I should have registered. I should have registered for this conference when it was announced two weeks ago. But I didn’t. I hedged. I hemmed and hawed. I got on the fence and I’m still sitting there.
I wonder what writers did before there were conferences. Before there were places to go and commune with fellow writers and talk craft, did they just go to bars and talk the ear off anyone who would listen? Instead of attending seminars and workshops did they lurk around near hotel ballrooms hoping to glean some insight from a meeting of some other organization? Did they become members of fraternal organizations and lie about their avocation?
It’s such an isolating experience, writing, and I’m grateful for any and all contact with others who are in the same boat. The conference is a chance to pretend I am more outgoing and social that I really am and convince myself I’m not spending a majority of my waking hours in my own head, having both sides of a dialog with characters and plot. Conferences are a place where people knowingly nod when you try to articulate what it’s like to struggle with committing a thought into words that will eventually, hopefully, transmit that same thought into someone else’s head.
So why do I have this creeping sense of dread about attending conferences?
They can be like awkward speed dates, these conferences, compacted moments where you try to summarize yourself in the best possible light to total strangers. You can’t just be yourself you have to be your best self. You have to be able to summarize what you’re working on, hide your anxiety as best as possible, look for the opening that allows for connection. You have to be “on” and you have to be natural at the same time. You have your stories, your books, your labors of love, and they rely on you to make their case in the world. Suddenly you realize, you aren’t just there for yourself, you’re their to play matchmaker for your work.
Okay, maybe you don’t feel it that way, but I do.
For the unpublished aspirant there are so many questions to field: Are you looking for an agent? Who have you queried already? What kind of responses have you gotten? Have you considered this agent? What’s your book about? Have you talked to so-and-so? Have you read this craft book? Have you taken this seminar? Have you heard so-and-so speak? have you read this article, and that article?
Everyone is so eager to share their experiences, drinking in as much as what others as saying in hopes of gleaning that one shimmering flake in the pan that leads to the gold mine. Everything becomes a blur of conversations and shifting attentions and scrawled notes that serve as an energy boost. For that alone sometimes a conference is worth whatever it takes to attend, that feeling of having been recharged and ready to take on the next couple of seasons.
But then comes the withdrawal. That creeping isolation again. All that information and excitement from the conference has faded, the notes forgotten, names forgotten. Doubt. Doubt about the work and the process. Questions that feel like someone else has the answer, should have the answer. That hunger for connection, a sympathetic ear, that voice that says the exact same things you’re thinking and feeling.
The conference is the answer. The conference. It’s like a drug. It is a drug. All the promise, that chance to be the better self you aren’t forced to be on a daily basis when it’s just the writer and the story tugging at each other. At the writer’s conference you can talk about the story but it’s the person that matters, the connection. The conference bolsters courage and confidence, the conference makes you feel sexy, makes you invincible. The conference is the secret antibodies to all those invisible enemies who like germs would infect your spirit and drag you down. Before the conference a friendly rejection has the power to darken your mood and send you into snack food binges; after the conference you become a focus Olympian athlete capable of crushing all rejections into chalk dust.
That said, I’m still on the fence, the registration screen opened as a separate tab waiting for me to fill it in, as it has been for two weeks. What’s keeping me?