Utopia : a place (as a region, island, country, or locality) that is imaginary and indefinitely remote
: a place, state, or condition of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions
“I went to Utopia.” Every time I say that to someone, I feel a little crazy. But I really did! It’s in Nashville. No really, it is! Utopia Con is a writer/reader/fan con that I stumbled across thanks to one of my favorite clients. She went a couple of years ago and it looked like she had so much fun that I decided I wanted to go. Conferences, as you may well be aware, are a great way to network, to expand your knowledge of the craft and business of writing, and to be inspired.
Utopia is unique because the emphasis is on indie writers and independent presses. It’s an amazing network, support group, and cheerleading squad of people who have story magic in their hearts and who are eager to share that story magic with their readers. What I hoped and was utterly thrilled to discover while I was there: These people are my tribe.
The first year I went to the conference, I had a life-altering experience. I arrived as my professional freelance editor self, eager to meet potential clients and see what others were up to in the world of story-making. I left inspired, no ignited by the knowledge that yes, I was in fact a writer, that I could share my stories with the world and that people out there would not only read them, but would actually enjoy them and care about the characters I had created. I had stuffed that dream years ago out of fear of failure. My experience at Utopia encouraged me to reach back out and embrace my dream again.
Almost immediately after the conference I met the character of my new novel, Chasing the Wind. When I say met, I don’t mean in the flesh (but oh man that would be amazing). I mean the idea, the character, Trea came and tapped me on the metaphorical shoulder and told me I had to share her story with the world. Sound crazy? It’s absolutely what happened. During Utopia, I had opened my mind and my heart to the possibility that I was a writer, and—because I’d made space for it—the story literally fell into my lap. So I started writing. I finished that novel at the end of July, just over a year later.
This year, attending for the second time, was a completely different experience. I knew who I was, and more importantly, other people knew me. So when I arrived at the airport in Nashville, actually, I was greeted as a friend—with joy and hugs and laughter—by people who I had met the previous year. That feeling, being embraced and drawn in by people who I had grown to admire and adore, is what makes Utopia such a unique experience for me. The first year I went, I had been unsure who I was or what I wanted out of the conference, and I found inspiration. The second year I found visibility and identity. People knew who I was, didn’t let me hide, held space for me, and encouraged my creative process. It was incredible all over again.
Between Utopia 2015 and 2016, there are 5 things that stand out to me, lessons I learned about myself as a writer, an editor, and a reader. I want to share them with you and encourage you to find your tribe and to find your creative inspiration, too.
1) Writing friends are the best kind of friends.
I always knew this was true. But having made a few hundred more of them since my first Utopia, I find that my writer friends are the truest kinds of friends. They hear the voices, like me. They feel the drive to create something, like me. They understand the pain and self-loathing because they feel it too. And they can show you the way through to the other side. They encourage you when you’re feeling low. They celebrate with you when you’re on a winning streak. And they’re perfectly content to do all these things, to embrace life with you from behind a computer screen.
2) You are who you are.
Are you a writer? Are you a reader? Are you an editor? A designer? Who do you want to be? Then go be it. When you’re the best, most authentic version of yourself, you have nothing left to hide. You can do what you want, say what you need to, go where you have to, and if you never get it accomplished, you’ll still be whole and complete.
3) No one does “it” any better than anyone else
If you think that someone else is doing this writing thing better than you, that they’ve got a secret formula for success and they’re not giving you the recipe, you’re wrong. People are at all different stages of the journey to publishing and it’s no use comparing your beginning with someone else’s middle. Once you can accept this, you can learn so much from others who have gone before you. And you can figure out what works for you and go do that with abandon.
4) Anything scary that you want to attempt is better when you do it with friends
The thought of sharing my own stories with people who are complete strangers terrified me for the longest time. What if no one liked Trea or the story I wanted to tell about her? After Utopia, I saw an open invitation for people to join the Debut Collective, a group dedicated to giving unpublished authors a place to become published. I volunteered my editing services for their anthology project, initially, and was eventually asked if I wanted to write a story for one of the anthologies. I panicked, and then realized that there were plenty of other people who were also submitting stories for the first time. So I brushed up my nerve and submitted my story. Commiserating with friends helped me find the courage to take the leap and share my writing with others.
5) If you want to write, go do it
As I’ve said, Utopia is a mostly indie conference. When I saw all of those writers with their novels, selling books and interacting with readers, I knew that the dream is within our grasp. There’s no one that can stand between you and a published book these days. If you have a story burning in your heart, bursting from your fingertips, you can tell it. So go. Be a writer. You may not be a bestseller right away, but you’ll get better, you’ll learn faster, by doing.
I think that last point I learned is the most important. It’s not the impossible dream anymore. Being a writer, a novelist, a memoirist, whoever you want to be–it’s within your grasp. That’s not to say that it’ll be easy, that you won’t fail, or that you can do it alone.
But you have to get started. Get inspired. Go find your tribe.
Elisabeth Kauffman is a freelance editor in California. Her favorite genres are YA fantasy, sci-fi, and romance. She regularly obsesses over board games, Doctor Who, and Harry Potter. Come share your ideas with her on Facebook and Twitter and on the web at www.writingrefinery.com. Also, check out her author website:www.elisabethkauffman.com and her author page on Facebook.