One of the participants shares her experience at the 2023 Tremont Writers Conference, held October 25-29 at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont (GSMIT). Tremont Writers Conference is a joint creation of GSMIT and Great Smoky Mountains Association.
After the conference, once the whirlwind of information, connection, and excitement had settled, I began quietly considering the value of saying “yes.” Janet, our non-fiction cohort leader at the inaugural Tremont Writer’s Conference, had sent the group an email in which she spoke of the joys she had experienced from her own “yeses,” and those contemplations invited my own.
Although I am primarily a fine art landscape and nature photographer, this work has increasingly led to more and more writing to comment on the experience and artistic inspiration that I find in my image-making. I find photography coupled with writing to be a powerfully expressive combination, and I’m fully embracing this by self-publishing educational eBooks for my audience of other landscape and nature photographers who seek to develop and craft their own artistic practice.
Over the years I have grown my confidence in my photography skills and creative expression, and I have achieved many firsts: first publication, first cover, first solo exhibition, first global conference presentation, first National Geographic calendar, first many more things. My relatively new writing practice is also a first—a first attempt at writing books, essays, and articles, and I am at those tender stages of working toward developing confidence in my artistry in this medium as well.
In these early stages of development, the “young” self often fosters feelings of discomfort and low confidence. I’m no exception to this common experience. However, my growth as a photographer has taught me quite a bit about the process of developing one’s artistry: finding the way through those early feelings of inadequacy is possible and arguably inevitable over time, since it is experience itself that offers the gift of confidence. So in spite of the trepidation I felt at the prospect of attending as a writer, I said “yes” to the Tremont Writer’s Conference. I believed it would be an important growth opportunity for me.
For five days, we occupied the idyllic campus set in the heart of Walker Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Despite the intense hustle and bustle of fall in the nation’s most visited national park, the mood was low-key at the Tremont Institute. The calming sounds of water gurgling through Middle Prong and the leaves gently falling from the canopy above became our constant and lovely soundtrack.
Our morning rhythm of “conferencing” involved discovering and quietly visiting our own “secret spots” on campus, and workshopping with our individual cohort groups (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) to receive constructive feedback on our submitted manuscripts. Our accomplished and benevolent non-fiction leader, Janet McCue, offered a three-step process for the critiques, as well as an opportunity for each one of us to occupy the warm limelight in front of the group and receive its gentle and thoughtful guidance. Afternoons were times to connect either with our solitude or with the beauty of nature via a selection of outdoor expeditions. Late-afternoon and evening activities involved group meals, open mic night, book signings, a writer’s forum at the local college, and one-on-one conferences with the leaders.
These five days were very worthwhile for me, and the conference offered many gifts:
- A sense of community came from the gathering of creative souls dedicated to their crafts—attendees seeking growth and honing, and leaders sharing their insights and guiding us with their experience. We met around campfires and in conference rooms, in the light and in the dark. We shared fine meals as well as simple ones. We hiked together through a golden wonderland of autumn forests. We read, workshopped, advised, listened, and laughed. We formed bonds.
- By stepping out of my comfort zone, I gained confidence in my writing, and I came home with concrete ways in which I can improve my manuscript based on the feedback of both our leader and the group at large. I found this peer critique to be highly valuable, since we each came from different walks of life, with different experience levels, and so each person offered unique guidance.
- I was refreshed and inspired by discovering the new (to me) ways the participants shared their experiences and perspectives. I am now very motivated to grow in my own writing and hone my approach to more closely align with my visual expressions.
- Pulitzer Prize-winning guest author Richard Powers presented “Five Kinds of Goosebumps: Notes Toward Fictional Awe”—a 90-minute distillation of his lifetime of learnings about writing fiction, which took the form of an analysis of the highly regarded essay “The Swimmer” by John Cheever. Richard’s instruction was a highlight of the conference—practical, powerful, and awe-inspiring in its own right.
I came home to rushed, harried, and tense hours catching up with my everyday responsibilities. However, I arrived here with more confidence in my writing, more motivation to work on new books, essays, and articles, and some very special memories.
If you are considering whether you should apply for the 2024 conference, I would encourage you to be bold and say “yes.” “Yes” may at times be accompanied by doubt, fear, and other unpleasantness, but it is often also accompanied by delight, joy, and accomplishment. I’m all about expansive movement beyond discomfort and towards more delight, joy, and accomplishment. Try it—you may find the same things I did.
Our group created something exceptional in Walker Valley. May we each nurture the gifts of our shared experience and use them to bring our individual creations to full fruition.
Dates and information regarding the 2024 Tremont Writers Conference will be announced after the holidays. Please follow GSMA on facebook in order to stay in the know.