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Did you know today is International Freelancers Day?

To mark the occasion, I am going to have lunch with some Richmond writers at Can Can Brasserie, one of my favorite haunts here in the real world. In the virtual world I will be attending a few webinar sessions offered by the International Freelancers Academy. The name sounds rather posh and Oxbridge, doesn’t it?

Up until this week, I did not know such an organization existed. That’s the thing about blogging. One day you’re poking around on the web, looking for kindred spirits online; the next thing you know, you’re a member of an Academy. Well, at least on LinkedIn.

A sense of community is important for writers. There’s a touching moment in the film Shadowlands, when a young student tells C.S. Lewis (played by Anthony Hopkins) that “we read to know we’re not alone.”

I agree. To which I would add: we write to know we’re not alone. And when we’re done writing for the day we often seek other members of our tribe. Sometimes, if we’re lucky (and I am), we’re married to one.

In the essay I wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the one that got this blog rolling, I mentioned some of the places and organizations that I discovered early in my tenure as a Richmonder. One organization particularly close to my heart is James River Writers.

I had been here less than a month and was still getting lost—even when using the GPS. After a few wrong turns in a city where, it seems, every other turn is illegal because every other street is one-way, I found myself at JRW’s office in Richmond’s historic Manchester district. The office is actually a room in the ArtWorks gallery on Hull Street. This is where I first met Anne Bryan Westrick, JRW’s administrative director. If such a thing as friendship at first sight exists, this was it. Warm and open-hearted, she welcomed me into her office even though she was in the midst of work. She made me feel at home, and an immediate part of the JRW community—as though they had been saving a place for me.

James River Writers was my lifeline during that first year in Richmond. It helped ground me, and gave me back the sense of writerly self I thought I’d left behind in Oberlin, where all of my writer friends and former professors were. In this strange land, I no longer felt like a stranger.

At the JRW writers’ conference last October, held at the massively impressive Library of Virginia, which I have yet to explore, I served as a volunteer, escorting understandably nervous writers to their five-minute pitch sessions with a New York literary agent. A slight divagation: The five-minute pitch, which includes the time it will take for the agent to respond, is akin to speed dating, something I have, thankfully, never tried. Regular readers of this blog know about my familiarity with online dating, and how that turned out for me. Think of my husband John as a successful book deal, and you begin to get the idea of what’s at stake for these writers at the conference. They are bringing their carefully crafted “elevator speech” about their novel or non-fiction book to the attention of someone who is not only genuinely interested in what they have to say, but also has the power to change their lives.

But back to James River Writers. Besides sessions with literary agents, their annual conference also features discussions with authors, screenwriters, playwrights, poets, and editors—even lawyers and accountants, who spoke about the business of being a writer. After completing my duties as an escort, I was allowed to sit in on some of these sessions. I learned a lot, met some wonderful people, and made some valuable contacts.

Throughout the past year, I attended many of JRW’s dynamic monthly “writing shows,” where panels of authors talk about specific topics related to the art, craft, and business of writing. I was away from Oberlin, but I had found a new place in which to learn, and it was exhilarating. I had found my people. New people, but mine. I was not alone.

I’ll be sorry to miss the JRW conference this year; John and I will be in San Diego. He has a conference of his own to attend, and I’ll be meeting with a client about a book project. But there’s a symmetry to that—I’ll be putting to use some of what I’ve learned this past year.

So on this Day of International Freelancers, one year after joining James River Writers and one month after launching this blog, I raise a glass to all of the freelancers, fiction writers, non-fiction writers, journalists, bloggers, poets, playwrights, screenwriters, librettists, and editors out there—in the blogosphere and on the Earth’s sphere. To the ones I know, and the ones I’ll never know. To the ones I might one day meet, and the ones I might one day read.

You are not alone.