I’ve been trying to figure out what I would write about the Lambda Literary Emerging Writer’s Retreat. I think the solution is just to sit down and write, and by the process of writing, get to what I want to say.
First off: Malinda Lo, my awesome workshop instructor, wrote a great post on the Retreat here. SJ Sindu, one of this year’s Fellows, also wrote about it here. A lot of people have Tweeted and blogged about the Retreat, but these two really hit on a number of things that echoed with my own experience.
I think if I could boil down said experience, there are two things which I gained, or learned from this retreat:
1. Being queer and trans is important.
Since I was 16 I have been in writer’s groups and workshops, and, in all but one (if I exclude the Lambda Retreat), I have always been the token queer person in the room. That is intensely alienating, especially when intelligent, well meaning people still miss the point by miles and miles, and you have to spend an entire workshop season either listening to people debate a character’s sexuality and/or gender, or spend the entire workshop session explaining, rather than looking at elements of the craft (which is the point of workshop).
So it was not just nice, but a great burden and a relief, to not be alone. I didn’t have to preface or explain things either about myself or my work, and I didn’t have to defend, explain, or educate. I don’t think people who are not trans or queer understand just how much energy can be spent in educating and explaining things to people, even on a day to day basis. It’s exhausting.
The world also still continually dismisses the experiences of trans and queer people. Not being invisible as a queer, trans writer, and a human being, was such a gift. At the Retreat I was just allowed to be myself, without having to account for, or defend who I was. Our identities were acknowledged. For me I could simply exist without the usual energy and effort it takes to do so. I just was.
It was a sharp reminder that the best environments for me are places where I am allowed to just show up as myself. It is a luxury to live out of the closet, but I think it is an important luxury — and a healthy luxury for me — something I am going to pursue more doggedly and vocally in the future.
2. As long as you are happy as a writer, everything else is really beside the point.
I wrote genre fiction as a young writer. Fantasy and speculative fiction was, and is, my first love as a writer and a reader. But once I got to college, I became convinced that “real” writers don’t write genre fiction, and that I had to abandon the thing I loved. I went through the UEA’s MA in Creative Writing; I was trained to be a literary writer. I worked hard at my craft as a realist literary writer, to fulfill my “potential” as a writer. I had come to believe that I wouldn’t be fulfilling my potential as a writer if I wrote genre fiction.
But about a year and a half ago, I realized I really just didn’t give a fuck about being a literary writer. I loved fantasy and speculative fiction, and that is what I wanted to write, have always wanted to write. So I turned my attention to that.
For me, the Retreat was incredibly humbling. I was still carrying around the pretentions of the literary writer I had been — the idea that literary writing is inherently better than genre writing — and that I was possibly better than my peers because of my literary background. And I was so so so wrong. So wrong.
My peers were a group of talented, intelligent, challenging, and hopeful people who were excited about their work, believed in what they did, and were open to helping others. Each of them wrote amazing and interesting stories which got me ridiculously excited. It was such an incredible gift to spend a week with my workshop peers and to learn from them. And I learned the most important things from them: to be in touch with why you write and what makes you happy as a writer, and to be positive and encouraging to other writers because you are all in the same boat. There are no lesser or greater writers. There are just a bunch of people who love storytelling and writing, and believe in the stories they are telling enough that they keep writing, regardless of doubts and what other people may say.
Really, it doesn’t matter to me if I write literary or genre work; that is a moot point. What matters is that I am happy with what I am writing. For me, being a strictly literary writer meant I was writing to impress other people, or to prove that I was fulfilling my potential. But I would much rather be happy and enjoy what I am writing, than trying to impress other people. Life is too short of that kind of nonsense.
So that was my experience of the Retreat, in a nutshell.