Maybe it's just the time of year. As the seasons change, as the weather gets cooler, we settle down for a long winter's work, and thoughts seem to wander to book award contests and writers' groups. At least my e-mail has witnessed an upsurge in that sort of posting. Just today, I had a message from a company that wanted $500.00 to enter my book into five different book contests. I didn't take them up on it, although I agree with the basic premise-- that winning a book award, if the group is a prestigious one, is almost certain to result in an upturn in book sales. But $500.00 worth? I doubt it.
I would much rather see a new writer use that $500.00 to attend a conference of writers. It doesn't have to be a fancy meeting. Sometimes the smallest ones are the most useful. A conference has one huge benefit over the book award contest -- everybody wins. You get to spend two or three days in the company of people who think like you do -- who understand the agonies as well as the delights of writing. No one will bombard you with the kind of comments we've all learned to hate. You know the ones.
- "I just finished reading your book. Hurry up and write the next one."
- "Gee, books are so expensive. You writers must all be really rich."
- "My Aunt Mabel wrote a book once. Would you like to read it?"
- "Can you get me a publishing contract so my book will get made into an HBO movie?"
- "It must be nice not to have anything else to do all day but just sit and write."
Best of all, you will be surrounded by people who have faced the same sort of problems you face. And they'll be willing to offer you very good advice. Writers may not be wealthy, but they tend to be extremely generous with their time and knowledge and experience. A writers' conference is the place to dial into what they have to offer.
One example of this occurs every September in Colorado. A group of writers who participate in a group called "Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers" meet for their "Colorado Gold" conference to encourage each other, to learn new techniques, and to recognize the best of their efforts. I've never had the privilege of attending a Colorado Gold Conference, but as a long-ago resident of Colorado, I still lurk on their webpages and read about their successes.
I've been interested to note, this year, a new turn of phrase that appeals to me. One of them commented that attending their meeting always felt like going home, like re-discovering family. She coined the term "my herd" to describe what belonging to the group felt like. For a western-based group, of course, the term "herd" is particularly appropriate, and I fully understand what she means when she says "I have found my herd."
And that got me thinking. This weekend I'll be attending the annual meeting of the Military Writers Society of America. We have a membership well over one thousand now, all of us with some connection to the military. We write about the military, or we served in one of the armed forces, or we married a serviceman, or we grew up in a military family. We have the same sort of bond that the Colorado writers define as "being part of the herd," but that term won't do for us.
We're not a herd, but what are we? A "force?" That sounds to much like Star Wars. My Marine brother would have suggested "corps." My husband would have preferred "flight." But we also have Navy -- a "crew?" -- and Army -- "a squad?" It occurred to me that we are a regiment in numbers, but that sounds too . . . regimental!
Unless somebody can come up with a better term this weekend, I'm going to think of this meeting as getting to see "my troops." These "troops" are my people. They are generous, welcoming, and encouraging. They will send me home with new resolve to write better, to write more, and to believe in myself. I need them, I need that yearly transfusion of energy.
My advice for any writer is to step away from the keyboard for a few days. Take the time to find your herd, your troops, the people who make you feel like one of the family. And then absorb all they have to offer you. I promise it will make you a better writer.