Some of my friends, non-writers, knowing I’d just returned from the Southeastern Writers Association Workshop, asked me what goes on at such conferences.

First, I must explain, there are different types of conferences. Some, such as the one sponsored by the Southeastern Writers, focus on teaching the craftsmanship of writing. Many, like those held by the Atlanta Writers Club, are designed to put authors in touch with literary agents and publishers. Still others, usually bigger gatherings—-the Willamette Writers Conference, for instance—-are a combination of both, sometimes with film agents thrown into the mix.

Wait, you say. You mentioned teaching, which implies learning. Don’t you guys already know how to write? Of course we do. But, for example, just because you know how to frame a house doesn’t mean you can design and build a custom coffee table inlaid with marble.

I’ve always known I could write, but I had to learn a craft in order to become a novelist. It took me ten years and four different manuscripts—-a not uncommon odyssey among aspiring novelists—-before I scored with Eyewall. To most readers, Eyewall is just a high-energy story. But what went into it, what I had to learn, were such esoteric skills as narrative drive, threading, cueing and subordination. Yeah, exciting.

Similarly, there is much to be learned about writing poetry, memoirs and screenplays.

But beyond classroom endeavors, conferences offer an opportunity for writers to commiserate with one another, for ours is one of the few professions in which rejection and failure are endemic. Only if you’re a writer do you understand this. Only in the company of others like you, do you realize your journey is not unique. And only in the fellowship of other authors do you find comfort and hope.

As NYT best-selling novelist Steve Berry used to tell me, “If I can do it, you can do it.”

So we gather together to cry on each others shoulders, find solstice and hope, and talk shop. In the end, we come out more knowledgable, reinvigorated and ready once more to tilt at windmills.

-June 25, 2012-

IMAGE: Sunset at Epworth by the Sea, St. Simons Island, Georgia, site of the annual Southeastern Writers Association Workshop.

There’s a boo-boo in the last paragraph: I’m a meteorologist, so naturally I was thinking about finding a solstice, not about finding solace. (The solstice, BTW, was June 20, so I did find one.)

-June 27, 2012-

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