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Another great Santa Barbara Writer's Conference, and I find myself thinking back over the week, and over the last several years. This conference has become a fixture in my life, a way of measuring the passage of time and my own growth as a writer. And so, I want to offer my deepest thanks, to Monte Schultz, for his continued willingness to support this weeklong adventure, to Grace Rachow and her amazing troop of volunteers, for shepherding all of us wayward seekers, and to all of the superb workshop teachers who offer their insights, encouragement and patient guidance to meet each of us where we are in our writing journey.

An extraordinary week of creative energy, sharing and mutual support, unlike anything I've encountered in the real world.

In my first conference, in 2012, I spent at least a few days trying to convince myself that I was worthy of attending, and to call myself a writer. I was met with generosity and encouragement, and even a bit of much-needed praise. As the week went on, my inner voice began to quiet. And I began to listen. And worlds opened up. Wild, futuristic, ancient and dangerous, worlds of lost love and lost dignity, of valor and defeat.

The workshops provide each of us an unparalleled freedom within a circle of trust, to be vulnerable, to reveal our innermost selves. In this process, Monte offered us the careful admonition, "Don't let anyone tell you how to write your story. It's yours. It belongs to you."

In many workshops, we share and we listen. And then, as writers, we get lots of ideas. Helpful ideas. Amazing ideas. We can't help it, we're writers, after all. And so we share our amazing insights, 'How about...', 'What if...', 'Wouldn't it be cool...', 'Why didn't you....' Through our intention to help, we often try to alter the storyscape, to impose ourselves, unintentionally and without malice. We can sometimes become intruders.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy good critique. And iron sharpens iron. But this year I tried something different. I spent every afternoon, for five days, with Sid Stebel and Karen Ford. We talked about writing. We talked about process and point of view. We shared of our work. And we listened. No critique. No 'What if...' or 'Maybe you could...' We shared, we listened, and then we told each writer what we heard. We met each writer where they were, and we became their mirrors. Sid and Karen offered their observations and gentle encouragements, and held the space for each of us to hear our own writing. For me, the week ended with vigor and the encouragement to carry on. And so I end this humble offering with a note of gratitude to Sid and Karen, for the gift of space and the chance to be heard.

And I'm already counting the days to June, 2019.

Nicholas Deitch