The folks at the skirt! Creative Conference surely know how to save the best for last. The workshops and talks on Friday and Saturday had been so informative and so inspirational I could returned to Birmingham Saturday night and felt I got my money’s worth. But, boy am I glad I stuck around.
Sunday’s keynote speaker was Claire Cook (pictured above), author of the best-selling novel Must Love Dogs, on which the 2005 romantic comedy of the same name was based.
Cook is one of the most down-to-earth writers I’ve ever met. She has this generous spirit that’s so bright it’s contagious. And she’s a woman who believes in sisterhood and solidarity. In fact, near the beginning of her talk she shared a famous quote by Madeleine Albright: "There's a place in Hell reserved for women who don't help other women."
Cook gave us practical advice, such as: Collect email addresses everywhere you go. Add your Facebook and Twitter sites to your business cards. The best way to become a better writer is to become a voracious reader. Choose one project and work on it wholeheartedly until it’s complete instead of dabbling in too much at once.
But the real message I took from her talk was simply love yourself, love other people, work hard and play nice.
Love yourself. Stop trying to imitate your favorite author or trying to write the kind of book that seems to be popular these days. Write your story. What is the thing about you that gives you a book only you can write? Tap into that and write from that place. Novelist Emily Giffin, who wrote Something Borrowed (also adapted for film) and a host of other books, spoke at the conference and she too gave this advice.
Love other people. When you’re trying to make it big as a writer, or whatever your career of choice may be, it’s tempting to only look out for yourself, to only focus on your goals. This is a mistake. Cook has spent years offering free workshops to people, especially women, because she wants to help others. But by helping others you often indirectly help yourself as you build a name for yourself and build a community of supporters who will be your biggest fans.
Work hard. When working on a novel, Cook commits to writing two pages every day. Period. No exceptions. Set a similar rule for yourself so you can complete your project.
Play nice. The Must Love Dogs movie almost didn’t happen, but it did mostly because Cook is a kind person. Gary David Goldberg revoked his initial offer to make the movie, but instead of burning bridges and breaking ties, Cook wrote him a thank you note showing gratitude for even being considered. This started a great friendship and when Goldberg was once again in a position to make the film he did. And Cook made enough money to put her kids through college.
Because I’m a feminist, Cook’s dedication to helping other women obviously stood out to me most and it really encouraged me too. Never again will I doubt the work I do with organizing groups such as See Jane Write. At the end of her talk one of the women in the audience said, “If it’s true that there’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t help other women, there must be a special place in Heaven for you.” To me that is the greatest compliment a woman could ever receive.