A few months ago, I went to a publishing party in New York City. Despite what some might assume about the writing life, this is not the kind of invite that comes my way often. Sure, I was a little intimidated, but also really excited. All those years of typing, alone, had led me here, to a hotel off Times Square, where I’d finally mingle among the literati.
Not so much, it turned out. There were too many people for the space; guests didn’t so much mingle as sort into cliques. I wedged my way through the overstuffed rooms, looking for the only people I sort-of knew: fellow writers I’d interacted with on Facebook. I faked a confident walk, drink in hand, as I tried to match the dimly-lit faces around me with the tiny profile pics I was used to seeing on my screen. Total fail. I felt embarrassed and alone; it seemed like everyone else already knew each other and I was the only odd one out.
Which wasn’t the case, of course. I eventually connected with two other lovely authors who were just as lost as me. But I flashed back to that night more recently, when my twin sons started middle school. By the second day of sixth grade, a “popular” group had already formed, pulling some friends of my boys’ into its orbit. My sons talked about how hard it was at lunch, feeling like they had no-one but each other to sit with, and I flashed back to that party. “I know exactly how you feel,” I said.
It doesn’t matter what age you are—there are always times and places where you feel like you don’t fit. I think that’s especially true for writers, who tend to be introverts and work primarily on their own. It’s easy to feel like there’s a whole Cool Writer World out there that you’re not a part of, where everyone is having more fun than you.
It happens when you see photos online from a conference (“They’re all having cocktails while I’m stuck in the middle of my first draft!”). It happens when you see yet another tweet or Instagram story from one of those social-media-superstars who always find something clever to say (“How does she have time to produce all that content when I’m still on that same first draft?”). It happens when you hear about someone else going on a writing retreat, or being sent on a multi-city book tour, or having their book optioned for TV. It can seem, at times, like everyone else is at the cool lunch table, while you’re sitting alone.
The thing about being (much!) older than a sixth grader is that you can put it into perspective. I’m pretty sure those A-listers who blurb each other’s books think their first drafts are awful, just like me. The authors at that conference are grinning because they’re out of the house, enjoying a few days off from the usual writing slog. Very few working writers have permanent seats at the Cool Table–and as a friend of mine once pointed out, sometimes we’re so busy looking at the people ahead of us that we forget how far we’ve come.
My boys now have some friends to sit with at lunch. But I’ve told them there will always be an In Crowd. There will always be people who make you feel left out. But there are far more people on the fringes. If you can have a good conversation with just one of them, it’s still a win—whether you’re in a school cafeteria or a New York City soiree.