I’m a runner, when I’m not a writer. I’m not a fast runner. I think the words fly across my screen faster than my legs can propel me down the road. Nonetheless, I give it my all, and I am happier for it.
Now imagine this: I sign up for a race, train, buy new shoes, wash my socks and show up dutifully an hour before the race starts. It’s a marathon, by the way. While I’m eating my banana, I realize something’s wrong. Tall, lithe bodies in bikini-like running undies surround me, their muscles ripple like snakes bound in a sack. I’m quickly engulfed by creatures bearing 9% body fat. It clings dutifully and butter thin to their sleek skeletons, while my 25% behaves like a fluid ballast. I move left, it sloshes right, I go up, it falls down, I move forward, it drags along behind, like a sea anchor. There is definitely something wrong.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” blares the announcer. “Welcome to the 2019 Olympics. Today we will see top runners from around the world . . .”
“What the—? Why am I here? I can’t do this!” I shout. I try to claw my way out of the race lineup, but the 9%-picket-fence has me securely enclosed. The gun sounds. At first I’m carried along, enjoying the surge of energy and adrenaline, like first shots at a college party, then it turns ugly. I become a pregnant cow caught in a stampede of gazelles. One gazelle is no match for me—a well-placed kick and elbow to the jaw—but the herd? I’m soon overwhelmed, intimidated, and way out of my league.
Why am I having you imagine this? Because I can think of no better way to describe what spending three days amongst some of the Pacific Northwest’s finest writers felt like. Overwhelming, intimidating, and way out of my league, for now. The Chuckanut Writers Conference was inspiring and eye-opening and, yes, filled with gazelles. But, they didn’t glamourize their journeys. In fact, they were kind, gracious, and willing to share their hard-earned wisdom. Their paths were difficult—many blisters along the way— much like training for a marathon.
One brilliant writer—Kate Carroll de Gutes—told the story of her 30-year journey to create the perfect book. Another told the tale of how Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) received 120 rejection letters before his book was finally published. There were some lucky ones too: Laurie Frankel, who made the New York Times Best-Seller list for 3 of her 4 novels, for example, and, of course, one of my favorites, Terry Brooks. His incredible Shannara series now tops 30 volumes. Probably the biggest message that these amazing authors conveyed was that talent is wonderful (but not always necessary), and dedication is crucial, but luck reigns supreme.
Then there is the craft. Imagine me with my degrees in geology and education trying to write literary fiction—you know, that foo-fooey stuff that is rather boring but makes words sing (and I secretly love). I felt like a baby bird chirping for food. Hungry, eager, and a little desperate. If I could trade one of my degrees for time in the hands of a creative-writing guru . . .
The conference is over and, while it was wonderful, eye-opening, and filled with brutal realizations, I’m glad I went and happier for it. I may not be a particularly skilled writer, yet, but I feel that I now know that there is a lot I don’t know, and that’s a good thing. It’s a beginning, and, if I learned one thing, it’s that all good books need a good beginning.
Thanks for staying with me on my journey to become a writer. I promise, there will be a book someday. Maybe not as soon as I had hoped, but definitely someday. Apparently 30 years is not too long to wait.