One month till Surrey International Writers’ Conference 2014!

SiWC 2014For the fall and winter months (Yes, they’re here, wail!), I’ve decided to resurrect Déjà vu Thursdays. Exciting, right? I knew you’d think so. To kick it off, and because I just realized that it’s exactly a month until I leave for the 2014 Surrey International Writers’ Conference, I give you a happy pre-conference blurt that I wrote way back on June 10th, 2009 just after I paid my registration fee and booked my hotel and flights for SiWC 2009.

I didn’t attend last year’s conference because I was (Oh, poor me!) in London. The year before that (so 2013) my father had just passed away, and the conference was a blur. To say I’m excited about this year, but also a bit unsettled, worried that it will trigger unhappy memories, is an understatement. I know he’d want me to attend, however, to have a great time, to share BIGGER THINGS, to refill my creative well, to encourage and be encouraged, etc. After all, in the hospital he told me, “You make sure you go to that conference, Ev, even if I’m not dead yet. You paid good money for it.” Which made me laugh because it was so typically pragmatic. And cry. And, of course, tell him absolutely no way was I going if he was still there to visit with. Anyway, I’ve kind of gotten off track. Back to my old but still relevant pre-conference thoughts. I’d love to hear yours on the subject!

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So I just did something very exciting—booked a four-night stay at the gorgeous Sheraton Guildford in Surrey, BC. It seems unbelievable, but it’s already time—really time!—to start planning my favourite annual indulgence: The Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

I normally try to rein in my freakish enthusiasm and exuberance while blogging, so I don’t scare readers away, but allow me one, YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!

I know some writers are sceptical of the advantages of writing conferences. They think they’re nothing but a money grab. They feel you don’t learn anything that you couldn’t from a book or a bit of research. They’re sure everyone’s just there for their egos—I’m a writer, look at me. They’re convinced you’d be better off spending the time writing, not talking about writing.

I confess I don’t understand conference bashers.

1. Yes, attending a conference is a financial commitment. That it costs you something is part of its value. Say what? Just that: Putting money into your craft, saying in essence, “I’m serious about my writing, and it’s worth not just my time, but also my material resources to pursue,” is like giving yourself a big ol’ permission slip to take your goals more seriously. It’s also a big cue to family and friends—Oh, she’s serious about this little writing thing.

Professional development (Yes, a little FYI, conferences are P-D, not just wonderfully social times where everyone sips wine, talks about their favourite things—books and storytelling, of course—and comes away absolutely inspired) betters the quality of your work and boosts your word counts. Being with other people who are excited about the same things you are is motivating.

2. Books on craft are great, and yep, you learn a lot reading them, but—and gasp, I can’t quite believe I’m saying this—there are some things being alone with a book can’t do. Reading alone in your study doesn’t give you the experience of being with 1000 other souls who love what you love—ideas, words, stories. It doesn’t give you the chance to laugh along with one of your favourite authors. It doesn’t provide the opportunity to stick up your hand in the middle of the information to say, “Gah—I don’t get it!” or “Yay—I love how you put that!”

Hearing authors talk about their personal experiences, reassure you that it’s an achievable dream (they’re living proof, after all), and answer every-question-you-can-imagine is invaluable. As is getting to learn face-to-face from agents and editors who accept books (maybe even one like yours!) for their livings.

3. As for the complaints about “egos” . . . I don’t see it. I’ve met people I don’t click with, sure. I may have (it’s terrible) even cringed or grimaced inwardly a time or two on behalf of a cornered agent or author, yep. But people are people wherever you go. The great, the bad, the meh—they’re everywhere. And for what it’s worth, I think writing conferences having a higher per ratio capacity of hilarious, generous, kind, and witty people than most public groupings. The feeling of community and camaraderie is almost the whole reason I go. I work alone day after day all year (Yay for the Internet, but that’s an aside). Even the most reclusive of us benefit from and need human company sometimes.

4. Four days of conferencing and sushilizing does not, in anyway, take away from my productivity. I write almost every day—and that’s in addition to my business writing, editing, and workshops. Surrey energizes me for a whole year. If I have a day where I feel kind of unmotivated, I look at the calendar and recall the goals I’ve set for the next conference . . . Speaking of which, I’m on track, but not ahead of where I wanted to be by this month, so I should go.

Happy writing, everyone—and if you’re heading out to Surrey this October for SiWC, let me know.

I’m also interested in any comments about why you love writing workshops or conferences—or really mix things up and tell me why I’m out to lunch and they suck!

