It wasn’t an easy decision for me.
I had to burn a week’s vacation and shell out several hundred bucks just to mingle for five days with 75 people I’d never met before. While I’m not shy, I’m not by nature exceptionally outgoing. Thus, having to hang out with a bunch of folks I didn’t know was well outside my comfort zone.
Not only that. This was to be at a writing conference. The people there would be–GULP–real writers. I knew for certain I’d be exposed as the Great Pretender, a shameless charlatan. My work would be sliced and diced. I’d become the laughing stock of St. Simons Island.
But . . . I wanted to be a novelist. So I schlepped off, with great trepidation, to the 30th annual Southeastern Writers Workshop in 2005, eight years ago.
Eight years ago. Seven conferences ago. Two published novels ago.
See, it paid off.
It paid off so well, I felt compelled to give something back. So two years ago I joined the Board of Directors and now serve as vice president.
Some of the people I met at the 2005 gathering became close friends and I’m sure will remain so for many years. Others, whom I met at subsequent workshops, instructors especially, became great encouragers. These were folks who kept me going when I was ready to run up the white flag after 10 years, 4 manuscripts and no takers. When I was ready to surrender and just piss away my money on golf courses and 19th holes instead of writers workshops. When I was ready to simply throw up my hands and say Screw it.
Thank God for the Southeastern Writers Association.
And here’s where I let you in on a little secret. My writing was, in fact, sliced and diced at that first conference. But guess what. So was everybody else’s. It’s called learning. It’s called earning your spurs. It’s called trial by fire.
It’s what virtually every real writer must go through, whether it’s at St. Simons or in a prestigious MFA program.
Here’s another little secret: My slicer and dicer at that first conference was NY Times best-selling author Steve Berry. Steve had been through the mill before he hit it big, so he knew what it took to get there. Ironically, he later became one of my great encouragers.
Steve doesn’t do critiques any longer, but believe me, there will be plenty of exceptionally skilled instructors at this year’s workshop who will do for you what Steve did for me. Yeah, it might be painful. But these are people who will also help you put things back together. Gently. Skillfully. Professionally. They’ll help take your writing to the next level.
A final note about the SWA Workshop and what make it unique. It’s small, limited to 75 students. There’s a distinct camaraderie that develops among and between students and faculty. No, we don’t sit around campfires singing “Kumbaya” (it’s way too hot for campfires anyhow) or roasting marshmallows (you will have had enough roasting during your critique sessions).
Okay, enough with heat and roasting. Here’s what’s cool. You get to know one another. You chat over meals and during coffee breaks. You make new friends. You network. It’s a “clubby,” not a “cliquey,” atmosphere.
By way of contrast, I went to a huge West Coast conference last summer. It had great instructors and presenters. Big names. Lots of attendees. Lots and lots of attendees. Somewhere north of 500, maybe 600.
Yeah, I met people. We’d sit at breakfast or lunch. Try to converse over the din of a dining area that seated several hundred. Trade names and business cards. Then never see each other again as we elbowed, literally, our ways to whatever sessions were next on our schedules.
Months later, I got emails from several of the attendees I’d met informing me of this or that accomplishment. I’d send back polite attaboys, but never had a clue who any of the folks were. The encounters were too brief and too many.
Take away this: You’ll remember the people you meet at the Southeastern Writers Workshop.
Make the decision to attend today. It’ll pay off.