Throughout the years, I’ve been privileged to attend a number of good – and not-so-good – conferences and workshops over the years. I’ve heard speakers who ranged from demented wanna-bes to award-winning writers. I’ve had the chance to go alone, and a chance to go with friends, and a chance to meet friends – new and old – at an event of mutual interest. Having participated in so many of these, I’ve decided I’ve earned the right to be picky about which ones I go to, and which ones I avoid.
The things I look for now in a conference are not the same as what I looked for when I was first interested in being a writer. Back then, I needed basic information like character development and storyline ideas. I needed to know how to meet editors and agents, and how to get my writing to them. If there was a manuscript critique, chances were good that I’d be participating because I wanted all the feedback I could get. I would talk with other writers and listen, enthralled, at their tales of woe from the front lines of publishing. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not being critical of this. It was truly valuable to me at the time, and I am grateful for every writer, every agent, every editor who commented, or gave me insight, or taught me something about the business of being a writer.
Then I reached a point where I was attending for the sake of working. I went to retreats where ample time was devoted to creation of work, revision, and working on the craft. Let me say here that I genuinely miss the Wildacres Retreat for Children’s Writers – a week in the mountains outside of Asheville to work with other professionals, get feedback, and enjoy that amazing setting was an absolute joy to participate in. I’m certain, too, that this is where my desire to go to Vermont College came from. I was sincerely attracted to the concept of spending 11 days, twice a year, solely focused on learning about and working on my writing. I still went to a few conferences, even while I was working on my Masters at Vermont, but their value and importance began to diminish for me.
Then – for a variety of reasons good and bad – I didn’t attend anything for a while. Time, money, family, and other issues conspired against me to determine that I couldn’t make the commitment anymore. Sadly, my writing began to suffer at the same time. For nearly two years, I wrote almost nothing. I took a monstrous effort to try to get back into the swing of things, and there were several failed attempts at it along the way. But as there were numerous factors that went into pulling me from following my dream, there were numerous factors that went into forcing me back into it as well. The first was beginning to mentor a young writer who has since become my best friend and writing partner. The lion’s share of credit belongs here, and if I’ve mentioned it before it bears repeating. I owe him a great dept of thanks for challenging me, inspiring me, and helping me rediscover the love of writing I had misplaced. Another factor was attending a conference. I won’t mention it by name, but the experience was profound. As I listened to speakers and attended the break-out sessions, I knew this wasn’t the information I needed – that, in fact, I was beyond what was being taught in the classes that few days. There was some value to attending – I got to see old friends for one thing. But the most valuable thing I got was the affirmation that this wasn’t what I needed, that I had since progressed beyond what was being offered. I was a positive discovery, and one that fueled me even further.
So now, I’m planning on attending a new conference – the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in Iowa City in July. I can only take off enough time to participate in one of the weekend workshops, but I’m quite excited about it. The session focuses on idea generation and inspiration – a favorite subject, and also promises to produce new work – what appeals to me most. As of right now, I’m probably attending by myself, but there is a good possibility my writing partner may be joining me for the experience. Either way, I’m excited at the prospect of learning new things, of taking that time to focus only on my writing, and of generating new ideas and new writing that will continue to propel me down the path I’m on. I can use the cliché “It’s an investment in my career,” but it is more than that – it’ is an investment in me, in my heart, in my soul, and in my dream. Here’s to continuing education!