I was pregnant with my younger son when I attended my first writers conference. My older son was twenty months old, and attending the conference meant spending several nights away from him for the very first time. I admit I was anxious about leaving my child—not that I had any doubts that my husband was up to the task. He couldn’t wait to enjoy a few days of male bonding with his little guy. In fact, he’d been the one to insist that I go.
I was already multi-published and under contract with two publishers when I made my writers conference debut. I’d begun writing romance novels before my first son was born. I’d dreamed of being a published novelist longer than I’d dreamed of being a mother, and I was not going to let his birth interfere with my dream. On the other hand, I was not going to be anything less than a perfect mother.
Thus, from the moment of his birth, I became skilled at juggling wife-mother-writer responsibilities. I wrote while he napped. I hired teenagers to play with him after they got home from school so I could write for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I wrote in the evenings after dinner, when my husband could take over the parenting. During the first year of my son’s life, I wrote eleven complete romance novels, of which I eventually sold eight.
I thought this was what “having it all” meant. I was happy. I was exhausted. I was very, very busy. But the books got written and my son thrived.
At that first writers’ conference I attended, however, there were no maternal duties. No toddler to chase after. No peanut-butter sandwiches to cut in zig-zags. No baths. No diapers. No lullabies to sing at bedtime. No walks to the neighborhood park, no pushes on the swing in the kiddie playground. No spills during dinner, no squirming and fussing in the high chair, no racing for the paper towels, the mop, or the Dust-Buster. I could actually sit throughout an entire meal with a napkin on my lap, and speak to my dining companions in complete sentences.
At the conference, I didn’t have to be anything but a writer. I could focus all my attention on writing. I could talk shop with other writers. I could discuss projects with my editors. I could think writing. No interruptions, no distractions, no multi-tasking. For those few precious days, even thought I was waddling around in maternity apparel and drinking milk instead of wine, I was a writer. A full-time, 100% writer.
I can’t count how many conferences I’ve attended since that first conference. My sons are men now. They can make their own peanut-butter sandwiches. I no longer have to write detailed instructions for my husband—“Guitar lesson at 3:30,” “Little League practice at Haskell Field,” “Sign the permission slip for the school trip.” I can head off to a conference without any stress.
And so I go. I learn things in the workshops. I frequently present workshops myself. I hang out with my writer friends. I brainstorm new projects, network with publishing professionals, share insights about marketing, celebrate creative achievements, sign books, and vent about the ups and downs of maintaining a long career in this crazy business. I drink—wine, not milk.
But the greatest pleasure of writers conferences for me remains the same as it was at that very first conference so many years ago: when I go to a writers’ conference, I am not a mom, a wife, a cook, a housekeeper, a chauffeur, a permission-slip signer, or a multi-tasker. I am nothing but a writer.