Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Case of the Mondays, Part II

I got a real job. I've known this for several weeks, but I held off announcing it as long as possible. I start on Monday. I'm rejoining the real world two months earlier than planned—I'll have been off ten months instead of a year—but the perfect opportunity fell in my lap, and, given the economy, I jumped on it. I'm going back to my old biotech job, but as a consultant. So it's a short-term commitment, and I should have more flexibility to continue my writing.

I have mixed feelings about going back to work. I'm excited to be interacting with human beings again, but I still need a few more months to get my book into publishable shape. Overall, though, I'm very satisfied. I accomplished what I set out to do: I've transformed myself into a writer. I've experienced the life of a writer in a way that no school could've taught me. I've written alone and in groups, at the park, in a cafe, on the train, in the middle of the night. I've read a dozen books on writing. I've filled four notebooks and 400 computer pages. I've completed two short stories and drafted several more. And I've written 46 blog posts, and gained a mini-following (thanks readers!).

What did I learn from all this? I've learned that writing is hard. I've learned that writing is easy. I've learned that once it grabs you, it's always there—at work, on vacation, in the shower, at three in the morning. I've discovered that I write faster on the computer, but better by hand. Mornings are ideal for editing and revising, but evenings are best for pure writing, as if my brain needs to be a little tired and loose in order to drop its inhibitions and create. Most importantly, I've learned what happens when I stop distracting myself and just slow down and sit in the present with my thoughts, like I did as a child. Wonderful ideas come that way.

While I won't be writing full time, I have gained enough momentum to continue writing seriously for the rest of my life, and if that fire is the only thing I've taken from this journey, it was well worth it. And yes, I'm going to keep posting to this blog (I might have to change the name to "On quitting my day job to write for ten months and then going back to my day job while continuing to write"). It's one of my favorite times of the week. So I'll keep posting if you keep reading—and probably even if you don't.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Always be Closing

We're always selling ourselves, the adage goes, and this has never been more true than at the San Francisco Writers Conference. The event consisted of three intense days of workshops, Q&A sessions, key note speakers, and book signings, but what it was really about was networking, networking, networking. 

There's something paradoxically comical about writers trying to sell themselves in every breakout session, bathroom, and buffet line. If you want to feel like a god for a day, fashion a name badge that says "editor" or "agent" and stroll around a writers conference. Jesus himself could've floated through the crowd, and he would've been trampled on the way to the agent's table. Witnessing the milieu, I gained a deep respect for editors and agents, and a better understanding of what it's like on their side of the table. One agent told me he gets 600 emails a day, most of them book queries (proposals). 600 emails! And we're not talking about a "thx" message from Jim in accounting; these are emails with entire manuscripts attached.

As frenzied as the hallway schmoozing was, the scheduled pitch events were even more intense. I can't imagine what it was like for the agents and editors. They sit at a table for hours, and every three minutes, a bell rings and another eager-eyed scribe sits down to pitch a book. I would have bashed my head against the table after the first half hour, but these professionals remained engaged, polite and responsive. I was extremely impressed, and I'm not just saying that in case one of them happens to be reading my blog. Are you reading my blog? Anyone? Remember me... we met at the SF Writers Conference... I'm the biotech thriller guy... remember?

For me, the conference was a huge success, and well worth the price of admission. I connected with several writers and freelance editors. And I pitched my book to three agents and one editor, and all four of them liked my idea and asked me to send sample pages! Exciting... but remember they haven't yet seen the writing -- and that's what it's all about.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Speed Dating

I'm going to a speed dating event this Sunday. Sure, I just got engaged and it's Valentine's Day weekend, but it'll be fun! Okay, it's not THAT kind of speed dating; it's an event called Speed Dating with Agents – part of the San Francisco Writers Conference I'm attending this weekend.

The event is just like it sounds: you have a dozen literary agents in a room full of conference attendees who, like me, paid an extra $50 for the hour-long event. The agents stand up and tell the attendees who they are and what type of work they're looking for. Then you sit down with an agent, and you have THREE MINUTES to pitch your book, including time for the agent's response. You give your spiel. A bell rings. You stop talking. The agent responds. Then – ding! – a second bell rings and you move to the next one. Pretty intense, huh?

The rest of the conference looks intense, too: lectures and workshops from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., then gala parties, book signings and open-mic events. It's my first writing conference and I don't know what to expect. What do I bring? What do I wear? What do I do? What will the agents and editors be like? Jerry Maguire with glasses? George Plimpton in tweed?

But I'm most excited and nervous about the speed dating. In preparing for this event, they tell you to imagine your book was turned into a movie. If your movie was on TV, what would TV Guide write about it? Mine would read something like this (imagine a voiceover from, say James Earl Jones):

An FDA physician, reeling from his wife's death, travels to Mexico City to investigate a fraudulent drug trial. There, he uncovers a horrifying scheme that threatens to destroy his faith in the American medical system – and forces him to explore the darkest corners of his grief.

Something like that. Needs some work.

I'm bringing along several copies of the first page of my novel, a synopsis, a full manuscript, and some business cards. From what I hear, it's extremely unlikely that anyone will ask to see your work, and if they do, they read one page and decide on the spot if you can write. Yikes. I'm trying not to take the whole thing too seriously, but it feels like that scene in Hustle & Flow when D-Jay is trying to get Skinny Black to listen to his demo tape.

So wish me luck. Because it's hard out here for a pimp.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Big Day, Big Year

Amy and I got engaged on Friday! I picked her up from work, and with Chester in tow we headed to Fort Funston, a coastal wonderland of eroding sea cliffs, sand dunes and ice plant. It was one of those rare San Francisco miracles when there was no wind on the beach, and, although the sand was cool and it was twelve degrees in the shade, as long as you stayed in the path of the low sun, it felt like summer in San Diego.

Dogs of all shapes and colors were playing in the lazy whitewater, and the sun was setting as I got down on one knee and asked Amy to be my wife. Chester did his part by nudging his wet, sandy tennis ball against my bended knee.

Later, we went out for a fantastic steak dinner where we were treated like celebrities – literally. After dinner these two young English boys came up and insisted I was a famous gymnast. Our server intervened, and I swear she said the boys thought I was a famous gymnast who also happened to be named Brian Crawford, which seemed an extremely unlikely coincidence, but not much weirder than mistaking a six-foot-three skinny guy for any famous gymnast, and anyway we'd had a lot of wine, so I couldn't be sure. Nonetheless, I gave each kid my autograph and said, "keep practicing."

So 2009 is shaping up to be a huge year. We plan on getting married in August or September, so I can add a wedding to my list of big events, along with finishing my book, and getting a real job!