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PNWA Summer Writers Conference, Day 1

Well, I survived day one.

The 54th annual Summer Writers Conference, hosted by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, is in full swing! I had a wonderful time there last year as one attendee among many. I’m at the conference this year as a “Book Doctor” (that is, a editor who can tell you how to improve the writing and story-craft in your novel) rather than a starry-eyed hopeful novelist. Despite experiencing the conference from a different perspective, if today is any guide, this year I will also have a wonderful time.

I will, however, probably be twice as exhausted at the end of it as I was last year

Today was a half-day, with registration opening at 1:00, and conference sessions scheduled until the evening. I checked in a little before 1:00, and learned that not only was I going to be speaking on a panel of other book doctors who are also working the conference, the organizers also volunteered me to be the panel moderator. I suspect this is what I get for being the only local boy in the bunch, someone the organizers could be pretty sure would actually show up on time.

After checking in, I talked with three writers who had been assigned to me. That is also why my blog has been a little quiet the past several days: because I have been working furiously to finish reviewing the 25-page excerpts from the novels of 23 aspiring writers, and typing up my notes into something resembling cogent analysis with recommendations.

After finishing my half-hour sessions with today’s three “patients” I had a little break before the panel discussion started. Turns out it wasn’t much of a panel. There was only one other book doctor there besides me, a delightful lady named Kate Austin who drove down to Seattle from Vancouver, B.C. this morning. The other four book doctors were flying in from parts far and wide, so I was told, and just didn’t arrive in time.

Honestly, I think that was probably for the best, because with just two of us we were able to have a really nice, in-depth Q&A session with the audience members rather than a more formal panel discussion. By and large, the audience asked really good questions on pretty much every aspect of writing craft mentioned in the tag-cloud next to this blog post (and then some). Everyone was enjoying it so much we ended up running quite a bit over the allotted time. At the end of it I felt that Kate and I had established a real connection with the audience.

After the Q&A, I met up with a local writer friend of mine, and we adjourned to the hotel restaurant for dinner before returning for the evening keynote address by famous writer-guy Terry Brooks. He probably needs no introduction for anyone reading this blog, so I won’t. He gave a charming and pretty funny speech about how his writing career has affected his fame, fortune, friends, and fulfillment.

The end of the speech particularly resonated with me; he talked about how, for him, writing is the one thing that gives him the greatest sense of personal fulfillment. That the writing process itself, that sensation of losing yourself in the page while you’re writing, gives him an unmatchable sense of fulfillment.

I know that sensation, too, and probably so do you. But for me, embarking on this possibly mad quest to make a living as a freelance editor has a similar quality to it. It is hard, laborious work. But I get a charge out of reading unpublished novels that—if I can help them along a little or sometimes a lot—may someday be published. I get a sense of pride from helping writers improve their craft. And I definitely feel a sense of personal fulfillment from the simple act of taking my destiny into my own hands.

That’s something I never got from working a day job.

I turn 40 later this year. It may have taken nearly four decades, but I feel like I know what I want to be when I grow up, and I’ve finally realized that it’s up to me to make that happen.

July 31, 2009 06:03 UTC

Tags: PNWA, conference, Kate Austin, Terry Brooks, book doctor, fulfillment, quest, panel

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