Writing Conferences can hurt you and then help you

Years ago, I crept away from my first ever writing conference like Eeyore on a bad day. Other people had wheelbarrows full of books and knapsacks full of trophies, or so it seemed. I had nothing. It all felt impossible. Instead of shouting “YES!” and slapping a high five on the woman sitting next to me who had just published her sixth trilogy, or even just her sixth paragraph, I felt mopey and miserable.

The fact that it was a Christian writing conference, made me feel like a layered loser: I was jealous (Bad). I knew I shouldn’t be jealous (Even more Bad). It was a sulk-shame cycle.

It took me a few weeks to stop being so pathetic. Then, I got on my knees and puffed the remaining spark of my ambition — which I had doused to within an inch of its life — back into a little flame and decided to stop being such a big baby.

It’s hard to be a writer starting out. Especially, I think, when you come with a fragile wish and then are told, in that writing-conference-kind-of-way: “You can do it!” (Exciting) and then: “It might take you decades to do it!” (Not so Exciting). Or even worse: “Sweetie, maybe this isn’t your thing” (Devastating).

I was reminded of my “Big Baby Goes to a Writers Conference” episode once again as I taught a class or two at that same conference this past weekend. In the Non-Fictions basic class I told the story of how badly I felt when I had left years ago. It’s an embarrassment to share of course. I saw puzzlement on a few faces, but also a few eyes welled up and a couple of people nodded.

And you never know, they just might be the writers to watch.

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