Here I am with guest speaker Sara Shepard, author of the Pretty Little Liars books, at the 2015 Philadelphia Writers' Conference.
Here I am with guest speaker Sara Shepard, author of the Pretty Little Liars books, at the 2015 Philadelphia Writers' Conference.

Pretty Little Writers

I lifted the neon yellow program placed on top of my dinner plate and opened it up. My eyes quickly scanned the lines of text listed on the inside flap and then came to a screeching halt at something familiar. My name, boldfaced at the top of a list. Above it, a header: “2015 PWC Scholarships.”

My heart stopped.

The excitement escalated in my chest. My mind rushed ahead to next year and the thought of coming back to such an amazing conference.

Beside me, two diners poked at their salmon with the prongs of their forks, too busy talking to stop and eat properly or even notice my shock. It was the evening of the second day of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, an annual gathering where writers of all genres and ages come together for three days to participate in workshops and networking opportunities with peers and mentors. Thanks to a generous gesture on behalf of Arcadia University, I was attending this year’s conference on a scholarship. Was I really about to receive an award to attend next summer, too?

The diners beside me were two members of my newly formed writing group. About 10 of us had found ourselves in the same workshops every day and quickly started talking. Before long, we’d become colleagues. Under the guidance of our workshop leader, we’d started meeting in the lobby during every free moment in between lectures. We’d talk craft, look over each other’s work, and even help out with last minute editing for those of us who were ready to submit our pitches to literary agents. Then we’d look at the time on our phones and sprint off to our next workshop, desperate to soak up every word of wisdom our instructors had to offer.

Needless to say the past two days had been a whirlwind of activity.

We had been welcomed to the conference by guest speaker Sara Shepard, author of the Pretty Little Liars series, who told us all about her beginnings as an author. (Did you know she crashed a Christmas party to land her first book deal?)

Then came the schedule of workshops I’d signed up for based on their relevance to my writing interests: character creation, marketing young adult novels, and exploring the specifics of mystery and thriller. Many of the instructors taught their workshops in very interactive ways, which shocked me, but was a pleasant surprise. Not only did this open discussion structure allow me to meet my future writing groupmates, but it also gave me the opportunity to participate in some collective brainstorming activities and hear about my peers’ experiences with writing and their hopes for the future.

The swell of conversation around me in the dining room that second night only added to the sense of urgency I was feeling as I tried to process what I’d just read. As you can see, this conference is a huge opportunity for writers to network with others and develop their craft. After that heart-stopping first glance at my name in my dinner program, my heart began to soar at the thought of returning next year. What an honor! Two scholarships? I couldn’t believe it. Were they actually giving me another, to attend next summer’s conference?

No. It turns out they weren’t.

As I realized my mistake I felt my cheeks go hot as I sank down into my seat, a reaction which promoted a few concerned questions from the members of my writing group sitting beside me. In all my excitement, I had failed to notice the string of bolded names listed beneath mine. The list didn’t catalogue special award winners for next year, it simply provided the names of the students who, like me, were attending this year on behalf of their universities. The college was listed just below the student’s name, the attendees names were organized in alphabetic order according to their university, and Arcadia, starting with the letter A, had put me right at the very top of the list.

With red cheeks, I tried to explain my moment of confusion to my groupmates as we all laughed over my mistake. In a weird moment of clarity a huge realization dawned on me. Writing is intensively creative and at times it can be a very lonely process. However, over the past 48 hours we’d exchanged pearls of writing-related wisdom with each other and sat through lectures together. We’d traded business cards and met up for lunch in the city. But somewhere in the middle of all that work, we’d become so much more than just colleagues. We’d become friends.

And I couldn’t imagine anyone else I’d rather have shared that moment with.