SUMMARY: Ed Wilson talks about three good reasons to attend a writers conference, with a few bad reasons thrown in for fun.
I spend eight to ten hours a day secluded in a room watching black text appear on a white background. I listen to the click, click of my fingers as they tap rhythmically against plastic keys. I feel the pain as it begins in my neck, creeps down my arms, and leaves my fingers tingling over time. The highlight of my day is answering email, attending virtual meetings, and getting up to make a pot of tea. You see, I am a writer, and like most professional writers my life is a solitary existence.
When I get an opportunity to attend a writers conference, I usually jump at the chance. Of course, it takes planning. I need to write ahead on my schedule, make travel arrangements, squirrel away a bit of extra cash and all of that. I am also careful about choosing what conferences I attend.
Besides just getting out of the house, and finding a bit of human interaction, why do I attend writers conferences?
1. Inspiration. I always leave writers conferences inspired to work harder, be more diligent in my reading, try new techniques, and so forth and so on. In general, I end up back in the hotel room writing until the wee hours of the morning when I am at a conference, or at least I jot ideas down in the notepad that follows me around like a big old shaggy dog. The inspiration comes from, at times, unexpected places: something a speaker says, something an attendee says, a thought that crops up during a flight of fancy I take while pretending to listen to either a speaker or an attendee. At times it is simply the venue.
2. Information. I always look at the agenda, the speakers, and the topics that will be covered during a conference. If it looks like there is a track taught by subject matter experts the conference will definitely bubble up on my to do list. I always try to look up information about the speakers, to see if they are qualified to address their topic, and I select my schedule before I even arrive at the conference. I also carry my notepad and several pens so I can take notes to help remember things that catch my attention.
3. Individuals. Who is attending the conference? From the faculty perspective, to the vendor selection, and lastly the registered conferees each plays a role in making a successful conference. I am not simply talking about reconnecting with old friends (although that is definitely a plus) but from a contact perspective as well. For example, agents, editors and publishers are all known to attend writers conferences from time to time. It it definitely a plus if one can connect with the right person at the right time in ones career. I met my agent at one conference, and walked away with a promise of a three book contract from my publisher at another conference. I was not specifically seeking either at the time, but hey, it worked out great. A writers conference is also a great place to meet other writers, and who knows, one of them might agree to be a beta reader, or to supply a jacket blurb at some point in the future.
There are also good reasons not to go to a writers conference. Here are a few:
1. For a tax deduction. There are better ways to get a nice tax deduction than going to a writers conference. For specific tax advice, I suggest you talk to your accountant.
2. To get an agent, or a publisher. If you happen to find someone, connect with someone, and it ends up that you acquire an agent or a publisher great. But do not go to a writers conference with this an expectation because chances are you will be disappointed. I will write about acquiring an agent in the future. Until then, I suggest you use Bing and search for something like acquiring an agent.
3. Because you want to get out of the house. Ok, so maybe you will in fact get out of the house, but in place of the house, you are substituting a conference center. If OUT is your goal, I suggest you go to the zoo, or take a walk in the park, or go jogging, or something like that. Don’t substitute one walled box with another walled box.
4. Because you want to learn to write. Dude, buy a book about writing, or take a class. Conferences are great for finesse, for inspiration, but they are not the best venue for specific technical and mechanical instruction. If this level of education is your goal, don’t go you will be setting yourself up for disappointment – and there is enough disappointment in the world already with manufacturing it on your own.
So, why am I writing this? Well because I just came back from the South Carolina Writers Workshop event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and I am inspired, psyched, and all of that. It was a great conference and well worth the cost. Stay tuned for next years event, because I am sure it will be awesome.