The idea that humans are tribal comes as no surprise, whether you’ve spent most of your life in the city, the country or a cave. Writers tend to be loners. This stems partly from necessity, as most of us work alone. It’s also in our nature. Most writers I’ve met are “closet introverts” like me. We channel the social butterfly when we have to (and most of us do it well) but we never really feel at home in a crowd. We prefer the voices in our heads to the ones that don’t quite understand our oddities and all-too-common quirks.
We are individuals – just like everyone else (if by “everyone else” you mean people who talk to voices that aren’t there, obsess over minute details and can speak at length sixteenth-century stirrups and the firing speed of a laser gun – in other words, “the not-quite-criminally insane.”).
We’re harmless, as long as you smile and back away slowly.
When I first started writing I had a vague understanding that others shut themselves in rooms and maimed their fingers on typewriters too (dating myself. we’ll let that pass.). I saw their books in stores and their articles in magazines. “I am like them,” I thought. “I write too.”
I made my peace with solitude. I saw writing as a vision quest, a journey everyone must make alone. I didn’t have a tribe and I didn’t need one.
I was wrong about that.
I attended my first writer’s conference in September 2003. (At Maui, on the theory that if you want to dream, dream big.) I entered my manuscript in the contest and showed up with no idea what to expect.
It was a defining experience in my life.
Not because of the contest (though my manuscript made the top ten) or because of the business contacts (though I did made a few that stayed with me to this day), but because I had found my tribe. Everyone had a story to share. Everyone wanted to hear mine, too. I spent three days in the company of others who lived and breathed for books and words and craft, and – for lack of a better expression – I belonged.
Four years passed before I could attend another conference, but I never forgot the experience. The consummate loner, the woman who never wanted to fit in (even if she could) had discovered others who shared her inner fire. Their eyes did not glaze over when I talked about Mongol bows. They responded with facts and stories of their own.
I go to conferences annually now, and 2011 will find me at more than one. (More news on that forthcoming, though I’ll keep it to myself for now.) I go to study, to learn, and because of The Day Job We Do Not Discuss.
But mostly I go to see my tribe.
I found my conference home last year, almost by accident, with the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers‘ Colorado Gold Conference. The Maui conference I attended for several years didn’t run in 2010 (or not in any way I could find information about, anyway) so I needed to find another place to “get my writer geek on.” I found RMFW just three weeks before Colorado Gold (via Janet Reed…who will probably never know the debt I owe her). I signed up, flew to Denver and hoped the “cool kids” would let me play. (Yes, even after four conferences, I still get butterflies every time.)
Not only was the conference fantastic, the people were some of the best and friendliest I’ve met in the writing sphere. In fact, they were unique in my experience. The RMFW members didn’t stick to themselves. They made a real effort to include even first-timers like me. Within a day, I felt like part of the group, and I made friends who stayed with me long after the conference ended, writers like Janet Lane, Piper Bayard and Tammy Salyer, whose blogs, tweets and support have helped to make this the most productive writing year I’ve had so far.
Conferences like RMFW’s Colorado Gold gave me the strength to find a peer editor, beta readers, writing friends and the other people I needed to learn and grow as a writer. I owe them more than I can say, and appreciate their friendship even more than that.
They are not just friends, they are my tribe, and every writer needs one.
Have you found yours? If not, screw up your courage and start looking. If you don’t know where to start, come find me in Denver this September. I’m going back and the rest of the tribe is, too. We’ll save you a spot. Come join us.