Anthony Hopkins, blogging, C.S. Lewis, freelancers, International Freelancers Academy, International Freelancers Day, James River Writers, Library of Virginia, LinkedIn, literary agents, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Writer Resources, writers conferences, writing, writing communities
Did you know today is International Freelancers Day?
To mark the occasion, I am going to have lunch with some Richmond writers at Can Can Brasserie, one of my favorite haunts here in the real world. In the virtual world I will be attending a few webinar sessions offered by the International Freelancers Academy. The name sounds rather posh and Oxbridge, doesn’t it?
Up until this week, I did not know such an organization existed. That’s the thing about blogging. One day you’re poking around on the web, looking for kindred spirits online; the next thing you know, you’re a member of an Academy. Well, at least on LinkedIn.
A sense of community is important for writers. There’s a touching moment in the film Shadowlands, when a young student tells C.S. Lewis (played by Anthony Hopkins) that “we read to know we’re not alone.”
I agree. To which I would add: we write to know we’re not alone. And when we’re done writing for the day we often seek other members of our tribe. Sometimes, if we’re lucky (and I am), we’re married to one.
In the essay I wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the one that got this blog rolling, I mentioned some of the places and organizations that I discovered early in my tenure as a Richmonder. One organization particularly close to my heart is James River Writers.
I had been here less than a month and was still getting lost—even when using the GPS. After a few wrong turns in a city where, it seems, every other turn is illegal because every other street is one-way, I found myself at JRW’s office in Richmond’s historic Manchester district. The office is actually a room in the ArtWorks gallery on Hull Street. This is where I first met Anne Bryan Westrick, JRW’s administrative director. If such a thing as friendship at first sight exists, this was it. Warm and open-hearted, she welcomed me into her office even though she was in the midst of work. She made me feel at home, and an immediate part of the JRW community—as though they had been saving a place for me.
James River Writers was my lifeline during that first year in Richmond. It helped ground me, and gave me back the sense of writerly self I thought I’d left behind in Oberlin, where all of my writer friends and former professors were. In this strange land, I no longer felt like a stranger.
At the JRW writers’ conference last October, held at the massively impressive Library of Virginia, which I have yet to explore, I served as a volunteer, escorting understandably nervous writers to their five-minute pitch sessions with a New York literary agent. A slight divagation: The five-minute pitch, which includes the time it will take for the agent to respond, is akin to speed dating, something I have, thankfully, never tried. Regular readers of this blog know about my familiarity with online dating, and how that turned out for me. Think of my husband John as a successful book deal, and you begin to get the idea of what’s at stake for these writers at the conference. They are bringing their carefully crafted “elevator speech” about their novel or non-fiction book to the attention of someone who is not only genuinely interested in what they have to say, but also has the power to change their lives.
But back to James River Writers. Besides sessions with literary agents, their annual conference also features discussions with authors, screenwriters, playwrights, poets, and editors—even lawyers and accountants, who spoke about the business of being a writer. After completing my duties as an escort, I was allowed to sit in on some of these sessions. I learned a lot, met some wonderful people, and made some valuable contacts.
Throughout the past year, I attended many of JRW’s dynamic monthly “writing shows,” where panels of authors talk about specific topics related to the art, craft, and business of writing. I was away from Oberlin, but I had found a new place in which to learn, and it was exhilarating. I had found my people. New people, but mine. I was not alone.
I’ll be sorry to miss the JRW conference this year; John and I will be in San Diego. He has a conference of his own to attend, and I’ll be meeting with a client about a book project. But there’s a symmetry to that—I’ll be putting to use some of what I’ve learned this past year.
So on this Day of International Freelancers, one year after joining James River Writers and one month after launching this blog, I raise a glass to all of the freelancers, fiction writers, non-fiction writers, journalists, bloggers, poets, playwrights, screenwriters, librettists, and editors out there—in the blogosphere and on the Earth’s sphere. To the ones I know, and the ones I’ll never know. To the ones I might one day meet, and the ones I might one day read.
You are not alone.
Meg Medina said:
So glad to have you among the amazing members of JRW! Thanks for being part of our book lovin’ posse…
It does help tremendously to have writer colleagues. As someone back in freelancing after a dozen years in a public radio newsroom, I’ve found no end of scholarly assistance, technical help and just plain moral support from my enormous cadre of fellow writers at the Society of Environmental Journalists.
I am moderately amused by your description of the 5-minute pitch, though. In my world, five minutes is a tremendous amount of time in which to pitch a story. What’s most common – at NPR or any public radio program, really – is a three-sentence pitched emailed to the editor. In those three sentences, you’ve got to convey everything compelling about the story, plus enough detail to make it clear why it’s worthwhile. Not an easy task, but quite a bit easier than doing it in person in a busy newsroom or on a cell phone, which is what’s common with a breaking story.
Thanks for writing, Karen—and for reading and following the blog. What I should have made clear in my post is that the writer actually only has about 2-3 minutes to make his or her pitch, because time must be allotted for the agent to respond. The whole thing takes only five minutes—presentation and response—so the writer really does have to be on point. Factor in nerves (some of these writers have never done this before—they’re not seasoned PR people used to making a pitch), and the five-minute, face-to-face session can seem like an eternity or a nanosecond. The agent to whom I was assigned, Lucy Carson of the Friedrich Agency, suggested to me afterward that the agents needed more time with the writers in order to formulate a considered response to what they’d heard. This year’s conference has extended the sessions, from five minutes to seven.
P.S. to Karen: I have just clarified the reference to the five-minute pitch. Your comment helped me spot the need to do so. Thanks!
A fun blog post, Marci! And just for the record: on that first day in September 2010 when you walked into the JRW office–cluttered as it was with all sorts of hoopla for the upcoming conference–I went home that night and told my husband that this really smart person had wandered into my office, and right away I knew I’d met a kindred spirit–someone I wanted to get to know better. Now here we are a year later, and I’m in awe over all the great writing you’ve been doing and the professionalism you’ve brought to Richmond’s writing scene. I know you’ll have a blast in San Diego, but it’s our loss not to see you at this year’s conference.
Okay, since WordPress has not yet devised a function that reveals facial reactions and the like upon reading incredibly kind comments (or maybe they have, but I’m too clueless to have figured it out), you just have to use your awesome gifts of imagination to conjure this: I’m smiling and blushing—simultaneously—right now. I’m humbled by this, Anne. Thank you. Wishing you and JRW every success for this year’s conference.
p.s. Anne—just saw your subscription come through…thanks for following!!!
Great blog and beautifully formatted! Glad to share. I actually have two – http://www.terryprice.net and anangelsshareblog.com
Thanks Terry! I’ll check out both blogs. All best, Marci