Guest Post by Dennis Gaunt
Dennis Gaunt has been working in the publishing world as a manuscript evaluator for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain publishers since 2000. He loves reading and writing, and is a published author in the LDS market, with two books (and counting), as well as several magazine articles, both in print and online. He studied English and History at the University of Utah and BYU-Idaho, just to make sure he annoyed as many people as possible. He enjoys photography, crossword puzzles, playing the guitar, MST3K, and binge watching old TV series with his wife, Natalie. His favorite word is “Sesquipedalian.” He also hates onions.
Tribe. Noun. A community linked by social, religious, or blood ties, who share a common culture and dialect. A distinctive or close-knit group.
SEE ALSO: Family.
Recently, I was asked to emcee the annual LDStorymakers writing conference in Provo, Utah. It is the largest gathering of LDS authors I know of and attracts some of the very best and brightest in the LDS writing community from near and far. I have attended many such conferences over the years, and know many authors—including myself—who look forward to this conference with the same anticipation usually reserved for birthdays, anniversaries, or Christmas. It’s Comic Con (minus the cosplay), meets Disneyland (minus the five dollar churros), meets a family reunion (minus the angry uncle whose rants make everyone feel uncomfortable).
We Storymakers also refer to ourselves as a tribe.
This title that we have chosen may seem a little unusual on the surface. Writing is, after all, a very solitary endeavor, often taking place in rare quiet moments during the day, or in a corner of a darkened house after everyone else has gone to bed. The space between the writer and the story on the screen is intensely intimate. So much so, that we are often hesitant to invite anyone else in. Add to that the fact that many writers tend to skew towards the more introverted end of the social spectrum, and one may be left scratching one’s head as to why anyone would attend such a gathering as a writing conference in the first place.
One obvious reason, of course, is the teaching. Storymakers has a reputation for some of the highest quality instructors and speakers that can be found. Every aspect of the writing process, from getting ideas and plotting a story, to dialogue and characterization, to editing and revision, to navigating the tricky waters of the publishing world, is covered in detail. Some classes focused specifically on creating believable villains and monsters, while others explored diversity in characters. A medical doctor answered questions about diseases and wounds, and an expert on medieval weaponry brought his personal collection of armor, swords, and war hammers. There is literally something for everyone, and everything in between.
And yet, as stellar as the instruction is, I believe it is a close second to the main benefit of attending a writer’s conference: the people. Now, it is true that writers tend to be a little more introverted than others, and I get that. Believe me, I get it. Most of the time, I would much rather be by myself or in a very small group of close friends than in any large social situation. Large crowds generally make me feel uncomfortable, and my personal definition of Hell is being forced to make small talk with people I don’t know. And yet, when I walk into Storymakers, I feel like I’m coming home. I’m excited to see friends who I haven’t seen since the last conference, and I smile at the thought that I will inevitably make new friends this time around. So, what makes the difference for me?
As emcee this year, one of the first things I did in the opening session was to recognize those who were attending for the very first time. From my perspective at the podium, it appeared as though a third of the seven hundred and fifty attendees were first timers. Their presence brought a warm round of applause from the other attendees, and created a good feeling for the beginning of the conference.
As the applause died down, I acknowledged the new attendees’ potential anxiety at being in such a large group of people they had never met before. And then I told them five words that could potentially change their experience for the better. They were: “So, what do you write?” Those five words are the key to opening just about any door at a writer’s conference. Because while it is true that we have many successful published authors—some even on the New York Times’ bestselling list—we also have those who are just beginning to explore this idea of writing. I told the attendees that they could approach virtually anyone at the conference and ask, “So, what do you write?” and before they knew it, they’d be off in a conversation.
I heard those words being said all throughout the conference. As I walked the halls, I would see people meeting and talking, and new friendships being formed. I even experienced it myself. It’s part of the miracle, if you will, of going to a writer’s conference. Because at a writer’s conference such as Storymakers, we recognize that we’re all in this together. We recognize the value in associating with people who understand what you are going through. There is something wonderful in talking with someone you have never met before, and suddenly realizing they get you. Writing may be solitary in nature, but writer’s conferences prove that no one is truly alone in this process. One of the overarching messages that comes through loud and clear when attending a conference is that you are one of us. You’re part of the tribe. You’re part of the family.
Writer’s conferences also demonstrate that success is not a finite substance in this world. It is, in fact, a renewable resource which is available to all.
Writer’s conference attendees quickly come to learn that other writers are colleagues, not competitors. Jealousy dies a quick death at a writer’s conference, because we understand that another’s success is not being taken the expense of our own. When we hear that one of our own has been signed up by an agent, or had a manuscript request, or has signed their first publishing contract, we celebrate with them. That’s what tribes do. That’s what family does.
Now, if an LDS-centric writing conference doesn’t sound like it’s for you, no problem. There are plenty of conferences out there which offer the same opportunities for writers of all backgrounds and genres. Find a conference that appeals to you, and then do yourself a favor, and attend it. That feeling of community and belonging is available and waiting.
Whenever I come home from a writing conference, I feel my batteries have been recharged, and I jump back into my writing with a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm. The lessons I learned still resonate within me, as do the cherished memories of moments with friends both old and new. I see the smiling faces of my writing friends in my mind’s eye, I hear their words of encouragement in my ears, and feel their love and support in my heart. That feeling, more than anything, is what propels me to keep writing, and especially on those days when it seems like such a struggle to bang out one coherent sentence.
Such is the value of a tribe.
Such is the value of family.