As writers, we’re constantly (desperately?) looking for ways to improve our skills so we can write awe-inspiring sentences and create kick-ass plots with impossible-to-ignore characters. There are myriad ways to get to that end game—read a lot (a whole lot); pore over craft books, highlighting the best passages as you go; join critique groups and take in their feedback; take online writing and editing courses and push through labor-intensive workbooks (like those of mega-agent Donald Maass) as guides to write that bestseller.
But, for me, the ultimate experience is being front and center for writing workshops and conferences. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that I’m late to the workshop and conference circuit. My debut novel came out in January, 2015 and I didn’t attend my first writers conference until three months before that (it was the Writers Unboxed Unconference), so the book was already a done deal.
My reaction to the five-day marathon was “why hasn’t anyone told me how freakin’ awesome this is?” You’ve heard of runner’s high? Well, I experienced writer’s high. I needed more. Next was the Women’s Fiction Writers Association 3-day Retreat this past year. Heaven.
“Please, sir, may I have some more?”
It’s all very seductive, addictive. And that’s the point of my essay. There was much talk at both meetings about other workshops and conferences. “Have you been to this one?” “This one is the best.” “She’ll work your butt off, but it’s so worth it.” “You’ll come out of this one a much better writer.” “It’s like an army boot camp, but you’ll be glad you went.” “I’m going to this one and this one and this one next year.” And finally the question: “Are you going?”
One attendee confessed to being a “conference whore.” I totally get the metaphor, but I prefer “conference junkie.” You pay your hard-earned money for it; you feel an acute absence, if you don’t get it; and once you decide to do it, you search for the one that fulfills your specific need.
After you’ve paid your money, attended, and soaked up every bit of writers’ high you can, you’re searching for the next fix. And there are endless conferences and workshops to fill that need. Pick your tribe, pick your topic, pick your location and there’s a meeting for that.
If money and time were no object, it would be incredibly easy to sign up for endless writer gatherings to get that fix. “I’m absolutely positive that THIS is the one that’s going to make me the writer I want to be.” “THIS one will reveal the holy grail that will make my writing shine.” “If I sign up for THIS one, that’s it. I’ll know everything I need to know.”
If only it worked that way. Of course, money and time are usually limiting factors, but if you happen to be that rare writer with a chunk of disposable income and free time to do with as you wish, should you spend it on workshops and conferences? My totally noncommittal answer is, it depends.
If you’re reaching for the brass ring of writing, while not actually getting the writing done; if you’re looking outside yourself for answers, for validation, instead of turning inward; if you fully expect to snag your dream agent; if you’re seeking some imagined state of perfection; if you come away intimidated, feeling like less of a writer, rather than more of one, then the answer is an emphatic “No.”
If, however, you want to meet fellow writers and network, share tips and tricks, refine your voice, commiserate about the writing life over a drink, and pick up a trick or two along the way, then the answer is a big fat “Yes!”
For my continued motivation and the awesome feeling of being part of a larger community of writers, attending a couple of gatherings a year is invaluable. But, I also think it’s my salvation that I can’t swing more. I fear it would feed into my obsessive tendencies and make it far too easy to succumb to the allure of “just one more.” It’s the perfect no-fault delay tactic and the last thing I need is another excuse for not wrapping up my long-suffering WIP.
What’s your take on the addictive nature of conferences and workshops? How many conferences/workshops do you attend each year? How many do you wish you could attend?
Do you feel they help or hinder your progress?
Densie Webb (not Denise) has spent a long career as a freelance nonfiction writer and editor. Her debut novel “You’ll Be Thinking of Me” was released by Soul Mate Publishing in January 2015. She is an avid walker (not of the dead variety), drinks too much coffee and has a small “devil dog” that keeps her on her toes. She is currently working on a second novel.
Category: On Writing