There is nothing like the joy of a writers’ conference, that experience of being with people who understand what you do all day. It can be exhilarating and enlightening and exhausting, and it’s a chance to expand your writing community.
I just returned from the Las Vegas Writers’ Conference, hosted by the Henderson Writers Group. The conference is an annual three-day event filled with both craft and publishing sessions. It’s a small gathering, limited to 150 attendees, including the faculty which is composed of agents, editors, writers, and educators. The small size is part of this conference’s appeal because there is an opportunity to mingle and talk to everyone. You attend a morning panel of agents and then find yourself sitting next to one of those agents at lunch. You strike up a casual conversation with the person next to you in a class and discover you share a devotion to Doctor Who or Downton Abbey. Connections are made, friendships begin.
I like to go to the craft sessions, which span a wide range of topics, like creating three-dimensional characters, understanding scene structure, and using theme and symbolism to deepen your writing. There are sessions on the business of writing as well, covering topics like marketing, self-publishing, understanding publishing contracts, and how to submit to agents. I attended a wonderful session on how to write the dreaded query letter, taught by a literary agent, Carlie Webber, who shared insights into what agents want. And of course, there are pitch sessions scheduled throughout the conference so writers with completed manuscripts can talk face to face with an agent.
I’m not at the point where I have something to pitch, so I spend the social time talking to editors and agents about other things. That’s fascinating to me because I get to see these professionals as people, not as gatekeepers or people I need to impress. Yes, we have conversations about writing, but also about other things like travel, food, half-marathons, and favorite television shows.
When I go to a conference, my brain is on fire with all the stimulation of new ideas, new ways to look at my writing. This year, there was the added bonus of an optional day-long workshop led by Donald Maass, based on his best-selling book, Writing the Breakout Novel. I must confess I’ve never read the book and had no idea what the workshop would be like. To be honest, with a title like that, I half-expected an infomercial-style presentation of formulaic, get-rich-quick gimmicks. I was so wrong.
This intensive workshop focused on enriching our writing by creating multi-dimensional characters, digging deeper for unexpected emotions, and breaking new ground in our stories. Donald gave us writing exercises that helped generate ideas. The class was a condensed version of his usual three-day workshop, so I was overloaded with valuable information. I reeled from the flood of new ideas and insights that the class generated. Now I need to work to incorporate these ideas and techniques into my work.
Writers’ conferences are a valuable resource for any writer. I’ve met incredible people from all over the country who are on the same creative journey and appreciate that we are part of the same tribe.
I’ve already started my research for which conference I’ll attend next year. It may be Las Vegas, or it may be further afield. What about you? Have you attended a conference, and was it a valuable experience? If you haven’t gone to one yet, choose the one that seems like a good fit and go!
We all need a tribe.