I am an evangelist for writing events: writing courses, writing groups and especially writing conferences. As we enter conference season, I find myself dusting off my mental list of reasons why every writer should experience the delight of attending an event relevant to their genre or field.
Why Attend Writing Conferences?
Hearing others talk about their books – published and unpublished – is a quick way of doing what Julia Cameron calls “filling the well”. Top up your reservoir of creativity by listening carefully to what other writers are doing, and thinking about how you could adapt their ideas to apply to your work in progress.
When your enthusiasm is flagging, it can be helpful to refer to others’ success stories. Of course there are always the newspaper articles about J.K.Rowling and E.L. James (which suggest reducing your name to initials might be a helpful step), but I often relate better to success stories from closer to home. Over seven years of attending conferences of the Romantic Novelists’ Association in the UK, it has been a pleasure to watch many friends move from unpublished, to first publication, to varying levels of critical and commercial success.
On the other side of the coin, it can also be helpful hearing about the setbacks others have experienced along their writing paths. Most writers are happy to share both the ups and downs, and they often empathise with the pain of rejection far more than non-writing friends and family.
Tips and techniques
The last two reasons have focused on the personal, but of course there is a huge professional side to writing conferences, and the sessions often provide invaluable advice to apply to your work in progress. Many writers I talked to at the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s conference this year said they had experienced breakthroughs with their current novels as a result of talks and workshops they attended, and I always come away with pages of notes to apply to my own work.
Many publishers take the opportunity of conference season to make authors aware of what they are looking for, what trends they see developing and, equally important, which bandwagons are already over-subscribed. Just a few words from a publisher can point you in a new direction, validate your current choice, or steer you away from wasting time on an unsaleable idea.
The tidbits shared over dinner or coffee can be just as helpful as the official news in alerting you to what is happening in the market. While it is always wise to treat gossip cautiously, casual remarks often suggest helpful avenues for future research in terms of publishers to target, genres to explore, and promotional opportunities.
The professional benefits of writing conferences are enormous, but for me one of the biggest advantages is the sheer joy of spending time around people who love books and words as much as I do.
If it is possible for you to experience this in person, I wholeheartedly recommend it. If your budget or other practical constraints prevent you from attending a relevant event, all is not lost. Look out for “virtual conferences” and online courses where you can get a taste of the buzz from the comfort of your computer.