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?

PPWC1 PPWC2

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…