This past weekend, for the first time in two years, I attended the Surrey International Writer’s Conference. This conference set me on the path of realizing my dream of being a writer. If it weren’t for the amazing community of writers I met that fall day nine years ago, I wouldn’t call myself writer today. While my sulking over things being “different” last year prevented me from attending, I made the choice, grudgingly, to sign up in June out of the fear that this community dear to my heart wouldn’t survive the upheaval of the pandemic.
While I missed not being with my friends in the bar, the spirit of the conference still snaked its way into the Zoom rooms over the course of the three days, and I find myself as renewed and energized as I have in the past. I’m kicking myself for not attending last year. I made it a writing retreat by booking myself into a downtown hotel for the weekend. I felt foolish, all alone in my room on Thursday night, setting up my computer. I missed my desk at home and my bed. The access to all the snacks in my kitchen. But, it turns out part of the difficulty I’ve had, personally and with my writing, is the fact that I‘ve spent the last two years in near constant, close, contact with people (a.k.a. my family). The first gift of the conference was reconnecting with my writing community, the second was doing so in solitude.
I’d made a tentative plan for the weekend. Nothing solid because if the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that plans change, so after the funny and inspiring keynote speech by Liz Hara on Friday morning, I read through the list and picked what spoke to me at the moment. I did that throughout the weekend. Looking back over my notes, I found a pattern. I overwhelmingly chose sessions designed to help me repair my creative life, battered these last long months by the constant change and grief the pandemic has delivered to all of us.
One session, by the incomparable Liza Palmer (please, do yourself a favour and check out her website and sign up for her inspirational newsletter) chosen as much for its content as for its amiable presenter. Liza is a fixture at SiWC, and her infectious laugh, honesty and vulnerability, along with her wicked writing knowledge, have always led me to learning. In her session, entitled Digging Yourself out of a Creative Rut, she provided a prompt that spoke to my core.
As I pondered her question in the quiet of my hotel room later that evening, the prompt allowed me to tap back into the great love I have for writing. As she shared the prompt with us, Liza had gotten emotional, and as I wrote, I teared up and then smiled widely. I wrote about the joy that writing brings me. I acknowledged how much writing, creating stories and honing them sustains me. It is woven into the very fabric of my being. When I write, I feel complete. What didn’t end up on the page as I wrote about my perfect writing day were word counts, publishing or being productive; I wrote about me, my relationship to the words on the page and the worlds in my head.
Over the course of the weekend, as I attended more great sessions on indie publishing, shaping stories and gleaned wisdom from literary mentors like Diana Gabaldon, Mary Robinette Kowal and Elizabeth Boyle, I recalled how writing is both simple and complex, at the same time. Stories live in our heart, the technique to uncover them in our mind. Writing is the marriage of the two. Just as it’s difficult to describe a marriage to those outside its confines, it’s hard to describe, to others and even to ourselves, the relationship each writer has with their writing. It makes my head spin, but it’s also the challenge that keeps me going. I want to solve the puzzle of my relationship, to define it and sustain it. This quest keeps me going, but it isn’t without frustration and tears along the way. The days I glimpse how to fit a piece into the puzzle successfully, it is those days are invigorating.
As I packed up to leave Sunday afternoon, I had a snack and admired the view from my hotel room. As I ate, a seagull landed on my windowsill. Amused, I moved too fast and scared it away, and I watched, disappointed, as it soared away, looking for a person-free perch. I focused on the view and my apple, and as I stood quietly, the seagull returned. Moving slowly and mindfully, we stood, separated my a thin pane of glass, in companionable silence. I admired ts soft grey feathers ruffling in the wind. It contemplated my apple. We looked at each other, enjoying a magical moment of wonder. Reluctantly, I packed up to leave, my seagull remaining on the windowsill as I did so.
When I’m present and mindful, quiet and open, my stories come to me, just as the seagull did. If I reach out, grasping, I scare them away. When I make room for them, they appear, and it is up to me to observe and revel in their beauty, capturing their essence on the page. It’s up to me to marvel at their magnificent wonder and beauty. Nothing more.
Today, I awoke reinvigorated, excited to return to my desk for the first time in a long time. SiWC was the kick start I needed to get back into the creative groove. It’s my job to use this momentum and be present for my stories, but also to remember the joy and community that comes with it. Today, I am a very grateful writer.