~ Ev

Northwords Writing Retreat, Sept. 20, 2014, Terrace, BC

downloadYay, it’s NorthWords Writers Retreat time again! Let me pass on the note from one of the organizers, Terrace Public Library’s fantastic Jess Dafoe:

Hello Northern Writers,

Registration has begun for this year’s NorthWords Retreat. We are very excited to welcome author and presenter Tawny Stokes.

Join us for what is sure to be a fantastic day of discussion and writing (…and free lunch and dinner).

There is a $20 refundable deposit to hold your seat. Register early, as participant numbers are limited, at Misty River Books or the Terrace Public Library.

Please feel free to contact me if you need more information: 250.638.8177 or by e-mail jdafoeATSIGNterracelibraryDOTca

Hope to see you soon!

Jess

I’ve taken part in NorthWords writing events, writing retreats or mini writers’conferences in Terrace, BC for years, as both an attendee and as a presenter, so I say with great confidence and a lot of noisy cheering that it’s always an amazing event, so motivating, so encouraging and so useful for writers at any stage of their writing life, from newbie to pro.

This year I’m extra stoked about the retreat’s offerings (“stoked” pun fully intended, heh heh) because although I haven’t heard Tawny Stokes speak before, her bio is fascinating and in this exciting, opportunity-filled time for authors, hearing from a hybrid author is sure to be inspiring and practical. You should definitely come, even if you have to travel a bit to do so. I know you’ll be happy that you did. Hope to see you there!

~ Ev

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Word on the Lake

A busy weekend of stories, music, and much inspiration!

So I’m just back from a whirlwind trip to Salmon Arm, where I had the wonderful fun and luck to participate in Word on the Lake festival—a writing conference put on by the amazing, dynamic Shuswap Association of Writers.

I hardly know what to rave about first. The venue—The Prestige Waterfront—which is a gorgeous hotel altogether, set on the mind-blowingly beautiful shoreline of Shuswap Lake, overlooking a wildlife sanctuary. If I’m fortunate enough to visit the area again—and/or to take in the same conference another year, I will definitely arrange to spend an extra day, so I can walk the nature trails and seek out the Western Grebes and watch the turtles and ospreys.

Kicking the conference off Friday night, attendees enjoyed a fabulously entertaining coffee house where various presenters riveted the audience with readings, inspiring mini-speeches, and even a crazily amazing, foot-stomping song—thank you, David Essig! (I highly recommend buying his music and his novel Dancing Hand.)

Saturday’s layout included a myriad of high quality craft and business-related workshops. I was slightly awed by the big names at a relatively small conference (less than 100 attendees—with authors like C.C. Humphreys (Spread the PLAGUE!), Diana Gabaldon, Gail Anderson-Dargatz, and Ann Eriksson, to *name a few). The atmosphere somehow managed to feel both cozy and very professional at the same time.

The banquet Saturday night was a special highlight for me (and not just because of the prime rib which was amazing). The writing contest winners were announced, and I’m excited to finally be able to share news I’ve been sitting on for over a month.

My short story, “The River,” received 1st Place in Askew’s Foods’ Word on the Lake Writing Contest, the Young Adult category. Yay! (Insert much happy dancing!) It was lovely to receive the cash prize and free conference package, but it was fiction contest judge Scott Fitzgerald Gray’s kind words and praise that made the night for me—along with the number of people who approached me throughout the evening and expressed excitement to read it. Is there anything better feeling than someone identifying with your story, appreciating it, “getting” it? I don’t think so.

Sunday passed much too quickly, with an inspiring keynote/call to action by Ann Eriksson, more great classes (all of which mentioned sex in some way or another because Diana was doing her infamous “How To (and How Not To) Write Sex Scenes” workshop, and the other presenters joked—perhaps from what had been true fear—that they were surprised anyone even came to their workshops considering her topic), and the forging of new friendships.

And then it was all over, except the driving—and weirdly enough, I adored that part of the weekend too. My son was kind enough to road trip with his mama and we rocked out, ate lots of junk, listened to two and a half audio books, spotted a crazy amount of animals, and laughed a lot. Good times!

I definitely recommend Word on the Lake—especially if attending a bigger conference is intimidating to you. The quality was great, the cost reasonable, and the people wonderful.

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* Click here to see the full list of inspiring speakers. It’s an impressive list!

