The Joy of the Writing Conference

Now that I’ve written about how to get the most from your next writing conference, and how to dress for your next writing conference, I’ve realized that I may be putting the cart before the horse. You may not yet be convinced that you should invest the time, money, and emotional energy to GO to a writing conference in the first place. Conferences and travel and lodging and all that aren’t free, you know. So why bother?

Helga Weber Photo by Helga Weber

Changing Your Vision

I wrote an entire “Tuesday Ten” list of reasons to attend a conference—and they’re all good reasons. I’ll post it tomorrow. But I feel like the list doesn’t get at the heart of the issue, which is that attending a writing conference can change you. A good conference can meet you wherever you are as a writer, and give you what you need plus a little extra.

Every year, I attend my local Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. Every year, I see people attending their first writing conference.

There’s the young mother, nervous, who doesn’t know anyone. This is her first weekend away from her two preschoolers, and she wonders if she made the right decision in coming.

There’s the high school student, who looks somewhat mortified to have his mother in tow. He’s eager to learn EVERYTHING and will tell anyone who will listen of the epic fantasy he’s written.

There’s the retired schoolteacher. He’s written his entire life but never had the self-confidence to do anything with it. He’s only here because his wife gave him conference attendance as a gift.

There’s the art student, winner of the illustrator’s scholarship contest. He acts cocky and self-assured, but you can tell he’s nervous during the portfolio reviews because he keeps dropping his papers.

There’s the mother of two teenage girls, who has finally allowed herself to spend money on her “writing hobby.” She feels like an imposter at first, but she’s determined to stick it out.

Do you see yourself on this list?

I coordinate the manuscript critiques for this conference and it’s one of the most rewarding things I do. Sometimes when I pair a hopeful young (or middle-aged or older, because we’re all hopeful, aren’t we?) writer with an editor or agent for a critique, I feel as if I’m reaching back in time to a younger version of myself—the terrified young woman attending her first conference, afraid to speak to anyone because they were REAL WRITERS. I was welcomed into the writing community by wonderful (and much more experienced!) writers who have since become some of my best friends. Attending that conference changed my life.

Not because of the great information (although there was plenty of great info.)

Not because I learned the latest industry trends (although I did.)

Not even because I made connections that later enabled me to join a critique group (although that happened, too.)

The REAL WRITER

It changed my life because it enabled me to see, feel, hear, even taste what it meant to be a real writer. It gave me the courage and knowledge and support to realize that I WAS a real writer. At that conference, I clarified my understanding of who I was and who I wanted to be. And, for the first time ever, I caught a glimpse of how I could become that person.

So come back tomorrow check out my logical lists of reasons to attend a writing conference this year—but don’t forget that a conference’s greatest benefit may be some intangible shift in understanding that, right now, you can’t even see that you need.

If you’re a veteran conference attendee, how did conference attendance impact your life? If you *haven’t* gone to a writing conference, what’s holding you back?

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