Writers’ Conferences: What’s In It For Me?
You are a writer. You either write, or you want to write. And if you are truly serious about it, you study and hone your craft.
You go to the library and check out all the writing books. Especially the ones written for your chosen genre. You read about plot and character development. You learn about manuscript formatting and submitting to agents. You learn the difference between active and passive writing.
You also go online. You find Predators and Editors and lots of other useful websites. You find listings of writers’ conferences and you wonder, “Why should I shell out my dollars to go to a writers’ conference when I can find so much writing information for free? What’s in it for me?”
I have been studying the craft of writing for over 20 years. I have a BA in English and a Masters in Creative Writing, and I still attend writers’ conferences. Now, you might think I’m crazy, or have too much time on my hands. You might be right on the first count, but definitely not on the second.
At any rate, one thing all of my research has taught me is that 1) there is always more to learn about the craft and business of writing, 2) a writing conference isn’t just a place to learn, it’s also a place to network and meet other brave (or maybe crazy) souls doing this writing thing, and 3) even the smallest thing you get from a writers’ conference can make a huge difference for your writing.
I attended one small local writing conference many years ago that took place a short distance from my home. There were a lot of interesting panels there, and I learned a ton, but the best thing I got out of the weekend was the answer to a dilemma I had been wrestling with for months: What is the title of my book, really? I found the answer in a small discussion group where, long before I had learned about the “elevator pitch” and I finally honed my own for my book, someone asked me what my story was about.
That is how my working title, Kira’s Chance, which said little to nothing about the story, became The Healer’s Legacy, which not only speaks volumes about the story, but also ended up informing the entire trilogy.
Since then, my mantra on writing conferences has been, “If all I get out of it is some emotional support and camaraderie, and maybe a fantastic title or idea, it will have been worth it.”
Writing is often a solo experience. Being around other like-minded individuals provides not only validation that hey, maybe you’re not so crazy to want to do this, after all, but also spending a day or two focused on the craft and business that we are so passionate about stirs the creative juices. It’s almost as if there is something in the air, an electric charge that buzzes from one writer brain to another.
One of my key annual conferences is the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) summer conference in L.A. Every year, I get to hang out with a group of authors and talk about the writing journey. We listen to panels, attend workshops, and stay up late into the night talking about books and submitting and the ups and downs of this crazy art form we have chosen to pursue.
Sometimes I hear something new, sometimes I hear things I already know, and sometimes I am reminded of things I knew but had not been applying. Not to mention that I have gotten some of my favorite story ideas while attending writing conferences.
And I have met some of my best friends at writers’ conferences. People who understand the agony and the ecstasy of this journey. People who encourage and support me through my love/hate/love/hate cycles of the writing process. People I might not have otherwise met, but am extremely lucky to have in my life.
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to attending a writers’ conference, whether I opt to go to a single workshop, or run from session to session without taking a break, I know what’s in it for me. And it’s always something worthwhile.