Sunday, April 18, 2010

It Is Better to Be in the Game

This past weekend, I went to WRW's annual retreat In the Company of Writers. It is one of my favorite events of the whole year and features a raucous game of Romance Jeopardy on Saturday night. The three hostesses Glinda the Good Witch (Karen Smith), the Scarecrow (Cathy Maxwell), and the Cowardly Lion (Kathleen Gilles Seidel) skipped into the ballroom singing We're Off to See the Wizard, and the fun began.

The number one rule of Romance Jeopardy is "This Game Is Not Fair!" But, as we all cry, "We like it that way." The retreat attendees break up into separate teams with at least one first-time retreat attendee, and the competition heats up with each question. I was on the Munchkins team with (back row) Naomie Hackenberg, Danielle Meitiv, Louise Fury, Barbara Vey, Tim Bentler-Jungr, Elaine English, and Elise Hayes (front row - right, I'm on the left). We're pictured with our serious game faces on! We came in second place, but we went down swinging.

Romance Jeopardy is such a good time that many retreat attendees sit and watch the competition. My roommate, critique partner and dear friend Elise asked, "Why would anyone choose to sit and watch rather than play?" We both agreed it was better to be in the game.

This is a lesson that I sometimes have to relearn especially when it comes to my writing. As I've blogged about before, I just finished my first draft last year even though I've been hanging around RWA since 1996. I've learned tons along the way, made many friends (all my best ones!) and spun lots of stories, but I've yet to submit anywhere. I've been content to sit on the sidelines and observe, but I don't want to do that anymore. I want to be in the game. I'm diving in, and this year is all about me finally submitting. I joke it may happen on Dec. 31st, but it will happen.

For the first time ever, I signed up for literary agent appointments and pitched to three Saturday morning. I was ridiculously nervous about that and wanted to cancel all my appointments, but I'm so tired of retiring from the field before the game begins and feeling like a fake. I skipped out on much of the socializing Friday night to return to my room and work on what I wanted to say and ask when I sat across a table from three leading agents. I did go through some worst-case scenarios and decided if all three told me I was the dumbest writer they had ever met and they never wanted to see a thing I'd produced, I would survive.

Naturally, they did not say that. They were very kind and willing to share their deep knowledge and insights on the publishing world and what they would suggest for my writing projects. This does not mean they said I was the smartest writer they had ever met and they wanted to see everything I'd produced, but they did request the fiction project I was pitching. I also pitched to two of them a nonfiction project based on what I'm doing on my journey to become a healthy woman and lose weight. I really wanted their insights on the health, fitness and self-help markets. One agent said that editors would not buy a prescriptive book on weight loss in the voice of someone who had succeeded at it. You needed a different platform such as some kind of medical expertise. That made me sad, but I think I handled it well.

I was able to take that input and use it to help me frame my questions for the last agent I met to find out how I could sell a book on this journey. If I want to get it published, my choices are to write a memoir and tell the whole story or build a platform, which could be a pretty challenging and time-consuming undertaking. It gave me a lot to think about. I will still work on this project and plan to write a narrative memoir. This may be written for an audience of one or two as Elise will read it. I'm not certain I'll ever submit a memoir because there are parts of the story I may not want to share or parts that family members will not want told, but I'll still work on it. Writing about this has helped me tremendously, and I plan to continue to write and think about my journey until I reach that healthy BMI for my weight. I may need to continue thinking and writing about this until I die because it is one of the most effective ways I have to battle my emotional eating.

So, my pitches were not a slam dunk, but I am so happy that I am in the game. While I was nervous, I felt like I could hold my head up higher as I waited with my fellow WRW members for our appointments and through the rest of the retreat. I am getting over the ways I have sabotaged my best efforts in the past and perhaps even my fear of success. I'm going to stop holding myself back so much. I've never sat on the sidelines of Romance Jeopardy, and I need to stop doing that elsewhere. It is better to be in the game.

I left the retreat Sunday on a complete writers' high. As I drove home, I developed revised writing goals and plans for the rest of the year and am feeling empowered to meet them. Just in case I might let any doubts creep in about getting in the game, the world reinforced the lesson for me. I was welcomed home by a voice message from VFRW. My manuscript Honor's Redemption is a finalist in the historical category of The Sheila Contest. What a way to end a weekend devoted to nurturing the writer's soul and giving her the tools to take the next step in her career!

