Last weekend I attended the Northeast Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Springfield, MA (NESCBWI13). Besides connecting with industry professionals, one of the wonderful things about writer’s conferences is seeing old friends and making new ones, all of them people who are on the same road as you — yearning to tell their stories to the world and struggling to be heard. I ran into Hannah Goodman, a dear friend who is a wonderful teacher, writer, and publisher of the YA literary journal Sucker. And here is a photo of three new friends, Reagan, Laurence, and Lisa — delightful people and talented writers all:
For me, NESCBWI13 comes on the heels of the Southern California Writer’s Conference (San Diego, January, 2013) and the La Jolla Writer’s Conference (November, 2012). As is always the case with a writer’s conference, I left NESCBWI feeling inspired and energized. And daunted.
As writer’s we must somehow find the time in our busy lives to write, and that involves much more than just sitting down at a computer or grabbing a pen and paper. It means emptying your mind of all the day-to-day worries (deadlines at work, what to make for dinner, what yard work needs to be done, when to pay the bills, remembering to buy your son a new pair of shoes for his upcoming school band concert, and so on and so on) so you can re-enter your fictional world, reconnect with your characters, pick up the thread of the story where you last left off, and try to make some progress.
I don’t know about other writers, but I cannot just simply turn off one world and enter another, like flipping a switch. It takes me a while to subdue all those thoughts and tasks clamoring for my attention. (The reverse is also true, which is why it’s so jarring when I am in the middle of a crucial scene, on some planet zillions of miles away, and my son yells down the stairs that we’re out of granola bars. Aaagh! Not now! My characters are about to be sucked into a black hole!)
So one of the most wonderful things about writer’s conferences is that we are surrounded by other writers, we are talking about writing, we are literally immersed in the world of writing, and the day-to-day world is nowhere to be seen. For me, it is as though a lid has been removed. Ideas and enthusiasm bubble up, suddenly and joyfully liberated from that place where they are held under pressure by the demands of day-to-day life. Often, ideas are sparked by something said in a workshop or lecture. But sometimes the ideas have no obvious relationship to the topic under discussion and just appear out of nowhere, as though they’ve been waiting for their chance to escape. More often than not, I can’t keep up with them, even though I am jotting notes as furiously as I can.
Then we go home, full of energy and enthusiasm, and BAM! We’re back in the “real” world, eager to follow up on those ideas, eager to get back to work on our stories, and struggling to find the time.
This happens to me every time, and I suspect I am not alone. So I have a suggestion for all you conference organizers out there. How about a combination conference/retreat? Three days of intensive conference, followed by four days of retreat – no set schedule, just a bunch of energized writers meeting informally, critiquing each others’ work, helping each other, and mostly just WRITING! Free of distraction! I could probably accomplish more in those four days than in a month at home.
What do you other writers think about that?