last few thoughts–do I have this kind of hope myself? When I sit down and write, what do I hope will ultimately become of it? Do I actually believe that I CAN get published? That what I’m writing can get published?
The first nine months after my mission, I attempted to write a novel and got 69,000 words into it before putting it on the shelf. 69,000 words. Why did I do that? I think I believed it could be published. That was always a distant hope. Do I believe it now? I don’t know. Do I believe that The Lost Colony could get accepted? I honestly don’t know. But if I don’t have it now, I need to foster it now, as much as I can!
A couple of months ago, I doubted whether or not I could actually finish an original novel at this point in my life. Now, I am determined and incredibly hopeful to have the rough draft finished by the end of Winter 2006! I look back now, and I’m surprised that things have changed so much! Right now, I feel doubtful as to whether or not any publishers will accept this beast. Hopefully, in the future, this doubt will change to hope just as much as the last one did!