Surprises at a Writer’s Conference

I’m a California native who has always lived within an hour of the ocean, which means I don’t know a lot about air-conditioning. But I learned about air-conditioning in Austin at the Stories from the Heart VI, the 6th National Women’s Memoir Conference, April 13-15. The rooms were cold, but I didn’t care.  Being there was worth every minute.

Writer’s conferences have benefits from every angle. I had a great time presenting on Writing the Truth: Issues, Ethics & Poetic License at the first session. Thirty-five women sat in on the talk and asked valuable questions. Afterwards I went to sessions myself, where I met wonderful women from around the country and learned from other presenters. I heard inspiring keynote and closing author talks. Author Susan Tweit’s tale of turning to nature to learn how love can heal, which she writes about in her recent book Walking Nature Home, moved me to tears, a rare occurrence for me at a reading not to mention in public.

But there was an unexpected bonus.

Virginia Woolf wrote about it in A Room of One’s Own, her long, feminist essay published in 1929 about women and writing: something important happens when a writer has a room of her own.

It was my hotel room. My big, quiet hotel room.

At the conference, my room was the first on a long row of rooms on the second floor, closest to the elevator,  and filled with that gorgeous sense of timelessness hotel rooms have. The centerpiece was a king-sized bed, which right away became my preferred seat over the wall-length desk, even with its ergonomic chair. I had excellent bedside lighting, bountiful pillows behind and surrounding me, and my best friend — my laptop — primed and ready for these fast fingers. There, I not only decompressed from the full three days but used that spacious solitude to write for hours and hours, gaining miles on my new book, “100 Years In the Life of an American Girl: True Stories in Her Own Voice (1910 to 2010).”

If you’re ever on the fence about going to a writer’s retreat, get ready to jump. Whether they’re a week long, a weekend, or a single day (like the Saturday retreats I offer once a month), writing retreats offer immeasurable benefits. You get to be in community with other writers talking about writing, you get the time and space to write, and you can read and hear other people’s good work. It’s a lot of mileage out of the inspiration without even traveling too far.