I’ve talked about this writer before. But he keeps creeping into my head.
We’ll call him Zack.
He starts off his portion of the conference telling us that he was in our position just five years ago — unpublished, attending a conference as a nobody, waiting for his big break.
I remember my heart leaping. I remember thinking, “Finally! A real person! A writer from the real world!”
Zack deviated from this stance quickly though. He went on talking about what he did when “got serious” about writing. He decided that he’d give himself a year to work on his novel. He quit his full-time job. He sold his vacation home. He sold his boat. He contacted the people he knew from his days of interviewing Madonna and Mick Jagger.
I remember wanting to stand up and laugh. I remember wanting to leave the room.
But I couldn’t stop listening to this guy who was standing in front of a room of presumably talented, committed, amateur writers telling them that in order to “be serious” about their writing they had to find hundreds of thousands of dollars of assets to sell so they could live off the profits in light of abandoning their full-time jobs.
What planet did Zack live on? Seriously. Do you know anyone with two houses and a boat? Do you know anyone who worked in close connection with multi-millionaire celebrities? I didn’t think so.
Of the three conferences I’ve attended over the last few years, Zack’s out of touch advice is one of the few things that has stuck with me. And not in a good way.
In my darkest moments as a writer, I think about his arrogant smirk, his unruly hair, and his smug name-dropping. I wonder if he’s right — if someone doesn’t have six figure resources at their disposal or an “in” with already-famous celebrities, you’ll never make it.
In my best moments as a writer, I picture encountering him at a future conference or event, wearing an outfit from TJ Maxx and accidentally-on-purpose spilling my drink on his designer clothes and monogrammed leather bag. I don’t notice, though, because I’m on my way to be the next keynote speaker.
A few years later, I had a similar experience with a writer who was clearly so wrapped up in her privilege that she didn’t even realize she was insulting me right to my face.
A friend of a friend gave me the name of a woman she went to school with who ran her own local writing business. I eagerly reached out to her with an open mind and excited heart, hoping that at the very least I’d make some new writer friends.
The woman herself proved to be too busy to answer me directly, so instead she referred me to another woman writer she frequently worked with, and the two of us set up a Zoom call (this was at the height of COVID).
I went into the Zoom call feeling confident and optimistic. It’s always thrilling and potentially promising to meet and possibly work with someone who just might vibe with your own writing. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that we simply weren’t on the same page.
The writer (we’ll call her Alyssa) seemed relatively disinterested to be meeting with me. I felt as if I were a sick teenager talking to a doctor at a health clinic who was only there because it was a community obligation. Alyssa reminded me of the popular mean girls in high school — thick makeup, too much product in her hair, and cliche “Live, Laugh, Love” decor in the giant room behind her webcam. She didn’t connect with any of my ideas or my writing style, and while I understand that I won’t always be everyone’s cup of tea, she was passive aggressively insulting about any project I mentioned. To top it all off, Alyssa essentially accused me of having my priorities wrong when I told her that I’d spent money on conferences and a non-credit writing course in an effort to get my work out there and meet other writers. Though she hadn’t expressed any enthusiasm regarding my projects, she continually mentioned her own website and services, which made me feel like she simply wanted my money and didn’t care about anything else.
I was let down after the Zoom call, but still followed Alyssa and her small business on social media, hoping that maybe I could find someone else in her circle of writers that I could connect with.
Again, I was wrong. I could have dismissed the lack of like-minded vibes as a simple difference in priorities and writing subjects, but then one day I stumbled on a blog Alyssa wrote that infuriated me.
The short version — Alyssa suggested that searching for beta readers, accountability partners, editors, agents, cover artists, or anyone else in the creative industry — via websites like Fiverr, Upwork, or craigslist was “dumpster diving.”
Those of you on a budget because you’re a student. Those of you with young mouths to feed. Those of you who lost your job because of COVID. Those of you who pay excessively for medications. Those of you down on your luck. Those of you saving for a house or a wedding.
If you use any of these services, Alyssa said that you were “dumpster diving” and didn’t think you were serious enough to be a writer or committed enough to ever have any sort of success.
I restrained myself from immediately clicking the “unlike” button, and instead spent a few minutes checking out Alyssa’s profile. Tall, thin, blonde. Perfectly straight teeth, fit husband. Beautiful, toe-headed children, wearing designer Easter dresses, posed on a manicured, chemically treated front lawn. Towering stone house with double entry doors. Mercedes in the driveway.
What the hell do these people know about dumpster diving?