Finding a Writer’s Paradise in San Miguel de Allende
How I Got Inspired to Finish My Novel
Last fall, when I needed motivation to finish my novel, I decided to register for a writers’ conference in Mexico. I love to travel, and the thought of escaping the gray, cold New York winter in February for a colorful fiesta of literature was too good to pass up. On December 27th, 2017 I finished the last page of my 109,000 word family saga, and I booked my plane tickets to San Miguel de Allende that night.
The San Miguel Writers Conference was founded by Susan Page, a writer from Berkeley, CA who moved to San Miguel in 2004. When she got here she was surprised to learn that there weren’t any events or gatherings for writers to read and share their work with each other. If there is one thing writers need, it is to get out of their own heads and co-mingle with other people. So Page started the San Miguel Literary Sala which grew from a humble beginning of 28 people into a thriving organization that offers year round programming for tens of thousands of people, including the San Miguel Writer’s Conference, the largest and most prestigious co-cultural, bi-lingual literary gathering in the Americas.
I was nervous about traveling to Mexico by myself, but when I posted on Facebook that I was going to San Miguel de Allende, numerous friends replied that they had been there and loved it, or their grandparents, or parents had retired there. I soon learned this small city in Mexico was world renowned for welcoming foreigners and artists.
I recruited my friend Susan, who is also a writer and cultural explorer, to come with me. Together, we had an adventure getting from Beacon, NY to SMA, on trains, shuttle buses, planes, and a long drive through the rural state of Guanajuato. Once we landed though, we were awestruck by the desert landscape full of extinct volcanoes disguised as purple mountains, hundred year old cacti with thick bark like trees, and dusty villages with little-to-no modern conveniences.
At the end of our journey, we crested a hill and saw the beautiful city of San Miguel de Allende. With its narrow cobblestone streets, burros loaded with goods, hole-in-the-wall artisan shops, giant trellises of brilliant bougainvilleas, savory food smells, and colonial architecture, we were instantly transported to another time and place. The setting alone makes you want to write a novel!
The writer’s conference kicked off with a festive and fiery key note speech by one of my favorite writers, Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street, Woman Hollering Creek). I’ve loved her books and poetry since college, and she didn’t fail to disappoint in person. She is older now, and wiser, but no less passionate about the issues, people, and animals she loves so fiercely. Sandra lives in San Miguel too, and it was wonderful to hear her latest poems based on real people and events from this city.
Over the course of five days I took a variety of workshops. Many were about how to land an agent and get published, but I also took some about the craft of writing, revising, and memoir writing. One of my favorites was called “Bengal Tiger Moments: Time Perception and Creative Writing” with Sean Prentiss. He discussed the science of how the mind perceives time and showed how creative writers could expand and contract time on the page to dramatic and engaging effect.
The participants at the conference were about half local and half from abroad. Many were over 65, working on their first book, and enjoying a creative rebirth in retirement. The conference was welcoming to people who spoke either Spanish or English, and the overall feeling was of love and deep admiration for great literature and writing, regardless of language, age or nationality.
I encourage anyone who loves to travel, read, and write to check out the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. I guarantee you will leave rejuvenated and motivated to finish your own book! Next year I plan to go back, this time with my fully revised novel in hand, and plenty of new ideas that I can bounce off of my fellow writers.
8 Inspiring Things To Do There:
- Tour the pre-Columbian pyramid of La Cañada de la Virgen.
- Get lost walking the narrow streets of the Centro district (but bring sturdy shoes and a walk stick or two!).
- Soak in La Gruta Hot Springs (includes a long dark tunnel that ends in a steamy pool in a cave).
- Visit the happiest cemetery in the world.
- Eat and shop at the Saturday Organic Farmers Market.
- Sip a mezcal cocktail from the rooftop of the Rosewood Hotel and enjoy an amazing view.
- Visit La Tienda at Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende (the Public Library) – a book store that benefits children’s literacy in SMA.
- Stroll through Juarez Park, sit at a fountain, and listen to the birds.