On Wednesday of this week, a good friend posted on Facebook about dreaming big. She wrote a great status update about her father's influence on her life and how we often forget that their big dreams for us used to be ours too, and how important it is to continue reaching.
As I read the update, I was on an Amtrak train from New York City to Boston, where I am now, for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference. I couldn't help but think about my own big dreams and the reality of the week I am experiencing right now.
I flew in to New York on Tuesday to meet with my agent and her assistant for lunch. I met them at Writers House and beyond the initial giddiness of meeting them in person, I was also quickly impressed with the calibre of agents within the walls of Writers House. I didn't have to remind myself to be incredibly thankful that my agent 1) actually read my query, 2) actually requested a full manuscript, 3) actually read said manuscript, 4) called me before she even finished reading it to offer representation, and 5) stood by me and became my biggest fan while I took on a year's worth of revisions that became an actual rewrite.
I couldn't help but be struck by my own paralysis--not that long ago--at the thought of sending a query letter to an actual agent. What if I had never sent her the letter? After all, I'd had so many fears! That 1) she was out of my league, 2) my manuscript really sucked, after all, and 3) I was faking it and had no idea what I was doing. I was reminded again to continue dreaming big.
After another meeting Tuesday night with the freelance editor who prompted me to rewrite the novel, I settled in for the night in a trendy boutique hotel in New York's Flower District. The next morning, I headed for Boston.
Heading for Boston by myself on a train wasn't something I'd ever envisioned myself doing. Yet this conference, I'd heard, would be swarming with novelists and agents and editors, as well as educators and poets and writers like me--a person with a manuscript under her arm who's dreaming big. And it has been absolutely that--there are 12,000 writers here. Over 720 vendors and booths on two spacious showroom floors. There are Pulitzer Prize-winning poets presenting, and authors like Alice Hoffman and Don Delillo and Cheryl Strayed are wandering the halls with the rest of us.
For a writer, this conference is Literary FanGirl Heaven. And although I've seen lots of famous writers, I haven't actually met any. I'm wandering like the newbie that I am--wishing I'd taken my writing seriously when I was twenty instead of forty, wishing I'd gotten that MFA, wishing I was somehow up to the challenge of being a real writer. And then I realized that without dreaming big, I wouldn't even be where I am at this very moment. I wouldn't have gotten on a plane by myself to New York, or taken a train to Boston. Truthfully? I wouldn't have finished the manuscript, either--because that in itself was beyond my reach a few years ago.
Yet here I am. If I look up from my computer screen, I am surrounded by writers. Some look no older than teenagers, and some are clearly well-into their 80s (like last night's keynote speaker, poet Derek Wallcott, who is 83 and incredible.) And even though I've not met anyone famous, nor have I hobnobbed with the next big thing, I know one thing for sure. I'm surrounded by people who take their words seriously enough to show up and engage with other writers. And collectively, we're all somehow following our dreams--whether it's to teach a college class, or write a poem or a novel, or to pursue an MFA.
And it's a good place to be.