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.
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.