When You Love Something, Get Involved

Class participation at the 2013 Willamette Writers Conference. Photo: Willamette Writers
Dozens of things happen behind the scenes at my Author World Headquarters, but I don’t talk about it. To me it’s like having friends over and talking about how you just swept and vacuumed the house. Sure, we do these things, and people know we do these things (in fact, I really need to vacuum the front room rug). But sweeping and vacuuming isn’t the point. Time with your friends is the point.

Most of this invisible stuff—research, conferencing, housekeeping and such—supports what I write for you, so I don’t usually think of these tasks as meriting a mention. But one of these things, the Willamette Writers Conference (WWC) in Portland, Oregon, was something I just had to talk about. It’s not really about the conference though. It’s about something deeper than that.

And no, this isn’t because I signed a deal with an agent and am now in the process of picking out a private island off the coast of Thailand (but I’ve got my eye on you, Koh Chang). Jason Brick’s Google+ post about his time at WWC got me thinking about it. So did this being my fourth Willamette Writers Conference (disclosure: including 3 in a dual role as co-chair of the organization’s Mid-Valley Chapter).

I came to understand something really, really important:

When you love something, get involved with the people and events that focus on that something. Deepen your knowledge. Evolve your passion. And then get back to work.

Get involved with the people

When I go to an event, I always make sure I know why I’m going there. What are my goals? What do I want to get out of this? In short, what will make this event worth my time?

When it came to this year’s WWC, I had 4 primary goals I wanted to make progress on:

  1. Expand my network by meeting more fellow authors and industry colleagues
  2. Expand marketing knowledge in general, and role of Google+ (if any) and email list building in particular. Also: launchers and ongoing marketing
  3. Raise awareness of The Martini of Destiny
  4. Practice and evolve how I talk about the Rucksack Universe

I came away from my 3 days at WWC confident I’d made strides on all of these goals, but especially on meeting more people. (I’m still getting caught up on post-conference correspondence, if that’s any sign.)

It’s exciting to meet authors at different stages of their own careers. It’s exciting to meet people who bring fresh ideas and help you find new directions for your career. It’s exciting to meet people who show you completely new ways to look at the industry, and who give insights on what’s coming up tomorrow and next year and beyond.

But even more importantly? It’s soul-satisfyingly productive to keep in touch. Meeting is one thing. Staying in touch is far more important. For me, that means coming home and raising my game on how well I email, or mail a thank-you note, or pick up the phone and call a colleague.

And it goes far beyond a conference, or far beyond being a writer. It’s just keeping in touch. It’s just basic, simple human interaction and communication.

And it’s the stuff that makes the world go ’round. If it keeps the world turning, imagine what it does for you?

Get involved with the events

I lost track of the number of times I had to say something like this:

My first WWC was in 2010, when I came up for a Saturday and came home a changed man. WWC expanded my world, gave me new direction, and helped me really start finding my way out of a job where I couldn’t grow anymore. What can I say? My day there ended with shaking Chuck Palahniuk’s hand. You do the math.

After that, I became more involved in Willamette Writers. Next thing I knew, in 2011 I was a new co-chair running the Eugene-based Mid-Valley Chapter. At this point I don’t directly help plan the conference, but when I’m there, I’m always checking with my fellow writers on how things are going for them. What are they liking? Where could we do better next year?

Back home in Eugene, I now look at where my career is and gaze ahead where it’s going. There are projects nearing completion, and they’re taking me to new vantage points where I can see some exciting things coming that I never could have dreamed of a few years ago. All this is because I got more involved in what I cared about and started finding out where I could help and contribute.

Where can you?

Deepen your knowledge

If you think you know everything, you don’t even know how much you could know.

I work hard to learn. I don’t play false humility games and won’t act like I’m a helpless hapless idiot, but I also know there is always more to learn. To me, that’s part of the process—not to mention part of the fun.

One of my big WWC goals was to increase my marketing knowledge, especially where Google+ was concerned. This year we had some in-freakin-credible folks in talking up marketing and social media, and I came away from those workshops, well, with a hell of a lot to work on.

Like I said, part of the process.

Where do you deepen your knowledge? What have you mastered—and where do you see the opportunity to learn more? What is something new that you really want to wrap your head around?

Evolve your passion

Nowadays people talk about passion the way The Beatles talked about love: “All you need is love, love is all you need.” Spend a few minutes online, and you’ll quickly see that many people like to say that all you need is passion, passion is all you need, and you’ll find success and dosh and ease.


I have a passion for my business, just as I have a passion for raising my son. I love my kid immeasurably. But it takes a hell of a lot more than love to raise a kid.

It takes the perspective to see beyond a current moment’s challenge or even a current moment’s joy. It takes grit. But what is grit?

Grit is passion evolved.

Grit is passion plus perseverance. Grit is what Jeff Buckley was talking about when he sang, “It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”

An event like WWC tops up my joy and my passion. Then I come home, map out all the tasks that have come out of that conference, and get to it. That’s where the grit comes in, the perseverance that will see me through when the buzz and bliss from the conference has faded.

And it’ll see you through too.

Get back to work

WWC is wrapped for the year, and I’m back to it, cranking out words while working in all the other things that go in hand with running a business, having a home, writing lots of great content, and being an involved dad and husband.

I love getting back to work. Everything above, all these tasks and reminders and learning and meeting folks and all that, ultimately is all about getting back to work. It’s being not just on task, but involved both with work and with the larger world surrounding that work.

It’s a good time to be an author. It’s a good time to learn and figure out new ways to spin some yarns. And whatever you do, whatever you want to do, it’s a good time to get to it.

You’ll find your way too.

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