Things to Love in the Writing Life: Conferences

I’m going to a conference this week! The Pikes Peak Writers Conference, to be precise, where one of my critique group members took first place in the children’s division of their annual writing contest. I’m going to celebrate with her, attend an all-day writing workshop, hobnob with writing friends…can you tell I’m excited?


I mean, HOBNOB. With a word like that, what more could one want?

I wasn’t sure I was going to go until a few weeks ago, when a volunteer opportunity arose that will significantly defray the cost. In fact, I’d decided not to go. My logical, analytical mind reasoned that I’ve attended two other conferences in the past six months AND took a writing-related trip to Florida, so therefore couldn’t justify the expense of yet another conference. Besides, what would I get out of it, really? Much of the information presented would repeat things I already know. There’d be opportunities to make editor and agent, but did I really need those? And sure, I’d get some great time with writing friends, but wasn’t that just selfish?

Funny how we can talk ourselves out of things, isn’t it?

If I’d been more practiced at listening to my intuitive side—the side that was deeply disappointed when I decided not to attend—perhaps I would have chosen differently. The intuitive side of my writer-persona knew that there are other benefits to a conference, things like:

  • Creative inspiration: I will be attending an all-day workshop with Donald Maas, author of Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction. I’ve attended his workshops before, and always left them on fire with ideas for my work-in-progress.
  • Re-energizing: I find that conferences always leave me with more energy and excitement, but this one promises to be particularly energizing. This conference pulls in many of my writing friends from across the state, plus I get to celebrate my friend’s success.
  • Connecting: My recent foray into the book Imagine by Jonah Lehrer reminded me that we can’t underestimate the value of connecting with others in our field. In the chapter I’m currently reading, Lehrer cites several studies* that found a direct correlation between individuals’ creative success and the number of contacts/amount of communication with those contacts for each individual. Those who connect more are HUGELY more successful than those who do not. It seems that people who meet with, talk with, connect with, and interact more often with others in their field create a pool of talent they can consult when they need advice. I’m not talking about editors and agents here. I’m talking about the value of connecting with other writers.

I’ve heard both beginning and more experienced writers talk themselves out of conference attendance. There are plenty of reasons not to go. Conferences cost money. They take time, and we should probably spend that time working. The beginning writer might tell himself that he’s not advanced enough to take advantage of the conference’s offerings, while the more advanced writer might argue that she won’t learn anything she hasn’t heard before.

I know: there are times when going to a conference may not be the right decision for you and—as great as conferences can be—it would be silly to bounce from one to another all year long. But when you decide whether a writing conference is “worth” the time and monetary investment, make sure you consider the less tangible benefits as well as the obvious pros and cons. For writers, the inspiration, encouragement, and connections made at a conference aren’t a luxury. They are critical to our growth and creative success.

Besides, they’re a ton of fun!

Your turn: What’s your conference experience? Do you ever regret going? How do you choose which to attend and which to pass?

* Yeah, I love research studies—it’s the scientist in me…

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  1. Mona says

    Oh, have a wonderful time!!!!
    I’m headed out at the end of the week for the New England conference. I can hardly wait!!!
    I love the hobnobbing too, and the workshops are top notch. We don’t have “all day” sessions, but choose from 3 or 4 for each time slot (double slots are the intensive workshops). Cheryl, you said it all- creative, connecting, reenergizing!!!!!
    Love, love, love “my” conference!
    Enjoy yours.

    • says

      Hi Mona~I’m so glad you’re going to a conference this week, too! What sort of conference is it? I *always* attend my local SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) conference, but this one is for writers of all stripes. That means it’s bigger and has a wider array of offerings, but it’s also pricier. I’m so excited to go this year, though!

  2. says

    See you there, Cheryl! I’ve never regretted a writing conference. Sometimes I’ve thought I could have made better use of what was there–though that may be in part the “Ooh, her lunch looks nicer, I wish I’d ordered that!” syndrome.

    • says

      Ha! Love that analogy. I’m the same way. I compare notes with friends after our various sessions, and often end up wishing I’d attended something different than whatever I chose. Luckily, this conference is recording the sessions!

  3. says

    I’ve always benefited by going to conferences–went to two, one a regional SCBWI, another a literature conference. I highly recommend them!

    On another note, I follow another blogger who reports that she, too, is going to the Pikes Peak conference. You might run into her: Debbie Maxwell Allen, Playing writer-connection-matchmaker here!!

    • says

      Cool! I will look for her. I also saw that Susan Mitchell, interviewed here a few weeks back, will be attending and presenting. I’m looking forward to meeting her in person!

  4. says

    Hobnobbing! I can hardly wait! To answer your question at the end, I hardly ever regret going to writing conferences, but the years I’ve chosen that over a dream work retreat weren’t as fun as others because half my heart was a more than a hundred miles away. Even so, I always get something out of the conference, and often those less tangible rewards of deepening and widening connections are the most important. I wouldn’t trade the friendships for anything! Love the photos! :-)

    • says

      I had to dig a bit to find them :). I didn’t realize how long it’s been since I attended this conference. It’s high time for me to go hang out with my writing friends. Can’t wait! (Although I’m also nowhere near ready, so I wouldn’t rush it, either….)

  5. says

    Have a great time and glad you listened to your intuition. I would love to go to a writing conference – on my list of things I want to do.

    • says

      Oh, you must! Writing conferences are the best places to learn, get motivated, find inspiration, connect with other writers, and connect with industry professionals. I feel like they (usually) end up paying for themselves. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you can find one that works for you!