“You know it will take you days to recover from that,” my fourteen-year-old son said when I told him, somewhat proudly, that I’d been staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning, having the best conversations with my roommate, and still getting up at 8 to attend conference sessions. Of course having my teenage son act so fatherly made me smile but still I insisted, “It was worth it.” My roommate and I have, so far, only seen each other at these conferences, as she lives in Shanghai and I in Chicago, and while we keep in touch via email the rest of the time, sharing a cabin in Algonkian Park on the Potomac River during these conferences of our online writing group is an oasis of girlfriend time.
While I am lucky to have this special time with a roommate, the conference is still, first and foremost, a writers’ conference, a coming together of like minded souls, no matter how different we are in age, life experience, and writing interests. And therein lies the value: As a writer, attending a writers’ conference is always a good thing, because you will always learn something, and make some connection. Writing is a solitary pursuit, and yet, the paradox is that we need others to succeed, and a conference offers an opportunity to meet those others.
It might be daunting to walk into a room full of strangers (and it was on that very first conference when we all met in person for the first time!), but it’s worth it because you know you have something in common with all these people. Joyce Finn, who moderates writersandcritters and organizes these conferences (and is lovingly called Mother Hen by everyone), made a brilliant decision this time: While members have always given the bulk of the presentations, this year she somehow made sure that pretty much every one gave a session, and so we were all in it together. Everyone had a period of nervousness about speaking in front of the group, and yet this being in it together created a special sense of community.
A conference is basically non-stop input, and that’s where some of the exhaustion comes from. Either I was listening to a presentation on branding for writers, or one on evoking a sense of place in your writing, or one on something completely new to me: why and how you might want to create a web series. Or I was talking to people, not only my roommate late a night, but reconnecting with old friends like Nancy, or finally meeting someone in person whom I had known online, or chatting with someone I had not met before, like Diana who did an inspiring presentation on writing book reviews (she writers for the Washington Independent Review of Books), and who’s writing a biography of Eliza Scidmore (b. 1856), an adventuress who brought the cherry blossoms to Washington, DC.
You come home with a notebook full of ideas, email addresses, websites to check out, book recommendations, and workshop notes, and your head keeps buzzing for days on afterward, while you have to come down from all the excitement of new discoveries and have to deal with everyday life again. So, while I am still exhausted, not only from the conference but also from having to immediately jump back into homework help, kid logistics, packing lunches, and of course, the job, I am also rejuvenated, and the conference was, to repeat myself, worth it. I will be sharing some of my insights from the conference once they have percolated in my brain. I’m already working on one: Brainstorming with the Tarot. Intriguing, right?