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Why you really need a writing conference

The weekend of May 18th I’m helping out with my favorite local writing conference. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you really should read the end of this blog where I tell you about Write on the River. But if not:

You still really need a writing conference.

I once asked an acquaintance why her husband, an avid and sporadically published author wasn’t attending our local conference. She said, in effect, “Oh, David doesn’t think writing can be taught.”

It was such a dumb comment, I didn’t know what to say; it was equal parts ignorance and snobbery.

I’m not going to argue about talent being nature or nurture. It’s obvious that if you have a leaden ear for language you will not go far in this business. But to say that therefore nothing can be taught is idiocy. You can and will learn from other writers. It is a craft. And in the ancient tradition of apprenticeship, we all do well to learn from the masters. Or at least from published writers. Since you’re already reading this post, I will now forgo the rant that was boiling up from below. You don’t need a lecture.

But maybe, in these lean economic times, you might need a bit of encouragement to lay out $155 for a weekend of workshops.

So, in a nutshell, here is why you need to sign up immediately for a writing conference. Maybe even spring for the travel costs to go to one a little further than you have before. (Nothing like a longish car trip home to set your mind free to come up with a great novel idea!)

So. You need a writing conference because:

That is pretty much the only place in the world where almost everyone around you shares the same dream: to write amazing stories and get them published.

Writing may be a solitary act, but you need people, my friend. Spend too much time in front of a computer screen alone in your den and you start to develop conspiracy theories, self-loathing and toe nail fungus. Get out in the world; clean up your act; meet people who actually think that writing is important instead of pretentious or weird. The writing conference is a place to draw deep renewal from the mere presence of other people who believe. Whether you talk to any of them or not.

And on that topic, please read my introversion posts. ‘Nuf said.

You will learn how different approaches to writing can hook your subconscious in undreamed of ways.

Yes, I’m saying that the best speakers aren’t teaching nuts and bolts, or at least not only that; they’re sharing doors to the inside. Paths to story. Because–and here’s what David didn’t get–finding your story is a deeply subconscious process that can be accessed sideways by surface lessons. You are apparently hearing about point of view choices, let’s say, but your subconscious is hearing about wearing the costume of another sentient being.

See, your subconscious is mysterious and quirky, but in the end it wants to be happy. That’s why it urges you to eat ice cream. But it also realizes that you are never going to be happy if you don’t write your stories, so it pays attention at these confabs. In its own way, to be sure. You’re making POV notes, and it’s thinking about channeling your next protagonist.

How do I know this? Because I’ve awakened in the middle of the night with a protagonist racing through my mind. Never saw her before. Don’t know anything about her. Except for the scene that just burbled up from below.

You may land an agent or sell directly to an editor.

You say you’ve tried that and didn’t get a bite? Hey, me too. I met with a very well known sf/f agent at a conference many years ago and he flat out said he wasn’t interested in my story. Felt like shit. But then, a few years later, I did find an agent at a conference. And as to editors, I am not the best at networking, but I have sold several short stories directly to editors who were combing the conference for material. Every time I do this–even after 10 published novels–I experience long moments of sappy happiness.

You can’t control what will happen to you at conferences, but you can put yourself in the way of success.

You will make writing friends. You will need them.

Not at every conference, maybe, but at most of them. It’s rather easy to start conversations at conferences. Try “What are you working on?” And go from there.

The people you meet at these things can very well end up being your closest friends. They will be people to turn to with triumphs to share and slumps to weather. It’ll be their turn next, and they will listen to you now. Your writing friends may ultimately end up being even more important than your writing career. I guess I really said that. I’ll just leave it there.

$155, are you kidding me? Register. Pay. Go.

And where, you may ask, can you actually get all this for a mere $155? (You got your mega-conferences–also lovely–but they will cost a good bit more.)

Write on the River, that’s where.

Whatcha going to get?

1. Awesome keynote speaker to start out the day: Jonathan Evison, author of All About Lulu and other things.

2. Chris Humphreys, an extremely popular teacher from Vancouver Island

giving an intensive session on the novel.

3. The amazing Steven Barnes on The Hero’s Journey and also writing the thriller. He is one of the most inspirational teachers you will ever see.

4. Workshops on writing the nonfiction book, the memoir, YA lit, making money at freelancing, writing short stories and a bunch of stuff on the new world of publishing.

Maureen McQuerry, YA lit

I’m excited about this line-up. We’ve been planning it for months. It’s almost here.

Gordon Warnock, Andrea Hurst Literary Mngm't

Where the heck is Wenatchee? Two and a half hour drive over mountains from Seattle. The sunny side of the state. Nestled in the foothills on the banks of the Columbia River and the wine country. Spectacular.

But it’s the writing conference you really need.


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