It can be tough to remain inspired to put word to page when you live at the end of the road, off-the-grid, with only six dogs and an illiterate Mexican caretaker to keep you company. Two years ago, I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference and was inspired beyond expectation. For the past two years, I’ve vowed to return for another injection.
Each time, however, as I gazed longingly at that year’s offerings, it became obvious I couldn’t afford it. After a couple of months during which my brain was fogged with fantasies of unexpected windfall, I recalled meeting someone at the 2010 conference who worked as a volunteer. I didn’t know what was involved, but figured it was worth exploring the possibilities. I quickly ascertained that I was eligible and filled out the application form. And that was it. I was in like Flynn.
And I was not disappointed. Organizers of the conference this year once again succeeded in putting on an event that managed to inspire, educate and excite me. The three days were jam-packed with keynote speeches and break-away sessions covering everything from refining your craft to the specifics of how to find an agent, an editor, to getting published, the ins and outs of self-publishing, self-editing, and much more. Additional workshops open to the public were offered by the San Francisco Writers University all day Monday. Outside of active conference hours and volunteer duties there were opportunities to mix it up with some of the country’s (if not the world’s) best writers, agents, editors and publishers.
For those who were ready, there was the opportunity to pitch projects to agents representing big name authors like Sara Gruen, Garth Stein, David Guterson and Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil. Despite not actively seeking them out, at social gatherings a few agents I stumbled across asked me what I was working on, giving me a chance to try out the pitch I’d hurriedly penned hours earlier in the back of my notebook on them. Their feedback, on both the pitch and the project itself, were invaluable.
I booked a session to have professional headshots made by Mark Bennington of Bennington Headshots. I approached Mark’s booth feeling timid and unsure of myself, but Mark quickly put me at ease. Furthermore, the quality of his work on display convinced me that I was in good hands. His enthusiasm and positivity during the actual shooting helped me relax and feel confident, all of which translated to the results, which I believe speak for themselves.
There were ample opportunities to make contacts and for one-on-one interaction with agents and publishers. Each night a no-host dinner was held at one of the excellent local restaurants within walking distance of the venue to which presenters and attendees were invited. On Saturday night an open mic session that was part poetry slam, part literary reading was held at the conference venue. Poets were accompanied by musicians on drums, guitar and saxophone giving the event a Beat/ Gingsbergesque aura. Published authors and neophytes alike were welcome to present. The quality of the offerings was, to understate it, awe-inspiring. By that I mean that every time someone got up and presented my mouth literally hung agape in amazement at the beauty of the work presented.
Inspired? [using my best John Wayne voice] You bet your sweet caboose I am. I’m already planning to volunteer again next year. Will you join me?