Spending five days at a writers’ conference is an irreproducible experience. This was my third visit to the Aspen Summer Words conference, and every year I gain more from the opportunity. Being around hundreds of other writers for hours on end provides insight into the writing process on so many levels. We learn from the professionals about how they reached their current level of success. But from the beginners, we learn anew what it’s like to have endless possibilities ahead. We learn from those writing about everyday life that every experience bears fruit from an artistic perspective, and we learn from those writing about international conflict and political upheaval how much power words can have, when insightfully expressed and disseminated to the right audience.
Last time, I came to this conference with a work in progress and devoted most of my time here to improving that manuscript. This time was different: I don’t have a specific project under way, but in some regards I learned more this time than last because I didn’t have the same laser focus on one piece of work. Instead, I talked about journalism and journaling, about blogging and Tweeting and reading.
I ran into friends from other conferences, and I met people for the first time. Some have accomplished far more than I have as a writer; others were barely ready to put pen to paper. I came away from every informal discussion and panel session feeling like I’d learned something.
As I said at the outset, attending a conference like this is an irreproducible experience. Spending time with other writers is different from gathering in any other group, and that’s not always a good thing. Some writers, in my opinion, spend far too much time discussing the craft and would be better off powering up their laptop and doing some writing. But spending this much time together, regardless of the content covered, affirms our validity. We are writers. Published many times over or never yet in print, confident in our abilities or barely able to read a sentence we’ve written aloud, we’re here because we care so much about self-expression and the written word. And that in itself makes gathering together a wonderful experience.