Family time wins in the year of virtual conferences

I always feel a tug at my heart when I leave for a writers’ conference. The further I drive or fly, the stronger it grows. The tug is most powerful when I am trying to fall asleep in the dry air of a generic hotel room, the night before the conference begins. It weakens some if I have met a fellow writer or two in the lobby or at the bar, but it is still there.

I miss home.

I miss my husband. I miss my kids.

But once I am immersed in the conference, their hold falls away. I am in another world, attending workshops on craft, marketing and publishing; discussing careers and expectations over breakfast, lunch and dinner with fellow writers; swapping stories and experiences that grow more intense with each glass of wine at the hotel bar when the day is over.

My focus improves because I am there, in person.

With coronavirus in the air, writers’ conferences have gone virtual this year. Leaders of the non-profit groups that host them have become technological pros. They are more than event organizers. They are big-time producers, bringing the show live into our living rooms and coaching reluctant reality stars in the art of virtual delivery.

With no travel expenses and reduced registration fees, some of those conferences have drawn more participation than ever before. They have suddenly become accessible to people who cannot afford to travel, are hindered by disabilities or are nervous about mingling with strangers.

But I have attended none.

Why?

The tug of family is too powerful at home. I spend an awful lot of time on my laptop, working my part-time job or writing. While I am working or writing, I have to resist the desire to play a game with my twins, text or call the older kids at college or go for a walk on the property with my husband. It helps that they are all busy as well during the week, my husband with his job and the kids with school.

But on the weekends, they are free.

The amount of time kids spend in our midst is short, about one-fourth of our life expectancies. I cannot bring myself to spend an entire Saturday online while they are here, available to me. I need physical distance and the in-person interactions to resist that pull.

I have taken part in one-hour sessions here and there, and they have been worth every minute. I almost feel that I get more out of a webinar, with chat features that allow me to ask real-time questions and get to know other participants, than I would an in-person event.  I can see myself tuning into more online workshops and presentations even after the pandemic ends.

But weekend conferences will probably have to wait.

Some people will see that as a weakness, insisting I prioritize my career, but life is a constant balancing act and the scales tip differently for all of us. We are all at different stages in our lives. For me, family time outweigh the benefits of conference time in this virtual life, but I am not giving up on conferences altogether. I am registering for three already in 2021, optimistic that they will be held in-person.

I hope organizers continue to provide some level of online participation after the restrictions lift for those who have benefited from the virtual experiences, but I am looking forward to the comradery of other writers, to the in-person dynamics that take me fully from one reality into another. I am excited for the year ahead and looking forward to seeing you all there.

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