Are you in the game? Are there times when you would rather observe than play? If you went to the WRW Retreat, what were some of your favorite moments?

Michelle Butler has made becoming a healthy writer a priority. She lives, works and writes in the Washington, DC, area. You can follow her on twitter at


Lavinia on April 18, 2010 at 7:28 PM said...

Romance Jeopardy is one of the few place in life where I do sit on the side -- and very happily. My brain can be very slow and I always know the answers after everybody else and then feel compelled to shout them LOUD without raising my hand. Everybody is happier if I sit on the side.

HUGE CONGRATS!!!! on pitching. It is a big hurdle to get over that first time. I've never had a pitch go bad, but still live in fear whenever I have to do it. I am so proud of you for keeping with it step-by-step and can't wait to hear that you've submitted that book.


Nancy Naigle on April 18, 2010 at 7:42 PM said...

Woooohooooo . . . what an awesome weekend. I enjoyed the WRW Retreat too ... sharing your thrill and excitment ... inspiration ... on the long drive home.

Good luck on your submissions AND on that Sheila final. VERY EXCITING :)
Nancy Naigle

Michelle Butler on April 18, 2010 at 7:52 PM said...

Lavinia, your team would want to kick you out if you were yelling the answers to the other teams. It is fun though! You might want to join a team once.

Thanks for the congrats and the encouragement! I doubt I could keep it to myself if I ever have big news to share.

Michelle Butler on April 18, 2010 at 7:53 PM said...

Thanks, Nancy, for the encouragement and congrats. I'm so glad you enjoyed the retreat too.

Debra Key Newhouse on April 18, 2010 at 8:14 PM said...

Michelle, you looked fantastic this weekend! I'm very excited for you on the Sheila final - WOOT!! Thank you so much for all you did for me. If it hadn't been for my husband, and for the kindness of people like you, the weekend wouldn't have happened for me. It felt SOOOO good to be among friends, to meet new friends, and like you, to actually do pitches. I know I have a busy week ahead writing synopsis material, but right now, I have to get some SLEEP lol xoxox on the journey you are on, and for all of our journeys. Ain't life grand?

Anne MacFarlane on April 19, 2010 at 8:35 AM said...

Michelle, congratulations on getting in the game.

Re: the non fiction weight loss book: have you thought about making it about more than your own journey? A book about several people's weight loss journey? All WW members? Or even different methods people used to get healthy? Maybe a comparison type thing? Maybe you could include well-known authors to give the book a "hook?"

Elise Hayes on April 19, 2010 at 9:47 AM said...

Hey Michelle!

CONGRATULATIONS on the Sheila final! Whoo-hoo!!! That's awesome--and what a perfect ending to the weekend.

I LOVE Romance Jeopardy. But while I've played Romance Jeopardy at every retreat I've attended, this was the first retreat where I did significant volunteer work (or, to continue your metaphor, where I put myself into the larger "game"). It made a huge difference in my retreat experience. While I've largely overcome my natural shyness in my everyday life, I've always felt tongue-tied around editors, agents, and the impressive speakers who come to the retreat. This time, though, as VIP liaison, I HAD to talk to VIPs. It put me into what I think of as "hostess mode," and it made every part of the retreat better for me--because being in "hostess mode" made me reach out to EVERYone more: I made friends with several retreat "first timers," reached out a lot more to WRW members I'd seen around at past events but never really met, and I spoke with the VIPs on a regular basis throughout the weekend. Making those connections made the retreat just so much more fun--I'm still floating from the high of it.

Happy writing to all!

Michelle Butler on April 19, 2010 at 10:15 AM said...


Thanks so much! It was great to see you this weekend. I'm so glad you got to attend and pitch. I'll be joining you this week with my own attempt to fix a totally crappy synopsis.

Life is grand, and I catch myself thinking that all the time the past year or so. I realize Romance Jeopardy is a grand metaphor for publishing and life, and it is better to be in the game.

Michelle Butler on April 19, 2010 at 10:18 AM said...

