Saturday, February 2, 2008

Writers' Conference in New York City

I am at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs 2008 Convention at the Hilton in New York City. It has been so good for me to be here. I have always had the word "writer" in my self-description, but I haven't really done much to deserve the title. In college I wrote opinion articles for the school newspaper--The Bucknellian--and I took a fiction writing class that led to four or five short stories. One was published in the Bucknell student anthology in 1987.

Since then I have written articles for a parenting quarterly called Ithaca Child, I have had one short story published in a literary journal called "Quay", and I have joined a writers' group in New Haven, CT. Yet, still I have a hard time taking myself seriously when I call myself a writer. Writers write.

I don't write very much.

In thinking about why this conference has felt so good--so affirming--I have yet to figure out the exact reasons. In the moment it feels like it has something to do with being surrounded by 7000 other people who value reading and writing as much as I do. There is also the rush that comes from being in the same room with writers like William Kennedy, Russell Banks, Billy Collins, Amy Hempel, John Irving, Peter Cameron, and Frank McCourt. It might be that I am proving Daryl Bem's theory of self-definition: I am at a writers' conference, therefore I must be a writer.

I have listened to discussions about incorporating writers and poets into my classroom, about the value of fiction rooted firmly in one place that you know and feel intimately, about how to carve out time to write when you have a job and a child, about the nuts-and-bolts of finding an agent, and about writing literature for the young adult market.

All of this is really secondary to the fact that I am in New York, at a conference entirely dedicated to writing.

It has inspired me to look at how I am spending my time and what I can do to structure my days differently to allow more time for writing. I have some solutions I am eager to try out as soon as I get home. Actually, before I get home. I will have 90 minutes on the train and that is as valuable as found money. I have decided to prioritize my writing rather than being as random about it as I have been thus far. I have realized that deadlines are the best motivator there is for me. My Ithaca Child articles always get done on time and they are good. The one short story I had published happened because I set myself a date by which I needed to have it complete and submitted to some journals. Without a deadline, I flail and perseverate.

The things I will focus on in the next months as a writer are the Young Adult novel Isabel and I started together, my short story "Spaces," and a book proposal for my parenting articles. Maybe writing this down in a public place will help me hold my own feet to the fire.

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