Writing Conferences: Worth The Cash?

From January 2009 through January 2011, I got to attend MFA residencies in Cambridge twice a year. That meant every 6 months I got to hang out with fellow writers, take seminars, attend workshops, listen to readings, talk to published writers about craft and the industry, and just spend time being fully immersed in the world of writing.

I’m not going to lie-I was usually a bundle of mixed emotions during residencies. On one hand, I loved being around my peers and our teachers. Some of the greatest people on earth converged at Lesley University for those week-long residencies. On the other hand, I tended to stress myself out and get homesick. I know, getting homesick while being only about an hour from home is lame.

So now I’m wondering something: would it be worth it for me to invest in a writing conference next year?

I miss talking about writing, listening to speakers, adding tools to my writer work box. Might a conference, like the Writer’s Digest Conference or the AWP Conference (or-gasp-both!) be a good idea for me? It wouldn’t involved a huge investment in time like an MFA residency, but I have no idea what they’re like and how much writers actually take away from them. Are they crowded and hectic? Organized and informational? A little of everything?

And, more importantly, are they worth the money?

I’d love to hear from fellow writers who have gone to conferences or are considering one. What’s your take on it?

7 thoughts on “Writing Conferences: Worth The Cash?”

  1. i think writers need to be near writers. You should try to go to a local conference for several reasons.

    The trials and emotional challenges of a writer are specialized, unique to the craft. I believe all kinds of writers should rub shoulders and share their wins and losses.

    Networking is necessary for any writer to gain new ideas and connections – agents, publishers, editors, cover designers, bloggers and those pesky newspaper people who can throw out a story in minutes.

    you obviously want to go, so here is a persons saying you should go because there might be a reason for you to be there.

    Finally you are a writer, you should go and experience the journey, there is probably a story, character or plot somewhere between where you are and where you are going.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, and for the permission🙂

      I’m actually not 100% sure if I want to go to a conference yet, but I do agree that it’s important to be around other writers. It really comes down to the cost, the content, and if I’ll be able to use it in my writing life right now, or if it would serve me better (and be easier to pay for) down the line.

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  2. Kristin, I’m so glad you wrote this post! I have been wondering exactly the same thing. The San Francisco writers conference is in February ’12 and I want to go. I’d save some money since I live there (could sleep at home, etc) but it’s still SO expensive. Like crazy expensive. There is a special agent ‘speed date’ and I’d love to pitch my second novel and have the opportunity to network. But I’m worried about feeling stressed out and rushing around. And the dress code is business….ew! I wear those clothes to work, I thought I could wear jeans and be comfy. We will see!🙂

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    1. Business dress code?! I didn’t realize there was a dress code at conferences. I assumed it was more relaxed than that. Let me know if you decide to go! I’ll keep you posted on my decision, too. I think you’re in a great place to attend a conference, to be honest– you’ve got two novels to pitch, whereas I’m still writing one!🙂

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  3. K, I recently attended the Colrain Manuscript Conference, and I have to tell you: it was the best thing I could have done for myself. Since graduation I got caught up in life. I didn’t have much time or space dedicated to writing, because of all the “real life” stuff I was catching up on, most of which revolved around relocation. And then suddenly I realized, oh my gosh it is already September. And so for almost nine months, I did very little writing, which was unreal to me. And I saw Colrain (and the pricetag) and thought, “Yes”, this may just be what I need. And yes, it was quite pricey, and I was apprehensive about it until…I arrived. And then I became so unbelievably thrilled to be around writers (poets) in a beautiful atmosphere I forgot all about it honestly. And the feedback, time, attention to detail. and overall experience were so absolutely rejuvenating to my writing self I was in euphoria for a week after. Best thing I did for myself all year. Seriously.

    If you are concerned about the financial aspects of it, most conferences, though not all, offer some kind of tuition assistance (like Bread Loaf). Also, AWP used to have a competition that awarded scholarships to a conference of your choice. Or start smaller, like Grub Street in Boston who constantly has weekend workshops on all kinds of things, or Gotham Writers in NYC that has online workshops and in city workshops and are not as pricey.

    Bottom line: I think you would LOVE it and revel in it! And as for dress code at my conference, there was NONE. Most people liked to slip there shoes off too for much of the day.

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    1. Jacey that sounds like HEAVEN on earth. If I could find something like that around here… or if we could all just go back to Lesley again (for free of course) that would be ideal. I miss being around writers and talking about craft and the industry and our ideas. I miss readings. I miss workshops, seminars, walking around Harvard Square and buying $50 worth of books for the semester at the Coop and walking back to campus giddy about it all.

      I’ll look into Grub Street– you and some other people keep mentioning it, so I should really get on that. I’ve got a small informal writing group with 2 friends, but I miss learning and feeling that vibe and energy from a room full of people with ideas buzzing through their heads.

      Maybe I’m too romantic about the whole thing! But whatever. I’m romanced by writers!

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  4. I’ve been to three writing conferences (one in 08, 09, and 10) and I truly missed attending one this year. I agree with what everyone said—it’s important to have a time and place, even if it’s just once a year, when you can be a writer amongst other writers. You learn so much and the sense of community is incredible (imagine Twitter but in real life!)

    Especially for me, since I didn’t get an MFA, going to conferences was part of my self-made MFA program. It was a place for me to start learning about the industry, and I took workshops with amazing authors whom I still keep in touch with today. At the last conference I went to, I even met my agent (though I didn’t sign with her till months later).

    One thing I will mention is that each conference I went to was a local one. I’ve never actually traveled out of town for one because they’re pretty pricey. So I’d say if you have one nearby and you can afford to go, don’t let it pass you by. I’m thinking for my next one, I may save up and go out of town. It’s worth it either way.

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