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!

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  1. Strawberry Curls on March 23, 2011 at 8:44 am

    I’m sure the spicy food and convivial company (I miss beng at LLC this year) will be a great mixture and send you back to writing with renewed vigor. That or the indigestion will make you concentrate on your writing of the next book as a convenient distraction. Either way it is a win/win for all.

    Enjoy your time in the sun, Laurie, but know your faithful readers are chomping at the bit for “The Pirate King,” and are overjoyed that Russell 12 is starting to appear on the page. Wheeeee!


  2. The Bold Flying Officer on March 23, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    While I dabble in something approaching fiction (fantasy, perchance) as a mental relaxation, my professional writing is factual and, yes, at times I commit journalism, although from the other side of “the pond”. I have just returned from a two-day conference in the City of London and, while the proceedings themselves were interesting, educational (even) and highly professional, it is the out-of-hours activities, i.e. conversations with fellow delegates and presenters, at times taking a nicotine fix (like Holmes I smoke a pipe) or, once the hangar doors are closed, in the pub drinking Fuller’s London Pride or Shepheard Neame’s Spitfire (branded British bitter beers) that one can find new angles or approaches, share ‘secrets’ or just enjoy the delight of conversation to be had among like-minded folk over a common subject.
    So why has a ‘Mad Brit’ posted on your blog? I have just finished ‘The Beekeeper’s Apprentice’ and was impressed with your approach and treatment, as well as the obvious research. It gave me pleasure and I particularly look forward to reading the marriage proposal scene as I take the rest of the series in turn from the library. One small suggestion – the term “barkeep” is entirely American. A Brit (of my generation anyway) would refer to either a “barman” or “barmaid”, as appropriate. Pedantic – maybe, but that’s my stock in trade.
    I trust the cabin trunk has a few more ‘ripping yarns’ left.
    Mike aka The Bold Flying Officer

  3. Aaron Paul Lazar on March 24, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Laurie, you’ve inspired me to do something I’ve always wanted to do, but couldn’t quite manage: attend a conference! I work a “day job” (engineering) and care for my mildly disabled wife nights and weekends. Perhaps there will be a way in the future… One of my three sweet daughters might pinch hit for me…

    I do know what you mean about being forced away from a work in progress for a while, and coming back to see it with fresh eyes. For the last two weeks my publisher and I have been playing around with the offering of one of my older books as a free eBook. The experiment was phenomenal (prompted lots of real sales afterward), and I spent much of my usual writing time tracking and promoting the event. Now I’m back to editing one of my books scheduled for release this year, and I’m surprisingly okay with it. Prior to that, I was tearing my hair out, sure it stunk to high Heaven. I guess I just needed a break. ;o)

    Thanks for sharing your take on conferences with us today!

  4. Merrily Taylor on March 24, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    And the other thing that happens to writers at conferences is that SOME of them are followed about by adoring fans, who hang upon said Author’s every word, snatch up memorabilia as available, quiver in delight at their proximity to the Beloved Object, and otherwise make themselves notorious.
    We LOVE Bouchercon!

  5. Teresa on April 20, 2011 at 11:00 am

    If the stereotype pirate was removed it’d be great. But it’s mostly great as it is.


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