How to Get the Most Out of A Writing Conference
By: Ron Samul
Writing conferences bring together like-minded, creative people who are seeking inspiration, education, and community. While all these readings, workshops, presentations, and social events may be exciting, don’t forget that what you put into your experience here is what you’ll get out of it. Here are some things to think about when you attend:
Plan on attending as much as possible.
Every event and connection you make will be valuable to you. It will be exhausting, but it will also provide a chance to meet more people, listen to new ideas, and continue to think about your writing in new ways.
Goals. Write down a few goals and bring them as a reminder. Be specific about your goals. For example: I would like to find a writing community (2 people), I would like to know what is the best market for my novel, I would like to hear about other nonfiction writers and how they deal with writing about their own families. When you go back home, be sure to see if you met some of those goals.
Session Preferences: I don’t see my type of writing. When it is time to walk into a session and you don’t see something directly related to your own writing, don’t waste that opportunity. Go to an event and listen. I’ve had some really great ideas because I sat in a session I thought wouldn’t work for me. Though you may be a poet, there might be something in a nonfiction workshop that inspires you or shifts your thinking. This isn’t a lost opportunity, it is a flexible, critical thinking moment that could shift the way you see your writing.
Downtime. When everyone is socializing, no one is socializing. They are networking, connecting, and meeting the community. This time is fun and relaxing, but it can also be where the unseen connections, ideas, and conversations happen. Have lunch with people you haven’t spoken with, go to the after-conference readings, and listen to your instructors and peers alike.
Buy Books. Browse the book table. Check out what matters to you, and buy a few. These are books you probably wouldn’t have come across if you weren’t at the conference. Many of the books are by people sitting around you. Use the books to start conversations with the authors and other writers.
Make the Conference Your Job. Be the writer you can’t always be at home. For a few days, you can be a writer all day and all night. You can even write and produce while you are there if you feel inspired. If a workshop isn’t happening, find a quiet corner and write. Practice talking about your writing and what your ideas sound like. Share the new stories, ideas, and the frustrations you have. You are not alone. You are among people who understand what it’s like to be a writer. The more you say “yes” to reading other people’s work, talking with people, and building that professional community of writers, the more you will have to build on when you leave the conference.
Give the Organization Feedback. If the conference organizers ask for feedback, give it. If they offer surveys, fill them out. Tell them what you loved and what they could work on. Let them know what connected with you and why. It helps in shaping the discussion in the future, but it also allows you to reflect on what you valued during this time.
When It’s Over. It’s normal to want to go home and get back to your life. But it’s also normal to leave a bit sad. You have been immersed in a community of writers. You’ve done some writing, spent time listening to workshop ideas, found new books, and walked around with people who think in words. Leaving that place is sometimes hard. Return to your goals and check some off. Think about what is next for you as a writer.
If you made connections with a reader or writer-- email them in the following week. Mention how you met and that connecting electronically would be a good step in staying connected to your new writing community.
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was ten years old, and going to a conference is a very special time for me. I love to hear and think about writing without the interference and day-to-day distractions. Not only does this recharge my creative batteries, but I am always surprised by how creative and collaborative writers can be when they are together.
About the Author: Ron Samul is a writer and college educator. He is a mentor in the Western Connecticut State University MFA in Creative and Professional Writing. www.RonSamul.org