creativity, writer's conference, writing

What would Mom do? Top 5 Reasons to Attend a Writer’s Conference

It seems fitting to discuss writer’s conferences on Mother’s Day, because for many years the only Mother’s Day request I had was for time alone to write. My favorite gift from my husband or one of my older children was a gift certificate for a local restaurant, along with a promise to watch the kids while I took myself out for breakfast and wrote for two hours. I was a self-taught writer who’d learned the basics of query letters, manuscript formatting, and book proposal writing from the many books and magazines I pored over. Conferences and classes seemed like what a “real writer” would do, not a mom of eight who clutched madly to what little creative time she could get.

The first writer’s conference I attended was the Cedar Falls Christian Writer’s workshop in Cedar Falls, Iowa the summer of 2011. I’d been writing for nearly twenty years by then, but it wasn’t until my own mother’s death that I made the decision to take my writing seriously.

When Mom passed away in November 2010 (on my birthday, no less) she left very little in the way of material items. It was her artwork we desired; the quilts, teddy bears, paintings, and woodcarvings that embodied her creative legacy.  As the writer in the family, I inherited many of her notebooks, journals, and several versions of three unpublished manuscripts. In her writing, I discovered two distinct themes; my mother’s strong desire that her children get to Heaven, along with her fervent hope that each of them would utilize their God-given talents while here on earth. Repeatedly, she wrote about her dreams for her children and grandchildren. It was evident that she never doubted for a moment that every single one of them had talent.

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newspaper3.jpgWhile I’d briefly considered attending a writer’s conference one year, the cost seemed prohibitive. After Mom died, I asked myself what she would do if she’d had that kind of opportunity to further her creative endeavors. My interest in the conference was just as much spiritual as it was creative, a way to hone my craft while fueling my faith. My husband not only encouraged my attendance, he insisted it was high time I invested in myself, something that people who believe in us tend to see long before we do. I believed my mother would have said the same thing.

I’ve never looked back. Every year since 2011, I’ve set aside tax refund money and kept the dates of that Cedar Falls workshop open so I could attend. I look forward to it all year long. When I was being interviewed in February for my current job, I made it clear; “The schedule sounds fine, but there’s a week in June when I will be attending a conference.”

Why would I recommend writers or aspiring writers attend a conference or class? There are many reasons, but here are my top five:

To learn more about the craft of writing. I believe in lifelong learning. No matter our level of expertise in writing, there is always something new to learn. Sometimes we have to make a commitment to hone our craft and that commitment might involve both time and money. Committing to a conference or a class could be the first step in taking our writing seriously. Call it an investment in yourself. I tell attendees in my writing classes that paying for a class gives them a reason for taking time out of their busy days to write. “Tell your husband or your kids that you paid good money for a writing class so now you need to write and sell something to recoup your money.” If you take yourself seriously, others will take you seriously, too.

To learn more about the business side of publishing. It’s not enough to be a good writer; you also have to learn about the ever-changing world of publishing. What is a book proposal? How do I write a query letter? How can I build up my platform? Do I need an agent? Where do I find markets for my work? These are questions you can find the answers to at conferences and workshops.

To connect and network with other writers. There is nothing more enjoyable than “talking shop” with another writer who understands the foibles and follies of the world of writing. Writers at conferences and workshops share markets with each other, commiserate about rejections, and support each other’s accomplishments. I’ve made life-long friends at each conference I’ve attended. My world has gotten so much bigger in the last few years. It was at a conference that I met my mentors (and good friends), Shelly Beach and Cecil Murphey.

To meet and network with editors, publishers, or agents. Not everyone who attends a conference ends up sitting next to an agent at a lunch table and subsequently signing a contract with her husband a few months later, but I did. I’ve developed both personal and professional relationships with editors and agents at conferences. While initially the prospect of meeting with an agent or editor was quite daunting to me, I’ve experienced some wonderful conversations with several. I can’t speak for non-Christian conferences but those I’ve conversed with at the Christian conferences have been wonderful. Of course, the easiest conversations are those I’ve had without the anxiety of attempting to sell something.

Amazing things happen at Christian writing conferences. Again, I can’t speak for all conferences as I’ve only attended Christian ones, but I’ve found that if I pray fervently before, during, and after a conference, and keep my eyes and heart open to God, amazing things have transpired at each of the conferences I’ve attended, some so powerful they’re difficult to talk about without crying.

This advice doesn’t just apply to writers; I would encourage all creative people continue learning and honing their craft throughout their life, whether that is painting, drawing, music, or quilting. During some seasons of our life, it might have to be simply checking out library books or subscribing to magazines on the subject, but if time and money permit, a class or conference can be a great jump-start to living creatively!

Maybe the best Mother’s Day gift is a gift you give to yourself; enrolling in a class or workshop.