What Makes a Smarter Artist?

I spent the last week of April at The Smarter Artist Summit 2017 in Austin, TX. It’s a gathering of self publishing authors – most of them entrepreneurs in the truest sense in that they are innovating like crazy, all in the name of sharing their stories with as many readers as they can, as fast as they can.

This was my second time around, and I have to admit I’m impressed by the new crop of writers I see around me. I’m adopting some of the techniques, but I realized I’m not at a place in my life where I want to adopt the write to market, write fast, publish often, approach. I would have if, this model had been around when I first started writing.

My first brush with “real” writers came several decades ago. I went to Philcon (a science fiction convention in Philadelphia that is still held to this day). I had submitted a short story to their writing workshop and I sat patiently waiting for the panel of writers to shred it (publicly, may I add), as was the tradition.

They duly shredded several stories and then came to mine. I stood up, as bid (no being shredded in anonymity). It will sound odd to non-writers when I confess that I was eager to be shredded in my turn. Writers get it. Your writing is not complete until it is received. And when you’re new, the best way to learn is to find out where others did *not* connect with what you wrote. That’s how you learn to master your storytelling and take the reader on a ride they will not forget.

To my disappointment, I did not get shredded. There was more discussion about the word “hover” than I liked (in science fiction that word usually means to be off the ground, where in literary fiction it can be used metaphorically to describe when someone is so close you can’t see their feet so they do seem to be hovering over you). But my writing was deemed clean.

The premise was deemed worthy (a cleaning woman saves up her money to go to a facility where they put her to sleep in a machine and train her to be a ballerina for one night – her life’s dream). A good effort, if not publishable just yet.

I wanted more, to know how to make this story better, to make it sing to readers the way it sang to me in my mind.

“This should be a novel,” was the final verdict. “You’re young, you have plenty of time.”

I didn’t accept that then, and I’m glad the new crop of writers aren’t accepting it, either. None of us know when life – or death – will take our writing from us. I continued to work on my craft in university classes, writing groups, and workshops. In the traditional agent/editor/query letter process of publishing, it took me ten years to publish a short story, and twenty to publish my first novel.

Most of the writers I met at the Smarter Artist Summit are writing fast and publishing fast. They aren’t waiting for agents and editors and publishers to vet them, they are going straight to the readers and letting the readers be the judges of their work – publicly, in the form of reviews and sales.

Like me, so long ago, they are not afraid to be publicly shredded. They know they can improve fastest and best by making sure they are writing the stories their readers want to read. And – because self publishers need to find their own readers, they’re learning their marketing at the same time they’re perfecting their craft.

The one thing I wish I’d heard during the Summit was that you don’t have to write fast and publish often to be successful (ironically, exactly the opposite of what traditional publishers used to tell writers). There are self-published writers who put out a novel a year – or even two – and are successful.

The secret to writing success is the same as it always was – delivering on your promise to give your readers the reading adventure they crave and that only you can deliver.