Conference Recap, Big Questions

Before we get started, here’s a link to a recent post I wrote for my friend and DIY MFA co-staffer Sara Letourneau, entitled Why Creativity Is Essential For All Genres.  I highly recommend subscribing to Sara’s blog! She does an amazing job of pulling back the veil on her fiction-writing process, giving her readers tips for their own writing as well as glimpses into her current manuscript. Her posts are beautifully structured and always insightful.

This past weekend, I attended Hippocamp, a conference for creative nonfiction writing, in Lancaster, PA. It was a hard decision to forgo the Writer’s Digest Conference in favor of Hippocamp, especially since I’ve had great experiences there for the past two years. (Both conferences were the same weekend.) Here are a few reasons I chose Hippocamp:

  1. I wanted to try something different. WDC is great, but two years there gave me a representation of what they offer and their perspectives on writing, editing and publishing. I was excited to go somewhere with a fresh perspective, and maybe learn something new.
  2. I liked the idea of a smaller conference. Hippocamp is less than half the size of WDC (so far… it’s only two years old, and has grown much since last year).
  3. I wanted to network with people who were writing nonfiction. WDC is for all genres, but it definitely skews toward fiction.
  4. Personal comfort. This last reason is completely unrelated to writing… but I’m currently eight months pregnant, and I preferred traveling by car over train, and the reduced amount of walking that a smaller conference provides. Also, Lancaster, PA just happens to be only 15 minutes from where my family always stays in Amish country, so we were able to plan a short vacation there immediately following the conference.

I’ll be writing two conference recaps for DIY MFA (most of the DIY MFA staffers were at WDC) and sharing those links here in a couple of weeks, so I’m not going to go into too much detail about Hippocamp. I’ll just say that I learned a lot, and I’m glad I went!

But I do have a few big questions I want to explore here today. Any deep dive into a subject is going to prompt some soul-searching, and I left the conference with some confusion to go along with my newfound clarity.

How can I be more realistic with my goals and time?

It goes without saying that I love to write. I LOVE to write. I am inspired to write ALL OF THE THINGS. In the past few months, I have felt the urge to write in the following forms/genres: historical novel, short stories, magazine articles, blog posts, guest posts, flash fiction, a YA novel, a contemporary novel, and personal essays. For some of these forms, I’ve had multiple ideas I want to pursue.

That’s too many things. This summer, I think I’ve done a good job of keeping the focus on Blizzard and The Creativity Perspective. But my available time, along with my available energy, is about to get tighter. The school year starts in three weeks, and while I won’t be working for long, the event that stops my work will be a newborn baby. It’s forcing me to rethink my priorities and time management. I need to make SMART goals, but I keep getting stuck on the “R.” It’s hard for me to be realistic when I so badly want to do all of the things!

What kind of writer do I want to be? 

I want to write both fiction and nonfiction. But how much of each? And what kinds of nonfiction? I’ve narrowed down my fiction-writing to historical novels told from multiple perspectives, and short stories. But the nonfiction world still calls to me, and I have to decide on a strategy there.

And it’s possible that I’ll need to acknowledge that I can’t do both right now. I’m not looking forward to accepting that fact.

What is my stretch goal? 

I’ve always had big dreams. But I’ve never said them aloud or written them down. One of the speakers at Hippocamp encouraged me to do this. Stretch goals are very big, almost impossible-sounding goals. They’re exciting, but also scary, because you know you don’t yet have the resources to achieve them; they’re further down the path than you can see. But it’s useful to write them down. Where do I want to be in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? How do I align those stretch goals with what I want for my family and our financial security?

Big thoughts for a post-conference week!

What about you? Have you always known what you wanted to write, or did you struggle with your sense of direction? Do your passion and ideas sometimes override your realistic thinking? 

2 Responses to “Conference Recap, Big Questions”

  1. Sara L. says:

    I’m so happy to hear you had a great time at Hippocamp, Leanne! Can’t wait to read all about it in your upcoming articles.

    I just got home from WDC yesterday… and I think I must be experiencing “travel hangover” or “conference hangover” today, because I’m utterly EXHAUSTED. But it was an amazing time once again, and returned with a few more takeaways than I hadn’t last year. (Unfortunately I won’t cover it for DIY MFA this year; between getting ready for being a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding and other offline things, I just don’t have time to do anything extra blogging-wise right now.)

    Funny you mentioned getting stuck on the R part of SMART goals. It’s hard sometimes to keep yourself grounded when you have so many ideas you want to pursue, isn’t it? I’ve had to force myself to be more realistic about blogging this year, and take on fewer extra projects because I no longer have the time I used to. Plus, some readers at my blog have suggested that I should create an e-book for my Character Evolution Files series. It’s a great idea, but I’d have to take time away from my novel to do it – and that’s not a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

    Lastly, thank you again for your recent guest post! 🙂 And you inspire me as well.

    • Leanne Sowul says:

      “Conference hangover-” I love it! I felt like I got some extra downtime at this conference, so I did a lot of reflecting during the weekend, and that was helpful.

      It is a constant frustration to me that I can’t make my schedule fit everything that I want to do. I feel like I’m bursting with ideas that I end up needing to set aside or reprioritize. Maybe I should come up with a sort of mourning system for each idea that won’t get pursued.

      I admire you for being better at the “R” than I am- for knowing EXACTLY what you want to focus on. I’m hovering around the “exactly,” but I still feel called to do other things. I keep reminding myself that writing is a lifetime career, and I’m still at the beginning, but there’s always that desire for right here, right now.


  1. Writing Life Update: Submit, Edit, Focus:: Leanne Sowul, Writer - […] summer was to submit more of my work to literary magazines. And, thanks to a couple of workshops at…

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