The 7 stages of post-writers’ conference paranoia

Stage 1: Shock & Denial

After weeks — nay, MONTHS — of preparation, of tweaking and twisting and scrubbing and scratching it (yes, we’re referring to your manuscript here), the BIG DAY arrives and you present your precious batch of papers to the All Powerful Agent for review. Not to your mother, or your best friend, mind you, but to the One Who Holds Your Heart in hand.

And some nice things are said like “Hollywood character” and “fresh voice” and “here’s my contact information so summarize and send to me and we’ll talk about this further and I really mean it” and some positive words are offered as the All Powerful One searches your face to make sure tears are not imminent and when you nod and smile and return a look that says “Please, may I have another!” the critique proceeds and you bite your tongue to keep from defending because this is what you need to hear and you’ll take it with a smile.

Stage 2: Pain & Guilt

Those things that the All Powerful One had to say? You knew them. The little voice in your head had been saying the same things all along. You should have listened. You should have waited another year. Let that voice loose. Ignore the ones who tell you to lock it up and just write.

Now that voice is bouncing around like the night you ate a quarter pound of chocolate-covered espresso beans and suffered through four hours of toe-wiggling instead of sleeping.

And you’re gonna hurt the next day. So bad.

Stage 3: Anger & Bargaining

Please just let the day end. Your cheeks hurt from smiling and the one glass of wine you allowed yourself is all gone and the others’ good news keeps rolling in. If the clock speeds up you promise to be good and keep smiling and nodding and your conversations play over and over and the nice things like “Hollywood character” and “fresh voice” and “here’s my contact information so summarize and send to me and we’ll talk about this further and I really mean it” repeat less in your memory and instead you pray for the evening to be over because you feel yourself sinking.

Stage 4: Depression, Reflection, & Loneliness

Standing on a tenth floor balcony at this time may not be the best idea. Especially after having a few drinks at the hotel bar while watching your football team fumble three times in ten minutes. Also, warn your husband before he decides to comfort you by saying you’ll probably never succeed anyway, since the next best thing to jumping at this point is throwing a nay-sayer over the edge.

Bonus points if that nay-sayer is supposed to be your #1 Fan.

Stage 5: The Upward Turn

Shower. Dress. Makeup… what’s the point?

But then, you walk outside and the ocean waves curl onto the sand and wipe away the previous day’s footprints and the sand sparkles. Early morning sun warms the air and a cloud stretches into the pale blue sky as you raise your face to watch a bird coast overhead. You remember that life goes on. There are still things to enjoy besides staring at a computer screen in the wee hours each day.

Plus, puffy eyes can be sexy with just the right shadow.

Stage 6: Reconstruction & Working Through

You drive the first twenty miles in a daze, forgetting even to turn on a Writers on Writing podcast. Your ears ring from the silence and your mental tone arm clicks at the end of your memory groove.

Maybe the conference wasn’t all that bad.

Maybe you shouldn’t actually BURN the three reams worth of paper filled with drafts and words and sketches and post-its and edits and curses and brilliance and junk.

Maybe — just maybe — it’s possible to figure out a way to take the All Powerful One’s advice and mold it into a form that your work of not-so-special art will fit into like a Play-Doh Magic Swirl Ice Cream Shoppe with its press and attachments and base with candy molds that make peanuts and cherries and squiggles and bananas for rainbow and sparkly sundaes. Maybe it really will be okay to push your not-so-special art into that mold. Cut off the scraps that curl into ribbons and crumble to the floor destined for the trash. There might just be a use for them as a decoration on a different ice cream dish.

Maybe a cone.

Stage 7: Acceptance & Hope

You walk in the door and the kitchen sink is cluttered. An empty milk jug perches on stale Cheezits scattered across the counter and a cat skates by on overgrown claws as it plays hockey with a lizard tail. The princess bounces up from the couch wearing her Sunday dress and tights with an orange stain and crusties from hopefully just lunch and a tiara and waves an uncapped permanent marker like a magic wand and sings “Mommeeeeeeee!” and an oompa loompa huffs downstairs asking “What’s for dinner?” and the other cat who hasn’t had a lizard snack twists itself around your ankles in the usual pose to say “Food or a broken neck: it’s your choice.”

You dump your bags on the floor next to a discarded fairy costume. You pop the Cheezit into the oompa’s mouth, kiss the couch troll and steal the marker when she’s twisting away from a tickle, snatch the lizard tail from the claws of one hissing beast and toss it to the other and walk over to the computer.

Stare at it for a moment.

And touch the power button.

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