Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reflections on a Writers’ Conference

On my fourth day back home from the writersandcritters conference in Sterling, VA, I am still exhausted. Writers conferences will do that to you, even a small and intimate one like this.

“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.
This captures what our conference looks and feels like: the intimate
cabin setting, everybody sitting around in a circle taking notes (I'm there
in fuchsia, with my back to the camera), a pumpkin flower
arrangement for beauty, and of course food (we are fortunate to have
an excellent cook who's also a Microsoft expert and spoils us with her nouveau
Southern cuisine that accommodates all our food preferences).

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?

10 comments:

  1. I can't wait to hear specifics you have to share from the conference. I love going to conferences. They are so inspiring. But, yes, you usually do need time to recover after them.

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  2. This sounds so wonderful! Thanks for sharing your experience with the rest of us.

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  3. Conferences are the best! I just returned from Orlando where the Florida Writer's Association held there annual. I was a little nervous going there by myself, but I had plenty of people share discussions with me between sessions. :)

    Nice picture! It looks a lot more comfortable there in the cabin. Love it.

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  4. Wow Annette! You captured the conference perfectly. Reading this alnost made me a little homesick for all who were there. Amaziang, isn't it, how we can all become so close when we see each other in person only once in awhile. Happily, the online presence keeps the friendships alive.I'm still trying to get caught up here at home, and I'm sure everyone else is, too. Wouldn';t have missed last week for anything.

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  5. Charlie (spouse of Mother Hen)November 3, 2011 at 11:07 AM

    I got tired just watching y'all

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  6. Glad to hear you all liked my little summary - I still have to find the time to edit a few files before I can share some conference content, but again, thanks for your interest.

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  7. It's been over a month now, Annette and I'm still thinking about our time together. I think this last conference was the best yet, even though they've all been incredibly valuable. Can't wait for #5.

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  8. Maureen - hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog. Yes, it was a wonderful conference, and I am likewise looking forward to the next one. They are more like reunions now, aren't they?

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