Wednesday, September 21, 2005

ACFW Conference-company on the journey

It's overcast today in the Sonoran Desert. A rare occurance and one which reminds me of the few things I disliked about southern California. In Arizona, it's usually puffy white clouds, big thunderheads, or lotsa sunshine. Not much of this depressing overcast stuff that inhabits SoCal from May to July. Thought I had escaped...

On to the real stuff.

Writers are a fun bunch of people to hang out with.

I never realized how much until this past week at the ACFW conference. I’ve hung out with my groups of writer friends before. My old group from California (old, as in, I’m not there anymore) has always had good times. (Waving to Jeanne, Pat, Caroline, and Peg!). And I’m incredibly fortunate to have one of my ACFW Crit 19 members live only 45 minutes from me. (Waving to Jenny!).

I had gone to ACFW’s conference in Houston two years ago. And I’ve been to Mt. Hermon. But this year, coming to a conference where I had established relationships prior to the conference and then getting to hang with those people for five days was just on another level. To me, it was a taste of what heaven will be like.

Writing is a solitary business. It’s not something that can be done well in a group. For an example of that, check out suspense writer Brandilyn Collins’s blog. Scroll down to September 16, A Negligee Nightmare. A group of conferees sat with her one night to write a story. What a stitch!

But generally, we sit in front of our computer and write alone. And our own reaction to our work can range from: “This is perfect; I wouldn’t change a word” to “I should stop wasting my time writing this drivel” to anything in between. It’s hard to be objective about your own work. Add into that mix the fact that you already know your story front and back, and it’s hard to see what’s missing, what needs to be added, what needs to be taken away.

Thus, the great benefits of critique groups. I’ve been in both kinds: the meet-in-person type and the on-line type. Each is a different beast with pros and cons. And it can take awhile for you to find the right group or for the group to find itself. It’s an amazingly difficult thing to put your words, your baby, in front of others for the sole purpose of their telling you what’s wrong with it. But I don’t see that it differs much from getting your book published and releasing it to the public so people can write nasty reviews about it on Amazon. At least in your crit group, most of the time people have your best interests at heart and want to see you improve your writing.

But that kind of self-exposure creates the opportunity to bond. If writing is opening a vein and bleeding on the page, then your crit partners are the ones who appreciate and understand the bloodletting because they’ve been there themselves. There’s something about experiencing trauma together that bonds people.

So the Nashville conference gave me the opportunity to hang out with three members of Crit 19: Julie, Jenny and Greg. It was a blast. And it made me sad that we can only do that once a year, because hanging out with people who know you and love you, who understand the weird mind of a writer is like a refreshing oasis in the desert journey of solitary writing.

I also stumbled across another unexpected benefit. I took one of Gayle Roper’s fiction clinics. This is an intensive class where 6 or 7 people submit their work to each other before the conference to be edited by everyone. Then you sit in the class and listen to what they have to say about your work. A pretty scary proposition when these people are complete strangers.

But it wasn’t that way at all. For whatever reason, even though our group had a variety of writing styles, we meshed really well. We seemed to understand each other’s work and I got some of the most valuable feedback ever. It was a great experience. And even in a two-afternoon class we bonded.

So while I had known for a while how important it is to have other authors accompany you on this writing journey, this past week brought it home to me in living color.

Between now and next September in Dallas, may the threads of e-mail keep us joined until we can meet again in person.

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