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  • Writer's pictureLissa Cowan

Make Your Weirdness Your Ultimate Superpower

Last week I did one of the scariest things I've ever done. I pitched my book project THREE times to top literary agents at the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland. Over two days, I repeated over in my head what I planned to say so that I could win over the agent and convince her to sign me on. Yet, while there I found that my pitch changed drastically.

Two things happened that made it shift. The first was accidental while the second wasn't.

1) At the conference was a waiting area like a doctor's office where writers waited to pitch to agents who sat at banquet tables in...let's call it the Grand Hall, which is very much as it sounds, lofty and intimidating. In front of the big doors to the Grand Hall was a woman wearing a red cowboy hat. She had a Cheshire Cat grin that made me want to hug and kiss her for being her carefree, slapstick self while I bit my nails to the skin. Here's what she told us hapless writers before we went in front of the firing squad (please note that I'm paraphrasing): You will screw up big; you'll forget your elevator pitch and start babbling because, well, you're writers not corporate executives. Your heart will leak all over the place. We writers are messy souls, aren't we?

All right, I thought. I'm going to screw up and there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

And, that's pretty much what happened. I tripped up and told the first agent all the weird stuff of my narrative that I didn't want to divulge because I thought she'd have me committed. It just HAPPENED, as if the cowgirl** had put a spell on me to tell the truth.

2) While there I met many writers obsessed with their true and made up stories: A YA novel of wishing wells in Ireland, one story of intrigue about Gloria Vanderbilt, non-fiction about two gay brothers who come out to their parents.... It reset my system to have all those stories converging in one place. This environment of acceptance for every kind of story gave me confidence to pitch what was bubbling up inside me, not what I thought the agents wanted to hear.

And I'm sure it didn't hurt that the conference was happening in Portland.

One thing I covet about Portland is its celebration of "weirdness." The first morning, I went running and passed a man walking his goat. He smiled politely as I went by. Of course that's just one example, yet there are many more that can't be contained in this short piece.

On the way back to Canada I thought about how my weirdness comes out strong in my stories, and what I might do to further cultivate these qualities in my writing and my life.

So tell me, dear reader, what qualities of weirdness do you possess that perhaps you're not exploring (exploiting) or celebrating as much as you could be? What are the superpowers you'll use to win over literary agents, customers, pet goats, lovers?

Make a list of 10-15 distinct traits or characteristics that people use to describe you. If not much comes to mind then ask three people to send you some. Right now! I've included my list below to give you an idea of what such a list might look like. Another way to figure out your traits is to think about times when someone has remarked on something you've done as though it's extrordinary when you just think to yourself it's 'what you do.' Think about that action and what characteristic best matches it.

Before you look at my list please keep in mind that these are things others have said about me over the years. Just so you know I'm not tooting my own horn!










Great taste




Once you've made your weird list, then circle three traits that you think represent you through and through. Do this fairly swiftly so it doesn't become an intellectual exercise. You may think that what you do right now in your business or creatively (or both) is too 'out there,' and that people won't embrace it, but stick with it, listen to your gut, and you'll be surprised at how many people get what you're putting down. Combined, these traits become your weird superpowers, and will eventually set you apart.

In case you're wondering, speaking the truth about my weird story paid off and I connected with an agent who 'gets it.'

**Tex Thompson, volunteer and writer, Willamette Writers' Conference, 2016. Photo Credit: Audrey Rose Goldfarb

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