Chance of a lifetime: Writers Conferences

Chance of a lifetime: Writers Conferences

colorado-springs-450I’ve been to three Pikes Peak Writers Conferences, and am headed back to Colorado tomorrow for my fourth. I thought it was about time I figure out why I keep going back.

Why I went in the first place
Four years ago, I was home fresh from a deployment to Afghanistan and looking for a creative outlet for my writing. I was also a freshly minted Reservist and for the first time in over a decade, didn’t have a full-time job.

Naively, I thought I could punch out a couple of books and embark on a long and fruitful writing career. We were stationed in Colorado Springs and after a quick Google search, I found Pikes Peak Writers, a nonprofit organization whose mission was to support aspiring and established writers.

It was a sign!

What I got out of it that first year
In April 2012, I packed up my pencils and a pad of paper, my laptop and cell phone and hiked on up to the Marriott, nervous and excited to attend my very first writers conference.Screaming-girl With full awareness of my novice – ness, I signed up for Angel Smits beginners class. She was enthusiastic and fun, and gave great information on character development, plot structure and project organization. I met three future critique partners and a guy in a kilt, and I knew I was off to the races. I learned an amazing amount that conference. The air opened up around me and I knew I was in the right place. Over the next year, I attended workshops, conferences, and just about every event Pikes Peak Writers held.

More importantly, I wrote two full novels.

I have no idea what I’m doing!
The next year, I volunteered to help with banquet decorations and became a bit more involved. I knew more people and conference blossomed from nervous fun to industry reality. I was really having a good time. I attended lots of craft workshops. One on character building, another on point of view; one on plotting. And a deep, dark realization began to creep its way into my writing mind. I had no idea what I was doing!

Self-publishing is hard workI started my book too fast. No one related to the main character. The plot would never happen in real life. Every workshop reminded me I was doing it wrong. Every “expert” had a different idea for how to start a novel. Around every bend was another writer, author, publicist, agent, editor, and expert offering lots of advice about how to fix my work. All I knew was that assuring me that what I was writing would never get published.

I was crushed.

Thank God for writer friends
I spent the next several months writing absolutely nothing. I didn’t go to workshops. I stopped reading trade books, and generally felt sorry for myself. All around me, writer friends spent every spare minute chasing Hemingway, and I refused to even read fiction.
Then Cindi Madsen smacked me upside the head and told me to get a grip.images

Of course “they” gave advice. That’s why they were at conference. Take what you could and throw out the rest. The point of all the workshops is to explain what the industry standard is and help guide your work. Writing is personal, but industry is not. Fiction holds a certain formula, for lack of a better term. Jeffrey Deaver called it giving the wide populace of readers what they were expecting. When you switch it up too far off the grid, sometimes it works, but a lot of the times it doesn’t, especially for new writers.
No, you are not a terrible writer. No, you don’t have crash-burning ideas. Yes, you can tell a story and you tell it well.

Now get up and go do it!

Off my ass
I got up, dusted off my proverbial ass and began edits on my first work. Eventually I realized it really was more a cathartic exercise about war issues than it was a novel in progress. But I was no longer hanging my head in devastation. I just threw it under the bed and started editing the next one.

life without artI also wrote another story. And another. I got the feel for plotting and began to really understand and enjoy my characters. I absolutely adored the hometowns I’d created. I even pitched the series….six times. Every single agent was interest.

I got back on the horse and was redeemed!

Bringing it all together

Throughout the next year, I realized that writing wasn’t what I wanted to do but who I am. So, I jumped in full speed ahead! I volunteered more and got involved. I was the conference social media coordinator and spent enormous amounts of time creating Facebook posts, tweeting, building Pinterest boards, putting out ads and beefing up publicity. Anyone who knows me knows marketing is 100 times easier for me than writing fiction. I even gave classes and workshops, because something I’ve come to understand about writers is they hate to market. And I love it. Anyway I could help I did.

delveAnd I got to know people. Lots of people. Writers, particularly Pikes Peak Writers are awesome – enthusiastic, empathetic, fun, loyal, creative and most importantly, supportive. One of the mantras of PPW is “Support Your Fellow Writer.” No matter what stage you are in your career, there is something for everyone. No one thinks you’re out of your mind trying to build a writing career. They think you are part of the fabric of American culture, building worlds and people and tell stories that need to be told. The writing journey becomes an adventure when you have people to share it with. And some of the folks I met through PPW have turned the adventure from a scary look at a dark but exciting precipice to a full-flung gallop into the wilds of an Indiana Jones caves.

I’d found a tribe!

What writers conferences really do for us
Over the past three years, I learned that making a living as a writer is probably not realistic, but building a fruitful, long career producing stories is realistic. Conferences offer support, assistance and advice. They also offer a rededication to writing that is only found in mutual enthusiasm. And validation. You are a writer. No matter where you are on the career path, you are a writer.

you are a writerThe other day my husband and I passed a bookstore and I looked up at him. He shook his head because we had to be somewhere, but I stopped and said, “Asking me to pass it up is like asking me not to breathe.” I love books and I love writing. That is only fed and enhanced by attending a writers conference where the people are as passionate about writing as I am.

I have no doubt this conference will be just as fulfilling and validating as the last three!

Are you considering a writers conference?

Do these to make it the best experience of your writing life:

1- Volunteercommunity
2- Meet people
3- Learn something
4- Discard what doesn’t work for you
5- Try Pikes Peak Writers because it’s the friendlies conference around!

Would love to hear from you!

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