Holed up in my room waiting for a critique with an editor at the Falling Leaves Writers Workshop at Silver Bay. Not too nervous. I already know this particular editor does not take nonfiction. So, why am I here?
Although most writer's workshops are not geared to nonfiction -- some may have one tract or class, but not much else (I guess we nonfiction peeps don't need it!) there is still literary gold to be mined at these events.
1. I will have the chance to submit to the other editors attending who might be looking for nonfiction. That is why you should choose your conferences wisely. Check out the editors and agents who will be present. What are they looking for? If they have nonfiction on their list, dig deeper to find out whether they like current issues, biographies, science, narrative, funny, etc. Conferences usually give you a window of opportunity - a few months to a year -- to submit to participating editors even though their companies may have an agented-manuscripts only policy.
2. I can learn from fiction writers too. In critiques this morning, 5 fiction writers told me where their attention wandered which might indicate that I need to trim some of the information I presented. I could slip some of it into a sidebar, or maybe the reader doesn't need to know it at all. I learned what words or phrases jangled their nerves or didn't ring true, and what information I hadn't explained well enough for them to understand. If a table of adults didn't get it, 4th graders probably wouldn't either. These things are good to know.
Fiction and nonfiction writers also have similar problems to overcome -- choosing the right structure and voice for a piece. Writing a compelling lead that draws the reader into the story. Providing just enough information but not too much. etc.
3. I NEED TO GET OUT! Writing is a solitary endeavor, and although I have writer friends I email and keep in touch with on Facebook, every once in a while I need to rub elbows with fellow writers. With others who think about scenes, ideas, and sentences as much as I do. At first I always think, oh why did I bother. It feels like the first day of school. Will anyone like me? But then I see a familiar face across the room -- someone I met years before. And I meet new writers who stun me with their clever ideas. It reminds me that I am not alone in my angst over editorial comments, or a rejection, or those days when sentences refuse to flow. We're all in this together.
4. And I get to walk in the woods on a rainy day!
PS: my critique went well!