I recently attended a professional writing conference. It was… well, it was a lot of things. I’ll outline my experience at the conference in five steps.
1. Early Misgivings
I hit the road a few days ago. My car, Eliezer, is dependable but dilapidated—after all, you can’t spell trusty without rusty. Eliezer lacks such vain frills as air conditioning. I call it a car, but it’s more like an oven on wheels. Thus it was a hot, disheveled Adam who arrived at the conference, sweating like a traveler in the mighty Kalahari, and having second thoughts.
I should also mention that my jeans kept creeping stealthily toward my ankles. This utterly baffled me. These jeans had previously fit me just fine, and their tag claimed they were my size. They insisted nonetheless on their downward trajectory. I found myself frequently hitching up my jeans until I was able to change into another pair in the privacy of my room.
The conference was held on the campus of a university. It gave me repeated flashbacks to my own college career, which began with severe depression and ended with existential dread. Speaking of which….
2. Crushing Despair
As I attended the conference’s early sessions—which were excellent, by the way—I slid slowly but inexorably into depression, guilt, hopelessness, and acute social anxiety.
This really surprised me. I suffer from chronic depression, as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve followed my blog for more than five minutes, but it usually comes and goes gradually. At the writing conference, it crushed me with the steady force of a steamroller. I was also surprised by the social anxiety. I’m an introvert, but I can usually deal with social events.
The guilt and hopelessness were worst of all.
I was surrounded by people with serious aspirations of professional writing, and people who actually write professionally. By comparison, I’m half a writer. I know a few things about writing as a craft, but hardly anything about writing as a profession.
In those early sessions of the conference, with their unfiltered insights into a tough and competitive industry, my bravado and optimism were quick to evaporate. I felt seriously out of my depth. I felt like a fraud.
3. Redeeming Peace
As a pragmatic (and sadly skeptical) follower of Christ, my faith leans more toward intellect than emotion. I don’t often have those moments of raw emotion sometimes called “religious experiences,” and I talk about them still less often, but halfway through the conference, I found one.
Having retreated to my room (which I had formally christened the Introvert Cave), I switched on the air conditioner, sat on the bed, and prayed. I told God that as I held on to faith in him, I had to believe he had brought me to that conference for a reason. I asked him to help me find it, and to see him at work.
I immediately felt a profound peace—a sudden, absolute conviction that everything was going to be okay. This peace carried me through the rest of the day, redeeming it, and giving me a little hope.
4. Shower Misadventures
The showers at the conference deserve a mention. They were lined up along a hallway in a communal bathroom, and guarded from the public eye only by flimsy and ill-fitted curtains. After a long day in the summer sun, I really needed a rinse. I had no choice. Casting off my misgivings, I cast off my clothes. I would not be conquered by a public shower.
I immediately ran into another problem. It was my old enemy, the Tiny Hotel Soap.
Have you ever stayed in a hotel and tried washing yourself with those itty-bitty bars of soap? It’s impossible. The Tiny Hotel Soap provided at the conference was roughly the size and shape of a saltine cracker, with the density of carbon steel. I tried to work up a lather with the Tiny Hotel Soap. It would have been easier to work up a lather with a soap-sized slab of sculpted marble.
I finally concluded my shower, only to realize I had forgotten my towel. (Forgive me, Douglas Adams.) It was a wet and abashed Adam who sneaked back to his room. It was a good thing God had given me peace, or that shower may just have broken me.
5. Caffeinated Resignation
I blundered through the rest of the conference with a kind of resigned determination, fueled by coffee. I learned a lot, actually, and took pages of notes. I also hung out with an old friend, a fellow blogger, and a couple of nice ladies from Argentina, so that was cool.
In the end, the writing conference made me seriously question my vague pretensions of someday being a professional writer. It would be a radical shift, and would take tons of hard work and research for no guaranteed payoff. If I ever make that plunge, I’ll have to go all in.
The conference also reminded me that there are so many other dedicated writers out there, many of whom are admirably ambitious, successful, and gifted. I must keep a healthy sense of perspective. I am, to echo Gandalf, only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!
A speaker at the conference made a good point: “A hobbyist writes for himself. A professional writes for his audience.” I’m a hobbyist. I write for fun, and God only knows whether that will ever change. If it does, I now have a slightly clearer idea of what to expect. If it doesn’t, I now have some idea of what I’m missing.
Either way, it’s nice to know.
I never tire of quoting the good Doctor from Doctor Who. (My readers probably tire of it, but I don’t.) As he might have put it, while the conference itself was excellent, my experiences there were a pile of good things and bad things. The good things didn’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things didn’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.
And the conference definitely added to my pile of good things.
Gotta have the valleys so you appreciate the view from the mountaintops. 🙂
Glad to hear your conference mountaintop came AFTER the valley. It’s kind of nicer in that order than the reverse (though the reverse order teaches lessons of its own!).
Also nothing wrong with being a hobbyist. I think we (especially artists/writers/musicians) can get caught up in silly labels like that. Am I a professional writer since I published a book? What if it didn’t sell enough to make back publishing costs? And I haven’t published anything since then?! How about my animation, which I went to school for (twice) and dedicated a decade of full time work to but never saw a dime? Can I call myself an animator? Bah. Unimportant, in my eyes. I’m happy to write, and so write I shall. 🙂
Write for yourself, revise for your audience.
What audience did Tolkien write for? He MADE the audience. For years it was himself and a few enthusiasts among his friends. Then he busted the dam open for the Fantasy Genre.