Terrifying, exhilarating, inspirational. It’s all of that and more.
This SMA Writers’ Conference has everything for everyone, and don’t worry if you don’t write. My wild and wacky cousin Becca claimed not to know anything about writing and was hesitant to join me at the conference. But because she and her husband Bill are planning to sail off into the wild blue yonder, she needs something creative to do in a space, as my sister Sara says, about as big as being “under your dining room table.” She can’t take her sculpture tools with her, but writing works.
After a week of intensive workshops, Becca is reinvigorated, energized, and inspired. The writing that she was encouraged to do in one of the workshops was so beautiful and emotional that she had everyone who read the page, both during and after the meeting, in tears. She was welcomed, made new friends, met other new writers, and learned that she is not alone in her new goal to write.
We arrived on Tuesday (you should definitely go early to visit the town) but the Workshops started on Wednesday. We had been asked to sign up for only ONE out of the six concurrent 90 minute programs offered during each Workshop bracket. There was one Workshop (with six choices) on Wednesday afternoon, two on Thursday morning (that makes twelve), two more on Friday (another twelve), two intensive 3 hour seminars on Saturday, and a final workshop (six more) on Sunday. In between, there were six excellent, and famous, Keynote Speakers.
Unlike most conferences, the concurrent sessions were clearly focused with special audiences in mind. This prevented that anxious, unhappy feeling that you are missing some other, better program by attending this one. The programs are aimed specifically at those interested in novels, nonfiction, memoirs, poetry, new writers, publishing, and social media. Plenty of choices to go around. But we really needed down-time to absorb all we’d learned.
The Keynote speeches were tremendous. Luis Alberto Urrea, now at Chicago, is a Tijuana native who has gone from janitor to college professor with Pulitzer Prize nominated books. He was humorous, entertaining and powerful in his message in support of Mexican immigrants. Gail Sheehy, who wrote Passages many years ago, is still a journalist and still writing. Lisa See, a Chinese American, has written several books on her Chinese ancestry. Scott Simon is the voice of Saturday morning NPR. Each one was inspirational and thought-provoking.
So why was I terrified? After three years of writing and rewriting my two novels and almost a third on New Spain, miniscule efforts at best, I realized I am light-years away from the “award-winning” authors who peopled the conference. All right, I’ll admit, I am not at square one, but to expect to write a best-seller right out of the gate is delusional. According to one teacher, writing is 20% inspiration in the first draft, and 80% perspiration in the editing and rewriting of the second through twentieth drafts.
So, another three or six or nine years of editing before I find a publisher? Ouch. But I am applying to teach there next year. Anybody else want to go be inspired?