(re: Surrey International Writer's Conference)
I don't have as many books as a writer should, though I'm trying to build my collection. There is a stack of new acquisitions sitting atop my fireplace; nestled in the corner of my eye. They read: Blake, Mitch Albom, John Irving, Seamus Heaney, and Edgar Allan Poe. My brain wanders, looking for images of the future, where in a stack on a shelf in someone else's living room, my name rounds out the list.
This weekend was spent amongst the few; published authors and well known names and hard nosed (rightly so) agents. My weekend was spent amongst the many; like me, or like I've been, or at levels I hope to reach in the future: award winners, contest takers, brilliant prose and idea-onto-page makers. There were frizzy haired, unkempt, happy wall flowers, and confident, outspoken, shiny haired rule breakers. Fellow bloggers and poets, and other kinds of writers; men and women knee deep or out past their epic fantasy novels, their children's books, their teenage drama genre benders.
At no point in my life have I felt so universally...normal. Upon my arrival the first morning, I was struck with an immediate sense of recognition. I saw myself here, and there, and though we were all different we were all...writers; socially awkward but loveable, happy in solitude but holding strong relationships and followed incessantly by the urge to write things down. Every conversation felt like the unlocking of a door. You too? My God. I thought I was the only one.
Day one can be summed up easily: Elation. I got home that evening, exhausted but filled with fire. The only word I could find that seemed to fit the feeling was: saturated; like if you squished me, I might ooze all over the floor. Days two and three were, as my conference buddy Crystal decided, defined this way: Deflation. Beautiful, full of information and thirty more pages of notes...but the weight had come. If we had been soaring through air initially, we looked down on day two, and realized how much work was now required to get ourselves back to earth, and to the reality of what we were asking of ourselves. We have things to say, and so much more to write about, and very little choice in the matter. We are writers; the compulsion is involuntary. We began to eye each other knowingly, seeing the long hard road ahead and the fact that we would take it.
Jane Espenson, a writer for Once Upon a
Time (squeal!), told us a story in the opening keynote address of the weekend. She was
reminding us that our work means something, that we have something to
say, and in so doing closed with this (paraphrased, of course):
There are thousands of crabs, stranded and dying on the shoreline of an ocean. There is a man walking along, and one by one, he picks them up and hurls them back to safety. Someone else comes along and laughs at the man. "What are you doing?" he says, "There are thousands of crabs here, you'll never save them all. You really think you're making a difference?" The man stops, crab in hand, and before he throws it back he says, "It makes a difference to this one."
Donald Maass, in the final keynote address of the weekend, gave three predictions for the future of writing in the 21st century. The third prediction is as follows: there will be novels that change the world. And here is what I feel when I hear that said: that's going to be my novel. Definitely not the first, maybe not the tenth, but I know I have been born to tell stories. If the world I change is for one person only, I will consider myself a success.