Are Writing Conferences Worth the Investment?

Of course, the wishy-washy answer to the question about whether writing conferences are worth the money is “it depends.” But there’s more to that question and, as I’m preparing to go to a huge writing conference this month in Denver (RWA18), I’d say there’s a lot more to the simple answer of “it depends.” Writing is often a solitary experience. As I’m writing this, I’m at my keyboard all by myself. However, in a little over two weeks, I’ll be surrounded by romance writers, eager to soak up information about the craft and business of writing and eager to network until they return to their writing caves. For me, as for so many writers, a conference’s cost is not only weighed in terms of money, which is a huge factor, but also in terms of time away from my family. So, are writing conferences worth the money? While everyone has a different experience, I’ll give some reasons why they’re worth the cost, the time, and the commitment.

 

A shove in the right direction. While the cliché states “a push in the right direction,” a conference can be a huge wake-up call about the publishing industry. And while expensive, it can wake a writer up to whether or not she is willing to commit to writing as a career, or keep it as a hobby. In 2013, I attended my first writing conference. I’d attended five Georgia Romance Writer programs before that, and the topic of RWA being in Atlanta had come up during the business portion of the program. Wanting to pursue a career in writing made my mind up. My husband and I saved our pennies (and cleaned out the couch to find a couple of dimes), and I commuted to the conference. This was a wake-up call for me. Attending workshops and listening to conversations around me, I learned I had a lot to learn. For a couple of days, I was overwhelmed, but then I used the tools I’d learned about productivity, about craft, and about networking and I went to work. I had a lot to learn, and I still continue to have a lot to learn, but that first conference made me hungry for learning from others, reading books in my genre, and for sitting down and actually putting the stories in my head on paper (or in my case, on a hard drive and on back-up drives).

 

Networking. RWA2013 provided me with more than just a hunger for learning about the industry and the craft. Since it was in Atlanta, I ran into writers I had met at Georgia Romance Writers. One writer had also joined in January, same as myself, and we found ourselves at some of the same places at the hotel and in some of the same workshops. We agreed to exchange notes and ideas about the different workshops, and within a few months, we exchanged chapters of our books. That writer is now my critique partner, and if I hadn’t gone to RWA2013, we might never have talked as in-depth as we had. One of the workshops at RWA that year that I was unable to attend but that my critique partner did was a talk about writers who had formed a writing blog. My critique partner told me about Seekerville, a writing blog, and I began to follow the blog where I’ve made some genuine connections with other writers. Even the “ships-passing-in-the-night” conversations have made an impact on me. I’ve sat at lunch tables with writers from Australia, France, Canada, and more. Hearing their stories of their travels and their stories about their writing experiences have inspired me to make sure I have one lunch or meal where I pick a table where I don’t know anyone and introduce myself.

 

Those are two reasons to think about going to a conference. There are so many great conferences in every part of the country. They are a commitment. They cost money, and some involve travel. But your characters deserve a commitment to make their story the best you can right now in your writing career. Writing conferences, though, are often a step outside a writer’s comfort zone as many writers, including myself, are introverts. Yet stepping outside your comfort zone is sometimes the best way to make your writing that much better.

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Writing Monday: Conferences

It’s really easy sometimes to lose yourself in the world of social media. “Oh, I’ll only stay on Facebook for five more minutes.” “Oh, I’ll just share this Ellen selfie with my followers on Twitter and then I’ll go to sleep.” “Oh, everybody’s talking about Pinterest, let me try that for a week.” And so on. And so on. It seems as though everyone loves to share his or her opinions with the world on social media sites, myself included. One question on a Facebook post asked when does a writer become a writer? I tore my fingers away from the keyboard when I read one person’s response that an author is only an author if he or she has published a book. I do try to stay positive on Facebook, and I feared my response would be less than nice. So I wrote nothing at all. Which is sort of a shame on me because I feel that an author can be an author even if he or she is “pre-published.” What’s important is capturing words on either paper or a computer screen to come up with a story. One word at a time. One paragraph at a time. One page at a time. To this extent, every person who has ever struggled to find the word that captures an action or an emotional response can call him or herself a writer. Some writers only write for themselves, others are pursuing publication. Those who are striving to someday get a call from an agent, editor or publishing company have different paths to try to work their manuscript into shape for that call. To that extent, I myself am working toward the goal of publication. Besides the actual writing, there are several ways I am working on my craft. This includes romance writing conferences.

I have now attended two major conferences other than all day workshops and seminars. The first was the national RWA conference in 2013 that was held in Atlanta, GA. This year’s national RWA Conference is taking place in San Antonio, TX. A confirmed introvert, conferences are a little overwhelming. Many people come to writing conferences: writers, editors, agents, publishers, speakers, and more. One wonderful part of a national conference is the different topics that are discussed. An author can attend classes about craft, career, the writing life, research and more. Even my local chapter’s conference that I attended last year had wonderful information by dynamic speakers. These conferences have helped me develop friendships, volunteer behind the scenes, and have afforded me access to information about writing that has been invaluable.

So the time came recently when I had to make a decision. Do I travel to this year’s national conference in hope of learning my craft and gaining pointers about preparing my manuscript for submission or do I not? Yes, I signed up to go. Ultimately, learning more about writing, learning more about submitting to publishers, and talking to other writers answered the question for me. It does mean some sacrifices. As a write-at-home mom, I worry about the time spent away from my kids, but I’m also teaching them the importance of reaching for a dream. I have a goal in mind, and I have to trust that the information and friendships from this conference will push me closer to my goal of publication.

This conference is only one way I’m trying to develop my craft so that I will eventually get that call. There’s no substitution for simply sitting down with my nose close to the computer screen writing the words of my novel, but there are many ways that I can explore to make my writing better. Conferences are only one of the many ways to do so, but I think they definitely have a place on my path.

What about you? In your profession, do you attend conferences? What’s your favorite part about the conferences? Let me know.