A month ago, I attended the Nebula Awards weekend in Austin, Texas. And just one week later, I was a guest speaker at the Oklahoma Writers Federation's annual conference, which included their Awards Banquet.
My new black suit and periwinkle tank top with the sparkly decals got a workout. Two successive Saturday nights watching and listening as writers were honored and received their awards. It was a great watching Michael Chabon win a Nebula to pair with his Pulitzer, and Michael Moorcock receive his well-earned Damon Knight Grand Master award for a Lifetime Achievement. My biggest personal thrill was discovering that one of my former students was a Nebula finalist in the short story category!
Since was an outsider at the OWFI Awards Banquet, I had lots of time to sit there as their awards were handed out, and ruminate on writers in general, and the differences between the two events. It struck me as I sat there, listening to these writers, who had come from all over Oklahoma, Texas, and even from as far away as Kentucky or Arkansas, that all of the OWFI writers were having a wonderful time, enjoying their fellowship. And that these people really enjoyed their writing, and had FUN with it. It was really heartwarming to sit there and soak up the "vibe" from 400-plus writers. Their enthusiasm, fellowship, and commitment was tangible; it filled the room, pervading the entire conference.
A significant percentage of these writers were published, in one venue or another. Were most of them published by NY commercial houses? No. Some were, most weren't. But that didn't keep them from approaching their writing with zest, and working hard at their craft.
Contrast that with the Nebulas. There was fellowship there, longtime friends meeting and catching up, editors taking authors to dinner, writers sharing news about the current state of the markets, etc. But there's a difference between writers who do it for a living, and writers who are writing just for the joy of it, without worrying too much about payment, or credentials, or recognition.
Where did I feel most at home? At the Nebulas, naturally. I knew many of the writers there, and enjoyed meeting some new friends. The SFWA meeting made me think about several of the "new business" items that were raised. It's great catching up with how friends and colleagues are doing, and hearing the latest scuttlebutt.
In a way, though, I found myself envying the writers at the Oklahoma OWFI Conference. I envied their joy in the simple act of creating. I envied how much fun they all seemed to be having. The Oklahoma writers weren't nearly as FOCUSED, weren't nearly as driven as the SFWA members.
Not that either group was "right," or "wrong" in their approach. Just different. But I came away from Oklahoma with a resolution to take more joy in just creating. I think it's possible to lose sight of the joy of creation when writers become too obsessed with publication.
Both awards banquets gave me a chance to watch writers being rewarded for doing what they enjoyed...what they loved to do. I think the Oklahoma writers had more FUN with their writing. Let's face it, getting published these days is increasingly fraught with anxiety and frustration. This is just the nature of the beast.
I know that anyone wanting to achieve first-time publication, or to add to a track record of publications, has to stay focused. Writers these days can't afford to neglect the business side of things -- the networking, the information gathering, the pursuit of every scrap of information that might help them in their search for publication in a world of shrinking professional markets.
BUT, dammit, let's try not to lose the fun of it all. Writing is a kick. It can impart a real creative high. It can feel really GOOD to get that sentence or paragraph or chapter tweaked into the best, most polished shape it can be. That's just as tangible a reward as a check. We shouldn't get so focused and driven that we forget about the FUN.
I'm going to try to remember that, in the coming days, weeks, and months.
-Ann C. Crispin