In the long list of decisions a writer will face, the question of attending a writer’s conference will inevitably surface. And it is an important one to consider. Conferences can be expensive, but they are worth the investment in your career.
When I first started writing, I was told that novice writers should complete their manuscript (to make sure they have the stamina to finish) before investing in conferences. Because of that advice, as well as being reluctant to attend a conference alone, I kept putting it off. But recently I’ve learned that, if you wait, you miss out on so many things that can help you to reach the finish line.
Here’s my list of 5 reasons to attend a conference (even if your manuscript isn’t pitch ready).
The Shop Talk
You get to talk about writing – and nothing else – all day, with people who get it. All other life obligations are put aside for those few days while you focus on what you love. While our non-writer friends and family members try to understand and encourage us, no one “gets it” like other writers. No one else understands the joy of putting words on the page or the frustration when the right words just won’t come.
Gaining a Community
Hanging out with like-minded people lends itself to building friendships not otherwise possible. You are likely to start new lifetime friendships with people who push you to keep going, commiserate with you at times, and believe in you, especially when you’re having a hard time believing in yourself. These friends are priceless to our writing.
Although few will admit it, the voyeur in all of us wants to get a peek behind the curtain and see how other writers do it. With your writer friends, you don’t even have to ask permission to peek, they will open the door and invite you inside.
You will talk with writers who are one step ahead of where you’re at, five steps ahead, ten steps (how many steps there are) and learn from them. You may even find your writing mentor or critique partner at a conference.
While similar to gaining a community of writer friends, this is directed more to the other side of the table – the editors, agents, and publishers. You will meet industry professionals who are there to share their experiences and expertise. Even if you don’t have a manuscript ready to pitch, many of these individuals are very willing to talk over ideas with you and give you advice to improve (and finish) your work.
Introduce yourself, shake hands with someone you bump into while waiting for the elevator because you never know how your paths will cross down the line. The agent you sit next to at lunch may end up being the agent who signs you.
Conferences are full of learning opportunities. Even classes in tracks other than the one you’re following can offer nuggets that will help you improve your craft. And improving craft is one of the biggest reasons to invest in a conference.
Attending a conference can be the perfect opportunity to relax, catch up on some reading, and reflect on why you spend so much of yourself on this thing called writing. Breaks in the conference schedule are the perfect time to go for a walk (or a run, if you’re one of those crazy people,) take time to release some stress and absorb some peace; renew your mind and refresh your spirit or grab some of your new friends and go dancing or sing karaoke.
I was reluctant to attend my first conference alone. Thankfully, I had a friend assure me that I wouldn’t be alone, but would be sharing the experience with all the new writer friends I would meet. My friend was right.
Heather Eslick, a freelance writer and aspiring novelist, lives in Savannah, Georgia, with her husband, David, and three of their four boys still in the nest, who supply much of the fodder that goes into her writing. You can find Heather on Facebook at www.facebook.com/heathereslick and follow her blog at www.heathermeslick.wordpress.com.
Article photos from the Southeastern Writers Workshop 2014 & 2015. By My Write Platform