“Life is a journey up a spiral staircase; as we grow older we cover the ground we have covered before, only higher up; as we look down the winding stair below us we measure our progress by the number of places where we were but no longer are. The journey is both repetitious and progressive; we go both round and upward.” ~ William Butler Yeats

I don’t know about you, but 2012 rang in like the start of the Kentucky Derby and hasn’t slowed down since. That’s one reason I am counting the days to the AWP Annual Conference & Bookfair, which this year is in Chicago, an easy gallop from my home in Milwaukee. The conference falls conveniently at the end of my university’s break between terms, so I will have no grading to do, and I am working hard to clear the track so that those three or four days are dedicated to all things writing.

Writing conferences cost money, yes. They require some schedule juggling and planning. They may feel like a luxury, especially for writers who are not yet published.

But I am convinced they are a valuable part of any writer’s career.

One writing conference I have benefited from greatly is Milwaukee’s UWM Writers Festival. This year I was invited to share my experiences:

In the video, I talk about the differences between the two times when I attended the Festival, first in 2006 and then again in 2010. The second time, I was struck by how much more prepared I was to soak in the information and take advantage of opportunities. How much more I came away with, in terms of both energy and practical knowledge. How many people I connected with in a very real way. Coincidences and serendipity met me at every turn (for example, I found myself sitting next to someone who was born only miles from the rural community where I grew up), as they seem to do when we know we are in the very place where we are meant to be, at the only time that makes sense, with others who are meant to be there, too. This second experience was made possible by the first, and the first required the confidence to take the initial baby step: to sign up and tell myself, “I belong there.”

A writer’s career is less like the unrelenting laps of a horse race and more like a never-ending spiral staircase. As we climb the steps, it helps to stop and look at the view once in a while. Have we been here before? What is the same, but different? What patterns do we now notice? What distant landscapes are clearer? What details used to loom large but now are diminished? Being among other writers can help you to place yourself on your own staircase with its invaluable perspective.

If you have never attended a writing conference because you feel you don’t belong there or you don’t yet deserve it, shush those voices and get thee to the nearest registration form. You owe it to yourself as a writer.