As an anniversary vacation trip, my husband and I attended the 30th Missoula Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. This is different from other Cons I've attended in that the focus is on writers and gamers. This will be a series of posts on what I learned from the professional panelists.
What sets your fingers trembling and your heart racing?
Having someone you admire and respect read your work in front of a roomful of other writers?
Yep! Me, too.
I have no notes for this panel. I barely have much memory of it beyond the fear, sweat, and nausea.
Every time they pulled a sheet from the stack, I simultaneously wanted it to be someone else's and to be mine so that my dread could end.
When she did start reading from my page, I was incredibly grateful for my first line. It's funny and perfect, and I know that is true because every single one of them said it. The whole room laughed, and I suddenly understood why comedians do what they do.
The reader made it alllllmost to the end before two of the judges raised their hands, thereby ending my turn.
The feedback was helpful, and I am relieved I mustered the courage to do it. Dan was a great help in this, both urging and supporting, but ultimately allowing me to take my time to decide. It helped that he handed it in instead of me, so I could remain completely anonymous if I chose to be. I ended up raising my hand and acknowledging the good and bad of my own piece. After all, that's reality.
This panel did more for me than any of the rest of it. It was a marvel to hear the reasons they raised their hands for my work and the other pages. I liked seeing what stuck with them, what threw them out of the story, and the changes they suggested. All of the pages selected to be read were excellent, and it felt reassuring and daunting to hear the competition.
I now know that I won't die if someone doesn't like my work. I have a working grasp of how editors make their decisions, and recognize with more concreteness that it isn't personal. If you have the opportunity to get a critique like this, I highly recommend trying it. It feels like death, but it turns out to feel like blossoming.