Alexandra Duncan

Science Fiction. Fantasy. Feminism.

Y.A. NOVEL CHALLENGE UPDATE 4 - A TERRIBLE, EXTENDED METAPHOR ABOUT HATS

Most of the time, I don't feel like a real writer. There's a picture of me in an old family album running around in my mom's shoes and peaked nurse's cap(yes, nurses still had caps when she started her career), playing grown-up. That's how I feel about this whole writing thing most of the time, like I'm wearing this writer-hat, but REAL writers can probably tell with one look at me that I stole that hat from someone else's closet. What if they try to take it from me and return it to its rightful owner?!

Have you ever noticed that writers are horribly insecure people?

But then there are weeks like this one, weeks when I get to be around other writers, doing writer-y things, and I think maybe that hat belongs to me after all. (Okay, I'm abandoning the hat metaphor now. I'm sick of it, too.) In the last week and a half, I have gotten to:

1) See one of my favorite writers, Sarah Dessen, do a reading at Malaprop's. And I got to meet her! She signed my copy of The Truth About Forever (dorky fangirl squeal!) and let my sister and me take a picture with her.

The photographic evidence!
2) Attend a wonderfully funny writing panel that included my friend Stephanie Perkins (whose second book, Lola and the Boy Next Door, comes out this September. Yay!), Beth Revis (Across the Universe), Myra McEntire (Hourglass), and Victoria Schwab (The Near Witch). These four ladies were refreshingly open about the down-and-dirty parts of the writing and publishing process, and they had a wonderful chemistry that made you feel as if you were chatting with your friends, rather than sitting in a cramped folding chair in an indie bookstore cafe.

3) Critique manuscripts with writer-friends Nathan Ballingrud and Theodora Goss as part of the Summer Y.A. Novel Writing Challenge.

I've known Nathan for a long time, but I was actually really nervous to meet Dora. She's one of those writers whose books I had read and admired long before I started corresponding with her -- one of those REAL writers who could take away my hat. Her short story collection, In the Forest of Forgetting, is full of these beautifully-crafted, sophisticated fantasy stories, and her book The Thorn and the Blossom comes out later this year. However, she turned out to be sharp, funny, down to earth, and an excellent critique partner. She did not take my hat. If anything, she planted it more firmly on my head. (Alright, I really will stop with the hat metaphor now. Promise.)

None of us were done with our respective projects, but Nathan and Dora both helped me identify and buttress the weaker parts of my narrative and offered enough encouragement about the good parts to keep my going. I left that day feeling reinvigorated and even more excited about my novel than before. I hope I was able to help them as much as they helped me.

Writing is such a solitary vocation-- and writers largely predisposed toward introversion -- that you can forget what a wonderful, helpful thing it is to be around people who do the same thing you do, to share their company and discover that your anxieties are much the same as theirs. To discover other people who speak your same language. Nathan and Dora both encouraged me to try to attend a writing convention some time in the next year, so I think that will be my next goal, in addition to continuing with the novel. And surrendering bad hat metaphors sooner.

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