Today’s post is written by Sarah Baughman, a semi-finalist in the Write It Sideways regular contributor search. Thanks, Sarah!
Why should you sign up for a writers’ conference?
You can’t afford not to. That’s the bottom line.
Sure, writers’ conferences require two things many of us feel we lack anyway—money and time—but they give us an instant jolt of inspiration that is often even harder to come by.
I’m a big believer in conferences, even though I can usually only attend one per year. The last time I participated in the Bear River Writers’ Conference in Michigan, I left my 1-year-old son and husband behind for three days. I knew I would miss them, but I distinctly recall walking out onto the deck of the conference hall after registering, pouring a cup of tea, looking out over the lake, and feeling thrilled at the prospect of so much focused writing time. In fact, I popped open my laptop right there and sent an e-mail to my husband titled, “Yessss!”
Here’s why I was so excited:
1. To write with others.
A writing conference will certainly include at least one workshop that puts you in contact with other writers.
Whether you’re writing from a common prompt, listening to and critiquing one another’s work, or producing a collaborative piece, you’ll benefit from this exposure to different styles and perspectives.
Even if you regularly participate in a writing group outside of the conference setting, you’ll find learning with, and from, a new set of writers energizing.
2. To write alone.
Writers’ conferences don’t keep you in class all day. Most include “down time” designed for you to practice what you’ve learned in workshops or simply write as you please.
The break from your regular routine is important. We love our jobs, our kids, our pets—but how often are we truly free from distraction? Even the “good clutter” in life is worth escaping once in a while.
Virginia Woolf famously insisted that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction…” Just replace “woman” with “person,” and “fiction” with “anything,” and you have a terrific reason to attend a writers’ conference!
Though you might not exactly get paid, many conferences do offer scholarships, and in any case, you’ll certainly get that coveted room of your own to write.
3. To write differently.
Every conference has a specific agenda; at Bear River, for example, participants are asked to focus on generating new work.
During workshops, writing prompts, instruction on specific writing strategies, and critiquing sessions will help you stretch past your comfort zone, and your writing will grow as a result.
You might even consider signing up for a workshop in a genre that you don’t typically work with. You never can tell, for example, how strengthening your grasp of poetry could ultimately enhance your fiction.
4. To make writing connections.
Readings from prominent authors, panel discussions on everything from poetry to publication, workshops, post-class social gatherings…these are all excellent opportunities to learn more about the writing industry and get to know people who can serve as writing buddies or mentors even after the conference has ended.
In your normal life, you might have to work hard to find these people, but at a conference, they’re concentrated in one place.
5. To fall back in love with writing.
Of course we all love to write. But can’t it be frustrating too, especially when we’re stuck in a rut? I haven’t found a writers’ conference that offers a money-back guarantee on inspiration, but they really should.
Most conferences offer an intellectually challenging yet emotionally supportive atmosphere—the perfect environment for your writing to grow. You’re bound to produce a new piece, or revise an older one, in an innovative way, reminding you why you love to write in the first place.
Ready to sign up?
Do you feel writers’ conferences are important to your development as a writer? Have you benefited from attending one?
Sarah Baughman is a writer and trained teacher who has published articles in print and online publications. Her collection of creative non-fiction essays won the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press 2010 Chapbook Contest. You can follow her on Twitter and check out her blog, A Line At A Time.