5 Reasons You Should Attend a Writing Conference This Summer

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?

Author: Carrie Mumford

Carrie Mumford is a writer and content manager living in Calgary, Alberta. She write short stories and non-fiction articles, and blogs about technology, editing, writing and (of course) books.

  • A few years back, two friends convinced me to attend a writing conference in Minneapolis. It was incredible. I met authors, editors, agents, received feedbacks, attended workshops…In three days I learned more about the different facets of writing and publishing than I could have in months of intensive research.

    Thanks for the list, Carrie! I’ll be looking through it and I’ll try to attend the Writers Guild of Alberta next year.

    My advice to new authors or aspiring authors: if you can, bring a friend with you. It is an overwhelming experience, and I was glad I had two friends to share the experience with.


    • Hi J.S.!

      I agree re. bringing a friend: there are inevitably moments where having a friend along would add to the experience. Although when I’m attending ‘friendless,’ I often meet more people. Both options are good ones!

      Are you coming to When Words Collide this summer? As Robert noted in his comments, it’s FANTASTIC! I’ll be there!

  • I highly recommend the When Words Collide conference in Calgary (August 11-13, 2012). I found last year’s WWC extremely worthwhile. For example, I heard a writer I’d been meaning to look into for some time read one of her short stories, and offered her a book deal on the spot. (It’s being launched at this year’s WWC.) I met up with another writer I was just assigned by my publisher, and we got about a month’s work done in a two hour lunch. I chaired a pitch session where I found a book we’re considering (i.e., revise and resubmit) and hopefully was able to help the others improve their pitches for when they next approach a publisher. I met artists and writers who I’ve put on my watch list for future reference; I got to talk to other editors and publishers about the business; and I got to read from my own novel & short story. So a very successful working conference. The WGA conference is always good, and well established, but not everyone knows about When Words Collide since it is only in its second year, but highly recommended, especially for genre writers (any genre).

    • Hello Robert!

      I was lucky to be one of the writers who got to meet with you, and I can confirm that it was very, very helpful to meet with an editor and get feedback on my work.

      I loved WWC, and will be back again this year as well! I’m going to update my post to include WWC. Thanks very much for the reminder.

  • Sounds like you had a great time! We have an annual conference here in Santa Barbara that opened this weekend. Ray Bradbury helped to get it off the ground 40 years ago, and they’ll surely be honoring him. I don’t have the funds to attend this time, but I plan to be ready next summer with a manuscript in hand.

    • That is one tough part about conferences, Darla. They can get expensive, especially if you’re traveling to attend them. In a recent issues of The Writer they listed a ton of conferences in the US that sounded amazing, but I can see how to costs could add up. Next year!

  • I totally agree Carrie! I couldn’t stop smiling after I left that conference. The writing community is truly supportive and motivating!

  • I really enjoyed The Muse and The Marketplace by Grubstreet in Boston last year. I’m considering BlogHer this year. . . obviously more blogging than writing.

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