In February 2007, I spent the total amount of my final paycheck from the sign language interpreting job I’d left to attend the Writing for the Soul Conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the annual conference for the Christian Writers Guild. I was 24 years old. I had no idea what I was doing. And if I had to choose to spend that money a different way now, I wouldn’t. I would do the exact same thing over again, because what I experienced at that first writing conference made a lasting impression on me.
Whether you know you’re a writer or you aren’t sure yet, going to a writing conference is an essential step in your growth. It doesn’t have to be gigantic writing conference like the Writing for the Soul Conference was. There are many smaller writing conferences around the States that are far less intimidating and much less expensive. Either way, no matter if you’ve written several novels or none at all, you need to go to a conference.
There are lots of reasons why you should go to a writing conference. Here are four of my reasons, and they all happen to start with E.
Maybe this is an obvious one, but one of the best reasons to go to a writing conference is to learn how to write. And even if you already know how to write (or you think you know), you can always learn to write better.
Even if you already know how to write (or you think you know), you can always learn to write better.
Conferences offer courses on character development, story arcs, plot building, world building, worldview, and much much more. Depending on what conference you go to you can even pick up information on marketing, accounting, taxes, and public speaking too.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being a writer full-time it’s that I never know enough. I can always learn something new about the industry, the craft, or my own characters and stories.
This may not be as obvious, but in my mind, it’s the most important. It’s difficult to be a writer, mainly because it’s such a solitary profession. So much of writing is done alone, locked in an office or hidden away from family and friends. Maybe you can get ideas from other people, but the actual act of writing has to be done away from everyone else.
Too much of that and you start thinking that you’re the only one who writes what you write. And if you only try sharing your story with people who don’t like what you write, you’ll begin to believe that nobody will ever like your ideas.
That’s what I ran into. I had a handful of people who really loved my writing, but they were my age or younger. And every time I tried to tell others about it—adult people—they thought it was weird. They weren’t really interested. And all the Christian leaders and magazines that I read only pointed toward a certain type of books. So I began to think that I was just too weird for anyone to like what I was writing.
I began to think that I was just too weird for anyone to like what I was writing.
Yeah, then I found a lovely little jewel called Realm Makers (registration opened on April 1, hint hint hint). More about Realm Makers in a moment, but trust me when I tell you that this conference revolutionized my writing life. And for the first time I didn’t feel alone, because there were dozens of other people out there who wrote the same thing I did and who thought my ideas were great and creative and interesting. Not just weird and hard to understand.
If you feel alone, if you feel isolated, like no one could ever care about your writing, you need to go to a conference so you can find out how wrong you are.
One of the awesome parts of a writing conference is often the ability to pitch your manuscripts to editors. It’s terrifying. Just being honest. But it’s good for us to face our fears. You have to learn how to assembled the parts of a book proposal, and you have to learn how to present your story in a professional way.
Not only is this valuable experience for presenting to an editor at a conference, you can use what you learn when you present your manuscript somewhere else.
And even if you don’t get to pitch to an editor, you get the opportunity (over and over and over again) to talk about what you write. Have you ever heard of an elevator pitch? Go to a writing conference, and you will. Because the second question everyone will ask you is “What do you write?” Then you’ll have 20 seconds or less to explain your entire book’s concept in a way that intrigues them.
That sort of experience is priceless.
The fourth reason why I recommend going to writing conferences is for exposure. If you’re working on a new book, talk about it while you’re at the conference. Share about it. Share your passion for it. Other people will get on board, and when the book releases, you’ll have an instant audience.
Share your passion for it. Other people will get on board, and when the book releases, you’ll have an instant audience.
Writing conferences are a great place to practice your marketing skills. If you can hook another author and interest them in what you write, you’ll be ahead of the game. Just being honest, but other writers are the most difficult market to capture. But if you can get another author to be interested in what you’re writing, you can get anyone.
There are probably more reasons to attend a writing conference, but those are my top four.
If you haven’t, you really should. I attended two Writing for the Soul conferences in 2007 and 2008, and I made friends and connections there that are still important in my life. However, the Christian Writers Guild disbanded last year. But it wasn’t the only writing conference out there.
A Place To Start
So here are a few low-cost recommendations:
Writer’s Workshop at Glen Eyrie
If you’re a new writer who’s more interested in writing for the Christian market and who needs some awesome friends, I suggest the Writing Workshop at Glen Eyrie. It’s July 9 through July 12 in Colorado Springs at the gorgeous Glen Eyrie Castle. Seriously, this is a fantastic conference for writers of any age. It’s led by Angie Hunt and Nancy Rue, who are not only amazing writers themselves but also wonderful women.
The entire conference costs $550 (plus tax), and that includes everything even lodging.
Realm Makers 2016
If you’re a writer of any experience level who’s more interested in writing weird stuff (I.e. science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc), Realm Makers is a must. Realm Makers is where my heart is. If I can only go to one writing conference in a year, Realm Makers is the one I’d pick. I can’t say enough good about this conference. It’s the most encouraging, most fun, most wonderful conference I’ve ever been to, and I whole-heartedly believe in its mission.
If I can only go to one writing conference in a year, Realm Makers is the one I’d pick.
The conference is in Philadelphia, PA this year at Villanova University, and the conference fee is only $299! Throw in your meals at the university dining hall, and it runs about $350. Plus by staying in the university dorms, your rooms cost about $40 per person per night. So you’re looking at around $500. And every single penny is absolutely worth it.
There are nerdy jokes, deep theological discussions about genre, hilarious conversations, a costume banquet, a zombie nerf gun war, and AMAZING authors like Tosca Lee, Nadine Brandes, Mike Duran, Morgan Busse, Steve Laube, Jeff Gerke, and on and on and on and on. Best. Conference. Ever.
I could go on and on about Realm Makers, but I won’t. Just go read the website. Registration opened April 1, and I think everyone should go. It’s better if you’re a geek, because if you aren’t a geek, you may not have any idea why the faculty members are running around in Jedi costumes.
So those are two low-cost options.
There is another conference that I’m really interested in going to, and that’s the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Conference. It’s in Nashville this year in late August.
Historically, ACFW hasn’t been as open to “the weird stuff,” but times they are a’changing. This year’s keynote speaker is none other than Ted Dekker. THE Ted Dekker. Weird Stuff Guru Extraordinaire. He’s probably one of the most prolific authors I’ve ever heard of, and he writes all sorts of science fiction and fantasy and horror stuff. And lots of Christians everywhere love him. I’m SO excited that he’s coming to ACFW!
The problem is, I can’t afford it. ACFW is really, really pricey. And right now, for me, the genre I write in is better suited for a conference like Realm Makers, which also happens to fit my budget. But someday I’ll get to ACFW.
Those three conferences aren’t the only ones out there.
Look around online. Ask writers you know. Ask writers you don’t know. But if you want to be a better writer (if you want to be a writer at all), you really need to go to a conference. It’s one of the best things you’ll ever do.