Saturday, October 22, 2011

Conferences, They Do A Body Good

Get thee to a writing conference.  Right now, this second.  Drop your Starbucks, board your pets, call in sick (and cough for good measure.)  But make your way to a writing conference because it is like a shot of writing adrenaline right in the good old chest plate.

I say this as I rarely take my own advice.  I worry about how much a conference will cost or if it's worth the expense.  (I've been lucky enough to receive two scholarships - check for them.  Usually one or two are available.)  I mentally list the five hundred and seventeen things that I ought to be doing instead of traveling, settling in, and conferencing.  Grading and parenting are often the two big ones I can't quite dismiss.  And of course  I miss my children, my husband, even the fat orange tabby cat who masquerades as our pet and is in reality a slash and claw machine.  Sure I see them every day, but between school, sports practices, and the daily minutia the weekend days are precious downtime to enjoy with them rather than running on the frantic hamster wheel that is our life.    

But honestly the thing that most keeps me from conferences is an ugly voice in the back of my head that tries to remind me with its acid tongue that I'm not a writer yet.  I don't receive a steady paycheck.  My books are not on Barnes and Noble's shelves.  Most of the free world does not know me as an author.  A teacher?  Sure.  A mother, daughter, neighbor, friend?  Yup.  But not an author.

With that laundry list of reasons why I shouldn't go to a conference, there need to be major ones on the other side of the teeter totter to balance things out.  Or frankly why go to another writing event ever again?

Well, there are.  There are plenty of reasons, and I can offer a few from my own humble perspective.  But by reading them, you (as a writer, and you ARE most likely one if you're reading this) are promising me that you will get yourself to a conference this year, next, or within the decade.  Life of course throws obstacles aplenty, but the obstacles should only show us how impassioned we are to make writing real in our lives.

First, meeting other writers is just neat.  We're eccentric, we're spread out across the universe, and we're not easily identifiable like say those ladies who wear the red hats.  I spoke with a mother from Utah, a criminal attorney from NYC, and a teacher from Connecticut.  Except in the banquet room over breakfast we were all writers, many of whom had not yet experienced their big breaks.  Not that I'd ever be pleased with anyone else's misfortune, but it's encouraging to know that the highly publicized stories of twenty-year-olds with six figure book deals are certainly not the norm.

And there are mentors and advice galore.  I was lucky enough to attend the Rutgers One-on-One Conference, and I worked with an agent who was exceedingly helpful and could concentrate on my manuscript and query.  (Of course my hope is that I can submit a revised version and snag her as my agent in the near future.  I'll keep everyone posted about that.)  But even when the ratio's not that favorable and there look to be two dozen writers for every agent or editor, there are still moments to touch base.  Or sit and listen to the wisdom.  And there's plenty of it.  Not just from the formal presentations and workshops.  Eavesdrop on the juicy conversations that more times than not describe situations and questions you have or will eventually find yourself in.  Even if it's something simple and obvious like, "Write like your life depends on it."  I've been repeating that phrase in my head a lot the last few days.  It's a far better voice to listen to than the negative one.  

And finally, more than the other reasons, the conference will energize you to write.  I came home realizing that my writing regiment just wasn't cutting it, and usually I consider myself pretty prolific.  I manage to find kernels of time, but since the conference I've been religiously knocking out two and three chapters each day of writing or revision even if all my other duties are screaming at me to stop and please instead pick up a stack of laundry or sort toys. The conference reminded me that I am most certainly a writer who, along with many other talented men and women, should work each and every day on my craft as if it was not only a hobby, but as if my professional happiness depended upon it.