Isn’t ignorance a funny thing? We put so much stock in experience and knowledge, but sometimes ignorance can be wonderful. (Side note to job applicants, medical professionals and my children: this does not apply to you.)
In August I attended the annual conference of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), of which I am a member. It was held in Nashville, so needless to say it was a bit of a leap to make the trip from southwest Colorado. Way back in mid-2015 when I signed with Revell, my editor began insisting I make it to ACFW if at all possible, and it almost wasn’t possible. But you see…I have very good friends, and some of these very good friends refused to accept that I might not be able to go. One very good friend paid my registration fee, which completely blew me away and still makes me tear up when I think about it. Another very good friend came out of retirement as a very talented hairstylist, for one day only, just so I could put my best foot forward. And one very good friend even went on the trip with me, to help with the cost but also to be there for me during one of the most important “author weeks” of my life so far. Other friends also contributed in other meaningful ways, but it was the friends (along with my family) who insisted I had to go who truly made it possible.
And it was one of the best weeks of my life. I met bestselling authors and listened to legends speak. I met the awesome individual who went on to become my agent. I got to hang out with my editor, who is also such a good friend. I got to meet a few writers who I know will be my friends for life, including two who I pretty instantly felt as if I had known for years. I got to be surrounded by people who do what I do — whether they have more experience or less, more success or less — and who instinctually understand the unspoken challenges in my mind, because they face the same challenges.
All of that made me feel as if I’m not alone. And yet…for much of the week I felt like a three-headed unicorn. (My first description cast me as a three-headed freak, but one of my very good friends recast me as a unicorn. I’ll take it.) I kept getting these looks all week long — not unkind looks, just looks which implied no one knew what to make of me. After a great deal of analyzing, here’s how I finally diagnosed the caused of my three-headed unicorn-ness:
- I am an extrovert in a field of predominately introverts. There were other extroverts, of course, but as a whole, writing is a field which requires a lot of time in one’s own head. That makes sense to me. I would look at other attendees at the conference and for some of them, it was painful for them to have to schmooze and network and socialize. Truly painful. My heart went out to them. Meanwhile, many of them probably thought I was insane. I love that stuff. During breaks, many would be in corners or against walls, far away from the chaos, reading or writing. In many ways I actually wish I could be a little more like that. I would probably get a lot more work done. But until that week, I really had no idea that we weren’t all striving to be the life of the party. Ignorance.
- I write Christian romantic comedy. Again, ignorance. Here is my dirty little secret: I don’t read a lot of Christian fiction. Actually, I don’t read a lot of fiction. Actually, I don’t read a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I love to read, but I rarely have time to read anymore. If I have even a few free minute in my life, I’m writing or working on marketing stuff. So, truthfully, I didn’t know that there really isn’t a ton of Christian romantic comedy out there at the moment. In the course of conversations, when the genre that I predominately write was revealed, I always got the three-headed unicorn look, with emphasis on the unicorn part. I was less freak, more mystical creature of which stories had been told and passed down through the generations. And I would get some of the best questions! My favorite, which I was asked at least five times over the course of the week, was, “Are you funny?” I think I answered that differently each time. I began with a humble, “Oh, I don’t know…” and then I tried, “Well, I hope so!” Before long I was saying trite things like “I guess we’ll see.” Finally I gave up and landed on, “Yes. At least I think so.”
- I did things out of order. Here were the typical opening lines of every conversation I had: Me: “So what do you write?” Them: “(Insert genre here.) You?” Me: “Mostly romantic comedy.” Them: (Insert “Are you funny?” conversation here, and then…) “Are you published?” Me: “I have three self-published secular novels out there. My first for the Christian market will be out next fall.” Them: “Oh, congrats. Who is publishing it?” Me: “Revell.” Them: “Oh, wow! That’s great. Who’s your agent?” Me: “I don’t have one.”
THREE-HEADED UNICORN STARES, ACTIVATE!
As a younger woman, I would have hated sticking out. I would have been too insecure to enjoy the privilege of surprising people. I would have looked at my ignorance as a liability. Now, I love not having a clue what I’m doing! Seriously. Of course, after a while, the cuteness of that will rub off, so I won’t be able to get away with it forever. I have to get better. I have to learn the rules, even if I don’t play by them. I need to read more. I need to have better answers to somewhat silly questions. But whenever possible, I think I’ll strive to be the three-headed unicorn in the room. Someone has to be.