by Kelley Lindberg
This weekend, I’m headed off to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) regional conference in surprisingly vibrant Boise, Idaho, with two wonderful writing friends. I’m attending this conference as a participant rather than as a presenter, which means I get to focus on enjoying myself. What a treat!
I’ve been involved with planning, running, and speaking at many writing conferences over the years, and I’ve become a big fan of them. I absolutely believe that attending writing conferences can be one of the best things a writer can do for his or her writing life and career. Every conference is different, but most offer a gamut of panels, presentations, and workshops that cover craft, inspiration, and the publishing industry itself. At a writing conference, you can:
- Hone your writing craft and advance your writing skills in specific areas (such as dialogue, plot, conflict, character development, or humor)
- Get inspired and energized
- Learn tips for getting your work noticed by agents or editors
- Hear what’s working for other writers
- Experience “a-ha!” moments as you consider your work-in-progress in light of what you hear in the sessions
- Identify weaknesses and strengths in your work-in-progress, which can help you find direction in your revision phase
- Realize you’re not the only loony person who thinks agonizing over a particular verb is a productive way to spend an hour.
- Add new titles to your “must-read-soon” list
- Pay for a publishing professional, usually an editor, agent, or successful author, to give you a 15-minute manuscript consultation, which seldom leads to a sale, but almost always gives you an unbiased opinion on how your writing is coming together in that piece. (And yes, every once in a while, the stars align, and a writer and agent find each other and it’s a match made in heaven.)
- Meet editors and agents
- Meet other writers or illustrators
Those last two bullets are some of the most important. The chance to meet other writers, editors, and agents is one of the most important opportunities of a writing conference. Even though the editors and agents at a particular conference may not be right for your work (or vice versa), you can still learn insider tips from them, and they may become part of your network that eventually leads to someone who is. And meeting other writers can be the best part of all – at a minimum, you may find a fun lunch companion for a day or two during the conference. Even better, you might find someone to join you in a critique group, or a kindred spirit who eventually becomes a dear friend, or a networking contact who can put you in touch with professionals who may someday boost your career.
Confession time: I admit that every once in a while, I’ll return from a conference a little discouraged. Being around so many good writers and so much information can be overwhelming, and it’s tempting to give into the “I’ll never be good enough” mindset. But I’ve found that if I give it a few days, little ideas will start to spark in my head when I least expect them: “Maybe I could make my character try this,” or “I wonder what would happen if I changed that.” And pretty soon, I’m back in the saddle and tackling my writing not only with renewed energy, but with new ideas for strengthening it that I’d have never thought of if I hadn’t gone to the conference.
One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to attend a writing conference as a participant instead of as a speaker, because I feel the need to reconnect with my own energy and enthusiasm as a writer. (I’ve signed up for two so far!) Life has a tendency to pull us in many stressful directions, and it’s appallingly easy to become focused on anything and everything but our creative life. So for me, spending a couple of days surrounded by other wonderfully maladjusted writers seems like the perfect tonic for my creative spirit.
Do you gain something from writing conferences that I haven’t thought of? If so, share it with us in the Comments.
And I’ll see you in Boise.