Last weekend, I attended the quarterly meeting of Ozarks Writers League (OWL) in Branson, Missouri. (http://www.ozarkswritersleague.org/) I always come away from the Saturday meetings with new or affirmed knowledge and best of all, a shot of motivation.
This time, I came away with a prize beyond knowledge and motivation--a prize I always knew I had, but perhaps didn't appreciate as deeply.
In the past, I have always attended only the Saturday meetings, leaving home early Saturday morning, and returning that evening. But last weekend, I decided to try out the Friday night dinner and open mic, where the member writers read samples of their works aloud. An agent and an editor, both from New York, would be present to listen to the readings, and one of the many things I've learned in my ongoing writer's education is to take advantage of every opportunity.
So I selected the piece I would read, a chapter from my novel, Broken Dolls. Night after night, I edited and re-edited, over and over, to make it just right. And though my husband often asks, "Why do you keep changing it?" he cooked dinner and cleaned up while I was upstairs, editing and re-editing.
Friday night at OWL, I sat for dinner with good writer friends. We chatted, probably all trying to loosen up before it was our turn to read. Then, it was time. Dusty Richards announced the first reader. We all applauded, and she began to read.
I must admit, try as I did to focus on the reader's story, my mind had a mind of its own. It wandered from wondering to worrying. Maybe I should have included that part I deleted. Should I have chosen a different chapter?
One by one, authors stood behind the podium to read short stories, poetry, excerpts from their novels. At times, my heart pounded so loud in my ears I could hardly hear the words, especially when my inner voice kept screaming at me. What if I'm missing a page? What if their eyes glaze over?
Two hours into the readings, everyone had begun to fidget. It was getting late, and it was obvious everyone was tired. Finally, Dusty arose and said, "That's all, folks. Unless there is someone else who was supposed to read."
I'm not sure what I felt more--disappointment that I didn't get to read, or elation that I wouldn't have to read. I debated whether or not to raise my hand to let Dusty know I'd requested to be scheduled to read. Everyone was ready to leave, and I didn't want to be the one to make them have to sit another five minutes.
But, opportunity knocked. I made the decision I had to take advantage of it, or I'd kick myself mercilessly. As I raised my hand, I heard my writer friends chime in:
"Don't forget about Jan."
"Jan was supposed to read."
If one's whole body could smile, mine did, at the sound of my friends' support. Though nerves still tickled some, all those things I'd worried about as I sat listening to the other readers vanished. I was among friends.
The next day, as several of us prepared to meet with the agent and editor, we huddled around each other, role playing, offering advice and trying to calm nerves. When each of us came out of our meetings, we could count on being greeted with enthusiasm to hear how our pitches went.
When the agent asked me to send him the first few chapters, yes, I was on Cloud Nine. But best of all, was that others shared that cloud with me. My writer friends and my husband.
We writers strive to create our best works and to get our treasures out there, hoping that we might somehow make a difference. But I believe the real treasure is the true friendship we writers share, and the support we receive from those who cheer us on--our families, our loved ones, our friends.