Reasons for attending writing conferences range from being sent there for a school or publication to wanting to spend a weekend getting drunk and being surrounded by like-minded individuals. Somewhere in between the times of moving from table to table, looking at books, making contacts, and seeing what books or swag you can snag for free panels happen. If you’re like me, the panels (and/or their presenters) are the whole reason you look at the travel and hotel costs and convince yourself a thousand times that it’s worth every penny.
Last year it was.
Unfortunately, this year I cant make it to AWP. I’m heartbroken over it. Flying out to
LA and maneuvering the conference without really knowing anyone was terrifying, but worth every second I sat in an uncomfortable plastic chair scribbling notes on a legal pad. It was worth it for the time after panels, sitting in a hotel lobby sipping a glass of wine and going over the notes I’d made during the day. Okay, yeah, it was worth it for the stack of books, the dozens of tote bags, and the experience of waking up every morning and looking out my window at the Hollywood sign. I was inspired. I was reminded of the reasons why I wanted to be a writer and no longer felt like I wasn’t a “real writer” for both needing side hustles and having support (financial, emotional) from a spouse.
Reading Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living was like being at AWP again. Minus the bar bill.
Edited by Manjula Martin, Scratch is a collection of essays and interviews from new and seasoned writers that discussses everything from the benefits of going (or not going) for your MFA, of being a debut writer, to the realities of depending on your writing to support you. The fear of not belonging–Imposter Syndrome–is also covered immediately after Martin’s introduction to the collection. Julia Fierro, in her essay titled “Owning This” writes:
“My fear was too loud. Fear that I was inauthentic, undeserving of a place among my mostly Ivy League–educated classmates who, it seemed, were more well-read than even the gray-haired authors who were our professors. My books were a barricade I built between that fear and myself.”
This is a fear that I felt going to AWP last year, and a fear I swallow now whenever I deviate from the traditional publishing path. Do I still belong? How can I, when everyone else is so far beyond me (because of their big NYC agent, their book deal, etc, etc.)? Of course, it’s easy to forget that just one stepping stone on the traditional path of publishing doesn’t mean you’ve made it. Cari Luna, in “Five Years in the Wilderness,” believed her writing career was made because she had a literary agent. But then her first book didn’t sell and, ultimately, she parted ways and followed an independent publishing route.
No one talks about these things, about what happens after you get your agent. What happens if your book doesn’t sell, or the positives and negatives of independent publishers and traditional publishers. We skirt around the topics in vague blog posts or threads on Twitter. But the authors in Scratch don’t hold back. What I read in Scratch was everything I wish someone had told me before I started my MFA program, before I started writing with exposure as a payment–before I even sat down to write my first draft of my first book.
From beginning to end, Scratch offers advice that you won’t find in an MFA program, that your writer friends wont’t tell you, and that you won’t even get from a panel of writers in a crowded conference center.
This collection is mandatory reading for anyone who calls themselves a writer.
Thank you NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.