Why I Returned to Hippocamp

Saturday, September 28, 2019

By Christy O’Callaghan

The draw of Hippocamp goes beyond the craft and business workshops, which are plentiful, but for me it was all about the people. The interactions with the other attendees my first year made all the difference and brought me back for a second. Hippocamp is a conference put on by Hippocampus Magazine with a focus on non-fiction writers. I, like many people, don’t have the time or money to spend on something that doesn’t offer a benefit, so returning for a second time is a big deal.

The rapid-fire workshops run in forty-five-minute session all day Saturday and Sunday morning and are packed with information. There are four options per time slot with a mixture of craft and business. At this point in time, anyone who is in a creative field is also a businessperson. Out of the nine I attended last year I had one workshop I felt wasn’t great. That’s not bad. This year I walked away with some nugget of information from every single workshop. The ones I attended ranged from improving my Instagram platform, to the need for a writer’s website, to lyrical essay styles, meditative writing, how to manage my Imposter Syndrome (that terrible voice in my head), and how to read as a writer. I met up with friends in between workshops to share what we learned.

Last year the only person I knew was my husband who tagged along as a guest. For a small fee guests can attend the evening events and the meals. This was a feature I appreciated since writing has become an important part of my life and it allowed my partner to participate. During the workshops however, I was able to focus and network. This time, I knew some fellow attendees from the previous year. Two of my fellow workshop mates from a different program were also there, one was even a presenter. I finally met in real life an Instagram friend I’ve known for almost two years. As the weekend progressed, I watched attendees run into friends they hadn’t seen since their MFAs. These human connections, I’m discovering, are amazing and vital.

Attending something like this is always reminiscent of summer camp. You have those returning campers who already know each other as well as all the camp stories and songs and where all the bathrooms are located. Then you have the first timers, which is made a little more obvious since it says so on their badge. I remember my first year at the Friday night potato bar as I filled my martini glass just hoping I’d meet people before the end of the weekend. By Sunday breakfast, though everyone’s relaxed and saving seats for new friends.

The Saturday night keynote speaker was Nick Flynn. He was open and sharing about his struggles with homelessness, recovery, and figuring out how to be a father. Isn’t this what non-fiction is all about? Sharing, connecting, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable so that we and others can feel less alone. I found him inspiring and relatable. While I waited in line for him sign my copy of his memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, I texted with my sister who is in the early stages of recovery and potentially facing jail time and told her about Nick. When it was my turn I told him about my sister. He wanted me to share with her that he was proud of her and he knew how hard it was. These words meant everything to her, which in turn meant everything to me.

Over my two years at Hippocamp, I learned several lessons about myself as a writer through both the workshops and my interactions with fellow attendees. One is that I need to take myself seriously. If I don’t who will? Another was that I needed business cards. I am now on my second run and made them to match the website which I started this past spring. Last year I listened to an over forty panel that helped me think about my place in this business as someone who is starting out twenty years later than I expected. I even starting a blog about it. Another workshop introduced me to WOW! Women on Writing which couldn’t make me happier. This year with the added knowledge I gained, I’m planning to build off the platform I’ve started and who knows what will happen by next August.

Yes, there was a lot to learn, such as the difference between a braided and hermit crab lyrical essay. To not say “welcome to my webpage” on you website. To slow down when you read so you can learn from that author. However, for me, what has made the difference is feeling a part of a community. Returning for a second year gave me the chance to thank a fellow attendee I met last year. She could tell I felt overwhelmed, but also wanted to learn. Her conversations and advice made all the difference for me. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to thank her in person.

Hippocamp Conference takes place the last weekend of August in Lancaster, PA. To learn more go to https://hippocamp2019.hippocampusmagazine.com/. Hippocampus Magazine has a 3-fold mission to entertain, educate, and engage. They focus on providing a platform for established and emerging non-fiction writers not only through the conference, but through their magazines, contests, and book division. For more information go to https://www.hippocampusmagazine.com/.


Christy O’Callaghan lives in Upstate, New York. She works with incarcerated adults seeking employment. Her favorite pastimes include hiking, gardening, swimming, and collecting sea glass—anything in the fresh air. You can learn more about her, her blog about being an over 40 newbie writer, and her work at www.christyflutterby.com.


Margo Dill said...

I love what you told us about your conference experience. I also love when conferences are magical and inspiring like this. What I also love is that they had business stuff and writing stuff--how cool. What a great story about the keynote and your sister too. :) Thank you for sharing that with us.

IN November, I am going to a writing conference in Las Vegas with my writing group. It's called 20 Books to 50 K and I can not wait. Even if I can't use everything presented there, due to where I am in the thick of parenting and working full time plus at my freelancing/WOW jobs, that's okay. I know it will inspire my creativity to be around other creatives!

Best of luck to you! I am so glad you found WOW!


Nina Gaby said...

Loved meeting you! Your smile is so welcoming to the first year 'Camper'..

Renee Roberson said...

Thanks for a great explanation of this conference, Christy, and how it has helped you move forward with your writing! As an introvert, I find it hard to commit myself to conferences but it's always so rewarding when we do so.

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