I walked into my first writers conference clutching a briefcase full of hopes and dreams. Immersed in the crowd full of people I didn’t know, hearing fragments of the conversations around me, I wondered, was I one of them? Was I really a writer?
At the time I was a mom at home, busy raising three kids. Yes, I’d once won an award for writing in a past job, and, yes, people loved my Christmas letters. But was I a writer? Or was I just playing around?
Thirty years later, after eight published novels, 14 years of newspaper work, 20 years of column writing, and a bunch of awards, I can most assuredly say I am a writer. And going to conferences is largely responsible.
Conferences expanded my knowledge and broadened my horizons. Editors urged me to “write tight.” Agents impressed me with the fact that I had a “New York minute” to sell my work. From poets, I learned to create sharp, distilled descriptions, even in my nonfiction work. And writers? Other writers made me appreciate the beautiful mosaic our creative tribe makes when we apply our hearts to our work.
I’ve made wonderful friends at writers’ conferences, friends who’ve encouraged me, cheered me on, helped me when I got stuck, and who have selflessly connected me with others who have advanced my career. I signed up for critiques everywhere I could. I learned to improve my writing by developing a thick skin, listening to critiquers’ advice—and then applying what was appropriate. I made connections with professionals, connections which ultimately resulted in my first traditionally published book.
I learned something else at conferences: the power of perseverance. It takes a lot of seat time to become a good writer. It can take a lot of years to get noticed. Sometimes the only difference between a writing drop-out and a published author is—perseverance.
We are writers. We have this in common: We love ideas. We love books. We love writing, for that is the way we process life. Society needs us to bring order to chaos, to add heart and soul to mind and matter, to bring truth to light and joy to a weary world. Whether we write online or in print, articles, poems, or books, ours is a noble calling.
Although COVID will force this year’s conference online, embrace the opportunity. Do you know other writers? Recruit them to register, and then share the experience. Connect with the presenters. Follow up on suggestions and opportunities that you hear. Take notes, and take heart.
As I walked through the halls at the 2019 CRRL conference, a briefcase full of hopes and dreams in hand, I remember smiling at seeing all the writers—young, old, tattooed, wrinkled, short, and tall, of many ethnic groups and all persuasions. I thought back to that first conference, so many years ago. This time, I knew—no question, I am a writer.
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Linda J. White is the award-winning author of eight novels. A former assistant-editorial page editor at The Free Lance-Star, she lives in Fauquier County. She can be reached through her website, lindajwhite.net.