Many years ago I attended the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference. This was shortly after starting to peek out of the closet and admit that I was a writer. As anyone knows who has attended this conference, it is huge. So there I was, a timid writer, listening to the crowds around me talking about their novels, their manuscripts, their synopses, the difficulty of making their pitches. Right next to me was one young woman, very excited, telling a friend she had pitched a magazine article and it had been bought on the spot.
I sat in the back of the panel discussions, as close to the door as I could get, terrified I would be expected to produce something. I felt like an imposter. I left devastated. I created O-Pen writer’s group shortly thereafter, in order to have a place that was safe and non-threatening for writers like me, just toddling out into the world.
I didn’t attend another conference until a couple of years ago when I went to the Idaho Writer’s Conference that was held in Wallace, Idaho that year. I went because I was writing a mystery set in Wallace, loved the town, and could add research to the time spent there. I had tons of fun.
What made the difference? For starters, the size. The Idaho conference was limited to a set number of participants. The panel discussions felt intimate and safe. No speakers demanded that you write something and read it out loud, like a few at the Pacific conference did. The milling about in the lobby consisted of writers anxious to talk to others about the excitement of writing, not their latest sale. It felt like a supportive environment. I’m sure the Pacific conference is like that, too, and my initial reaction was because of my newbie status and lack of self-confidence. Some day I might attend again, just to see how I respond as the person I am now. Although it is very expensive.
Stephen King, when talking about conferences in his book, On Writing, asked if we really need to have a name tag on our chest that reads ‘writer’ in order to feel like one. I loved his comment, and it made me feel like I could be a writer even if I never went back to a conference. In spite of that, though, these small ones can be beneficial. Have you attended writer’s conferences, and what reactions did you have? What benefits did you receive?
Anyway, today I registered for the Write on the Sound conference, held in Edmonds, WA, in view of the Puget Sound. Enrollment is limited to 200 people. I am excited about going, even though it doesn’t happen until the end of September. But I have learned that these small conferences work for me, that they don’t crush my writer’s self-esteem, and that I can relax and learn. Not to mention visits with other writers. Small, intimate, educational, and respectful of all level of writers. That’s my recipe for being able to attend with confidence, and walk away excited to be part of the writing family.