The conference as tool
Wednesdays here on Mutterings are about the writing process, from nouns to e-readers. Today, since I’m in Santa Fe for Left Coast Crime, I thought I’d talk about the conference as part of a writer’s life.
We’re a solitary species, we writers. Except for a few of us who work in tandem, and for those writers of television scripts who have evolved as a many-headed creature, most of us spend unnaturally long portions of our year occupying our own heads, blinking like moles at any interruptions from small dependent children or hose-wielding fire men.
The occasional conference helps to keep a balance. At a conference, we solitary writers assume an entirely different plumage, and form a community: cries of friendship when we spot people we haven’t seen since the last conference, bonhomie in the bar until all hours, the sensation that this is a ship and we’re all pulling together, not one small and leaky rowboat on an open sea.
And we learn things. One of the joys of a conference such as Left Coast Crime or BoucherCon (the two I try to make most years) is that the addition of actual ideas into a mix of friendly relaxation can ignite the most unexpected inspiration. I might hear a thriller writer talk about character, and suddenly realize that this is precisely the problem I’ve been having with the work in progress. I chat with a writer friend over coffee, and learn of a new (to me) method of research. I listen to a panel of fresh new writers reflecting on the excitement of writing, and begin to feel excited myself.
But most of all I step back. I am currently 70 pages into the next book, a point at which I invariably begin to wonder what the hell the book is about. Going off to Santa Fe to eat many chili-based food products and schmooze with other writers is a frustration—I’d really rather be home tearing through 3000 words a day, as I did over the weekend; coming away like this makes me worry that I’m going to lose it all—but an enforced break can also be very useful, precisely because it makes me lose it all. I’ll get back to work Tuesday and have to read everything I’d written to that point, but rather than despair because I’ve forgotten what I was going to do next, I’ll still be bubbling with the stimulation from the conference, and see all kinds of things I hadn’t known was there.
So think of me here in Santa Fe, and think, too, about joining the fun at BoucherCon, in St. Louis. Buy me a beer and we’ll talk writing!