This year was my first Watermark Conference, a conference by women for women in the Silicon Valley/Bay Area ever year (see my announcement of this year’s event earlier this Spring and my Q&A with Mallika Chopra). Sadly, I was only able to duck in and out for a few hours, although among a few other magic moments, I managed to catch Annabel Gurwitch’s talk who spoke about a myriad of things including Re-Invention, which in her opinion is all about creating community, not competition.
What I love about the conference is it’s focus on women and all the issues we as women deal as we go through every decade. As a writer and a woman who struggles with both a career and my gender, I applaud her commitment to having a sisterhood, something I need to get better at and don’t spend enough time cultivating. We ALL NEED to cultivate COMMUNITY!!
Photo credit: PublicTheater.org.
She has a writing group where they read each other’s work, give each other criticism and coach each other and from that “safe zone,” she is able to hold herself accountable by going into an office every day. Like all support groups, it ups the odds of success and with that success, everyone in her circle will ultimately benefit from her success.
She quotes David Benjamin Rakoff, who was a Canadian-born American writer based in New York City and noted for his humorous and sometimes autobiographical non-fiction essays. He said, “when you’re cooking something, if you follow that recipe and each time, add the same ingredients, you’re going to get the same results, but there’s never a single day as a writer when you sit down at your desk and you get the same results. Success depends on constant output and I’m constantly being judged and the work I do next year and the year after that. There’s no guarantee.”
As a writer, I see the parallels people make every day. Writing is an art form, people say and yet so is painting, so is acting, so is singing. While acting, directing and producing is and often needs to be social, where you collaborate with each other, as a writer, you are alone in a room, most of the time and they’re ultimately very different.
I love Annabel’s projection on aging. She says, “the notion that when you’re 50, people at 40 think you’re just like they are, is ridiculous.” Call a spade a spade — to pretend things are anything other than what they are as you age is indeed ridiculous . We’re doing a disservice to ourselves by trying to subscribe and buy into that notion and yet so many women do it again and again and again.
She decides to lead with her age. In other words, why not tout all of the experience, knowledge and mastery that she has garnered over the years? She says, “My age makes me better and I’m not fooling anyone anyway. My age is out there, so why not lead with it?” Rather than run away from it, she decided to run towards it with a vengeance. “There’s a great power to running with my age, leading with it and embracing it. Put it right out there. We are a huge demographic,” she reminds the audience. Hear hear, I thought out loud.
She then went on to provide useful tips for writing at any age. When you think of recording your story, think about it in these three chunks: “who was I then, who am I now and who am I becoming?” All of the best memoirs answer those 3 questions. She laughs as she says, “what is my mother doing in my house? Oh my god, it’s me?” She writes about aging and uses anecdotal stories to give examples…in other words, the way being her age here and now impacts her and how she now writes towards her future and who she is becoming.
Annabel hates the phrase, “aging gracefully” because it feels too passive and outdated. She adds, “we are living longer, and are healthier. Aging with a vengeance is a better more modern description of where I’m heading as a woman.
I think about this all the time — if you’re looking at a re-invention, you need to take stock of where you’re at again and again, especially when you’re in a competitive place like Silicon Valley. Yup, I still live here and the older we get, the harder it is to play with the young role models that constantly lead the way in the day-to-day worlds at Google, Facebook, Instagram, Yahoo, Microsoft and more.
She reminds us when we take stock of our lives regardless of our age, that we’ll find that whatever we write, is the story we’re living. Once you get it out of your head, it’s a pointed mission statement – a framework to assess where you’re at in your life, which is really telling. Ask yourself once it’s down in writing: is this what you want to be and where you’re going? Then, she suggests, to answer those questions as a writer.Once those stories are down on paper, we can then, ask ourselves: do those STORIES fit our mission statement? See how it translates to a tool for living. These are life questions. Then, ask yourself, is what am I doing every day fitting those questions:who am I now and who am I becoming?
Lastly, look at how you’re spending your time – what stories am I writing every day and does it fit into who I am and who I want to be in the future? If you do ever want to write, she reminds us that a publisher always asks those questions before put up money for a book: Why this book? Why this author? Why now? AND, who will read this author? Is it the right timing, right now?
Encouraging women, writers or not, to find a support group that becomes your community and then after you identify a community or two, to have a set of rules that you abide by. Rules need to be helpful and everyone needs to agree on those set of guidelines that are helpful for you and for the group.
Think about a few questions as you ponder next steps in your life. What would you do if you thought you would not fail? She encourages us all to do something that is terrifying even if you think you’re going to fail. If you find yourself at the end of the line of a career and you’re in a new place, be sure to ask yourself those questions and make sure you’re on track.
Her next book btw, is all about “Finding Your Tribe.” Trust me, we all need one!