I lived ten miles away from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference for ten years, and for ten years I did not go. I knew it was there. I knew it was one of the-- if not the-- best writers conferences in the world. And I knew I could not find the courage to go.
I was completely intimidated.
Surely writers conferences were for real writers, not for me. The SBWC had to be for those who were already published or who were marching relentlessly toward that august state.
I was a total idiot. I was also afraid.
Criticism sucks. Let me refine: receiving criticism sucks. Here's what I did: I did not expose myself to criticism until I knew I (and my writing) could survive it. Nothing terribly wrong with that, until you think of the time lost. Ten years. With a bit of good criticism, it might have taken me five years to cover the same ground.
What happened when I finally dragged my cowardly carcass to the SBWC? Well, I entered their 1,000 word contest with a vignette that began "Candy Sakaida was a good kid." That sentence, and those thousand words, now begin my novel.
These days, I'm better known for giving than for getting criticism at the SBWC, and I've discovered that that is difficult, too. It's tough to leave yourself out of it. It doesn't matter if I like what I'm hearing, in terms of genre or whatever. It's not about what I want; it's about what the writer wants. And that's difficult to remember. I'm as opinionated as the next writer.
Before every session, I write W.O.E. at the top of the page. That stands for without ego. A reminder that does not always work, but I try. Every year I try.
Cheers to those writers smart and brave enough to get to a good conference earlier in their careers.