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My Umpteenth Writers' Conference

Umpteen, of course, is a precise number about halfway between a bunch and a bazillion.

This was the Write Angles conference put on by Straw Dog Writers Guild, one of the writers’ organizations that happens to be very local to me. It’s the first in-person writing conference that I’ve been to since before the pandemic.

Halfway through the day, I was starting to wonder if I was just done with these events, if I’d outgrown them. Some of the speakers were inspiring, and the sense of community was very nice, but I wasn’t learning much that was new.

There was a workshop called “Writing in Community” on peer-led writers groups. I have a group that’s been meeting weekly for the last six years and, what the heck, I’m always interested in new ideas. But weirdly, I felt like I’d been dropped on an alien planet. Everyone in the room seemed to be writing memoir, most of it about trauma of one kind or another. They all seemed to be using something called the A.W.A. method, which I’d never heard of. They talked about the importance of confidentiality and of building trust with people whose trauma background might be different from one’s own. One presenter mentioned the pitfall of group members becoming friends. Several of them talked about the importance of treating the narrator as a fictional character, even in autobiographical writing.

I was sitting there becoming more and more bewildered. Was I the only fiction writer in the room?

Eventually I raised my hand. I said my own group had been meeting for six years but was becoming unfocused as several of us had major projects coming to completion. The question I was holding was, what is the natural life cycle of a writers group?

The presenter said, yeah, that’s a very good question.

Which was great.

But no one in the room had anything at all to say about it.

I was planning to go to “Creating and Sustaining a Satisfying Writing Life” as the last workshop of the afternoon, but after the morning’s experience with “Writing in Community,” I ditched that idea and went instead to one called “The Hard Reality of Speculative Fiction.” That one surprised me with how interesting it was. For one thing, we wrote. The presenters suggested a prompt: Think of a time when you needed something and didn’t have access to it, then project that forward into the future and think about a dystopian world where nobody had access to that thing. We all wrote for about twenty minutes and then shared our writing with others at our tables. I prefaced mine by saying my prose was usually better than this raw first draft, but as I read it aloud I was surprised at how not terrible it was. The presenter listening in flagged a couple of strengths in my little vignette that I hadn’t even thought about, and I walked away at the end with a solid idea for a short story.

So am I done with writers conferences? Apparently not.

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