As anyone reading this likely already knows, I have just wrapped up a full year of work that culminated, as it always does, in the gathering of hundreds of writers at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.
It’s always bittersweet for me when the conference is over. It’s wonderful to experience the conference through the eyes of the attendees, volunteers, and presenters who take the time to share with me, and it’s gratifying to see people discover the nugget that makes the whole event worthwhile for them. I love that. But it’s also sad to see it end, and to know, much like cooking a very complicated meal and watching it be eaten, that it will live only in memory, fully consumed and never to be experienced in exactly the same way ever again.
This September, I had the privilege and pleasure of participating in the Writing Excuses Retreat with Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells, and more than a hundred other writers aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean. Over drinks one night on the ship, someone asked me about SiWC. When I finished talking (probably too much) about it, one of the guys told me I light up when I talk about it. I have no doubt that’s true. It’s because this work is a labour of love, and it means more to me than I can express, almost entirely because of the people who come and make it special for me and for each other every year.
Every year, I do my best to slow down every now and again in the midst of the craziness to be present for conversations and to really hear what people have to say and to get to know them a little. This year, that resulted in a lot of teary eyes – mine and theirs – and some lovely connections, too. These are the things that make the conference especially meaningful for me. Thank you to all of you. I won’t come close to mentioning you all here, because there are more of these moments over four days than I can possibly mention in one post, and I don’t want to betray any confidences, but here’s just a tiny, anonymized (how do you like that made up word?) sample of my own personal highlights of this year’s conference. I think those of you who find yourselves described here will know who you are.
– Talking to a first-time attendee who’d decided by Friday night that we’re going to be her annual conference, in part because she felt at home and comfortable and safe with us. When I hear something like that, it makes me feel very much like we’re doing something right, and it meant the world to me.
– Discovering that a repeat attendee I already like very much took it upon herself to invite newbies to sit with her at meals and join her in the bar. I don’t know if she knows she made me cry listening to her talk about that, and what it meant to her, but she did.
– Managing to say the exact right thing at the right time to someone doing a very good job who needed to hear it. (Yes, more tears.)
– Meeting new people who felt like old friends.
– Meeting old friends who came into my life through this conference or the Compuserve Books and Writers forum and finding once again that we pick up where we left off whenever we get together.
– Being blown away by the lengths people – attendees and presenters alike – went to to contribute to our silent auction or simply to get to the conference when the odds were stacked against them.
– Watching a dear friend speak bravely to a captivated audience, and hearing afterward about some of the people who’d really needed to hear what she had to say.
– Seeing attendees connect with others, light up because a workshop resonated with them, shine because they got work requested or had a blue pencil that went especially well, and go home exhausted and inspired all at the same time.
And of course there is so much more. I hope some of you know who you are and what you and the moments we shared at SiWC mean to me. Thank you to all who came to the conference and added to the magic this year. I appreciate each and every one of you. You make this job a very special one I am very lucky to have.