Growth through Discomfort
No sooner had I shared that I would be participating in this year's Borderland's Bootcamp than I was regretting my decision to go.
I'm tricky like that. Or unstable. (Your call.) In fact, I was in bed the night before my flight to Baltimore, crying to my husband about how I didn't want to go.
"I change my mind."
With so much invested in the event, including going through over 20 manuscript samples and buying a first-class ticket to the city (because I had points to use and who wouldn't want to fly first-class?) -- I packed my bag, including the giant binder of writing samples.
Why was I so afraid? It's simple, really. I have, over the course of a decade, created the words you see on websites for brands like HP, Walmart, American Express, and Mastercard. I've been to big corporate events where some of the branding for billion-dollar marketing campaigns was created with feedback from writers like me. I am comfortable doing everything from ad scripts to white papers. I have no problem hopping on a call with a complete stranger at 2 pm on a Wednesday and having a case study done by 6 pm.
Fiction, however, terrifies the hell out of me.
Writing about the newest 3D printing extrusion technology is someone else's story. The dark tales I eek out a little at a time over years are MY story. Turns out, other people's stories are much easier to write.
So, I went to Borderlands fully aware that I have so much to learn. I was OK with getting feedback. Harsh feedback propels me. I've had my share of dance instructors and piano teachers who have yelled or criticized me to get my work to be the best it can be. My fear was in what those who weren't the teachers would think.
Like the guy who wrote about room 308. Or the lady with the cat. Or the very creepy zombie "intimacy doll" partner which shouldn't have been readable by my own topical preferences but captivated me with how well it was written.
I was walking into a mosh pit of transgressive and mature ideas, and all I had to bring to the table was a story about a big-headed little Rooster named Baldwin, who may or may not be undead, depending on how I decide to wrap up the details. Could this farm girl with a passion for "quiet" horror even hang with these bold and freaky writers?
Yes. Yes, she could. And I loved almost every minute of it.
While I won't get into the ins and out of how the boot camp works, I will give you some highlights.
1) My two-page writing sample was shot down by the audience before it got past the first paragraph. Something about knee-socks triggered them. I don't really know. But the story about a training academy for young artists who perform for the last dying moments of VIPs in palliative care will go on. Nothing will stop me.
2) My manuscript had holes. I knew this going in. I had loved my opening chapter, and with the knowledge that I must scrap 7-11 pages, I'm actually more in love with it. All four of my instructors and a few of my peers told me to cut it down. I will. I'm hoping to wrap up Baldwin's adventures by mid-year and submit to somewhere. Maybe my current publisher will take a bite.
3) Tom Monteleone kept asking attendees if they are submitting anywhere. Most were not. I at least have this going for me. My rejection pile is enormous. Some have some very thoughtful feedback. I had submitted to a Borderlands anthology in the past and was given some encouraging words. "Very good writing. Not a story." I'll keep submitting. It's the writer's way.
4) The freakiest people I imagined through their stories were actually the most humble and relatable. Transgressive writing doesn't mean a person is unstable or dangerous. I knew this in my heart, but my head often has a hard time envisioning what people are thinking when they write the things they do. As it turns out, some of the most wicked plot details were "thrown in" for kicks. Other details were carefully mulled over before adding in.
We can't know what is in another's heart. We just can't. I hope this continues to remind me that there are many forms of expression. While I will probably never get on the bizarro or super-transgressive writing train as a reader, I have a better understanding of where this develops. The Venn Diagram between someone who writes like this and myself (with my muted horror themes) is quite interconnected. There's a lot of overlap.
5) I know people always come out of these things saying "I made friends!" I did, as well. Some folks don't share enough to fall into that category, but many do. Those that I connected with have added something extra to my writing and my personal life. I'm grateful for that.
6) The teachers at this event put in a lot of work. I can't imagine. They took each piece of work as its own mission, applying skill and nuance to get the feedback just right. I have always struggled to transition between newspaper writing, corporate copywriting, and prose. After being told that I have a crippling "love affair for passive voice," I know where to go next to get better.
Thanks for not holding back, guys. I adore you all the more for not wasting my time with 101-level writing advice. This is why boot camp works.
Want to know more about Bootcamp? Get the details for next year here. Updates should happen around May or June-ish.