Thursday, May 16, 2013

Judging Books and Covers

I attended my first writers’ conference today, Pennwriters 2013, and I was pleasantly surprised.  I met some wonderful people (not a Negative Nellie in the bunch), had a great time, and learned a few things, too.  But one of the most important lessons I learned had nothing to do with what was being taught in the classroom.  It was about judging people, and having preconceptions as well as misconceptions.

I took a class on creating a website today.  It is something that overwhelms me, but it is something I will have to do.  Having a web presence and being actively involved in social media is not an optional activity for writers in today’s market, it is mandatory.  I have conquered Facebook, Twitter, and even blogging (well, sort of), but the idea of creating a website still fills me with fear. 

Before the lesson began, the instructor asked us to introduce ourselves.  I hadn’t really noticed it before, but I suddenly realized that most of the people attending were older than me.  In fact, they were much older than me.  The oldest person in the class proudly told us she was ninety years old.

Now I have a ninety two year old grandmother who I love to death, but she probably thinks a website is something a spider might design.  I couldn’t imagine her sitting in this class.  I wondered what this ninety year old lady was doing here, and I tried to guess what sort of writing she did.  I was fairly certain it had to be some sort of memoir writing, probably for her grandchildren.  I was dead wrong.

“I write about French history.  I wrote a book on 17th century French history that was published, and I’m currently working on a book on the 19th century in France, which was a very volatile period,” she said.

I was suddenly glad I had forgotten to mention in my own introduction that my first book was about a cheerleader from outer space. 

Another elegant older lady introduced herself, and I decided to try the fun “Guess Her Genre” game again.  I decided she must write non-fiction, most probably something about local history.

I was wrong again.  She was an artist working on a graphic novel.  Suddenly I realized a terrible truth.  These old people were much cooler than me. 

I had experienced some trepidation about taking this class.  Lately I have felt more than a bit overwhelmed by how much I have to learn.  But when I saw that ninety year old woman embracing this new information with curiosity and an eager desire to learn, I was ashamed.  I’m half her age and I have teenagers who can help me.  It is time to stop making excuses. 

We all had something to learn in that class, and we all had something to contribute.  I came away with more confidence and some practical and useful advice about creating a website.  I also learned something a great deal more valuable. 

Each of those writers in that room had a story to tell, and each of those stories was equally important and unique.  Today I remembered something I thought I’d learned a long time ago, which is not to judge a book by its cover.  Unless you take the time to open that book up and have a really good look, you won’t ever know what treasures lie inside.


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