Attending writing conferences brings out the best of me.
The sessions inspire me in my craft; the other writers help me feel connected; the book tables tickle my imagination. I take pages of notes; I breathe the air of creativity; I function on less sleep than normal.
But writing conferences also bring out the worst of me.
I become self-promoting, wanting to mention my accomplishments so others will know I belong here. I become self-doubting, imagining that every other writer here is more accomplished than me. I can slip in opportunism – reaching out my hand to every noted speaker, hoping to score big through networking. And some times, by the end of the conference, I am so tied up in knots by the cords of envy and jealousy that I am paralyzed from doing the work that I was inspired to when I get home.
Knowing this about myself, I spent the morning Thursday praying for humility, love, and self-denial. I read Paul’s passage in Philippians about considering others better than myself, and then I read Romans 12.
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
So, I had a list of people to meet, but they were people I wanted to encourage, people who I have already begun a relationship with and wanted to see go further. When I meet people who are a little newer to this writing life than me, I am trying to stop and tell them what I know. And this time around, I am skipping sessions to have dinner with friends or get a little extra sleep so that I will be rested and ready to receive people in my life.
And I am finding these themes of community and humility scattered throughout the sessions I already have attended.
In his plenary session, Gary Schmidt commented that “we are all wounded and battered creatures in a wounded and battered world, and the greatest gift we have is the empathy God gives.”
In a conversation about curiosity, Judith Shulevitz talked about the Jewish training she has received that has prompted her to ask questions and “interrogate the text.” But she reminded us that in the Jewish tradition, one never studies alone. “You study in pairs because then you can ask each other questions.”
Luci Shaw and Jeanne Murray Walker directly addressed this question of ambition, however, in a conversation they had on its merits and weaknesses. Jeanne advocated an ambition that honors our Creator, indicating that situating ourselves in front of our Creator helps us keep straight who is really in charge of a project.
Jeanne went on to say that writing is not a zero-sum game. “Readers have many tastes for many forms. When we create an audience, we create an audience for everyone.”
“Writing is always an act of hope,” she said.
“And an act of faith,” Luci added.
So, I head back to campus this morning, hopeful and faithful. And humbled.