Thanks so much, Anne, for the compliment and the suggestions for the healthy weight loss book. Those are really good options. I need to figure out what will be most helpful for me to write and to work on in the next year. In some ways, writing in my journal and writing these blogposts have been so central to moving forward on this journey, and constructing a whole narrative may be very helpful for my continued forward progress. Pairing with someone with a bigger platform could be helpful too. I need to figure some stuff out in the next month or so. :)

Michelle Butler on April 19, 2010 at 10:21 AM said...

p.s. - Anne
I know that what will help me most to write is a very different question than what will get published. I'm more concerned with the former than the latter right now. At some point, the 2nd question may take precedence.

Michelle Butler on April 19, 2010 at 10:24 AM said...


Volunteering really does get you in the game, doesn't it? I've been taking a break from my RWA volunteering for a while to focus on me and my writing, but volunteering helps me get over my own introvertedness/shyness when around others. In fact, I've been starting to think I may need to get back into the game and volunteer. Watching you this weekend was a great example of how helpful volunteering can be for yourself.

I need to be much more extroverted in my job than I naturally am and a career coach once recommended I read how to work a room. The advice to think of yourself as the hostess is the best tactic I've come across. It helps me so much. I'm glad it helped you this weekend! Enjoy the high, friend. :)

Vanessa on April 19, 2010 at 11:27 AM said...

How exciting all around -- I remember how nervous I was before my one appointment last year and sounds like you did three really well (huge congrats). And, what wonderful (and much deserved) news about the Sheila!

The stars are aligning for you (not to mention hard work!) :)

mbutler on April 19, 2010 at 11:50 AM said...

Thanks, Vanessa! You did say last summer it was a good time for Geminis. :) I missed you at the retreat this year and hope you can make it next year.

Diane Gaston on April 19, 2010 at 12:12 PM said...

Michelle! Huge congrats on the Sheila final! A contest final like the Sheila is confirmation that you can write and that you have a story people will want to read and no one can take that fact away from you now!

I prefer to read weight loss books that are more memoir, or that are about the journey of weight loss, rather than those written by experts. We all know to eat healthy, to limit our calories, and to exercise. It is the "inside" stuff that helps me, which is why I've been coming to this blog.

It was such a delight to see you looking so gorgeous. I suspect your appearance was due to more than just the weight loss, though. You have every right to feel good about yourself!

Michelle Butler on April 19, 2010 at 12:23 PM said...

Thanks so much, Diane! I know I need to be my own main source of affirmation about my writing, but I love what you have to say about the Sheila.

Do you have any weight loss books that are more memoir to recommend? I've had a lot of trouble finding any. I may be looking in the wrong part of the bookstore though - health, fitness, self-help. I hear you about the inside stuff. I seem to have to do all the "touchy-feely" crap to be able to lose the weight. I am often my own worst enemy on these efforts, and the inside work stops the self-sabotage.

Thanks for the compliment on my appearance too! Like Debra said, I am really feeling like life is grand the past year or so. It's so wonderful.

Diane Gaston on April 19, 2010 at 6:13 PM said...

Finally Thin!: How I Lost More Than 200 Pounds and Kept Them Off--and How You Can, Too by Kim Bensen -- a memoir of a woman who lost weight through weight watchers. --I read and liked this one very much.

Confessions of a Carb Queen: A Memoir by Susan Blech - I haven't read this one yet, but I've read the beginning of it.

Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir by Jennette Fulda --this looks interesting!

Secrets of a Former Fat Girl
by Lisa Delaney (Author)-- I read the beginning of this one and was intrigued. She is a free lance writer for Health magazine.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on April 19, 2010 at 11:33 PM said...

Michelle, I'm finally feeling human enough to come out to the blog, even though it's late. My first impression when logging on was of the photo -- you look wonderful! I'm glad you had a great time at the retreat, that you took more positive steps in your career, and that you came home to such wonderful news about the Shelia final!!! You rock, girlfriend.

Michelle Butler on April 20, 2010 at 9:19 AM said...

Thanks, so much, Trish! I'm really trying to get out of my own way (aka stop self-sabotaging) in terms of the weight loss and the writing. I feel like I've taken a lot of strides on that.

I'm glad you feel better. The pollen is fierce right now!

Michelle Butler on April 20, 2010 at 9:19 AM said...


Thank you so much for the book recommendations. I'm going to look some of them up. :)

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