I spent the last four days at a writers conference in my home state of Oklahoma.
I’d like to say that I’ve been attending for a number of years and working towards the lifetime goal of writing the next best selling novel, gaining bits and pieces of wisdom from authors far and wide, and networking my way through the treacherous waters surrounding this business.
But, the truth is …
This was my first year to attend.
Writing conferences are an odd conglomeration of folks. Much like a group of penguins or … sharks … who spend much of the year roaming the seas alone hunting for their food, only gathering to mate and produce new offspring, writers venture out of their solitary make-believe worlds for these unique conventions to birth new ideas and find help in nurturing them -Or- to get eaten by their older siblings.
I hate to postulate that idea because I really had an amazing time. But, as they say, truth will out.
This writing conference, like many, sponsors a writing competition each year with numerous categories in both fiction and non-fiction writing. I entered eleven pieces of writing and expected exactly zip in awards from them. Apparently, entering eleven different categories is not that common though. Most writers seem to focus on one or two things, one style or genre.
But not me.
I followed the advice I was given long ago from one of my college mentors and professors, Mr. John Bryant, who was fond of the old adage, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with … ” Well, we all know how that goes.
Not that anything I entered in the competition was purposely BS. Rather, John taught me that any time I wasn’t sure of what direction to go I should throw everything I had into the wind and see what landed and grew. So I produced as many different pieces of prose as I could in the time I had and sent them all.
Some were utter crap. I knew that. But being new to this venue, I didn’t (and don’t) have a grasp on what road to travel or what others would like. I had nothing to lose, honestly, and everything to gain.
I won four awards – 1st honorable mention in suspense/mystery/thriller novel, 3rd place in mainstream novel, and honorable mentions in both essay and nostalgic prose. I was both stunned and thrilled and speechless and … insanely grateful all over again for John’s wisdom that has stayed with me all these years.
Of course everyone smiled and clapped and said “well done”. Even the sharks.
Oh yes, there were sharks in my midst. I knew it before I even set foot in the hotel. Those peers of mine who smile at me showing their beautiful white razor edged teeth. I know who they are, probably better than they know who they are. Jealousy shines through even the most flawless makeup.
And yet they have no reason to be jealous. I’m not in competition with them. I’m only in competition with myself.
The whole point of what John taught me was not about finding a place to stay, to land, to end, about winning something and saying “ta da! Look what I did!” … but rather about finding a place to begin. A road to travel. The beginning of a journey.
And I did that. Above all else, I found where I start.
RIP John, thanks … again