Intangibles

- by Eileen Dreyer

Question. Why is it so hard to quantify what you get out of a conference? Because the most important thing you carry home with you is not the notes you took or the recording you bought of all the speakers you missed. It isn’t even the appointment you might have had with a new editor, even if it leads to that fat contract.

The most important thing you bring away from the conference is intangible. It’s a feeling, a buzz, the swell of a wave inside your chest. It’s that fizzy rush you get when you think anything is possible.

It might not last long. After all, the minute you walk back into your house, all the excitement of the past few days is swamped by kids and dogs and bills and carpool. You go from arguing the merits of ebooks over print to fighting with the trash haulers over regulations for recyclables. You’ll try to explain to your significant other why it was so important for you to go and exhausting to survive, and not be able to fully communicate either.Because as much as your significant other loves you, he or she won’t really understand how amazing it was to sit up in a bar or a hotel room until two in the morning brainstorming or sitting on the floor at the back of a packed room listening to Linda Howard talk about craft, or Nora Roberts tell you how hard you have to work.

Our loved ones don’t understand that Kindles can incite arguments akin to religious debate, or that a good class on first sentences can seem to save your career. They don’t feel that curious connection to every other person at that conference that at once comforts and energizes us.
There is something magic about being sequestered in a hotel with hundreds of other writers. The very air becomes charged, ideas and impressions and words swirling like ions in an atom smasher. Creativity is ingested like crack and disgorged like the spill from a damn. I don’t know about anybody else, but I swear my brain expands.

I felt it again at RWA. I swore I was going to hide in my room the whole time and write. Instead, I went from place to place listening, talking, listening, talking, talking (okay, everyone who knows me. I know. Not a huge stretch). By the time I got on the plane to go home, I couldn’t wait to disappear into my office to finish the book I was working on. I couldn’t wait to start the next one that had come to me while talking in a bar about somebody else’s experiences.

Here’s the thing. It’s our job to figure out how to bottle up that fizz in a safe place so it won’t get lost in the laundry. It’s not enough to experience the amazing energy that fuels every minute of a conference. We have to nurture the excitement, the awe, the delicious anticipation that sees us through the sleepless nights and manic days together. We have to keep the words whirling around in our heads and remember that we not only have permission to daydream, we have an obligation.

I’m really sad that I can’t make the Ninc conference this year. I can’t think of a better place to bring my bottle, or jar or Tupperware, to catch that wonderful synergy like fireflies on a summer’s evening. I can’t think of a safer place to share my insecurities and bolster my resolve. I can’t think of a more efficient incubator for that intangible something that keeps us going the rest of the year. So catch some for me. And hold carefully onto it for those days when nobody else gets what you do. Because the fluttering lights in your jar will remind you that somebody does. And they feel the same way.

6 comments

  1. What you say is so true, Eileen. The rush is as important and as beneficial as the information. Maybe the info is for the brain and the buzz is for the soul?

    Sounds like there’s a book in it: Fireflies for the Writer’s Soul.

  2. Marianna, ooh, I like it.

  3. Great post, Eileen. Thanks.

  4. Marvelous post! You capture exactly the way a conference makes me feel: all fizzy with excitement and creativity. Now I have to go find my Tupperware and catch the feeling you just conjured up for me.

  5. I am with you! I wish we could bottle that fizz. I attended a conference last week (it was awesome) Midwest Writers Conference–if you ever get the chance, go!

    But while I was there, I couldn’t help wondering if I would be able to maintain the momentum I need to finish the work.

    One of the presenters gave us this advice: “Cherish forward motion. Accomplish a series of smaller tasks.”

    I thought that was great advice. On days when we just can’t churn out 1,000 wds, we can do at least one or two small tasks related to writing that will keep us moving forward until we can spend time at the keyboard tomorrow.

  6. Fizz is it! Great metaphor, Eileen (or is it truly a simile)? I’m sorry to miss Ninc this year, especially after seeing Al Zuckerman’s involvement. But hopefully the fizz from RWA will carry to the Women’s Fiction Festival in Italy, and then carry me until Ninc 2011. Thanks for your thoughts.