February 21, 2023
By Maggie Smith
Writing is often thought of as a solitary pursuit. An author alone in a room, typing away at their computer, their only companions the characters they create. But writers who isolate themselves from their peers, be it in their office or the local coffeeshop, can miss out on an important aspect of the writing life—the shared sense of community. For them, attending a writing conference can be a game-changer, providing opportunities to learn from the pros, network with fellow writers and industry professionals, and grow in their craft. Let’s look at the reasons a novice writer should consider attending a writing conference at least once a year.
You Can Learn from the Pros
One of the biggest draws of writing conferences is the roster of established and successful writers who are hired as presenters, either in small workshop settings or as the featured guest at the larger events, like the awards dinner. For example, this year at the Let’s Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference sponsored by Chicago Writer’s Association, you can hear a keynote speech by Jane Hamilton, author of the award-winning A Map of the World and The Book of Ruth, as well as attend a panel discussion on fiction writing that she'll participate in. There is also a panel on Writing Outside Your Ethnicity, one on the legal aspects of Writing, as well as presentations by Ann Garvin on Plotting and Billy Lombardo on Point of View. By attending these lectures, new writers can educate themselves and gain valuable insights into not only the writing process and techniques used by successful authors, but also about the publishing industry and the ins and outs that go into building a writing career.
Register for CWA's free Zoom workshop: Tips for Getting the Most Out of the Conference.
You Can Network and Build Your Community
It’s not just the well-established writers you can encounter at such events. Often the most worthwhile interactions come from your fellow attendees. Most conferences offer ample opportunities to meet and mingle, whether at shared meals, in roundtable groups, or just afterwards at the hotel bar. While it can be intimidating to start a conversation with someone you don’t know, writers who take a deep breath and introduce themselves with a friendly smile will often wind up meeting people who are also on the lookout to expand their network of writer friends. Many authors have met a critique partner, mentor, or eventual writing partner through these informal encounters—people who, just like them, have struggles, doubts, and aspirations. An easy opener is to introduce yourself and the genre you write, then ask someone a question about their writing. Building relationships with like-minded individuals helps when you need advice about publishing contracts, how to market your work, or even just a shoulder to cry on.
Professional Growth Opportunities
Often, conferences will offer a chance to present your work to established professionals in the form of a pitch session. Sometimes this can lead to signing with an agent or being offered a contract by a small press, but regardless, it’s invaluable to get honest and objective feedback on your story idea. Another way to get your words out so people can hear them is through readings. For example, the last session at Let’s Just Write! is a live lit event where volunteers get a chance to read an excerpt from their work to the audience. It’s good exposure for the novice writer and also offers an opportunity to hear your fellow author’s words and strike up a conversation with them, either in person or later through social media or email.
In short, whether you’re a conference junkie who collects name tag lanyards by the dozens each year or you pick one gathering to travel to, attending a writers conference as a newbie author can be a transformative experience. By learning from the pros, networking with peers and industry professionals, and growing your craft, it’s a way to take your career to the next level. And if all else fails, at least you’ll have a good time – because who doesn’t love spending a few days surrounded by people who love words as much as you do?
Maggie Smith’s debut novel, Truth and Other Lies, was published by Ten16Press in March 2022. She’s the host of the weekly podcast Hear Us Roar (available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google) where she interviews debut women’s fiction authors about their novel and their path to publication. Her first-ever short story, The Devil You Know, appeared in the 2018 anthology False Faces and she’s also a regular monthly blogger for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. A board member of the Chicago Writers Association, she serves as managing editor of the literary publication Write City Magazine. She makes her home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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