Do you know that moment when you walk into a room and immediately know that you belong there? This is exactly how I felt when I walked into HippoCamp 2021 for the first time earlier this month. But before I get into that, let me tell you how I got there.
Several years ago, I spent a Saturday at Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia at a career day for writers, artists, and other creative types. This event was where I first heard Hippocampus Magazine founder, Donna Talarico, speak about creative nonfiction (CNF) as a writing genre. Her 45-minute workshop was a breath of fresh air to me because I wasn’t sure where my voice fit at that point in my writing career. I have this little-known blog of slice-of-life pieces about my kids, book reviews, and strong opinions about Dunkin Donuts over Starbucks coffee. Most posts are light-hearted, but sometimes I share more personal stories like my struggle with depression and anxiety. My audience is small but strong, and my parents are my biggest fans. I’m proud of this blog, but I want more.
Sitting at Career Day, I looked for my nonfiction cohort, but I didn’t find too many of them there. However, Donna told us about a magical conference where memoirs, personal essays, flash nonfiction, and other great works are born, nourished, and celebrated. I can’t tell you why it took me so long to find my way to HippoCamp 2021, but I felt right at home once I arrived.
Wanting to make the most of my conference experience, I relied upon Donna’s article in Brevity: “How to Make the Most of a Multi-day Writing Conference” as my guide. Here are some of my wonderful experiences, thanks partly to the advice I took from her piece.
Get Outside of My Comfort Zone
When I walked into the workshop entitled “Survival Handbooks for Creative Writers,” the first thing I saw was a table of scrapbooking supplies. There were books of stickers for every kind of interest, hobby, or emoji that speaks to me. And then, I saw glue and scissors and colored pencils and markers and started to sweat. You see, I once left a Creative Memories scrapbooking party in tears because art projects have always overwhelmed me.
But, I decided to put that behind me and jump in to make my own writing survival guide. I filled it with reminders of what makes me happy – my dog, family, and love language – words. I stepped out of my comfort zone and completed the task at hand. And while I didn’t share it with the group, I was proud of myself and brought home a lovely conference souvenir.
Participate in the Back Channel
I’ve attended many conferences before, but I’ve never seen anything like the community that forms on Twitter and Instagram before and after HippoCamp. The buildup to the big event gave me the confidence boost I needed. I didn’t know anyone on Friday, but I introduced myself anyway when we met in person. By the time I left on Sunday, I had said goodbye to people who felt like old friends. And now, I am still following them and meeting other attendees online. I’m learning so much from their wisdom and basking in their post-conference glow. I hope to get to know them better between now and next year.
Be Polite and Cordial
If I could boil down the conference vibe into one word, I’d have to say that HippoCamp was a super-friendly event. (If I add a hyphen, it still counts one word, right?)
Not only did I find writers like me here, but also people who went out of their way to be warm and welcoming. I would love to share a meal with or go out for a girls’ night with any of them. Heck, I’d share an Airbnb, and that is something I do not say about some of my closest friends. My heart dropped when we had to cut conversations short because the next workshop was starting. I looked forward to meals because I was met with a smile and found intelligent and engaging discussions there no matter where I sat.
My One Takeaway
I came away with many ideas and action items that I almost don’t know where to start. Thankfully, at the end of the conference, Donna shared some of her wisdom. She asked us to think of one thing to focus on first. This “thing” is different for everyone, and I hope my fellow attendees will share their takeaways soon.
Here is mine: I went to HippoCamp with a book idea and left with a clear vision for how I will tell my story. This is exactly what I wanted from my conference experience, and boy did it deliver!
Thank you to all of the conference organizers and attendees for an amazing writing experience! I can’t wait to see you next year at HippoCamp 2022! In Judaism, when we don’t want to say goodbye – we say L’hitraot, which means until we meet again.