I attended the Breathe writers conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this weekend. It was a little surreal for me, because I attended the first couple of Breathe conferences as a green college student intent on becoming a famous fiction author (several of the conference founders were professors of mine). Now ten years later, I attended as an editor and had the privilege of sitting on the other side of the desk, listening to authors tell me about the book projects they want to place with a traditional publisher.
I didn’t realize until I became an editor that I am an amphibious beast. My assumption was that most editors probably write themselves too. This is not true. And honestly, I should have known better. When I was in a PhD program with the hope of become a literature professor, I had wrongly assumed that most people who want to become professors probably write too.
It took me a while to realize that the consistent thread in these experiences is that I am a writer. Also that it isn’t safe to assume other people are.
Between editorial appointments at Breathe, I was able to put on my writer’s hat and attend a couple of sessions on poetry and doubt. I came away with a number of thoughts bubbling in my head:
(1) I have to keep on keeping on. That means drafting my 600 words on free evenings, but also sending out more agent queries for my WWII project. It means writing more poems and sending those out to journals too. And it means doing that this week and next week and the next week.
(2) A related thought is that I do best and feel best when I’m working broadly. Not just writing fiction but also poetry and nonfiction. Starting this blog has helped in this area. Having a place where I can put down thoughts about process and creativity but don’t have to worry about dialogue tags and character arcs and researching historical precursors to opera (masques! among other things).
(3) There comes a time where you just have to get alone and write. For me, this happens fast. I can sit through about half of a one-hour session on writing before I find myself thinking, EXACTLY. Now please let me out of this room so I can go write something right now! More and more, I understand why writing community is so vital, but as a writer, I also need a lot of time away from other writers to actually get any writing done.
(4) I’m not sure I’ve experienced doubt about myself as a writer. Don’t get me wrong. Many, many times I have questioned whether something I’ve written is any good at all. But I don’t experience the existential doubt I hear other writers talk about: “Am I a real writer? Can I tell other people I’m a writer?” This is something I’m still trying to understand.
I have other conferences lined up in the coming months, but I’m already looking forward to the next Breathe in 2019. Perhaps because it was one of the first conferences I went to, and certainly because of the friends I’ve made there over the years, I always enjoy Breathe.