Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cleaning Out the In Box

I have a history of letting my e-mail inbox clutter up. Currently, there are 688 e-mails in my Gmail in box, a good portion of which are yet unread. Mostly this is a symptom of "I'll get back to that" syndrome. I'll mark something unread to remind myself to go back and deal with it and then I don't.

A few months ago, I unilaterally deleted everything in my office inbox. There were e-mails five and six years old in that thing and the sheer number of e-mails was staggering. Rather than waste hours sorting and filing, I deleted the lot, reasoning that if I hadn't needed any of them for this long, it was unlikely that their absence would make any difference.

But old habits abound and the in box, it grew anew. Yesterday, I girded my loins and waded through and about an hour later, only a neatly pruned list of five e-mails remained.

In a similar vein, I cleared out my writer's in box this weekend.
I spent Friday onwards at the NJRW Put Your Heart in a Book conference. This is my RWA chapter's annual regional conference and it's one of, if not the best one going (yes, I'm biased, but that sentiment comes from experienced out-of-towners too). Our proximity to the publishing mother ship in NYC helps greatly, but NJRW really knows how to throw a conference too and this year especially did a bang up job. There was a fantastic line up of speakers and authors attending this year's conference and the conversation flowed like good wine fermented with laughter and insight.

This is also a great chance to catch up with writing friends and critique partners. My critique partner rocks hard. She's constantly uplifting me and my work and yet is the first to point out what doesn't work. Look at what she did for me clear out of the blue at one of our lunches this weekend. I have it perched right next to the laptop for those doubt-filled moments (of which there are many). I spent fun, productive time with my good friend Judi who confirmed my long-held concern of a pacing problem in the oft rewritten first 50 pages and helped me verbally rip the sucker apart over drinks while her shiny new Golden Leaf award looking on. My roommate Ann patiently listened to me revise and tweak my pitch during commercials while we watched Law & Order UK. Then there was my total fangrrl moment of chatting with Sherry Thomas and Meredith Duran both of whom I'm pretty sure actually hung the moon. I also think they were a little relieved that after I stood up from my chair in the lounge and stepped right into their path calling them by name, I didn't turn out to be a total whack job. Well, not in the need-to-get-a-restraining-order way at least.

I had a spectacular time and, like a good church retreat, left revitalized and pumped to get back to the journey. 

This is my third conference as an NJRW member, but the first time I've been really aggressive in promoting me, myself, and I and our baby – i.e. The Book – possibly because the end is ever nearer in sight as I bring the WIP closer and closer to its conclusion (though pre-revision – sort of). This was why I spent a week alone in a cabin in the woods in August. Since this summer, my working goal has been to finish the WIP so I could pitch at the conference.

To pitch: v. when the unpublished wannabe (that's me) sits before the publishing gatekeepers (that's the editors and agents) and has 10 minutes to, Yeats like, lay her/his dreams (that's The Book) at said gatekeepers' feet and beg acceptance. 

I don't cold pitch well. I'm more of a drinks-at-the-bar-hey-wanna-hear-about-my-book author. But that's not a surefire plan and if I'm serious about this writing stuff, and you know I am, then I gots to pitch. So I had a goal. But things like hives and full body restless legs attacks (mom) and leprous skin rashes (me) and the Big P at work interfered. Since, in the spirit of Justified, my CP was going to literally shoot me if I didn't pitch this weekend I checked the box on the registration form next to "yes, I want to pitch". And because I am good at nothing so much as self-sabotage, days before the conference it was discovered that I'd messed up the registration paperwork and didn't actually have a pitch appointment on the schedule.

Oh darn.

Fear not, said the pitch coordinator or words to that affect. There were yet more pitch appointments available. I kid you not I was in line to sign up for an appointment muttering to myself, "I really don't want to do this." Yes, of course I want agents and editors to read, like, and oh please Lord, buy my book. This cold sell stuff is simply not my strength. It's not the actual pitch itself either. Most editors and agents are delighted to chat with you, they wouldn't be there otherwise, and as it really only takes a smile and a "how ya doin'?" to get me to bend your ear for an hour, this is pretty much a walk in the park. Once I get going. Much like taking a Scantron exam (ugh, kill me now) it's the lead up that slays me, the anticipation of crash and burn and the self-recriminations that abound until I walk in the door and (hopefully) nail it. 

Well, I think I did. I had two appointments with two lovely agents and look forward to speaking with them both again soon (just in case you're reading this, ladies!). I was a bit of a train wreck; I messed up my time by a 10 minute window and then looped back through twice for my correct times so I was on a bit of a revolving circle for 30 minutes or so. But once I sat down, I was on and I can yammer with the best and worst of them though hopefully not to a repulsive degree. Both lovely agents were warm, welcoming, and enthusiastically asked to read my baby, which I assured them would be done by the end of the year with January as the revision month. So that's the rest of 2010 for me.

The euphoria after something like this is like the applause after a performance – a total high. I was a bit giddy and pressure free. 

And then I realized I was right next to the bar. I was going to walk right past, I swear. Somehow, I found my body curving around the corner to ask "do you serve liquor before noon?" 

Yea, I succumb to the siren's lure. No, I'm not going to hell for it (that's a different post).

Yes, yes, I had a shot of whiskey at 11:15 in the morning. Sue me. Look, if they don't want us boning up flagging courage or chasing the relief of a finished pitch with a healthy shot of delicious firewater, then they shouldn't make us pass the bar coming and going to the pitch ballroom. Am I right? I mean it's right there with all the bottles shining their polished gleam behind the oh-so-helpful and distressingly cheery bartender. I am not strong enough to resist that. Hercules isn't strong enough to resist that. Xena isn't strong enough to resist that.

Dem pitches, they're killers, I'll tell you.

That's how you clean out an in box.

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