Dell Award Finalists. Photo by William Clemente.
Dell Award Finalists. Photo by William Clemente.

Writers Are Like Spiders

This March, I got to attend the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts. I was a finalist for the Dell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Writing in Science Fiction and Fantasy. What all those official titles really mean is that I got to hang out with some of my favorite authors and editors, who I never thought I’d meet. I discovered that there are five stages to meeting your heroes:

1. Imposter Syndrome

I shouldn’t be here. Someone will notice that I’ve snuck in. How could I be here? I’m not as talented as these people. I mean, I have a name-tag and a fancy certificate, and everyone so far has been welcoming and nice, but I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m just not meant to–oh no, someone’s coming over!

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2. Connection

We like the same books? You also fangirl over Leigh Bardugo? Is that allowed? When you’re a famous author, you’re still allowed to fangirl over other authors? Huh. Good to know. You want to hang out by the pool? And that’s also allowed? You like swimming? You’re human? Won’t the water rust your metal plates because you’re a robot of writing perfection?

3. Advice

Ok, made it this far. Hanging out at the pool with award-winning writers, no big deal. They’re just telling me their life story and all the ins and outs of the industry. I’m cool. I’m fine. I can keep it together. The notes app on my phone is almost filled up, but I think I caught everything verbatim.

It might take a while, but somewhere out there, someone is going to read something I wrote.

4. Acceptance

“I guarantee that all of you, if you keep writing, will get published.” – E. Lily Yu, award-winning writer.

“Now we’ll announce the Dell Award. For those of you who don’t know, all the writers in the room, these are the people who are coming to knock you off your pedestal.” – Gary Wolfe, Awards director.

“Every year I come to this conference just to meet the Dell finalists. It’s the only thing I pay attention to on a cover letter.” – Neil Clarke, editor of Clarkesworld Magazine.

Maybe…maybe I do belong here.

5. Becoming the Hero

All of the authors I met at the conference had been Dell finalists. It might take a while, but somewhere out there, someone is going to read something I wrote. It might speak to them because they like the style of prose, or a line of dialogue, or they relate to a character. But it might be enough to inspire them to write. They might even become a Dell finalist and go to the same conference that I’ll still be going to years later.

And then, they’ll meet me, and get to go through all of these stages. And I can pass on my favorite piece of advice from author Lara Donnelly:

“Writers are like spiders. They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.”

Bring it on, spider-writer-friends. I’m not afraid anymore.