I delayed writing about my experience at the November 2009 La Jolla Writers Conference until audio of one of my classes/lectures was available (see below). The annual conference is held at the Paradise Point Resort & Spa, just north of San Diego in a weirdly Pacific Island-ish location you’d never guess was there.
Conference teachers and speakers donate their time and expertise. To be honest, when I discovered this I was a bit put off — everybody wants something for nothing, and everybody thinks you should be delighted to freely lend the time and talent that pay your rent in exchange for some nebulous and unsubstantiated notion of “exposure” (see 3/4 of the services ads on craigslist, for example). My usual response to this sort of thing is to say, Tell you what, you come to my house and mow my lawn for free, and I’ll tell everyone how good you are. Feel free to bring busines cards. But I had a novel coming out and was in PR mode, and it had been a while since I had taught and I wanted to jump back in.
I’m delighted to report that I had a terrific time at the LJWC. It was well-organized and offered a curriculum beyond the usual “how do I break in?” fare. Teachers were working professionals who seemed to know their stuff, and were quite dedicated to the tasks at hand. Conference staff were wonderfully accommodating, even redirecting a scheduled class to another room when a class I was teaching (audio below) went over time but wanted to keep going. I have grown skeptical of events and publications purporting to help beginners but whose stock in trade is really a kind of carrot-dangling before a hungry constituency. Such was clearly not the case at LJWC; it was apparent that revenue taken in for the conference went straight into the conference itself, and into organizing the next conference.
But I was most impressed by the students themselves. These weren’t people who thought it would be cool to be a writer, or who treated it as a hobby. These people were dedicated to career and craft. They knew their stuff, and they were demanding and challenging. As a teacher and lecturer I was in heaven; it meant I didn’t have to keep everything basic , that I could run with ideas and build high from a solid foundation.
So I can heartily recommend the La Jolla Writers Conference to all. What they do is a Good Thing, and they are amazingly devoted to it and professional in their delivery (though they better have coffee available to teachers in the morning next year or I will initiate a friggin coup). LJWC will remain the only conference to which I will donate my time as a teacher. Homey gotta eat, ya know.
Besides teaching classes on craft and technique, I was the New Media maven at the conference. For years now I have been steeped in podcasting, and the digital media revolution in which we are now well immersed has reshaped my thinking about everything from intellectual property to business models to the form of the book itself, and I have been on something of a crusade to make writers aware of what’s coming — what is, in fact, now here. My delight in discovering, only a few years ago, that there was an entire movement and literature already devoted to these subjects (collectively called, for purposes of conversation, “copyleft”), and that it was remarkably congruent with my own thinking and presentations, was pretty dang intense. Forward-thinking individuals such as Cory Doctorow, Lawrence Lessig, Chris Anderson, Clay Shirky, and others, have been tirelessly working not just to describe the emerging landscape, but to shape it.
What astonishes me about the class lecture below, ostensibly on “New Media Alternatives to Traditional Publishing,” was the degree to which the publishing landscape has shifted toward what I describe since I taught this session only last November. Throughout the talk I keep insisting on the fundamental level of change that writers, readers, and publishers are going to see within the next two years at most. Reviewing the audio before putting it online, it was a little freaky to realize that a great deal of what I insisted is coming showed up on the horizon in only three months.
Though I have spoken extensively about these topics in recent years — at Barcamps, podcasting conventions, science fiction conventions, writing workshops, and the like — I have actually written very little about them. I’m not really sure why that is. Maybe because people who ask me to come talk somewhere are listening even if they disagree, whereas lengthy blog posts (such as this one!) are just another squawking bird on the digital beach. I dunno.
In any case, below is the 98-minute session. It covers a lot of ground, and it becomes one of the best sessions I’ve ever conducted. Many thanks to Jared Kuritz of LJWC for making this available.