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Where Creatives Find Know-How, Community, & Affirmation

A writer from the Taos Writer’s Conference 2010

This morning in a courtyard in Taos, New Mexico, I guided fifteen writers through a meditative yoga flow. When I asked them to check in with questions such as, “What am I here for?” and “What am I writing for?” a couple of them had watery eyes.

This group makes up 15 of about 180 writers attending this year’s UNM Taos Summer Writer’s Conference, where I’ve taught writing courses (and early morning yoga classes) for seven years. This afternoon I begin teaching a five-day writing course called “Where It All Begins: Writing, Yoga, & Wonder,” and I’m wondering what each of the nine writers from around the United States taking the course are here for.

To attend a writer’s conference, after all, means not only that you have to shell out bucks for registration and travel, devote days away from your usual work and family life, and actually schlep to wherever the conference is held. It also might mean you might face your greatest insecurities and sit at a table with other bona fide (or not) writers.

So why bother?

In this Age of Convenient Information Access and ready-made persona formation, why invest time and money in any training?

Well, first, you’re crazy to think you must go your creative life alone. In most workshop-intensive conferences, you build know-how, and that know-how gives you entry into a community of peers with whom you can “talk shop.”

The best conferences allow space for you to forge organic connections. The director of this conference knows that. She and her ever-diligent husband are like Mama and Papa Bear caring for us vagabond writers and our respective workshop participants. Outings and more intimate round table sessions give us opportunities to network or make new friends struggling with similar creative issues.  And the accomplished faculty members both know how to teach and to create a safe space for all participants. Posturing writers stay at home.

Friendships forge at conferences. I keep in touch with writers who attended this conference seven years ago. We trade stories, publishing tips, as well as small victories & big struggles. Some of them have become long-term clients and solid friends. One of them has become a Yoga As Muse Facilitator. This morning over breakfast, essayist and novelist Priscilla Long and I shared our respective writing practice and reflected on our common project-juggling schedules. The conversation felt like a bond.

A useful writing-centered writer’s conference also can give you a compacted education in know-how – that is, the craft of writing and the habits of writing lives. Good training takes away some unnecessary guess work of “What the hell am I doing?” Such know-how also can give you that quiet smile when you know you’ve written something exceptionally well in a signature way.

A client of mine is attending a week-long writer’s conference. The course he’s taking will do more, I hope, than give him know-how.

Several weeks ago, he took the leap. He’s been working on his novel off and on between his big corporate gigs for about a year. A smart guy, crisp copywriter, quick creative problem-solver, and brilliant story-plotter, his biggest complaint is time.  Amidst tending to his family and his corporate boss’s demands and the international travel and consulting his gigs require, he barely has head space, let alone time, to craft and build his novel.

So, a few weeks ago, he talked himself into quitting one of his long-time secure copywriting gigs. What does he have to lose? A few thousand a month in secure income. And the longevity of his bigger gig is itself tenuous, so he can’t rest on real job security. And he has a little girl and wife at home counting on his income.

But now he has more time, head space, and, potentially, confidence as a writer to gain. So I suggested he attend a writer’s conference.

Such an investment can be a commitment. It’s a commitment that acknowledges your project matters and that it merits attention, money, and time.

Do you invest money and time to give yourself the know-how, the connections & community, and the affirmation that creativity and wonder thrive on?

Here are a few conferences I recommend:
The UNM Taos Summer Writer’s Conference
– Read above. In short, potentially the warmest, most substantial, most smoothly operated writer’s conference in the country

Awe & Wonder Conference – Uh, yeah, with a title like that, you know I’ll recommend it. But if you’re an educator or at all engaged in the global dialogue about education reform, then go to the Land Down Under this October. (More on this one later.)

Behance’s The 99u Conference – With a New York design-style edge, Scott Belsky’s team gathers accomplished CEOs, writers, photographers, scientists, face-readers, and political shakers all aimed at helping creative people organize their lives and “make ideas happen.” Special off-site workshops – I visited Google Creative Labs this year – plus master’s workshops, eating breaks, and evening parties offer ample opportunities to connect. Registration opens next week for the May 2012 event. With only a few hundred spots, it will sell out.

Chris Guillbeau’s The World Domination Summit – Aimed toward creatives who want to do life differently and work according to passion first, profit second, third, or fourth. The master of non-conformity pulled together TED Talk-style presenters and also coordinated numerous location-specific “happenings” throughout Portland, Oregon. I didn’t attend this year, but the clients and colleagues who did assure me it’s both “low-key and high-quality.” Registration is open for the June 2012 event.

>play: The Berkeley Digital Media Conference – Designed for anyone who wants to stay “in the know.”  Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Andersen will offer a keynote predicting iPad and other tablets as media’s future. Registration is open for this one-day event on October 29.

Knitters Review – Knitters are hip people. They get how craft and weaving and conversation get wound up in one fun and wooly ball. This group keeps weavers apprised of wooly happenings around the globe.

If you’re thinking of organizing a conference, Jeff Hurt of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting offers some spot-on observations and tips about engaging participant curiosity and wonder.

Drop in the Hut:
Do you invest money and time to give yourself the know-how, the connections & community, and the affirmation that creativity and wonder thrive on? If so, let us know how. And add a favorite conference review to the list.

See you in the woods,







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