The Ontario Writers’ Conference: Five Years and Counting…

Writers are some of the bravest people I know.

I don’t personally know any soldiers – or policemen. I’ve known a few firefighters and they are brave, running into a burning building while everyone else is running out. But they don’t do what they do alone.

Writers do.

We face that blank page or computer screen every day alone. We pour our insides out onto that clean surface – in the hope – with the dream that it’s good. Usually enduring our worst critic – ourselves – sitting on our shoulders, heckling! We let those characters loose in our heads and record whatever mischief they get into. Sounds pretty crazy to most non-writers, I’m sure.

And it’s because writing is such a solitary act that we need the community of other writers. We need the support of those like-minded people:

  • to let us know that we’re not alone, too unusual or even crazy in this world;
  • to encourage or commiserate with during the ups and downs;
  • to secure feedback from;
  • to seek advice;
  • to simply visit with regularly over a cup of coffee and share our unique lifestyle with.

In 2006, my now co-chair, Sherry Hinman, then president of The Writers’ Community of Durham Region shyly, reluctantly told us of a dream she had: to hold a writers’ conference. Well, she might as well have been Mickey Rooney saying to Judy Garland, “let’s put on a show!”

The enthusiasm was immediate but the work to put on the 2008 Ontario Writers’ Conference took 18 months. That May,125 writers gathered at the Delta Toronto East Hotel for a full day of workshops, speakers, panels and general rubbing of elbows. And success!

But with every success, comes challenge. The Ontario Writers’ Conference could not function as an event or a side-project of a much bigger directive (the first OWC was a directive of The WCDR) and therefore it needed to be its own not-for-profit corporation.

Done!

As you may know, we are preparing for our fourth conference in five years. Five years! We took 18 months to plan the first one – and also granted ourselves 18 months to plan our first solo venture in 2010, and then went annual – 2011, 2012, 2013…

The structure of our day has remained the same – workshops, speakers, panels or plenaries. Lots of time for connecting and mingling or shopping for books. In 2010, we started blue pencil mentoring sessions with editors and this year we’re starting pitch sessions with agents.

Again, it’s amazing how a group of volunteers with that “fire” to give back can accomplish so much. And make no mistake, it’s an amazing group of volunteers.

Our latest challenge is the change in federal and provincial not-for-profit legislation; by October 2013, we have to – properly – rephrase our paperwork.

Just when you think things are templated or routine, there’s a curve.

I say, RIDE IT!

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