North Words Creative Writers Retreat

North Words Creative Writers 2013 Retreat is running August 10 – 11 in Terrace, BC this year. As ever, it promises to be an inspiring, motivating time, filled with craft discussion and writing exercises, and I was thrilled to be asked to be a guest presenter. Maybe I’ll see you there? I look forward to it!

p.s. If you have any questions about the event, I’ll either answer them for you or find someone who can. :)

NorthWords Adult Poster 2013

Motivation

I’m gearing up for SiWC 2011 (leaving on Wednesday actually, yay!), and as usual I’m super stoked for the conference and all the workshops, presenters and kibitzing with other writers—lots of whom have become friends by now, my eighth year. (Ohmigoodness, do you know how wildly affirming and inspiring and plain ol’ fun it is to be in the midst of 600+ people who all share your obsession? I live in a small town, so perhaps the huge gathering of like-but-very-different minds is that much more amazing, but it is good, good stuff—worth every penny I pay every year. It fires me up, re-energizes and refocuses me for the next 12 months, every time.

That all said, as much as I relish the conference itself, an equal draw is the time I’ll spend with three other writers—Barb Cameron, Angela Dorsey, and Jen Brubacher. While Jen is unable to attend SiWC, because of the way her trip to Canada worked this year, she is able to make our annual pre-conference sushi and gab-fest—a group meeting of what we informally call Woodstockers 5—a name with a story behind it that makes sense only to us.

Thursday night, we’ll meet at a certain restaurant that’s become tradition, slide our bottoms onto bright-coloured satin cushions, and commence blabbing our heads off over our past year’s literary successes, woes, accomplishments, and challenges.

Then we’ll pull out our Woodstocker 5 Goals and share what we followed through with—and confess what we didn’t. A couple of us will then go onto elaborate about plans for November 2011 through October 2012 (our writing year has started to mimic the months that pass from one SiWC to the next). A couple of us (or at least one of us, me) will have to share our plans later, via a small online writers’ forum, after the conference has done its magic and put wild dreams in our (my) head.

Writing is by necessity a solitary pursuit and like a lot of writers, I’m okay with that—thrive in seclusion, actually. Need a lot of alone time. However, over years I’ve noticed that I write better—and am much more prolific—if I have a few close writing friends to celebrate and commiserate with. And to give me the occasional swift, motivational kick. (Thankfully, the boot is usually just a figurative.)

If you’re feeling in need of a bit of motivation, I can’t encourage you enough: try to find a writing workshop or conference to take part in over the next months or track down a writing friend or two to start meeting semi-regularly with. There can be a danger to spending too much time talking about writing and not doing enough writing (a post for another day, perhaps!), but for some of us, too much isolation is just as inspiration-killing.

p.s. I’d love to hear what works best to keep you on track with your writing goals (so I can steal your method, lol).

p.p.s. I think I’ve written on this topic before. What can I say? Sometimes I need reminding of what “works” to keep me working!

Get Thee to a Conference!

I can’t believe that this time last week I was at SiWC sitting in a workshop called Polish and Shine led by Elizabeth Engstrom (fantastic class!). This Saturday is decidedly less glamorous and thrilling.

All this past week I rode the post conference high, but now the fuzzy glow is fading just a bit (or being blocked from my immediate view!) in the face of the dishes stacking up, the floors being in serious need of a sweep and mop (oh, my dogs–gotta love’em; wish I could shave’em!), the laundry and meals that never cease to need doing/making, and the bathroom, argh, the bathroom! Let’s just not talk about it. . . However, all grumbling and moping aside, my newly reaffirmed goals remain clear and focussed. My inspiration is freshly topped. And when I think of all I want to do, plan to do, need to do . . . Yes, I feel a bit intimidated, but even more, I feel stoked: being surrounded by 600+ writers for four days is seriously motivating.

Almost every year I hesitate before I hit submit to register for SiWC (my annual conference ;-)). Then I recall what it does for me: refuels me for another twelve months, reminds me that yes, writing is a solitary pursuit, but that I am not alone. Literally hundreds upon hundreds of other people identify with and embrace a similar madness!

Meeting with like minds (or at least similarly bent ones), being surrounded by a crowd of folks who really “get” this strange obsession you have with stories and words, and having the chance to learn from others in different places in the writing path than you–well, corny as it sounds, it’s priceless.

Not cost-free though. I’m already starting to put money away for next year, and I think you should do the same.

And less you’re not convinced you or your writing are worth the extravagance of a first conference (or a third, a tenth, a twentieth!), what am I doing right now? Sitting down to write while the house is empty and clear, dirty and in need of a clean as it is–and that’s the whole point, isn’t it? We want to be writers, so we write. We don’t need conferences to give us permission or to remind us–but they do help us remember it. If you have the chance to take part in a writer’s conference, big or small, nearby or far, I really recommend it. It makes all the time we spend in solitary sweet.