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Retreat from solitude

J.T. Bock and me

J.T. Bock and me

Writing is often a solitary profession, and though the Internet can provide us with the networking and learning opportunities we need, nothing compares to getting out and mingling with other writers.

I spent the weekend at my local RWA chapter’s annual retreat in a cute college town in Maryland. The mini-conference eats up precious time with my family and a nice little chunk of change, but it’s worth it. Just knowing that you’re in a room full of people who “get” you is valuable. Not to mention the ideas that start pinging around in my head as we discuss our craft, our stories, and our struggles.

Editors and agents become real people—rather than sources of fear and stress—as we sit next to them during lunch, or share cookies and life stories with them after a mean game of Romance Jeopardy.

Bestselling authors share their long road to success, their fight to stay relevant, and the self-doubt that never seems to fade, no matter how many books you sell. We are not alone. Every fear we harbor, every doubt that plagues us, every nasty rejection we receive is part of the process that thousands of published writers have faced before us.

Like a hazing ritual that you must endure if you’re serious about making a living at this crazy profession, it would seem even the best writers have suffered for their success.

Of course, conferences are not just about tales of commiseration and lessons on better pacing or dialogue. There’s fun too. Meeting friends you’d only known online, making new acquaintances, talking to an editor or agent without the strain of trying to pitch to him or her.

Some of my favorite moments this year:

– The epiphany I had while trying to answer questions about the barriers between my hero and heroine during a workshop presented by Kathleen Gilles Seidel and Pam Regis, Ph.D.

– Hanging out with Christopher Keeslar, Editor in Chief at Boroughs Publishing Group, an incredibly well-respected editor in romance, and a super nice guy.

– Learning that publishers (traditional, and especially e-publishers) are realizing they have to compete with the ease of self-publishing. They’re now trumpeting their rights reversion clauses, marketing, and editorial quality.

– Spending time with writer friends old and new, which always gets my creativity flowing and buoys my flagging motivation.

Do you go to conferences or belong to a writing group? Why?

Time to retreat

Golden Heart finalists at the RWA Conference in 2011.

I attended my first chapter retreat–more like a mini writers conference–last weekend, and it was a blast.

Great speakers like Robyn Carr, Elizabeth Boyle, and Diane Gaston told stories and inspired us, reminding us that every writer starts at the bottom.

The Romance Writers of America national conference offers a quantity of content that’s hard to beat, along with the opportunity to meet writer friends I otherwise only “see” online. But I enjoyed the intimate nature of a much smaller local conference where it was easier to connect with people.

And despite the conference size, we still had some amazing speakers and fantastic workshops.

The workshops, as always, sparked some “aha” moments, but there’s nothing like talking to other writers to get your creative juices flowing. For me, that’s where the greatest value of these get-togethers lies.

There were at least two separate instances where I had an epiphany in the middle of discussing one of my manuscripts with another writer. Those moments alone were worth the time and money spent at the retreat.

But the biggest treasure was strengthening friendships and making new ones. In this solitary endeavor we can’t have too many friends who understand and support us.