It is a wonderful thing to sit down with complete strangers and find yourself saying, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.”
This past weekend, I attended my first writers’ conference. I have been to writer retreats and attended workshops in the past, but I had never before attended an event of this magnitude where writers come together to learn more about what we cannot live without. Regardless of genre, category, age group, or any other divisions, we writers immediately share a passion for the written word, the worlds they create, and the people we meet through them—in real-life and on the page.
The power of this is evident in a room of over three hundred people expounding on their favorite stories, their own or someone else’s, so much so that you can barely hear yourself doing it. In the workshop rooms, across the table at lunch, in the hallway, you can’t escape the infectious thrill of being among people who understand what it’s like to lose track of time exploring the Amazon jungle of first drafts, what it’s like to traverse the fierce Sahara of writer’s block, what it’s like to revise Rome and rebuild it word by word.
Though you never know what you will receive as an answer, there’s a freedom in being able to turn to anybody near you and ask, “What do you write?” No one here looks at you funny when you tell them you’re a writer because they know there’s nothing silly about pouring your heart onto pages for others to read. We understand it’s not easy and that most of all, we can’t help it.
There is still tension in this kind of environment. Everyone is brimming with eagerness and the raw excitement of talking about something that is precious and dear to the heart. I got to talk to other writers about my book, and it was incredible to have someone I haven’t even met before be interested in it. I got the chance to share my story with industry professionals, and for the first time in months of querying, I feel like someone really wants to know about it. All of this was scary! Incredibly stressful. I didn’t know what people would say. I didn’t know what they would think. I got the feeling that some people didn’t think too much of it or me, but there were more that asked questions and listened and taught me things, and I’m grateful for every minute I spent there.
It was an experience I will never forget, and I’ll fold it inside my jacket so I can have it close to me when those inevitable nor’easters blow in.
If you’re a writer, or any other kind of dogged explorer, I’d encourage you to meet with others who share your passion and your journey. Even if we have our different opinions on which paths to take or what gear to pack, there are encyclopedias of knowledge we can learn from each other. Writing in particular is a highly solitary pursuit, and it’s good for us to sometimes find a friendly campfire, to sit down, warm our hands, and share our ideas.
If you’re able, do it in person! Actually talk to people about what you care about without the comfort and safety of digital distance. Be awkward and shy about it, but tell them how you feel. Be bold and enthusiastic, and they will feel your honesty. Do these things and you will remember why you do what you do. It’s for those moments when the person next to you sits up and says, “I thought I was the only one!”