This past weekend I went to the 9th Geneva Writers’ Conference. Every two years the Geneva Writers’ Group hosts international writers at Webster University on Lake Geneva with the hopes of inspiring and mentoring English writers across the world. This year there were over 200 people from 40 countries and it was an impressive and impassioned group.
I was initially hesitant to go because I was afraid I would look too green and be too exposed as the novice writer I am. We were expected to write for in-house prompts and share them with our other workshop attendees and the thought of reading my initial ten-minute ideas was almost as scary as the fear that nothing would even come to me during our free writing time. But, I am so glad and grateful that I attended. What I needed and what I gleaned was a renewed sense of energy and motivation that this, writing, is what I want to and can do.
No new novel ideas germinated and I didn’t sign on with one of the agents that was present, but I did get a sense that I could sit down and think and write and struggle and persevere because the desire is there. What was most valuable besides the writing prompts was the reminder that writing is work and for most people the ideas aren’t just sitting on your to-do list next to the computer or pad of paper. They take careful listening and curating to find their way to forefront and make themselves known as short story or novel or personal essay ideas.
Furthermore, what stuck with me most was a question that my contemporary British fictions teacher used to say with regard to our papers and theses: So What? All right, families are dysfunctional but So What? What do your thoughts add to the already rich discussion of family? I think that’s such a good question to go back to any time you are writing or speaking with someone. So What? What is the bigger point, the universal Truth or message that is essential for your reader? And moreover, how is it different? What separates your thoughts, your declarations from what has been said before?
Both nights I left with dozens of burning questions and ideas about writing and my place in the literary world. If nothing else, this is what I needed. A re-ignition of what feels good and right and true.
Last Thursday night Adam shared the above video with me and I kept putting it off until he basically sat me in front of the screen on Saturday night to watch it. That night, halfway through the conference, could not have been a better time to watch it so despite hurting my husband’s feelings a wee bit I’m glad I waited.
Ira Glass talks specifically to me (or so I’d like to think) and gives a gentle reassurance that it takes a few years of crappy creative work to get to the good, juicy, meaningful creative work. The important distinction, however, between you and another crappy writer is that you know what you’re writing is crap. You know it’s not where it could and should be. Because you have taste; you know what is good and right and true.
The video above is a great artistic piece that someone made to sort of drive those big themes home, but if you are interested in creative work then I would highly encourage you to watch the actual interviews with him. He plays some of his early work, back when he was 27 I believe, after he’d been working in broadcast journalism for eight years. And the tape is not good. He’s the first to tell you that. But, it’s encouraging to know that someone as successful and talented as Ira Glass was churning out mediocre stories at one point, too. In the hopes that you’ll be more likely to watch them if I make it absurdly easy for you, you can find all four parts (each at about 5 minutes) below:
A bit long-winded today, yes? I suppose I’m just overflowing with meditations and enthusiasm. But, I’d love to hear from you. Are you feeling satisfied in your career, or are you looking for something more, or different? Have you ever attended a big conference? Was it beneficial? If you are in a creative industry, what inspires you?