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A Writer's Nerdist Colony

February 17, 2014 - Diane Laney Fitzpatrick

I spent the past four days at a writers' conference and I feel like I just left church camp with a bunch of friendship bracelets.

Anytime you get any group of people who do the same thing for a living or have the same hobby and you stick them in the same hotel conference room wing at the same time, you're looking at a nerd-fest.

Whether it's a Girl Scout camp, a quilters conference, a weekly newspaper editor's retreat, or a Renaissance Faire - and I am here to proudly say that I've been to all of these - something happens to the air when you get too much similar obsession in the same vicinity. We all turn into geeks.

This writers' conference had all the elements. There were writers from all over the country and some foreign countries. There were poets in dreadlocks and loose weaves. There were crime writers in beards, little round glasses and hats. There was a guy in a kilt and all the accouterments except the bagpipes. (I don't know what he writes; I couldn't get close enough to read his name tag. Popular guy. Who knew that a plaid skirt could win you popularity?) There were 25-year-old cookbook writers. There were lawyers with briefcases who write utopian fiction. There were housewives from Colorado who write paranormal romance. Did you know that Steampunk is a genre? I do. Now.

Despite all of our differences, because we all put words down on paper, that one commonality triggered the nerd vibe big time. I know there are some writers at the conference who would like to think that we were reminiscent of Paris in the 1920s, when Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein drank a lot of whiskey and philosophized all night long. Yeah. No. Not that. We were more like Comic Con.

I learned a lot at the conference, about what book I want to write next, about how to market my first book, how to outline, what I can write off on my taxes, how to handle rejection without getting snot all over my laptop, and that some book publishers are a little bit arrogant on their best day and some book publishers are as nice as my brother-in-law Jim on their worst day.

But what I learned the most was that people in their 60s and 70s are rocking the world right now.

I don't know what that age group is doing at other nerdy festivals, but the ones at the writers' conferences are kicking ass. I saw a lot of people a lot older than me attending workshops on "Social Meetia: Building Your Web Presence," which is about building your platform; "Blog Your Way to a Book Deal," which is about building your platform; "Discoverability in the Age of Social Media," which is about building your platform; and "Building Your Platform."

And they were taking notes. On their iPad minis.

Not a single person over 60 said, "I don't Tweet on The Facebook, so can you tell me what color pen to use when I send out press releases to New York City?" These people are not only embracing the changes in the book publishing world, they are giving it a bear hug and then French kissing it and humping it in the alley behind the hotel.

"I'm going to ask a stupid question," one woman said in the Q&A after one session. Oh boy. Here we go, I thought. And then she asked a question that was so intelligent that even the presenter couldn't answer without Googling it under the podium.

I brag a lot about my mother-in-law. I love to tell the story of when my husband and I were on a clandestine trip to San Francisco last year and with her eagle eye on social media, she figured out where we were and DM'd my husband on Twitter: Where r u? And then she went online, figured out what company he might be there for, went onto the company job boards, and came this close to solving the mystery and answering her own question. She was 85.

We tell that story to people in their late 50s to shame them into not saying things like "I don't get this new technology," and my mother-in-law has become our self-styled poster child for what senior citizens can become, simply by being willing to adapt. After this conference, I realize that her job is done. She can just drop that mike. Her demographic has caught up with her - the writer subcategory anyway - and they are carrying the football all the way to the end zone.

And that's a mixed metaphor, which I learned at "Using Mixed Metaphors in Your YA Fiction," is about building your platform.

~ ~ ~

Diane Laney Fitzpatrick is the author of Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves. Her Just Humor Me column runs here and on her website at


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