Thursday, December 6, 2012

Why I Wouldn't Attend Writers' Conferences

As a novice writer, it’s what you don’t know that’ll hurt you. It’s kind of like when my husband or son aren’t listening to me while I’m talking, and suddenly they perk up and say, “What?” My eyes narrow and I ask, “What part didn’t you hear?” 
The same with writing. There’s so much to learn about the publishing world. All writers experience hard knocks as they maneuver this learning curve. As I mentor or have discussions with fellow writers, similarities emerge about their journeys. Beginners are often resistant to certain stepping stones that will further their careers.
Fear of the unknown. 
One avoidance in particular stands out—writers’ conferences. 
Within this resistance, specific reasons are given for not attending. Again, nothing new under the sun. I say this because they were also my reasons. 
I can’t afford to attend. This is a valid reason. I remember when scraping together $100 for a local day conference was difficult for me. I couldn’t justify spending money that could be used elsewhere in the family budget. Even so, it also served as a mental crutch to avoid attending.
Practical solutions:
·       Get an envelope and every week put a few dollars in it. Add to it when you receive an unexpected windfall like birthday money or a work bonus. Tuck the envelope away in your desk and don’t touch it, no matter what. Well, unless the power company is threatening to turn off your power.

·       Christmas is three weeks away. My family complains they don’t know what to get me. They say I never want anything and whatever I need, I can buy. If you’re asked what you want, don’t be shy. Speak up and say, “You know, I’d like to attend a writers’ conference in 2013, but I need a few sponsors to pay the fee. A donation of any size would be appreciated.” Then, make sure the gift is tucked away in the “conference” envelope and not used to buy socks for your kids. J 

·       Garage sales are a great way to raise money. This is found money, not paycheck money designated for bills. Ask your spouse if a percentage of the profit could be set aside for your “writing fund.”  

·       Look for free or inexpensive writing workshops. The first writing function I attended was a free workshop hosted by a local writing group at the library. Christian author Lynette Eason was the featured speaker. We became friends through that workshop and subsequent e-mails. She was one of my first mentors. I learned a great deal from her about writing and the industry.
I’m an introvert. Another valid reason that’s also a mental crutch. Your thoughts may sound something like this: “I’d die if an agent/editor/published writer speaks to me. I won’t know what to say. I’ll probably babble something incoherent and blow any chance of getting a contract.” 
I’m not sure if anyone has ever fainted in front of an agent or editor. If they have, I’m sure everyone involved survived. And, look at it like this. You’ll make a lasting impression. J Yes, you’ll probably babble. I’ve done it and survived. 
Seriously, very few writers are more introverted than I am. I prefer communicating through my keyboard, and it’s not just a case of being shy. God wires introverts to thrive in solitude, whereas extroverts get their energy from crowds of people. Conferences can be exhausting for both types. 
Practical solutions:
·        If it is your first conference, your goal could be to simply learn and network among other writers. Unless you have a polished, complete manuscript, don’t plan to pitch to an agent or editor. However, if you do have a book manuscript in progress, have a basic premise memorized (a pitch) in case you find yourself at a dining table or standing next to an agent or editor and they ask about your work. If you have a short pitch memorized, you have some hope of coherent words coming out of your mouth. I promise as you mingle with writing industry folks, you’ll get more comfortable.  

·        If you’re attending a local one or two-day conference, use your break time to get away. Resist the urge to always network during this time. It’s called a break for a reason. For overnight conferences, I’ve used my lunch break to capnap to rejuvenate for the afternoon/evening sessions. Solitude is a must for an introvert or you’ll burn out. The last conference I attended, I skipped a session on teen writing because it’s not my area of interest. Instead, I hung out in my hotel room and worked on my current manuscript until the next class. Pacing myself enabled me to handle the rigors of the 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. day.
My work isn’t good enough yet. Okay, I’ve used this excuse myself. What if someone asks if I’m published? No big deal. There will always be writers ahead of and behind you on the writing path. If you truly feel your writing hasn’t reached the publishable stage, the education you get in conference classes is invaluable to honing your skills. 
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
There are other ways to get published. Sure, many paths to publication exist. But remember how I started this post? It’s what you don’t know that increases that time frame. Most published writers will tell you that attending conferences to network, gain writing education, and build friendships with other writers will cut your time tremendously to becoming published. 
However, don’t network solely for the sake of networking. These are people you’ll build friendships with and receive support from on your writing journey. Christian writing is a ministry. A support system is imperative. You have “someone” with a vested interest in your failure.
I’m going to attend the Writers Advance! Boot Camp at The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, NC, February 1-3, 2013. My dream is to attend American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) national conference held in Indianapolis next September. I’m working toward making that a reality.
So what are you waiting for? I want to hear about your plans to attend a writers’ conference in 2013. If you’ve attended a conference, what did you learn from the experience that you didn’t expect? 
© Laura Hodges Poole
Photo courtesy of free clip art


  1. I attended my first writers' conference in May 2012, The Blue Ridge Christian Writer's Conference. It ranks right up there with one of the best things I've ever done. When I arrived I couldn't articulate what I wrote. It seemed like everytime you greeted some new the next minute or so was spent sharing where you were from and what time of writing you did. I would start through this laundry list of things and noticed that people were moving on before I was done. By the end of the week I could say, "Hi. I'm Tina, from Ohio, and I write devotions and inspirational articles." I also entered a piece I wrote in one of their contests, and received honorable mention. I availed myself to every opportunity to speak with an industry specialist that I had. I came home stoked. I entered a contest for which I needed to write a book, something I had never done and certainly didn't feel ready for--but what did I have to lose? I placed in the top 5 and finished writing the book this week. I'll mail it off when the editing is done. What did I gain that I didn't expect? Confidence. Trust that the God who gifted me knew what he was...and is doing. Willingness to be obedient. And joy!

    Love your suggestions. I know what I'm asking for for my birthday next spring! Blessings to you!!

    1. What a great testimonial for attending conferences! I can feel your enthusiasm. You've captured the essence of a conference quite well. The rejuvenation, growth, and friendships you gain is invaluable. Your short introduction is perfect. If someone is interested beyond that, they'll usually ask. The Blue Ridge is another one on my list. I've heard from other writers it's a great conference. It always falls during school finals weeks for my son. He graduates next year, so perhaps 2014 will be the year for me to attend. Thanks for stopping by and sharing. I'd love to hear about your book's success as you continue on your journey. God bless.

    2. Tina, thank you for all your kind words about Blue Ridge. This is exactly what we try to do with this conference. As we move forward with 2013 it helps to know we're on the right track! Blessings, Edie

  2. Laura, you're so right! All of us felt this way when we started out. Thanks so much for sharing this!