Writing can be a lonely pursuit. The nature of the job means that writers spend a fair bit of time alone with a notebook or a keyboard, slinging words onto the page. I usually find myself hoping that what I’m writing is ‘good,’ or at the very least, getting better, but I’m never sure; it’s really hard to tell when it’s your own writing.
I’ve found an antidote to both writerly isolation and the uncertainty that sometimes accompanies writing projects: conferences!
5 Reasons to Attend a Writing Conference This Summer:
1. At writing conferences, you have a chance to meet and mingle with writers at all stages of their careers, from just-getting-started to award-winning-multi-published-author. Conferences give you a chance to talk about the writing life with people who understand and live it too.
2. You can often attend readings or lectures given by established writers. These talks sometimes include insider tips on the industry, and stories about how the author got their start. I always find it encouraging to hear other people’s stories about how they got started and/or the setbacks they overcame.
3. Three words: Blue Pencil Cafes. For those new to conferences, Blue Pencil Cafes are a chance for you to show your work to an established writer and get feedback and advice. I’m not sure if these one-on-one sessions are called ‘Blue Pencil Cafes’ outside of Alberta (a few checks of US conference schedules showed no Blue Pencil Cafe sessions), but if offered, they can be one of the most useful parts of a conference. Even though it can be terrifying to show your writing to an expert, the feedback you get is often invaluable.
4. You might have a chance to pitch editors. Some conferences offer pitch sessions or the opportunity to talk to editors about your work. Even if you don’t end up meeting an editor who shows interest, you’ll get to practice your pitch.
5. Motivation. I’ve yet to walk away from a writing conference without feeling re-energized and ready to get back to the keyboard. Hanging out with others in the trade is a great reminder that writing doesn’t have to be a lonely pursuit, that you’re part of a bigger group of people who want the same thing: to create great writing. Attending a conference is a fantastic way to get you excited about your writing again.
Conference in action:
This weekend I attended the Writers Guild of Alberta’s annual conference and did everything above except pitch to an editor (although I did get some tips from the editors of FillingStation, a lit mag). I met lots of Alberta writers, saw a few friends, and learned a great deal from the lectures and talks I attended.
Perhaps my favourite part of the weekend was having one of my short stories critiqued by Barb Howard. Barb is the author of several books, including a YA novel (The Dewpoint Show) and a book of short stories (Western Taxidermy). Barb gave me tips on how to improve my story, and then we had a chance to chat about submitting work to lit journals. It doesn’t get much better than that: help with your writing and tips from an expert in the trade!
If you haven’t signed up for a writing conference yet, check your local writer’s guild or association to find out what’s being offered in your area.
[box]UPDATE: I can’t believe I neglected to mention When Words Collide, a second Calgary conference happening this summer. I attended this conference last year, and was blown away by how much I learned, the amazing people I got to meet, and how nice everyone was. If you’re in Calgary August 10-12, I highly recommend you come to the conference! I’ll be speaking on a panel about social media and would love to meet you :) You can check out the schedule here. Spaces are filling up fast though, so be sure to book in soon! (Thanks to Robert for the reminder!)[/box]
Have you attended any writing conferences? Did you have good experience? Any advice to share?