This past weekend, I attended the tenth annual Berries, Bridges and Books Writers Conference, put on by the Creative Minds Writers Group in Ponchatoula, La. It was a day full of encouragement, lessons learned and connections made. 

As I reflected on the speakers and conversations, I finally narrowed my experience down to five lessons from a writing conference. 

Lesson One: I am not alone. 

It’s true that writing can be a solitary, often lonely profession. However, thanks to how the internet has shrunk our world, most writers have global connections. Even with that, we do still crave that inperson connection with others who share our struggles and goals. This is where a conference or course or group or festival helps immensely. Standing face to face and sharing with fellow writers fuels both our creativity tanks and our encouragement tanks. It is through this contact that we also see ourselves in others.

Every writer—from the best-selling one on all the popular lists to those selling to diehard fans in his own community—starts with a blank slate. No one knows us. Our words haven’t touched anyone yet. We haven’t pitched ourselves to agents, publishers or readers. We all begin with our imaginations and a drive to create. 

As we push forward with something we have created and begin the process of pitching ourselves, sharing our words and making ourselves known, it’s terrifying. The comforting aspect of that is we are not alone. Every writer had to press through that fear. As I listened to the speakers, I was reminded of something through their candid stories. Each one of them was once unknown, but each one boldly believed in their stories enough to share them. 

Lesson Two: The days are long, but the years are short. 

Though none of the speakers said it exactly this way, they each put in their dues in the writing world. They worked hard. They had starts and stops. I would venture to guess each one of them had moments in their early days when they wondered if they’d ever make it. 

It reminded me of a common saying amongst moms of young children. “The days are long, but the years are short.” While you’re in the drudgery of changing diapers and keeping up with frequent feedings and potty training and temper tantrums and each new challenge that children present as they grow, those days are impossibly long. They frequently feel unending. However, when you have a moment to breath and reflect, you suddenly realize you’re a decade in and you have fewer years ahead before they’ll be moving out on their own. 

A writer’s journey is similar. Those days when thirty measly words were hard-fought for or we had to rewrite chapter three completely for the tenth time or we embarked on yet another round of revisions feel just as unending. We watch writer friends reach The End before we do or land an agent or a publishing contract or publish three of their own books before we’ve finished our first. Those days feel like eons, and we feel as though we’ve fallen into one of our fantasy worlds where time doesn’t work like it does in the real world. 

The thing is, though, each of those speakers persisted. They kept going. They trudged through even the longest days and now they see how much they accomplished over a few short years. The key lies in their persistence, their belief in their words, their hard work and the fact that each of them were ready when opportunities came their way. 

Lesson Three: We all have something to share and something to learn. 

In conversations throughout the day, I learned something from each person. Through some of those same conversations, I found more of my own voice and put some substance to the bones of what I’ve already started to share with others. As a result, I have a clearer vision for some projects I’ve got planned for the coming year. 

It is such a rewarding experience to be part of a community where every member has something to contribute, and we’re stronger when we share with one another. 

Lesson Four: The publishing world is small, and the way we present ourselves follows us. 

Throughout the whole day, only one brief interaction I had was not entirely positive. That one-minute conversation reminded me that the publishing world is really a tiny place these days. In that moment I heard bitterness toward a beacon in our literary community, and it made me decide that was a person I didn’t care to support in the future. I made an inner recommitment as I listened to always be professional and positive and kind. 

As many of us learned from a young age: if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. That one moment we let ourselves speak ill of others or be anything but approachable and kind, we have lost a connection in the community. Perhaps that connection is a tiny voice at that moment, but who knows where their future lies. 

Lesson Five: The Writing Community is an encouraging, giving, caring group. 

That interaction was a mere blip on an incredibly positive day, though. The Writing Community continues to be one of the most positive and encouraging groups I’ve ever been part of. Nine times out of ten, writers go above and beyond to help one another and cheer one another on. Most writers are humble enough to admit we don’t know everything and can always learn something. And, because of that, we often realize the person we can learn from is sitting right next to us. 

What about you? Have you had a chance to attend a writing conference? What lessons did you learn? Was it a positive experience?

If you’re a reader, what interactions have you had with authors? Have you ever attended a book signing or chat with an author? Was it a positive experience? Did you find that person approachable and kind?

If you’re a writer and you’ve never been to a conference or something similar, I encourage you to put the Berries, Bridges & Books Conference on your list for next summer. If you live too far away, find a similar event in your area and make a plan to attend!