One of the highlights of my trip to AWP was listening to Ursula Le Guin do a reading and interview. She was paired with Molly Gloss, who I'd never heard of before, but I'm now very intrigued to read her work.
Of the many things Ursula talked about, one was the contribution to the genre of science fiction and fantasy. The interviewer asked her if it had been her intention to bring feminism to the genre, and she replied it wasn't. She just wanted to write, and the men in the field were doing it wrong. It was hilarious and insightful.
I think one of the points she was trying to make was that she wasn't trying to change conventions or define what it meant to be a woman writer in the genre. I think she was just trying to write the stories she wanted to write and the other things fell into place. She writes because she enjoys writing. It was very inspiring.
She also talked about how important it was to have a writer's group that was willing to give honest feedback for a work. It was the only way to get better. She had been with her group for a long time (I can't remember exactly how long, but I want to 20+ years), and they were very good at inspiring and pushing each other to be the very best.
I appreciated that advice. It is incredibly important for a writer to have honest feedback about their work. If the reader doesn't get what I'm trying to say, then I've failed. Whenever I have beta readers read my stuff, I always ask them: What is your favorite part and why? What was your least favorite part and why?
But beta readers and a writers group are two totally different things. Readers may not be writers. They may not understand the mechanics of the work or the process that goes into creating it. They may know what they like or don't like, what's working or not working, but they might necessarily know why. It's really important to have input from both groups to whip your work into the best shape possible.
At the end of the reading, she read a from a piece that hasn't yet been published. Apparently, it's been on submission, and one place had it for 10 weeks, but then rejected it. She commented to the audience that rejection still happened to her. That was both refreshing and depressing. Ursula Le Guin has been writing for a long time and has made huge impacts in her genre, who wouldn't want her work?
In the end, I came out of the reading feeling inspired and proud to be part of such a wonderful community of writers. It was awesome to listen to both women talk about their work and writing process and to see that it's important not to take yourself so seriously. In the end, writing should be fun, and if it's not, it's not worth doing.