Last weekend I attended Hippocamp, a conference for nonfiction writers put on by Hippocampus Magazine in Lancaster, PA. This was my second year, and I was happy to return. I’m learning there are several reasons to attend a conference or a retreat or even take a class. Writing can be a solitary activity, hence the reason I’m sitting in an overcrowded, overpriced for a cup of tea, coffee shop in Saratoga, NY at the peak of horse racing season. One, I don’t have a coffee shop where I live, and two the noise is not distracting, it’s comforting. There are so many voices that they meld into a single white noise. When I’m home, and I need to focus, I turn on the app Noisily, which I learned about at Hippocamp last year, and one of the options is the sound of a busy coffee shop. It’s buzzy and energetic, I get why they have it as an option. But along with the sound, people are amazing to watch. I’m sure that’s obvious and common knowledge. So often we’re writing about people, and they are the ones we need to capture. No one relates to a character who isn’t human at its core. It’s why we love an anti-hero and a flawed mess, but root against perfection. People watching is exactly what we need.
Along with watching people, we need to interact with them: not everyone, that would be my worst nightmare, but at least a few. I’ve been listening to writers talk about their lack of social skills, discomfort with interaction, and introvertedness all summer. I can relate. It’s why there is the terrible cliché of the drunk writer? Since I’m not a good drinker, I’ve had to work on my social skills while sober. Not only because it can be lonely talking only to a screen, but how else will I learn? Talking to other writers has helped me open my world to possibilities. Other writers who have found success, found failure, been there, tried that, loved it, hated it, wouldn’t go back, would do it again, warn you to stay away from that guy in the plaid shirt over there. They are willing to help each other out.
This year at Hippocamp I knew a few people from last year, I met up with two of the people from my workshop in Lisbon (it was fun to see them surrounded by English instead of Portuguese, it made it more real), I met in person an Instagram friend I’ve had for two years. I had the chance to thank a few fellow writers whose advice changed my life over the past year. I got to tell them to their face what an impact those small interactions, they may not even remember, meant to me. By taking the step out into the vast world and opening myself up to other people and experiences after my world being so tiny due to a long-term illness and their willingness to welcome me is making all the hard work of writing worth it.