Knowing It All

By Christina Lay

Grownups say the darnedest things. I’ve heard a lot of doozies in my time, but the one I’m thinking of today came from a fellow writer and literally made my jaw drop.

I was at the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon several years ago and ran into an acquaintance. I asked her if she’d attended any interesting workshops yet and she said, and I quote, “Oh, I’m beyond all that. I know everything there is to know about writing.”

I’ll pause for bit to let that sink that in.

17smart-dog

 

Flash forward to Willamette Writers this year. This is an awesome conference with a mind-bending array of quality instructors and a schedule to make any writer drool. I will admit to a very vague feeling of “been there, done that” when looking over the craft offerings. In years past, I’ve been a craft junkie, always choosing the “How to Write Snappy Dialogue” options over anything to do with the business side of writing. However, this year I was attending with a different agenda, or agendas, to be precise.

For the first time, gathering information to help me make the current project better was not my primary objective. Instead, I had several new identities.

1. A published author looking to market my books

2. A first time publisher looking into the technical side of the business

3. A member of the Wordcrafters in Eugene board looking to spy glean information on how to run a conference by observing the well-oiled machine that is WWC

4. A grizzled veteran looking to meet up and commiserate with pals in the bar, or Burgerville, as it happened to turn out.

Of course I also snuck off to a few craft sessions to feed my always-thirsting-for-literary perfection side.

As I juggled my multiple personalities, scribbled copious notes and tried to keep my head from exploding with all the information I was gathering, I thought about that acquaintance who’d decided she had nothing more to learn. Maybe she’s right. Maybe she had achieved her creative pinnacle and was satisfied with her level of competence. I suppose that is possible. On some planet I have yet to visit.

Personally, I can’t comprehend the idea of ceasing to grow in any aspect of my chosen career. While I’ve attended more workshops and retreats than is healthy for any size pocket book, I still come away with several morsels or tidbits that breathe new life into my approach to storytelling. In addition to new views on craft, I get organization ideas, tips on research, clues on delving deeper, or sometimes inspiration and consolation, the greatest gifts of all for a writer.

My point here isn’t to point and laugh at those who can’t see beyond the publication of The Book (okay maybe just a little) but rather to encourage everyone, no matter what their field of endeavor, to be wary of self-satisfaction. If you truly feel you’ve crammed all the craft you can manage into your skull, perhaps it’s time to start giving back. Take a look at how else you might evolve and contribute. I have friends who teach, host open mike sessions, welcome writing groups into their homes, sit on boards of writing organizations, lead retreats, start up publishing ventures – I admire these people more than I can say and am eternally grateful for writers who know their stuff and yet keep on growing.

I often question my own sanity when I’m juggling all these new projects and challenges, but I have to say I’m never, ever bored. I’m pushing my comfort levels and tentatively experimenting with becoming an adult who has something to offer beyond a competently crafted book.

And if you ever hear me say I know everything there is to know about writing, please dump a barrel of ice water over my head and point me back to this post.

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