At the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference in Seattle last weekend, I scrambled to fit in everything I wanted to attend. Workshops on topics ranging from creating dazzling characters to writing irresistible nonfiction book proposals to establishing an author platform. Agents and editors, representing every possible writing genre, all at such close hand. Featured speakers. Dinner receptions. Opportunities to mingle and learn and promote my writing. I tingled with excitement and the promise of a literary future.
My excitement had set in well before the first pitch. But then, as I saw the long queues of writers, lining up for their first attempt to sway an agent into seeing the worth of their writing, their story, something seized tight within me. How could I measure up? A woman behind me asked what I had written. Memoir, I answer. A story about leukemia that is tied to Alaska, my home, my heart. Will that sell? she asks. I stare back at her.
I sit at the pitch table and am finally getting comfortable with the agent in front of me. Grey hair, lovely demeanor. Can she even hear me in this din? She asks questions and I want to spend an hour talking to her. She seems genuinely interested but is cut off, mid-sentence, by the buzzer. Drrrinnngg. Changeover. Four minutes is all you get. To tell your story. Your ambition. Your life. A buzzer on life?
In line again, I scan the writers around me. I am not alone. A man, eyes closed, nervously gesticulates with his hand as he silently practices his pitch in his head. Two women, perhaps a decade older than myself, smartly dressed, are exchanging notes on an agent. An overconfident young man, wearing faded jeans and a baseball cap, talking loudly about his success at the the last writer’s conference he attended. Two requests for chapters, one for the full manuscript. Had it not gone any farther than that?
Wait. Stop. We are writers. This, precisely, is the very stuff that our stories are made of. Doubt and sweaty palms. But also resilience after multiple rejections. And, always, lingering, a pride, especially when writing is not always fearless.