Dare to Dream: The Value of Writing Conferences
Updated: Sep 11, 2020
I just got back from an amazing weekend at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference and the theme this year was Dare to Dream. This was my first time at Pikes Peak, but I’ve been to a few writing conferences over the years. The last one I went to before this had a theme that felt a bit more like How Dare You Dream. I came in as a contest winner, my manuscript was polished, and I was certain people were going to be clamoring to look at my book. This was a few years ago and that particular story was a YA paranormal. I thought it was original–set in Orkney with some mythology around water-based shape-shifters. Turns out no one wanted any more YA paranormal and I was told absolutely no more water-based creatures of any kind. I came away so demoralized, I decided to take a break from writing conferences, which my wallet thanked me for–but perhaps my muse did not.
Fast-forward to this year and I won the Pikes Peak Zebulon writing contest and the prize was an irresistible free conference. I’m so glad that I went and I learned a lot. I’m going to be honest here. I’ve been to a fair few writing workshops. I’ve read many books on writing. There’s always always always more to learn about the craft, but there does come a point where you know most of what’s going to be said at these conferences. Show don’t tell. Story pacing. Character arc, etc., etc. Not only do you know it, you’ve hopefully already internalized it and started applying it to your writing. I love going to these workshops to get those reminders though. But almost everything I learned at this conference didn’t come from any workshop.
This weekend, true to the theme, I learned to dare to dream. From a comment I got from a contest judge, to the keynote speakers, to the writers I sat next to at meals, I realized I was daring to dream all along, but I wasn’t daring to believe it. Loved the movie Zootopia and found the rabbit parents in the beginning to be disturbingly relatable when they encourage their daughter to settle with the funny (sad?) line, “We settled hard.” The father tells his daughter, “It’s great to have dreams, just so long as you don’t believe in them too much.” And that’s what I’ve been doing with my writing. I dreamed big, but I didn’t dare believe in it too much.
I quit my full-time job last year and went back to subbing so I could write more. Then I added a part-time job along with the subbing back into the mix. Why? I think I’m afraid if I try really hard to make a success of writing and still fail, I’ll have no excuses. Key word–afraid. It’s like I’m walking around with this ridiculous Imposter Syndrome. I’m not a real writer. It’s just something cute I do so I can have an identity separate from being a wife and mother.
Wrong. I’m a good writer. There, I said it. At my first lunch of the conference, I ended up sitting next to the 2nd place winner I beat out in the contest. Now she actually placed first in another category and contests are a crapshoot. Some people are just good at winning them and I have no misconceptions whatsoever that I’m a better writer than anyone at that table. But turns out she’s a published author who was even in the process of optioning film rights to her book. She said something close to, “Not like I’m awesome or anything, but you beat me out so you must be good.” I talked to some of the other winners. Published authors. Agented authors. And there I was without even a business card to hand out. Many people at this conference were on their first or second manuscript.
I’m on my fifth. And it’s not that I’ve shopped these manuscripts around like crazy and had to set them aside. I just set them aside.
Joe Lansdale was one of the keynote speakers there and he said, “Write like everybody you know is dead.” And I nodded, thinking in particular about writing sex scenes and knowing your mother (or mother-in-law!) might read them. But it took me all weekend and a conversation with another writer to realize what he probably really meant. This other woman said she had no interest in being published, she wrote for herself, and she could be posthumously published like Emily Dickinson. I’m gonna guess that’s because she was afraid. That woman was writing like she was dead.
And then I got it. Write like everyone I know is dead! Don’t even care what people think if I fall on my face and fail. This is my dream, damn it. Dream my big dream, dare to believe it, and then actually put myself out there.
It’s time to stop being afraid. I think the theme for me this weekend was Dare to Dream—Seriously.