With the annual RWA conference taking place this week, my mind has been on conferences. Last year, the RWA conference took place in San Antonio, where I was living, and after a great deal of struggle and soul searching, I registered and attended. I was unsure whether the high cost of attending would be worth it, and I was so glad I did in the end. This year, I am unable to afford to go, but I am a firm believer that if you can manage it, a big national writing conference is absolutely worth you while, and here are the top five reasons why. (The importance of these reasons shift rankings depending on where you are in your writing career, but all five were important to me and are likely to stay important as my writing career progresses.)
If you're a writer, you've experienced that moment where you tell someone you're a writer and they either
(a) back away slowly, mumbling something under their breath,
(b) tell you about how they would write a book if they had time,
(c) say that's nice, but what do you really do?
As writers, there's an immediate connection when you meet other writers. People who get it. They've fought sagging plots, writers block, the incredible vulnerability that comes from letting people read (and OMG, CRITICIZE) your writing. They know what it's like when a story won't leave you alone, and what its like when your characters abandon you mid-story.
They get it and that's worth so much.
This touches on what number five is about, but it's more about meeting face to face, the people who you've known and connected with online. Writers tend to be scattered about, especially for writers living in non metropolitan areas. Conferences are a great place to meet the people you feel like you've known forever in real life.
Critique partners, agents or editors you've had dealings with, the folks from your online writers group are often at the big conferences, and they are there in part to meet you in person, and to network with you.
Number Three: The inspiration
This isn't just coming from me. I've experieinced this, but I've also heard it from so many writer friends.
There's a synergy that comes from getting hundreds of highly creative people together who are interested in writing and are talking about writing. Things happen. Plots start to bubble in your brain. You find yourself writing baby plot lines out on bar napkins. And some of those bubbles actually work.
Attending a well run, large conference can refresh your creative well, and give you new ideas to draw from. It can help you view old ideas in new ways. Conferences can be incredibly inspiring.
The caliber of classes at a large national conference are amazing, as is the range of topics covered.
There's something for everyone. Attending the classes I got to attend last year raised the level of my writing. I learned tools to help me learn to write better.
I learned tools to help me keep track of plotting, and character arcs. There's an incredible wealth of writing wisdom and information out there, and a national writing conference is one of the very best ways to access that wisdom.
Don't take my word for it. Take Scott Hoffman's. The founding partner of Folio Literary Management had this to say about it:
"Particularly for first-time authors, there’s no better way to get to an agent than at a conference. Authors love one-on-one meetings with agents, but we know where the best writers can be found: at the bar. You think Hemingway would have given an elevator pitch at a 7:30 A.M. meet-the-agents session?"
So there you go. Five great reasons why a national conference is worth the time (and huge expense) of attending.