I had the good fortune to attend the Writer Unboxed Unconference in Salem, Massachusetts, last week.
WriterUnboxed.com is one of my favorite writing websites, and I think I’ve mentioned it here a time or two. WU offers daily posts on a variety of writing topics, and its 50+ contributors have a wealth of knowledge to offer the writing community. I tend to bookmark several of the regular contributors in my Pocket account to re-read later. (I also frequently Pocket posts from Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog.)
I’ve taken a number of writing classes online and in-person. While I don’t have an MFA in creative writing, I’ve had a range of middling-to-good writing experiences in the classes I’ve taken. Some had terrific writing instructors but only so-so dynamics among the students. Others had a great blend of teacher and student dynamics, and I’m always grateful when that alchemy works.
I’d heard a buzz that the Unconference was an incredible experience. Some writers said it was more valuable than their MFAs and/or any other writing classes they’d taken.
Let me say that the experience surpassed the hype.
I came away from the Unconference with pages and pages of my notebook filled with insightful questions to ask while worldbuilding. I also came away with pages and pages of character sketches and questions to think about when creating my characters that I cannot wait to explore.
The other writers at Uncon made me feel welcome from the start. I didn’t get a sense of “We’ve been here before and we’re going to keep newbies at the perimeter of the group.” Instead, newcomers were introduced around and invited to meals and excursions. (I’ll admit I didn’t take advantage of that much because Jen traveled with me, and I wanted to have meals and spend evenings exploring Salem with her.)
In the sessions, experienced, published writers were willing to share the struggles they were currently having with their works-in-progress. That willingness to be vulnerable and admit to struggling made the Uncon have a feeling of camaraderie and openness that I haven’t experienced in any other writing setting.
If newcomers had questions or offered suggestions, their remarks were given the same consideration as remarks by the experienced, published WU contributors received. If a session leader didn’t have a suggestion to offer, they admitted it and asked the group if anyone else had insights.
It was truly a space where writers of all abilities and experience met as equals to talk about writing as a craft and discuss our struggles with finding a work-writing-family balance. Successes were celebrated. Struggles were listened to with empathy.
I cannot wait for the next UnCon in 2021.