What a gift it was to spend four wonderful days at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference with my lovely seventeen year old daughter, Carlee. We arrived in anticipation, not really knowing what to expect as neither of us had ever been to a writer’s conference. I was excited to be spending this special time with her on our mother-daughter get-away. I don’t know what excited me more, going to a writer’s conference or going to Vancouver with my daughter for some much needed girl-time! One thing I knew: we were making memories.
We arrived the night before the conference. The hotel was already filling up with writers from far and wide, (later we had found out that there were writers from the U.S., Ireland, Scotland and Australia). We met a couple of writers on the shuttle to the hotel and “the” question had already been asked, “So what do you write?” Since we had not even arrived at our destination and being brand new to the writing world (well, publically anyway) we both stumbled and fumbled over our answers. I had not mentally prepared us for answering the question that I would be asked 100 more times that weekend. What do I say? I have many things on the go. Blogs, guest posts on blogs, magazine articles, devotions, a parenting book and a novel. What was my answer going to be? I basically gushed out all that information in a not-so-eloquent-fashion. Carlee, on the other hand did a little better than me. She said that she wrote lots of things including poetry and that she was working on a novel. But we were both timid with our replies and promptly went on to rehearse them once they were out of earshot. By mid-way through the conference we realized the proper answer was a summary of the biggest project we were writing as well as the genre. My answer went like this: “non-fiction, a parenting book. Also, a novel: contemporary women’s fiction.” Carlee’s answer was, “a bit of everything but mostly poetry and fantasy.”
The conference began with our “Blue Pencil” sessions. We both chose the same author, Joelle Anthony, to review our work. She was very helpful, personable and encouraging however she told me a few things about my work that surprised me. She said I needed to be more comfortable writing more with my voice. I thought I did write with my voice but she pointed out that I begin with my own personality shining through and then I turn l formal and “lawyer-like” in my work. She stroked out all my “did nots” and “was nots” and made them into contractions! I was shocked. I thought contractions weren’t okay for some reason. She was super-helpful, so much so, that I booked another session with her later in the conference. She really liked Carlee’s work and said that she wished could write like that when she was seventeen! I think that was encouraging for Carlee to hear.
I had a “Pitch” session with an editor from Harper Collins Children’s Books, for my children’s picture book, Mommy Why Don’t You Drink Beer?. It is a conversation between a six-year-old boy and his mother about alcoholism, recovery and sobriety. I was very nervous as I sat down to do this pitch. I started reading my index cards and realized how ridiculously rehearsed I sounded so I ditched the cards and just started talking to her. I realized that this editor was truly engaged in what I was saying. When I was finished, this woman told me honestly, that although she saw merit and value in this important message, the target audience would be too small to be taken on by a publisher. She commented that a book of this nature is one that would be self-published and perhaps I should look at targeting specific recovery groups (basically self-market). Although it was not the answer I wanted to hear, I did walk away with a sense of purpose. I wasn’t crushed, like I had expected, but came away with a renewed sense that the message of my book was important. If I had the funds to self-publish it, I would, however I don’t; so on goes my quest.
Every meal we would sit at a table with a different group of writers (and often, a speaker, agent or publisher). Everyone would go around the table and answer the question. We found it fascinating to hear what everyone wrote. The most popular genre seemed to be YA (young adult) fantasy. One young woman answered, “Well, I am the dark side.” When we asked her to expand on that she said she writes horror. Wow. She didn’t look like she wrote horror! She was just a well-dressed middle-aged sweet looking woman. The friend beside her said, “Yes her stuff is so scary, I cannot even read it!” Interesting and a bit disturbing at the same time. What we did realized was that about half the writers we spoke to were not yet published. A popular term we began to hear was, “I am pre-published”, meaning not published yet.
The workshops were helpful and interesting. Carlee and I split up for the most part. Either there were two workshops that we both wanted to attend, happening at the same or we were interested in different things. It was ideal as we could split up and swap notes. The workshops that I found particularly helpful were, “Writing with Gusto”, “Creating a New Writing Life”, “The Six Key Scenes in a Novel” and “Self-Publishing”. Carlee’s favorites were “The Theory of Being Funny” and “Creating Imaginary Worlds”.
Although this was a secular conference, I was able to be honest in conversation a few times about how my desire was to write the words that God wanted me to write. This seemed like a new concept to some and not to others. I had a few very interesting conversations about God. I just prayed that God would use me as He saw fit.
I came away with a few practical key things that from the conference such as the Pomodoro technique of writing. You set a kitchen timer for 25 minute intervals and you write without stopping. You then take a 5 minute break (not a social media break). I have already tried incorporating this technique into my day and it is really working for me. The other epiphany that came to me during this conference was to write my novel. This was the reason why I started writing in the first place. It is the desire of my writing heart, but I have put in on the back burner, to build my platform, blog, write articles, and connect with other writers. All these things are important and help me grow as a writer but the novel is not going to write itself.
On short breaks between workshops and before meals, my daughter and I would meet up in our hotel room and flop on the bed, drained but happy. We would recharge and compare notes. I realized then, that somewhere along the line, our mother-daughter relationship has evolved into a friendship and writer-colleague relationship. I realized that there was no one else in the world that I would have rather been at that conference with. We are each other’s editors and biggest fans. We made lasting memories that we will always cherish.