What’s So Special About A Writers’ Conference?

By Linda Chiara

By nature writers tend to be solitary people. We spend hours alone in front of a computer or in libraries doing research. Oh, sure, sometimes we venture out into the real world and sit in a favorite coffee house sipping on a latte. But rather than truly interacting with others, we find ourselves eavesdropping on our fellow man, straining to hear a good conversation which we hope to be able to use in our work-in-progress novel.

However, more often than not, you’ll find us at home, alone.

By virtue of our profession (and on the plus side) we don’t have to cope with office politics, unless you count the rare situation when we must tread lightly and handle delicately the quirks of an unorthodox editor.

However, on the flip side of the coin, we are not privy to the helpful career news that is frequently discussed while standing around the office water cooler. Nor do we have much contact with other professionals who could help steer us in the right direction, or at least point us to a path that we had not considered before.

That’s where a good writers’ conference comes in. There are at least 1,000 writers’ conferences or seminars offered each year. (Check out http://writing.shawguides.com/ for information). Each and every one of them can provide you with something to help you in your quest to becoming a better, and more productive, writer.

Conferences work the same way for writers as they do for dentists or undertakers. They offer professionals a chance to meet with other professionals to exchange ideas and discuss trends within the industry. Plus they give us a chance to associate with people who share the same interests and who can help us propel our career forward. Attendees and guest speakers of conferences are not only writers; often they are editors, publishers and agents, as well. These professionals speak on panels that cover a particular aspect of writing. Some conferences even offer workshops that can truly motivate a writer. Plus the pros frequently make themselves available to answer specific questions and give writers some tips of the trade. That alone is often worth the price of admission.

And speaking of the cost of admission, there are writers’ conferences to suit almost any budget. Where some conferences can run in the thousands, once you include airfare and travel, there are often local conferences that are significantly less pricey and just as high in quality.

So if cost is an issue, why not attend the least expensive conference you can find to get you started? The first conference I attended was not really a good fit for me, but it was inexpensive and close to home. And yet, I can honestly say that it was worth it, because I made several professional contacts and came out with countless article ideas.

As far as time goes, be aware that conferences can last anywhere from several hours to a week or two. Find one that fits your time schedule.

It’s important to note, that after considering the cost and time element, a writer should try to find a conference that focuses on their genre. There are conferences that include such specialty writing as mystery, children’s, romance, inspirational, humor and horror, just to name a few.

What should you expect to get out of a writers’ conference? Be prepared to walk away with new contacts, new ideas, new markets and quite possibly, new friends.

Here are just a few tips to help you get through your first conference:

  • Wear tailored, casual clothing. Comfortable shoes are a must! You don’t need to dress up in designer duds, but leave the faded jeans and sloppy t-shirts at home.
  • Bring along business cards and writing supplies (although every conference I’ve ever attended has been very generous in supplying notepads, pens, and canvas carry-all bags to its attendees).
  • If you can swing it, go with a fellow writer/friend. For the past two years, I’ve attended a two day conference in New York City that was so jam packed with information, that there wasn’t enough time in the day to get it all in, let alone absorb the content. On my last trip, I coerced my friend Marlene to join me. We split up after breakfast and met for lunch, where we compared the notes we had taken for one another at different panel discussions.

The greatest thing about attending a conference is that they are, above everything else, inspirational. My friend Marlene is a gifted writer. However, she didn’t see herself that way, because her day job is secretarial work. As we rode home on the train after the conference was over, she became very introspective.

Finally, as we were pulling into the station, she said, “Thank you for bringing me. It opened my eyes. I used to think of myself as a secretary who writes. Because of this conference, I now realize I am a writer, who just happens to work as a secretary.”

That’s what a writers’ conference can do for you.

Linda Chiara’s work has been published in Reader’s Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Boys Life, Ladies Home Journal, and Chicken Soup for The Teenage Soul on Love and Friendship. In addition, she writes frequently for parenting magazines around the nation, including Pittsburgh Parent, Western New York Family Magazine, Montana Parent, etc. You can find out more at Linda Chiara’s website.

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