Last weekend I attended my all-time favorite writing conference, the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. I’ve been going to this conference almost every year since 2004, and it’s always a slice of heaven for me. Here’s my attempt to sum up all the reasons I love SIWC.
Before SIWC, I was a closet writer (this is literally true—in my first condo I converted a closet into a writing “office”). It was this secret thing I did, in spare scraps of time. It’s not that I was ashamed, exactly, it’s just that I couldn’t imagine letting anyone read my stuff. Mostly because I had no idea if my writing was any good. (I’m confident, now, it was make-your-eyes-bleed horrible.) But also, I just felt foolish–who did I think I was, exactly?
Attending my first SIWC was a revelation: to find myself in a double-sized conference room packed with other people exactly like me–regular people with day jobs, who just happened to have a burning passion to write. And in my own hometown, to boot. These are my people, I thought with amazement.
I received enormous inspiration through attending SIWC. In 2004 the final keynote address was from Elizabeth George. Her closing words were: “The writers who get published are the writers who persist”. I scribbled that quote down in my notebook, sitting in my car afterwards, before I (reluctantly) drove away from SIWC that first year. It has been my mantra ever since.
It’s poetic when things come full circle. This year, after being an attendee for so many years, I had the honor of being invited to speak on a panel called “SIWC Success Stories”. My co-panelists Jodi McIsaac, Tyner Gillies, Leanne Shirtliffe, and Janie Chang, are all talented writers who credit SIWC with playing a major role in their pathway to publication. The panel was fun. And I hope it provided a little inspiration for writers at varying stages of their journey. For the rest of the weekend, I had the extreme pleasure of being approached by random strangers—in the elevators, and yes, in the washrooms—who told me they enjoyed the panel, that they found inspiration in my words, that they were looking forward to reading my books.
Some people ask me why I keep coming to the conference. After all, I have an agent, my first book has been published and I’m under contract for more, so what am I getting out of it?
I get SO MUCH out of it. I still have tons to learn. In fact I’m not sure I’ll ever stop learning. I gobble down all kinds of wisdom in the workshops. This year I attended workshops on dialogue, suspension of disbelief, heroines, sex scenes, plot, film, emotional truth…there are endless ways to learn and hone the craft.
I love meeting other writers at SIWC—both published and pre-published. The camaraderie is amazing. I met a wonderful writer, Eileen Cook, at SIWC several years ago, and she has become a good friend and a terrific support. At SIWC the atmosphere manages to be professional, inspirational, supportive and fun all at the same time. Industry big-shots and wide-eyed neophytes, alike, sit side by side each evening enjoying the belly-laugh keynotes and drinking wine. Lots of wine.
Also, you simply never know where things are going to lead. During the weekend, a friend on the other side of the country posted on Facebook that she’d just finished reading my book and suggested Jake Gyllenhaal for the male lead, and I jokingly said I’d submit her idea to the casting department. That night, at the conference, I sat next to Seth Jaret—a very cool Hollywood guy who has executive produced movies like 10 Things I Hate About You and Crazy Kind of Love—and didn’t he spend the ENTIRE MEAL asking me all about my books, telling me how he could absolutely see it on screen…and yes, we even discussed casting. His eyes lit up when I told him about the Pinterest pages I’d created with all my casting ideas and fantasies. (So, there ya go, Andrea, Jake Gyllenhaal has officially been submitted for consideration.)
I always get inspiration at SIWC. I’m constantly writing down quotes. One of my faves from this year is the Jane Porter quote I have pictured above: I write for the sheer joy of jumping off cliffs. She just said it, off the cuff, in the middle of one of her workshops.
I know exactly what she was referring to. Writing is a scary thing for many of us. Two days before the release of my debut novel, I said on Twitter that I felt like I’d invited the world over to view my underwear drawer. And I still feel like that. A lot of personal stuff goes into a novel—not autobiographic details, exactly, but a lot of emotion and history and all the stuff that makes me me. Sending it out into the world for people to read and judge as they please is no small act of bravery, for me anyway.
But it’s that risk and fear and boldness that makes writing so meaningful and such a rush.
This quote is also like a little inside joke I have with myself, because I am a major chicken about physical risk—I would never jump off cliffs or out of airplanes or anything—and yet the books I write have a huge amount of thrill and physical risk in them. My protagonist gets herself into some pretty sticky spots. Part of the fun for me is when she’s in extreme peril, dangling from a tall building, and I’m safely at my desk with a steaming cup of coffee beside me, wondering how the heck she’s going to get herself out of this one…
If you like to write and you’re thinking about taking the next step, come to SIWC next year. If you’re starting to take your writing more seriously, and you’re ready to begin playing big, come to SIWC. No matter where you are in your journey, you will love it. It’s magic.
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