Breaking the 1,000-Word Barrier & Finding Support for the Journey at #Muse17

Already getting excited about next year's The Muse and the Marketplace conference? So are we! Sadly, we still have a ways to go until #Muse18, but in the meantime, we're reliving the highlights from this year's #Muse17. Today, award-winning journalist Mary C. Curtis shares what she took away from this year's conference. 



I managed to make The Muse and the Marketplace conference book fair by the skin of my teeth—or, rather, by an essay. While other conference presenters, novelists and non-fiction writers alike, celebrated one, two, three and more books, my chapter in Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox got me a corner of the table. But that’s OK, or so I learned at this year’s writing conference. Letting that lesson sink in was one reason I traveled to Boston for an enlightening and, as it turned out, soul-searching weekend.


The main purpose of my being there was to lead a session, “Getting Notice, Read and Understood on Sensitive Topics,” informed by my years writing, reporting, and commenting on politics, culture, and race, and reinforced by a seething partisanship that seems, these days, to have infected every trivial interaction. In these often angry times, I have depended more and more on a few strategies to reach understanding, if not agreement, with a fractured public. Readers and listeners are not shy about letting me know what they think, so call my process self-protection and self-preservation, as well as a positive road map forward.


I’m pretty good at getting to heart of the matter with nuance, in 1,000 words or less. After that, it becomes more of a struggle, as I’ve discovered while working on my very own book project. Now, I say this as someone who has written award-winning narratives many times that length. But those chaptered non-fiction stories were always destined for newspapers or their online equivalents, so in my mind, my words were long newspaper stories rather than the beginnings (or middles, or ends) of a book.


And isn’t that where we stop ourselves or throw up barriers—in our minds?


So, certainly, it occurred to me that being immersed in the Muse conference, soaking up tips and tricks, knowledge, and motivation from peers and experts who had been there and back would be a very good thing. How better to make progress than to look at writing through expert eyes?


The Muse did not disappoint. From author/poet David Mura’s words that “wherever you stand is political,” which informed my own talk, to author and friend Jabari Asim’s advice on outlining and following your passion, to a reminder from my friend Mitch Zuckoff, with session partner novelist Laura van den Berg, that success comes with, not only hard work, but also the right atmosphere.


Everything counts. But mostly, the encouragement and support in the side conversations, the party patter—yes, sometimes fueled with a glass of wine—and that unbelievable shoulder massage that came in the nick of time in the presenter’s green room set me back on the path it is so easy to slip off when you’re trying to create something.


It was about meeting others who are somewhere in the process—the creation, the deal, the pitch, the publicity—who share the roller-coaster ride of excitement, exhilaration, and exhaustion that any writer knows all too well.


Sitting in the airport, contemplating the return to my Charlotte, N.C., base, I realized that the same hurdles would be waiting. What will happen? That’s up to me, of course. But GrubStreet and the Muse conference have given me a boost, and a new set of friends and family I will be returning to, as long as they can stand it.


Mary C. Curtis is an award-winning journalist based in Charlotte, N.C., who covers the intersection of politics, culture and race. She is a columnist at Roll Call, NBCBLK, a contributor to NPR and WCCB-TV Charlotte, a senior facilitator at The OpEd Project, and has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Curtis contributes an essay in “Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox.”

About the Author

GrubWrites is a space for the writing and reading community to share ideas and seek advice, a place where writers at the very beginning of their careers publish alongside established authors. Book lovers, we bring you reviews, recommendations, and conversations with exciting new authors to keep you up to speed on all things lit. Writers, this is your one stop shop for expert craft talk, opinions on how we learn and teach writing, and essential advice about the publishing industry.

Plus, we want to hear from you! Our ongoing call for submissions is open to literary community members of all types and persuasions. We want to hear from students, teachers, authors, readers, editors, agents, publicists, and any devotee of the written word. If you have something to say about writing, reading, the publishing industry, or anything related to the literary world, this is the place to voice it. We’re particularly committed to advocating for a diverse range of voices in the literary marketplace and raising the visibility of writers from under-represented communities.

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