I attended my very first writing conference this weekend. It happened sort of spontaneously – as spontaneous as a thirty-something mom-of-four can be. I recently contacted my high school English teacher (who is an amazing writer – three-time Wyoming Poet Laureate, ya’ll), and she suggested that, if I could possibly manage it, I should come to the Wyoming Writers Conference. The conference was 10 days away. Holy moly.
I’m a planner, and let me tell you, I had a million reasons (excuses) not to attend: It’s not fair to leave my family for the whole weekend without much notice. I would have to take time off work and ask my boss to manage in my stead. Then there was the pesky little issue of finances – registration is how much?! In addition I would likely have some dietary challenges (plant-based in Wyoming? Have you lost your mind? Beef! It’s what’s for dinner).
Then there were reasons of a more psychological, self-doubting flavor: People wouldn’t like me – or worse – I’d end up being like one of those sad junior high kids pasted against the wall at a school dance, just wishing I could go home and put on my jammies. And, of course, there was that insane introvert in my head who reasoned with me that I just might die if I were around that many people, anyway.
I almost decided not to go. Almost.
There was always next year, after all.
Then there was another voice – quieter but more persistent than the crazy introvert. That voice reminded me of how often I have pushed my writing on the back burner. It reminded me that I would never really reach any of my goals if I didn’t step outside of my comfort zone. That voice represented the yearning for connection with other writers, the desire for growth as an author, a creator – an artist. The need to learn. The quest for more.
The logic of the latter voice won.
So, with a deep breath – I registered online and reserved my room before I could change my mind. My excitement grew as I debated what to share for the critique session. Then, invariably, as the days ticked by my panic grew as I debated what to share for the critique session. Nothing was good enough to share with others. Everyone would see the truth – that I was a wanna-be, a fraud who clearly didn’t belong.
The day arrived, and my anxiety went a little crazy during the hour-and-a-half drive to the little village tucked beneath the mountains. I arrived with shaky legs and a pounding heart, but managed to sign in (without dying) and joined my critique table. Sometimes life is on your side – and I felt the truth of this when I noticed a woman from my town – one I used to go to church with. A familiar face. Hallelujah.
The critique session went fabulously. I was awed by the other pieces at my table, which where beautifully written with the care and attention that only a writer can give his or her work. I shook (and sweat – a lot) as I read my work aloud, yet assured everyone in the group that I welcomed tough criticism (which was true – my nerves are simply traitorous little monsters).
The critique was helpful and challenging – but above all it was kind. We were all on the same page, I realized, regardless of where we were in the writing journey – we were all making a choice to step out in vulnerability in the name of growth and camaraderie.
As the weekend progressed, we formed a posse, my critique group and I. We added another writer who was just as nervous as I had been. Together we made five. Saturday night as we ate dinner together, I realized that these are my people. Definitely my posse, but it goes beyond that.
Writers are a different breed of people. Our keynote speaker, New York Times bestselling mystery writer William Kent Krueger, made a comment, which roughly paraphrased was something along the lines of – “like me, most of you have probably wanted to write since forever.” This resonated, and as I glanced around the room at the heads nodding in agreement, I realized: writers are born, not made. That is not to say everyone chooses to develop that talent or does so at the same rate or with the same results. But when everything else is stripped away: we are writers in the very core of our beings, kindred spirits – and that’s kind of a big deal.
I learned so much in the conference sessions that I attended – tools to add to my toolbox – as Stephen King says. Yet my greatest take-away from this first conference is that I have found a tribe – people that I want to be around, be inspired by and equally strive to inspire in return, people from whom I would like to learn and have walking beside me as we travel this crazy journey of words and craft and plots and make believe.